Snow, snow and more snow! Yes after 3 years of waiting we actually have a respectable amount of the white stuff. As a result all trails in Northeast Minnesota are open and in good condition. On top of that there is more snow falling right now and more on the way this weekend. Take advantage of it because spring is just around the corner. Also be careful in the corners, there is a little bit of ice under the snow and it doesn’t take long for wannabe racers to wash those corners down to ice.
Well we are busy setting up for riding in the Yeti Tour this weekend but we did get to check the trails out this afternoon. Around Duluth the CJ Ramstad North Shore Trail was groomed but it has some bare spots in areas facing the sun- otherwise it wasn’t bad and as always the further north you go the better it gets. The GIA trails up north are open and in good shape. Happy riding to you all!
Tucked away off a little known trail just past Two Harbors, Minnesota, is one of the greatest hidden gems in the world of must see snowmobile destinations: The John A Brandt Memorial Shelter. I know right away you are thinking to yourself “Really? A shelter made your list of must see snowmobile destinations in the state?” The simple answer to that question is a resounding “YES!” Sure, there are plenty of trailside shelters all over the state of Minnesota, some are simple and some are more extravagant, but the John A. Brandt Memorial Shelter is one that in our humble opinion, has yet to be topped. So what makes this shelter a yearly destination for snowmobilers in the know and why should you put it on your snowmobile trip must see list? To answer that question you first need to know the story behind how this shelter came to be.
There is no doubt that the undisputed King of Northeast Minnesota snowmobile trails is the CJ Ramstad North Shore State Trail. The NSST starts in Duluth and runs 150 miles north to Grand Marais, it is the snowmobile trail version of I-35. Everybody knows about the North Shore State Trail, and it gets widely
used primarily because it is the center point of the entire Northeast Minnesota trail system- throw in occasional stunning views of Lake Superior, dramatic terrain changes and a variety of snow conditions and it is easy to understand why the North Shore State Trail gets so much traffic. What the majority of people don’t know is that while the NSST is a great trail, it provides access to trails that are even more dynamic and give you a more enjoyable riding experience without all of the traffic. The Yukon trail is one of those trails. Most people have no idea the Yukon Trail even exists even though thousands of snowmobilers ride past its entrance every year. The main reason the Yukon goes unnoticed is that it is a Grant-In-Aid trail that virtually runs parallel to the North Shore State Trail. Although the trail entrance off of the North Shore State Trail is well marked, hundreds of people blow by it every day, and boy are they missing out.
Minnesota has 22,000 miles of state snowmobile trails, many of which were built in the 1970’s for 1970’s era snowmobiles, which mean lots of sharp turns that were designed for sleds with a top speed of 30 miles an hour. When the Yukon was constructed in the mid 80’s, it was designed to handle more modern and powerful snowmobiles, this means long straightaways, wider trails and not as many of the tight hairpin turns that are common on other trails. The trail is meticulously maintained the Voyageur Snowmobile Club out of Two Harbors, and best of all the Yukon trail leads you to the iconic Tomahawk trail, which is regarded as one of the best trails in the entire United States.
Once you leave the North Shore State Trail and head north on the Yukon you will eventually come to an intersection of the Yukon and Brimson trails, just past that you will come upon a sign that reads “Scenic Overlook” with an arrow pointing up a steep hill. If you take that turn you will find yourself at the John A. Brandt Memorial Shelter and realize you have just found your own little slice of snowmobile heaven.
The Shelter was actually the brain child of John Brandt and other members of the Voyageur snowmobile club. While scouting possible locations for a new shelter in the winter of 2010-11, John pointed out the site and told the other members of the group that he thought it would be a good spot to build a shelter. In March of 2011 John was killed in a snowmobile accident, that summer the club decided to go ahead with the shelter on the site that John had pointed out, they bushwhacked their way to the top of the hill and then brought in a dozer to level things off. In the fall of 2012 construction of the various buildings began and by the time the snow fell the shelter was ready.
Initially only the club members knew that the shelter existed, but as time passed a few snowmobilers that had straggled onto the Yukon trail followed the signs to the top of the hill where they found top notch accommodations and spectacular views. Among other things the site boasts the mother of all shelters, complete with a deck, benches and an indoor fireplace. There is also often times a gas grill available for cookouts, as well as a large outdoor fire pit, a wood shed and the nicest outhouse you may ever see in your life. But what really takes your breath away is the fantastic views of the Northern Minnesota wilderness. Atop this hill you can see for miles in every direction at rolling snow covered hills and valleys- every square foot of the site gives you another stunning view to the point that you use up all of your cell phones memory taking pictures.
Soon these snowmobilers told their friends about the shelter and then they told their friends and it rapidly became a must see destination for countless weekend rides as well as a pit stop for other organized snowmobile activities Like the ALS Blizzard Tour or the March of Dimes Yeti Tour charity rides. Throw in the fact that the Voyageur club is often present cooking up some burgers, hot dogs and brats and it makes it that much more rewarding.
A trip to the John A. Brandt memorial shelter is always a memorable affair. Often times you can stop at the shelter and you will be in the midst of up to twenty or more sleds, other times you and your buddies are the only ones there to soak up the solitude and beauty of the place, then there are those truly magical times when you spy a bald Eagle gliding over the valley below. Club members like to think the Eagle is John’s Spirit looking down over all of the snowmobilers that stop at his shelter enjoying the day, just like he had done out on the trails so many times in the past.
Trail conditions are a little better than last week. A tiny bit of snow made a difference but still the GIA system around Duluth isn’t in very good shape even though some trails have been groomed. The ALS Blizzard tour kicked off today which will beat up a few trais as well (200 snowmobiles tend to do that). Keep your eyes open and ride right.
Today on the trail we met- us. We were the first ones in the parking lot and were greeted by falling snow and a trail that hadn’t seen any snowmobiles since it was groomed on Thursday. Even with the new snow, the trail out of Duluth was pretty thin and there were some areas with grass, dirt and leaves poking up through the snow, but for the most part the trail was pretty enjoyable. There were also some thin areas where logging operations were taking place and in some high areas where the wind had blown off the snow. We also encountered some big divots in the trail at the bottom of some hills and several stretches of icy trail. The snow conditions were all over the map today- some places had tons of snow where others only had a few inches but overall I would rate the trails as being in “good” condition. We had one stretch where it was snowing so hard that combined with the snow dust kicked up by the lead sled visibility was virtually zero. Riding while it is snowing just puts the fun factor off the chart and today was no exception.
Our biggest surprise of the day is that we rode for almost 60 miles before we saw another sled and even then all of the traffic was confined to the trails around Two Harbors. Granted it was only 5 above zero but still we expected to see more people out. The other bit of unusualness is that when we did finally encounter other sleds it was around the Two Harbors area- and when we say we encountered sleds we mean there were a lot of them. I’m not sure if all of those snowmobilers were just slews of Two Harbors residents out enjoying the day or if it was a bunch of people spending the weekend there and riding from their hotel. Either way, it shows that the community of Two Harbors has embraced the sport of snowmobiling and they are generating a lot of revenue to be sure.
We hope the snow keeps coming so they can finally open up the Duluth area GIA trails, otherwise everyone will have to keep filtering north.
A little bit of snow and some seriously cold weather makes for some good trail conditions. Let’s start with the CJ Ramstad North Shore Trail- The whole trail was groomed this week from Duluth to Grand Marais and is set up beautifully. As for the GIA trails around Duluth- There still isn’t a lot of snow to work with so trail conditions are poor to say the least. Just 20 Miles or so north of Duluth the depth of snow doubles and the trail along with the GIA trails are open groomed and in nice shape. Once again the farther north you get the better it is. We may see a little snow Friday night too which will make things even better. It will be cold this weekend so dress warm and we will see you out on the trail!