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  1. #1

    Default Minnesota Trip - Duluth / Lake Vermilion / Grand Portage Advice Needed

    We are trying to plan a trip to Minnesota for a backpack trip and since we have never been there are looking for some information. The plan is to start at the Black Bear Casino in Carlton MN then go to the Fortune Bay Casino in Tower then go to the Grand Portage Casino in Grand Portage and then finally back to the Black Bear in Carlton.

    Here are the questions we have about this plan:

    Is there trail accessibility to and from the Black bear Casino? We want to ride right out of the parking lot. I called yesterday and the person I spoke to had no idea.
    How far is it from the Black Bear Casino to the Fortune Bay Casino by trail?
    How far is it from the Fortune Bay Casino to the Grand Portage Casino by trail?
    How far is it from the Grand Portage Casino back to the Black Bear?
    Any concerns about getting gas in between any of these locations?
    Any must ride trails / or must see locations between any of these places?
    Anything else we should be aware of?
    If we cant ride out of the Black Bear is there anywhere else (possibly on the north side of Duluth) that anyone would suggest staying and riding out of?

    Thanks for the help!

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by moose822 View Post

    Here are the questions we have about this plan:

    How far is it from the Black Bear Casino to the Fortune Bay Casino by trail?
    200+. I have not done this route, but a few friends did it 4-5 years ago. There are places for gas along the way, Virginia being the last stop you should have to make.

    How far is it from the Fortune Bay Casino to the Grand Portage Casino by trail?
    Again, probably 250+. Here your biggest concern would be the condition of the trail from Gunflint to Grand Portage, the first 10-20 miles are not groomed very often, if ever. After leaving Fortune Bay, get gas in Babbitt (~60 miles in), then again at Trestle Inn/Crooked Lake Resort (Another ~75 miles), and depending on what kind of mileage your sled can get, you may need to dive into Grand Marais, or go a little further north on the Gunflint to Trail Center (Take the Expressway if you decide to be safe on gas this way) My son and I have stayed in Schroeder, and from Schroeder to Trail Center, to Grand Portage and back to Schroeder is 240 round trip.

    How far is it from the Grand Portage Casino back to the Black Bear?
    This is where you are going to have a long day. ~40 miles back to the North Shore State Trail, and then about another 70 to Finland (Dive into Finland for Gas on the East entrance, and come out the West entrance back to the state trail), then another 75 to the north end of Duluth, and then probably another 75 around Duluth and back to Big Bear.

    Any must ride trails / or must see locations between any of these places?
    With that kind of miles, not sure you will have time to take any side trip/trails without another night, but if you feel up for it, the trails between Finland and Silver Bay offer some amazing views of Lake Superior.
    That's my best estimates. If you are going to do this on a weekend (Fri/Sat/Sun) the State Trail, depending on traffic, may slow you down a TON - They usually groom it Friday and Saturday nights, but by mid to late afternoon, it can be mogul city much of the way.

    One more thing, there are almost ZERO rail grades here to make time, only the Munger from south of Duluth back to Carlton, and even there, the speed limit in MN is 50 (Not that you won't be able to cruise more than that in spots, just don't expect to light her up for 20-30 miles at a time - aint gonna happen.)
    Last edited by xcr440; 09-24-2019 at 03:47 PM.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by xcr440 View Post
    That's my best estimates. If you are going to do this on a weekend (Fri/Sat/Sun) the State Trail, depending on traffic, may slow you down a TON - They usually groom it Friday and Saturday nights, but by mid to late afternoon, it can be mogul city much of the way.

    It almost sounds like you have some trail experience in the area..... LOL. When can I ride with ya? Its been since I was a teenager that we did N MN.

  4. #4
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    I am not sure if there is a groomed trail out of Black Bear but seem like there should be. I would think you could easily ditch ride if not right there, it has to be close. I do think your plan is definitely do-able and sounds like a blast. You can consult the MN DNR snowmobile page, snowmobiletrails.com an/or with local clubs to get an accurate trail mileage from point to point. My gut feeling is you will be fine with gas. Really it get a bit tight east of Ely and North of Silver Bay, definitely don't pass gas in these sections.

    Here are some clubs to reach out to or browse their websites- (my club, Drift Toppers grooms the first section of the State trail out of Duluth every Friday and Saturday night during the season with the DNR doing the whole length of the trail during the week.)


    https://www.woodcityriders.com/
    http://www.reservoirridersduluth.com/
    http://www.voyageursnowmobile.com/

    Iron Range trail map- https://ironrange.org/wp-content/upl...mobile-map.pdf
    https://snowmobiletrails.com/maps/index.htm

  5. #5
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    I think that riding out of Black Bear Casino is not that easy. You have to run ditches to get to the trails. Going thru Cloquet is tricky as well. Last year it was groomed thru town but some years with marginal snows it doesn’t get groomed much and it is confusing getting thru there.

    I would start further south by Moose Lake, there are several motels that would let you park plus there is a trail head parking area. It is a little less than 200 miles from Moose Lake to Vermilion. The best and fastest route will require a river crossing on the St Louis river that is marked but shouldn’t be crossed until mid January. It has been safe every time we have traveled it. The trails from Moose lake to Vermilion are generally good and I have made that trip many times.

    In my opinion I would start further north. Maybe even start at Fortune Bay. It is a hour and a half car drive from Cloquet to Vermilion and you are pretty much are guaranteed snow from the last weekend of December until March in the entire area you will be riding.

    I have no experience going to the Casino in Grand Portage by sleds. The furthest north we have been is the gunflint area. I have stayed there in the summer and it’s nice.

  6. #6
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    Everything xcr440 said is spot on except from my experience the Tomahawk trail from the Trestle Inn to past Isabella was the ugliest part of the ride. Twice now I have been through there once in January once in late February and both time's the trail was not groom from Thursday all the way through Sunday. So this was by far the worst part of the ride going from Fortune Bay to Grand Portage. Instead of putting fuel on in Grand Marais you can fuel up at the Devil's Track Lake Store if you are there before 9 at night. Also you can cut a few miles off of the trip from Fortune Bay to Grand Portage by taking Fire Road 166 just east of the Crooked Lake Resort and running that until you meet the North Shore State trail and turning left to head north.

    It would be a pity to be in the Grand Portage area and not get to see some of the waterfalls and local sites that are available from the trails. But to be honest the Grand Portage area does not mark their trails very well. The owner of the Devil Track Lake Store is very knowledgeable about the area. And is willing to share what he knows with anybody who asks. He will sit with a map and show you exactly where to go and where to avoid.

    Be be fueled up before 9 at night, or your options from that point on become very limited. There is 24-hour fuel at the Crooked Lake Resort, Hungry Jack Lodge on the Gunflint, and I know for sure at the gas station in Grand Portage and Babbitt. Your trip is doable, but if the trails are in rough shape you will have a very rough ride through
    parts of it.

    Also I can tell you that if you go on a busy weekend up by Fortune Bay the Taconite gets really rough, and if the snow is not deep it is best to avoid Laughng Fish trails the rocks are bad on it without good snow coverage. Enjoy your trip. I will say that both Grand Portage Casino, and Fortune Bay Casino we're great places to stay at. And most importantly for us the beds were extremely comfortable.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by WorkHardPlayHrd View Post
    Everything xcr440 said is spot on except from my experience the Tomahawk trail from the Trestle Inn to past Isabella was the ugliest part of the ride.
    Yeah, this is a very heavily traveled section of trail - They did procure another groomer for trying to keep up in this area a couple years ago, and it has been better, but again, very heavily traveled section of trail, like the state trail, and can get bad in a hurry.

    Quote Originally Posted by WorkHardPlayHrd View Post
    Also you can cut a few miles off of the trip from Fortune Bay to Grand Portage by taking Fire Road 166 just east of the Crooked Lake Resort and running that until you meet the North Shore State trail and turning left to head north.
    Unfortunately, this fire road has not been groomed like it used to be - there was some disagreement with the DNR or someone (Not sure who) with the local club out of Tofte grooming it, so if it looks good, take it, if not, stick to the trails.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by xcr440 View Post
    Yeah, this is a very heavily traveled section of trail - They did procure another groomer for trying to keep up in this area a couple years ago, and it has been better, but again, very heavily traveled section of trail, like the state trail, and can get bad in a hurry.
    Everytime we ran the Tomahawk last year it was pretty nice for that stretch. Or you can pull out a forest service map and run almost entirely forest roads from Isabella to well beyond Lutsen and avoid trails all together.



    Unfortunately, this fire road has not been groomed like it used to be - there was some disagreement with the DNR or someone (Not sure who) with the local club out of Tofte grooming it, so if it looks good, take it, if not, stick to the trails.
    This one was brutal lots of times last yr but sometimes it is perfect. Get north of there on the grade road and you can have some great running.

    The only time we've ran the Grand Portage trail it was awesome from the Gunflint on.

  9. #9
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    Thanks for that update on the fire road xcr440.

  10. #10
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    It seems like every fall/early winter somebody starts a thread about a backpack trip/loop of north minnesota for the following winter. The itineraries proposed by the op always seem to be way to short on time and long on miles for anyone to enjoy the proposed trip. Intending to go from Grand Portage to Black Bear in one day fits this to a T.

    Here is my proposition; google says its 1hr 36 min to drive from Black Bear to Fortune Bay. Trailer to Fortune Bay and stay there for the 2-3 nights of your trip. From Fortune Bay you are near the intersection of nearly every trail in northern minnesota.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by CrossfireLOW View Post
    It seems like every fall/early winter somebody starts a thread about a backpack trip/loop of north minnesota for the following winter. The itineraries proposed by the op always seem to be way to short on time and long on miles for anyone to enjoy the proposed trip. Intending to go from Grand Portage to Black Bear in one day fits this to a T.
    Completely agree. Once you have a few thousand miles under your belt in said season, and you are in "riding shape", then maybe.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by xcr440 View Post
    Completely agree. Once you have a few thousand miles under your belt in said season, and you are in "riding shape", then maybe.
    Yeah, from our house in Cloquet it's 110 miles to our cabin in Finland, then about another 80 to the Grand Portage trail turnoff, then 40 to GP. While not a horrible amount of miles, thats twisty trail all day, not RR beds. Fantastic twisty trail though!

  13. #13
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    That was what we noticed after years of riding in the UP then going to Northern Minnesota. Was the very drastic difference in the overall trail system. In the upper peninsula if you want to get somewhere fast you hit a rail trail and then do twisties. In northern Minnesota it's all twisties. There's nothing wrong with that. But if I'm correct it was CrossfireLOW that talked me out of doing a 400 mile track in one day to Lake of the Woods. Explaining the drastic difference in the trail system between the upper peninsula and Northern Minnesota. By the way to everybody on this website thank you for the advice you give everybody who's never rode in your area before.

  14. #14
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    Glad you asked !!! Our group does a trip like this every year (or almost). We park at the park 'n' ride 7 mikes north of Two Harbors and then ride the state trail up to Grand Portage day one. Day two, ride to the Trestle, Knotted Pine and up to Fortune Bay at Tower. (Lake Vermillion) Day three (easy day) ride back to Two Harbors. If we are going to spend the night at T.H. we might go for a side trip over towards Duluth first. All of these are done without busting balls all day! Have fun

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by WorkHardPlayHrd View Post
    That was what we noticed after years of riding in the UP then going to Northern Minnesota. Was the very drastic difference in the overall trail system. In the upper peninsula if you want to get somewhere fast you hit a rail trail and then do twisties. In northern Minnesota it's all twisties. There's nothing wrong with that. But if I'm correct it was CrossfireLOW that talked me out of doing a 400 mile track in one day to Lake of the Woods. Explaining the drastic difference in the trail system between the upper peninsula and Northern Minnesota. By the way to everybody on this website thank you for the advice you give everybody who's never rode in your area before.
    Glad I was able to help you out planning your trip.

    Here is a pic of the dnr interactive snowmobile trail map. A lot of the local trail maps I have seen for the same areas really generalize the paths not fully showing all the twists and turns. The mn arrrowhead has very few straight trail sections:
    ne mn trails.JPG

  16. #16
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    Agree with with Crossfire. Off season big mile plans are good but in reality it is tough to carry these things through. You can put on big miles but the stars have to line up pretty good. You need good trails. You need good weather. Not too cold, not to warm, not raining , little things like that. You need all your sleds to run perfect and nobody can get sick or stiff. All the family members and dogs and cats of every rider in the group must be in good health also. And then you have to do 3 or 4 days in a row. Just not realistic. There is lots of stuff to see in MN. If you are in a mad rush and behind schedule from start to finish you are not going to do the trip justice. This would be true anywhere on any trip not just MN.

  17. #17
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    Don't forget to eat at the Trestle Inn. Awesome, or at least it used to be as it has been some years since I was there last.

  18. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by GTL View Post
    Glad you asked !!! Our group does a trip like this every year (or almost). We park at the park 'n' ride 7 mikes north of Two Harbors and then ride the state trail up to Grand Portage day one. Day two, ride to the Trestle, Knotted Pine and up to Fortune Bay at Tower. (Lake Vermillion) Day three (easy day) ride back to Two Harbors. If we are going to spend the night at T.H. we might go for a side trip over towards Duluth first. All of these are done without busting balls all day! Have fun
    This is really helpful information. We like to stay at Casinos since there is entertainment and we can get a little drinky and not have to endanger anyone's lives. Is there anywhere in twin harbors worth staying at? We would likely ride your proposed route...Duluth area to GP then to Tower (stay there for 2 nights) and then back to the Duluth area.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by moose822 View Post
    This is really helpful information. We like to stay at Casinos since there is entertainment and we can get a little drinky and not have to endanger anyone's lives. Is there anywhere in Two Harbors worth staying at? We would likely ride your proposed route...Duluth area to GP then to Tower (stay there for 2 nights) and then back to the Duluth area.
    There is an AmericInn on the south side of town (And another one or two motels) or Superior Shores on the north side of town. SS would probably be more what you are looking for. Book early, they are popular with said sledders.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by xcr440 View Post
    There is an AmericInn on the south side of town (And another one or two motels) or Superior Shores on the north side of town. SS would probably be more what you are looking for. Book early, they are popular with said sledders.
    Superior Shores is where we stayed. Nice big parking lot. Highly recommend requesting a room in the main hotel as it is connected to the restaurant / bar. Otherwise you have to hop back on your sleds at the end of the night to get back to your room (too far to walk it).

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