Archive for the ‘Bearskin Lodge’ Category

Wolf/Moose Drama on Crocodile Lake

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

Strong winds left many canoeists windbound over the past few days all over this area of the BWCA.  As the winds subsided this morning and paddlers began to make it back to the lodge, many adventurous tales were shared. 

One of the more interesting stories came from a couple who waited out the wind on Crocodile Lake.  Since early July, when the Lyzhoft family took this moose picture on the north arm of East Bearskin Lake, our guests have been reporting sightings of a moose cow and two calves.  The moose family was first regularly spotted on the BWCA end of East Bearskin Lake; more recent reports were that they were living closer to Crocodile Lake.  (Of course, these could be 2 different moose families, but the trend in sightings seemed to indicate gradual movement towards Crocodile.)

Yesterday, while waiting out the wind on Croc, a couple saw a moose cow and two calves being chased by a pack of wolves.  A large black wolf was in the lead, with two other wolves following.  Using binoculars, they could see that the wolves had already come close to catching one of the calves.  There was a large red gash on the rump of one of them.  The moose family ran along the shoreline on Crocodile with the wolves in hot pursuit.  It was quite memorable, and a bit disturbing, to watch.  Fortunately, it appeared that the moose family escaped – or at least everyone hopes that’s how it really turned out.  We’re eager for somebody to return from Crocodile soon with a photo of a moose cow and her two safe calves.

Win this handcrafted St. Croix Canoes paddle

Sunday, August 8th, 2010


Love to take photos? Have you rented a canoe, tent, gear, or done a complete outfitting trip with Bearskin Wilderness Outfitters this year?

If so, you could be the winner of this handcrafted, bent-shaft canoe paddle created for Bearskin by St. Croix Canoes. Submit your photos of your BWCA trip to   Let us know when you took the trip with us and what gear you rented from Bearskin Wilderness Outfitters.  We’ll choose one winner of this lovely paddle from all photos submitted by October 31.

Now for the odds of winning: we haven’t received very many photos for this  contest yet. Realistically, the paddle could easily be yours if you have photos from your trip and you rented a canoe or items from Bearskin Wilderness Outfitters.

Are you still dreaming  of a BWCA trip this year?  You still have a chance to take the winning photo on a BWCA trip.     Bearskin Wilderness Outfitters   still has many openings available for trips in late summer and early fall.  We have several great special deals that make a canoe trip to the BWCA a bit more affordable.

Happy Anniversary to Us

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

It’s our anniversary.  The McCloughan family has officially owned Bearskin Lodge for 3 full years; we’re in our 4th summer of resort life.  We’re wildly busy at the moment.  It appears that 2010 will be the best summer in many years.  As always, we are blessed to have fabulous employees who excel at stepping in to do whatever is needed.  Someday I will finish the blog I started to write  to  introduce all our remarkable 2010 employees  — here’s hoping I have time to get it done before they all go back to school! 

If you check this blog regularly, you are well aware that the Bearskin blog hasn’t been updated nearly as often as it used to be.  This is partially because we are so busy, but we also have Facebook to blame.  It’s so much easier and faster to spend 5 minutes posting a few short sentences on the Facebook site than to commit to writing a real blog post.  Most of our guests who use Facebook have discovered the Bearskin fan page by now, but you don’t need to be a regular Facebook user to access the Bearskin Facebook page.  Just bookmark this link, then you can check it out for the most frequent Bearskin updates even if you aren’t the “Facebook type.”  I will return to blogging regularly when we have more time but meanwhile, new info appears on our Facebook site almost every day. 

As we reach our 3 year anniversary, it’s obvious that a few things at Bearskin haven’t changed.  In our first blog entry in 2007, we wrote:

The past month has been mostly a blur.  Overnight, we went from being two teachers on summer vacation to full-fledged resort owners, operating one of the most distinguished resorts in Minnesota during the prime busy season.  We had to “hit the ground running,” as they say, and there hasn’t been much of chance to stop for a breath ever since.   Almost hourly, maybe even minute by minute, we learn more about how much we don’t know.

Daily life here, especially during prime summer season, still can be “a blur.”  This is a busy, busy lifestyle.  We know far more than we did back in 2007, but we’re still learning.  We are grateful on a daily basis for the good advice of Dave and Barb Tuttle, as well as for the excellent young problem-solving minds of long-time employees Andy McDonnell and our son, Quinn McCloughan. 

 We continue to be amazed and somewhat awed by the deep connection so many of our guests have to Bearskin.  In 2007 we wrote: 

What has surprised us most is the deep level of historical connection so many families have to Bearskin Lodge.  We had no idea. Week after week we meet multi-generational families who have been coming to Bearskin for years, even decades.  So many grandparents with their children and grandchildren, repeating Bearskin traditions that have endured for years.   The woman whose parents honeymooned in the original lodge 51 years ago.  The teenagers who point out album pictures of themselves as toddlers on Bearskin’s sandy beach. The couple who celebrate every anniversary in their special cabin, the one where they held their wedding.  Every week this resort is filled with people whose memories of Bearskin are a significant part of their lives.

 We’ve been entrusted with taking care of a place that is truly special to many, many people.  As we enter our fourth year at Bearskin, we will continue to take that responsibility very seriously.

Thank you to all our guests for 3 fabulous years. We appreciate you.  This wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable if Bearskin guests weren’t all so uniformly wonderful.

Bearskin’s new technological wonder — a fishing license machine that actually works!

Friday, May 14th, 2010

Andy, showing off our new high-tech fishing license machine.


Hey, want to see Bearskin’s brand new toy?

It’s our high-tech, state-of-the-art, Minnesota  DNR fishing license machine.  It has a large touch screen monitor, so we can actually see the data we input.  It connects to the real world through an Ethernet cord, not a dial-up phone line.  It prints fishing licenses without crumpling them into paper fan shapes or cutting off half the name.  It’s way, way smarter than the Bearskin Lodge cash register.

Bearskin Lodge has always sold Minnesota fishing licenses.  It’s not something we do because we’re going to pay off our mortgage with massive fishing license sales.  The DNR pays us $1/license.  We do it as a service; unfortunately this service has not always been a positive experience. 

For the past few years, every time we sold a fishing license Bearskin probably invested $10 in paid employee time trying to make the license machine work right.  Entire fishing seasons could have passed by while guests waited for puzzled Bearskin employees to problem solve about extracting crumpled, misprinted, incorrect fishing licenses from the jammed machine.  The DNR would not be pleased if they ascertained how often we’ve sent a fisherman out on the lake with a mangled blue piece of license paper containing half the data.

Last winter the DNR announced they were adopting a new licensing system and that only a limited number of sales outlets would be receiving the expensive new license machines.  We applied to receive a machine and like many other businesses along the Gunflint Trail, our application was turned down.  Of course we were livid about this—and also sort of relieved.  There is nothing enjoyable about repeatedly having to ask people what they weigh and how old they are while you enter and re-enter data into a troubled fishing license machine.

Heaven help the poor employee who mistypes one digit while entering the data.  Once I sold a license to a 6’7” nonresident whose license purchase was so jinxed that the sale took almost an hour.   When we were finally done and the problematic machine spit out a mutilated, smeared license, I noticed that it said he was only 3’7”.  “Please, please,” I thought to myself, “please don’t detect my typo and ask me to fix this.”   I handed over the license and watched his eyes linger on the print a little longer than usual.  Then he quickly shoved the license into his pocket and nearly ran out the door.   I wasn’t the only one who didn’t want to deal with a correction.  When he buys his license this year, perhaps somebody will wonder about his enormous growth spurt.

So when we first heard that we wouldn’t be getting a new machine, we were only semi-heartbroken.  Bob wrote a convincing letter to the DNR about why Bearskin truly needed the updated equipment, but the idea of encouraging people to buy fishing licenses online  or at gas stations along the route to Bearskin was appealing.  The online option is especially attractive for two reasons:  you can lie about what you weigh in the privacy of your own home and (this is the best!) you can REPRINT YOUR LICENSE every time you lose it.  For some of us, loss prevention is the real deal maker.

Bob is very persuasive. The DNR decided that Bob was right and Bearskin did deserve to have a license machine after all. It arrived this week and truly, it is a beautiful thing.  We can see what we type. The paper feed for printing licenses works correctly. Fixing a 3 foot height difference typo is actually feasible. 

Purchasing a license will still take some time.  You need to furnish a driver’s license or state ID, as well as your social security number.  There are several options for scanning driver’s license info into the system that could speed up the purchase, especially if you regularly buy a fishing license. But in our trial runs so far, we still often end up keying in a great deal of personal info. It may not be faster, but it might be better.  The new system probably won’t be trouble-free, but we’re hopeful that a fishing license purchase at Bearskin will no longer be a traumatic experience for you or for us.

New canoe day on the Gunflint Trail

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

You probably know  by now that Bearskin is getting back into the canoe outfitting business, after an absence of several decades.  Some days we certainly wonder why we keep trying new things.  Doing business exactly the same way over and over would surely be easier.  But noooo, we have to keep venturing into new territory, complicating our lives with new ideas.

Quinn spent all winter shopping for the best possible gear for Bearskin Wilderness Outfitters. Now all the gear he ordered is arriving and he’s in St. Cloud for 2 months, coaching the St. Cloud Cathedral girls ultimate frisbee team (2nd place last weekend in the Western National High School Championships–they will be formidable in the state tournament, but that’s off topic…)   This is a  little like letting somebody else unwrap all your Christmas presents while you’re out of town — we get to open all the new boxes of gear, while Quinn only hears about what he received from afar.

Yesterday the new canoes arrived.  Such excitement.  This is how the canoes traveled to the Gunflint Trail:

Needless to say, most of these canoes were for other outfitters on the trail. Just imagine driving from southern Minnesota on a windy afternoon with this baby in tow!

 You don’t just dump a pile of canoes like this and drive off again. Removing the individual canoes is a painstaking process.  Here’s Andy precariously balanced on a beam, untying Kevlar canoes with Andy Ahrendt of Tuscarora and Mike Sherfy of Rockwood.

 Down comes a Kevlar canoe. It’s a team effort.



Kate, from Bearskin, is waiting below to carry a canoe away. 


 Now Kate happens to be very, very strong, but one of the beautiful things about Kevlar canoes is how light and easy they are to carry and move. Once Kate mastered the art of seeing where she was headed, she had no trouble easily manuvering these light canoes. 

Dave Tuttle was along for the ride.  Dave suggested that I take a picture of him demonstrating his “take charge attitude” during this process.  You can see by Nancy Seaton’s face (behind Dave) how seriously Dave’s leadership skills were taken.

We spotted all the other outfitters smirking a bit when this is how Bearskin transported our new canoes back to the lodge. Pffffft.  Our canoe trailer is not done yet, so this approach required a few redundant trips.

Of course, an inaugural paddle was a necessary end to the day.  Bob and Kate took a quick spin around the East Bearskin Lake bay. They both liked how nicely this canoe handled. Bob’s back was very appreciative of how easily he could pick it up and flip it over. We’ve paddled thousands of miles in aluminum canoes and Bob has never been a wimp about portaging a heavy canoe on a long trail. But oh yes, he did enjoy the simplicity of moving these new boats around.

Waiting for loon tunes

Monday, April 19th, 2010


Loon photo taken by Bearskin guest John Finnegan, who takes many amazing photos whenever he stays here

No sound characterizes the Bearskin Lodge experience more definitively than the call of a loon.  A quote from a blurb for the Duluth Kiwanis Club, which is offering a stay at Bearskin Lodge as an auction item this weekend, illustrates how integral a loon call is to a Bearskin visit.  Kiwanis Club member (and Bearskin guest) Grant Nelson wrote this about staying at Bearskin Lodge:

Imagine waking up in your own private cabin on the border of the pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area.  You walk outside, breathing deeply in the crisp morning air, and as you listen, you hear loons singing their melodious chorus.  Meandering down a short trail, you reach your own private dock and for a long moment, take in the awesome beauty of East Bearskin Lake.

Our guests come here for the seclusion and quiet, but in reality, guests don’t actually want complete quiet.  They want the silence to be broken up occasionally by a beautiful loon tremolo.  We’ve all learned to listen for that sound when we’re here.

Our unexpectedly early spring has presented us with ample opportunities to enjoy the outdoors this April.  We’re hiking and canoeing at Bearskin right now like we normally would be in late May. It’s just a little too quiet, though – the loon songs are missing.

You can’t blame the loons for failing to arrive on ‘ice out” day April 3rd.  Last year loons showed up in early May when East Bearskin was still covered with ice. We watched them circle the lake, futilely searching for a safe landing spot, probably wondering why they didn’t vacation oceanside a little longer.

Image courtesy of Britannica media

Common Golden Eye, photo courtesy Britannica Web

We thought we saw loons on East Bearskin several times this month, but each time it’s been a black and white loon imposter.  The Golden Eye Ducks were the first to arrive.  From far away they can resemble a loon, but don’t have quite the right size, shape, or swimming style to fool an observer for long.  More of a party bird than loons, Golden Eyes tend to hang out in the bay with throngs of their duck buddies.

Photo from

Bufflehead, photo courtesy Delta Waterfowel

 Groups of Buffleheads were everywhere on East Bearskin for about a week, zooming crazily around and around the lodge. Buffleheads have hyperactivity issues.  They just can’t sit still on the lake; they have to fly off chasing friends until late at night. When we first caught sight of a Bufflehead flying past the lodge, the distinctive black and white markings left us wondering if we’d just spotted a little, overly flappy loon. After the 1000th flyby, though, we quit even noticing. Loons have more sense than to fly in circles around the lodge all evening.

Merganser in the bay on East Bearskin, 4/18

 The arrival of Mergansers a couple days later almost fooled us again.  In spite of their very distinctive punky hairstyles, the beak and neck of a Merganser bear some resemblance to a loon in silhouette.   When they’re not trying to attract the opposite sex with fancy dance moves, the Mergansers have a subdued, solitary swimming style that more resembles loon behavior.  And they do make noises, but Merganser sounds might be called more of a croak than a “melodious chorus.”

 So every day we watch the lake for the black and white bird that will provide us with loon songs. We’ve been keeping track of loon migration at Journey North.  Loons have been in the Twin Cities for awhile now, and showed up in the Duluth area last week.  Andy heard loons yesterday on Seagull Lake.  It won’t be long until we hear loon tunes again here.  When the loons are singing their songs again on East Bearskin, maybe we can finally quit wondering when the next snowstorm is going to hit and accept that it really has turned into a beautiful spring on the Gunflint Trail!

Planning ahead for Gunflint Green Up

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Visitors and guests at Bearskin frequently ask about the 2007 Ham Lake fire.  More and more often now the question goes something like this:  “Didn’t you guys have a fire up here quite a few years ago?”  It’s surprising how fast the time has passed since that spring of 2007, but on the Gunflint Trail the fire still feels like very recent history. 

Bearskin was fortunate to be out of the burn area, but you don’t have to travel very much farther up the trail to begin seeing the blackened remains of a formerly beautiful forest.  Because  a low green undergrowth has gradually spread across the forest floor, the first sight of the burned areas is not as shocking as it was shortly after the fire. The starkness of blackened trees, rocks, underbrush, and soil is muted by a carpet of green.  Still, you don’t have to drive very far through “the burn” before the degree of forest devastation becomes almost overwhelming.  Underbrush grows back quickly; 100-year-old trees do not. 

Nature has been getting a bit of help to replace trees during the Gunflint Green Up each May since the fire. Thousands of trees have been planted during this event by people from all over who love the area and want to contribute to its rejuvenation.

The weather during Gunflint Green Up has become a bit of a standing joke. The month of May can do a good imitation of winter when hundreds of tree planters are counting on a warm, sunny day!  But this year our spring has been so gorgeous that it’s hard to believe it could still snow for Gunflint Green Up.  If ever there’s a year when being out in the woods in early May could be lovely, this is the time.

Nancy Seaton, the coordinator of Gunflint Green Up, sent out this information about the schedule for the Green Up.  Bearskin is offering a special rate to stay during these dates.  Consider the possibility of being part of this special Gunflint Trail event. Nancy wrote:

With all this spring weather it’s easy to get in the mood for Gunflint Green Up.   On May 7 & 8 we’ll be releasing some of the 100,000 trees that have been planted during the previous Gunflint Green Up celebrations.  Releasing is cutting away the competitive vegetation from around the small pine trees–letting the sunshine in.

Friday, May 7
2:00 Sneak Peak at what’s coming to the new Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center
3:00  Centennial Trail Hike (Note: this is a new trail!)
5:30-7:30  Welcome Picnic at the Big Top at Gunflint Lodge with music by the Pincushion Warblers
7:30  Bill Lane will share his “Owl in a Night’s Work” presentation.

Saturday, May 8
9:30  Releasing trees at assigned locations along the Gunflint Trail
5:30-7:30  Thank You Dinner at the Big Top at Gunflint Lodge with music by The Sivertones
7:30-  Dance to The Trail’s End Band

Please register by April 30 at  The registration fee for all meals and programs is $45 per individual or $100 per family (1- 2 adults and their children 16 years of age and younger) and includes Friday’s dinner, evening presentation, Saturday tree releasing, box lunch, dinner, dance, and t-shirt.  Please visit the website for ala carte options, registration and more information.

Caring for our environment is a meaningful experience. Please join us for this community building event.

Early ice-out in BWCA makes news

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

The ice-outs of an early spring trigger awe in northern Minnesota (See quote from Bob midway through the article!)

Ice off of northeastern Minnesota lakes a week earlier than ever recorded

And the winner of the ice guessing contest is: alas, nobody!

Monday, April 5th, 2010

Well, that was a short-lived “ice out” contest!  On Saturday, April 3rd, the ice went out of East Bearskin Lake.  Bob watched it go and as always, it was an amazing event to watch.  Of course, Bob and Quinn have already paddled all over on the lake. 

We didn’t have an “ice out” guess that came even close.  I thought I was being radically aggressive in my own early  “ice out” prediction of April 15.  Most people chose dates in late April or early May, often optimistially pushing the “ice out” date a couple days earlier than the typical May 8th. Then there was Shane Mossman, who suggested July 24th.  That seemed about as probable as April 3rd, honestly.

One of Bearskin’s regular fans, Catherine Woods, watched the ice go out on camera Satuday.  She  didn’t get the usual forewarning we generally give our regular web cam viewers for this event.  Normally I set the camera to record pictures much more often, and then we hype it a little.  Because the ice out date and the fishing opener have often been in a “neck & neck” race, we always get a huge viewership of the webcam as the ice melts.  This year I was away for Easter and didn’t even suspect that the “ice out” was already occuring.  Catherine was lucky to spot it!

It’s pretty surprising that the ice is gone, not just because it’s so early but also because of how thick the ice still was.  From far away our ice looked just like early May ice, but it was more solid than it appeared.  Bob and I were out by the campground picnic grounds on Wednesday, lobbing big rocks out onto the ice to see if they’d go through.   They didn’t. 

At this point,  not every lake is like East Bearskin.  Bob, Quinn & Kate were on Pike Lake Sunday (a few miles more south and a bit closer to Lake Superior), where the ice on the south shore still looks walkable.  It will be awhile before the ice is gone on all our area lakes.

There’s always a good reason to visit the Gunflint Trail but, realistically, April has never been  a top month to be here.  Too late to ski, too soon to canoe or fish, trails could be covered in snow or covered in mud — April’s biggest selling point has been the solitude, not outdoor activities.  This year, however, could be quite different.  Hiking on the ski trails  has been fantastic lately, and now canoeing or kayaking is also an option.  Cabin rates everywhere on the Gunflint Trail are always at their all-time low in April.  We know anything could happen with Minnesota weather in the spring, but this just might be a great time for an April getaway in unusual spring conditions that probably won’t routinely occur in the future.

Could winter really be over? Nah…. Time to start guessing the “ice out” date!

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

No snow to measure!

 Winter disappeared on the Gunflint Trail rather suddenly.  We didn’t expect that.  

The last two winters went on far too long, with snowfalls in April, May, and even early June.  The ice barely went out in time for the fishing opener.  This extended winter made it very difficult to deal with the seasonal transition at Bearskin.  We can’t put in docks when there is ice on the lakes or take off storm windows when a cabin is surrounded by two feet of snow. We assumed it would be more of the same this year. 

So now suddenly the snow is gone.  It happened quickly, during a time when skiing is normally fabulous.  Guests handled the peculiar change well.  Midwesterners are so thrilled by the first budding days of spring that it offsets the disappointment of saying goodbye to winter activities.  The combination of frozen ground and no snow makes hiking on the ski trails this March exceptionally nice — there’s been much less of the “caked mud on shoes” experience that often defines spring. 

We aren’t so naive as to think that we won’t get hit hard with snow again in April.  Check out the pictures from April 2009 and April 2008.  The Gunflint Trail has a history of April snowstorms.  But this has been a pleasant reprieve, even if it doesn’t last. 

We’re all wondering how the warmer temps will affect the ice.  Ice fishermen reported very unusual March ice conditions when they drilled holes in some nearby lakes — in places, they said,  the ice looks “rotten” or “like a snow cone.” A car went through the ice near shore last week on a Gunflint Trail lake north of us.  Yesterday East Bearskin Lake was covered with huge patches of water.  Today the patches seem to be frozen again, but ridges are forming across the lake. Near the lodge, East Bearskin lake looks like a teacher demo for an 8th grade earth science class about plate tectonics. Each night the lake makes huge, loud booming sounds. 

Ice ridge forming on East Bearskin Lake

A little of the past “ice out” history is documented in this blog from last spring.  The date the ice goes out has been fairly consistent, but we’re wondering how the warmer temps and lack of snow cover will affect the ice this year.  Last year we had a fairly informal “guess the ice out date” contest through this blog; a few guests came remarkably close. 

Guessing this year might be more of a challenge!  We’ll offer a T-shirt prize this year to the person who comes the closest to the date.  The guess has to be posted 5 or more days before the actual ice out date. No fair watching the ice go out on web cam and posting “now, now, now!”  (Although last year many people called to say they did see it go out on the web cam — it was really quite absorbing to watch.)  Post your guesses as comments on this blog or, if you have a Facebook account, on Bearskin’s  Facebook  fan page.  

If you’re seriously into date guessing games, there’s also a contest on the Gunflint Trail Association Facebook fan page.  Facebook users can make a guess for East Bearskin, Gunflint, and Saganaga Lakes. To find the guessing game discussion, look for the tab near the top of the GTA page labeled “Boxes.”