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Sea Gull Lake is at the end of Gunflint Trail, one of Northeast Minnesota's best known and most loved Scenic Byways. The trail provides 57 miles of near-wilderness scenery and outdoor sporting venues, with Sea Gull Lake very near the actual end of the route. Gunflint Trail goes around the north end of the lake and makes a loop around the National Forest Service Campground at nearby small Gull Lake. Sea Gull Lake is also one of the entry points into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, the huge canoeing paradise along the USA-Canada border that receives thousands of visitors each year. Most of the sprawling 4,000-acre lake is within the Superior National Forest; there is very little private property on Sea Gull Lake.
Sea Gull Lake is far from deserted, however. Several resort lodges and outfitters are located along the shoreline. One even provides a paddler's camp for canoeing groups, complete with bunk rooms sleeping up to eight people. In addition to rental cabins and rooms, the camps provide such welcome amenities to area paddlers as hot showers, meals, equipment rental and supplies. Boats with motors are restricted to less than a quarter of the water's surface, so a vacation here has a feel of remoteness and solitude. The proprietors of these camps know paddling and hiking, and can be counted on to organize all types of outdoor-related activities for their guests.
The heavily forested area is great for backpack treks and wildlife watching. The shoreline is rocky, and granite outcroppings protrude from the landscape, particularly in areas impacted by fire. Fishing is likely the main attraction for non-paddlers; the lake holds burbot, lake trout, lake whitefish, northern pike, smallmouth bass and walleye. In recent years there has been a bumper catch of northern pike in the lake. The Minnesota DNR hasn't stocked the lake since 1992, and the lake trout and walleye are reproducing well naturally. Although the lake reaches 145 feet deep in spots, other areas are shallower, with many islands and granite islets emerging above the surface. Ice fishing for lake trout is productive enough here that a great many fishermen make the mid-winter trip up the Gunflint Trail to try their luck on the ice. The camps and outfitters in the area sell fishing licenses, bait and necessary supplies for a great winter outing.
Sea Gull Lake area suffered from three major natural events that changed the landscape in the past few years. A major 'blow-down' in 1999 felled a huge number of trees. Two forest fires also burned over large areas, destroying many of the existing homes on the lake. Those areas can still be recognized as a scar upon the forested face of the region; however, the fires brought rewards, too. Dead and downed trees supported beetles and insects which made the area a woodpecker heaven. New, low growth provides protection for moose and deer. Bald eagles, broad winged hawks, pine marten, flycatchers, warblers and sparrows are often seen here. The lake hosts a variety of waterfowl and ducks, while osprey and turkey vultures often soar above. Conditions created by the fires appear to be the cause of the large upswing in northern pike. Although forest fires are devastating to property, they serve to rejuvenate the forest, allowing for plant and tree diversity and provide food and shelter to a wider range of wildlife.
Entering the Boundary Waters Canoe Area requires a permit obtainable from the US Forest Service Ranger in Grand Marais. Only a limited number of permits are issued for each entry-point lake to keep the wilderness route wild and pristine. Many paddlers allow the outfitters and resorts to organize their canoe trip and can count on them to arrange for all necessary gear and supplies. Guides can be provided if desired. Some camps will even tow canoes to the starting point of the Boundary Waters water route, saving them the effort of paddling the length of the lake. Many of the camps and outfitters have been in business for several generations at Sea Gull Lake and know the area intimately.
A number of trails in the area allow for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and winter hiking. In warmer weather, abandoned logging trails make for excellent exploring by mountain bike. There are primitive campsites nearby on National Forest lands, and the organized campground at the Gunflint Loop provides water and restrooms for vehicle camping. Not far north of the lake, the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center tells the story of the Gunflint Trail and the history and environment of the region. The Chik-Wauk Museum is a project of the Gunflint Trail Historical Society, Gunflint Ranger District and Superior National Forest.
The Gunflint Trail roughly follows the old Native American and Voyageur waterway trail that served the area for many years before roads were built. The old Gunflint Trail took many years and many tries before the Civilian Conservation Corps came in to complete the piecemeal project during the Depression. One of the CCC Camps was in the Sea Gull Lake area. Although CCC programs were in general well-received, the Gunflint Trail project was anything but a smooth operation, with the locals of the 1930's era concerned about the influx of 'outsiders' being used to construct the trail. The trail is now a paved, two-lane road with many trailheads for hiking, resorts and campgrounds. There are few homes allowed near the trail, but there are a number of discretely-placed facilities for lodgings, meals and outdoor equipment and guides.
The Gunflint Trail website provides detailed descriptions of various parts of the trail and highlights the many tourism-related businesses along the route. This is one wilderness area that is well-supplied with hotels, motels, resorts, guest cabins, restaurants and activities for vacationers. Sea Gull Lake may be near the end of the trail, but it is also the beginning of many outdoor adventures. Choose the kind of adventure that suits your fancy and head toward Sea Gull Lake.
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