Last weekend three friends and I rode snowmobiles in the Minnesota Arrowhead Region. All of them — Jim, Tom and Nick — are fellow snowmobile club members in the town where we live, and every season many of our snowmobiling miles are logged with each other. While we’ve all ridden in the Arrowhead many times, this spring snowmobile trip would include a few snowmobiling Firsts for all of us.
The first First was our unloading spot. Normally we drop at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MnDNR) parking lot near Two Harbors, Minnesota, but this time we shortened our ride in the truck by about 30 miles and dropped on the north end of the city of Duluth — both lots have direct access to the scenic and fun C.J. Ramstad North Shore State Trail. Despite that we made a wrong turn off of Interstate 35 and had to wrangle the truck and trailer through narrow neighborhood streets that were lined with 5-foot tall snow banks, we reached our destination without any real trouble and were on the trail under sunny skies before 11 o’clock Saturday morning.
Our second First was that we rode a different trail. After running through the swamps and straightaways of the fast and familiar Yukon Trail, we reached an intersection that, if we had turned right would have taken us directly to the Knotted Pine Inn near Isabella, Minnesota. But this was supposed to be a weekend of Firsts, so we took the trail straight ahead that led to the old lumber town of Skibo and then to Hoyt Lakes.
The first few miles on this recently established trail were open and fast, but then the trail narrowed, significantly, and became more like a path that was much more technical and scenic, forcing us to reduce our average speed. As we wound through the swampy forest that was spiced with small hills and short rises and falls, the ride started to feel like a backcountry expedition. We waved at three other riders who were resting at a clearing and enjoying the early spring weather.
Dinner on Saturday was at the Grand Ely Lodge in Ely, Minnesota, and that was our third First of the day. If you ever go to the lodge via snowmobile and you have a choice, eat in the lounge. Unfortunately for us, people were seated at all of the tables there, so we ate in the more formal restaurant where a high-collared knit sweater and pair of mukluks would have been a more appropriate outfit. I had spaghetti and meatballs, and thankfully managed not to drip any sauce on my Klim bibs.
Many members of our snowmobile club, including the four of us, make an annual trek from the exurbs of Minneapolis to attend a weekend getaway of snowmobiling and fellowship — recently it’s been held at a resort on Lake Vermilion, a vast body of water near Ely. Terrain there is gorgeous, rural and rugged, and the area’s snowmobile trails are some of the best I’ve ridden.
In the interest of finding a place that could host our large group for a future club trip, we rented a small condo at a lodge on White Iron Lake, also near Ely. The resort is on the Tomahawk Snowmobile Trail, and we’d ridden by it a few times over the years, but never had we stopped in until last weekend. This was our fourth and final First of the weekend.
The lodge host/bartender said we were the only guests that night, proving that with fewer people on the trails this time of the year, there’s usually less competition to find a place to stay during late-season rides.
I love to ride snowmobiles, and more rides allow me to do a more thorough job evaluating and photographing the machines and aftermarket products that we test, and as a late-season renegade, I won’t give up on the snowmobile season very easily.
Now that it’s April, I’ll regularly search for rideable snow within a reasonable drive, monitor weather forecasts and check MnDNR trail reports several times per day (here’s where I go). Parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Michigan U.P. are forecast to get up to another foot of snow this week, and, like last season, some MnDNR-managed trails in the Arrowhead Region will remain open to snowmobiles. So needless to say, the wheels are in motion to have another great snowmobile trip this weekend.
Here’s a story about one of my spring snowmobiling adventures last season.