Carved out by glaciers, this region has ample lakes and streams, beaches, rock formations, Boreal forests, and a diverse, rich environment for abundant fish and wildlife. Whether you visit to hike, canoe or just relax, nature watching is part of any Clearwater experience. This page offers a bit more detail about some of the natural wonders and notable wildlife of the region that are not as common in the lower 48.
Moose (Alces alces)
Seeing moose is a real treat on the Gunflint Trail and the region hosts a healthy and thriving population. Moose are primarily solitary animals usually only coming together in fall during the mating season. One of the reasons the speed limit on the Gunflint Trail ranges only from 40 to 50 mph is because these animals can appear at any time. Watch for cows with calves in early spring and throughout the summer. They can often be seen in clearcuts providing fresh browse and in shallow bodies of water consuming aquatic vegetation. Moose can be very dangerous when they feel threatened, especially cows with calves. Keep a good distance and do not approach.
Gray Wolf or Timber Wolf (Canis lupas)
The Gray Wolf (also know as the Timber Wolf) has made an amazing comeback over the past 30 years in northern Minnesota thanks in large part to Dr L. David Mech who gathered representatives from private, public and professional groups to form the International Wolf Center located in Ely, MN. Wolves are elusive and avoid human contact whenever possible. They can often be seen crossing roads in packs and are usually gone as quickly as they appeared. Wolves, like any wild animal can unfortunately become accustomed to human presence and conditioned to certain behaviors, most notably accepting food from passing tourists. Please do not feed any wildlife as it dulls their natural instincts and exposes them to unnecessary risks along roadways and campsites.
Black Bear (Ursus americanus)
Black Bears are a common sight along the Gunflint Trail and in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It is extremely rare that they are aggressive and in most cases reluctantly tolerate humans in their environment. There are some however, that have learned to exploit the opportunity that it brings. This means they want your food… Unfortunately some bears, especially within the BWCA have become conditioned to associating human presence with a meal ticket. They know what a food barrel looks like and what it has inside and will intentionally target those items in campsites and portages. If you need to make a double portage it is recommended you hang your food pack at any time you will not be present, and always while at your campsite. If you remove the incentive they will usually become disinterested fairly quickly. When you encounter a bear in close quarters, do not run. Instead make as much noise as you can “HEY BEAR!” to ensure it knows where you are and becomes uncomfortable remaining in the area. Always avoid sows with cubs and move away at a controlled pace.
Dark Sky Sanctuary
In 2020 the International Dark-Sky Sanctuary Association declared the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness as the world’s newest International Dark Sky Sanctuary. This is only the 13th location in the world to gain this special designation and at 1,098,000 acres in size – it is the largest. This makes this unique area within the Superior National Forest in northern Minnesota the first certified site in the state of Minnesota.
In 2021 Conde’ Nast Traveler named Clearwater Historic Lodge one of the top places in the contiguous United States to witness the Aurora Borealis. Cook County, Minnesota, just north of Duluth, is one of the lower 48’s most active aurora zones. The article proclaimed “one of the area’s best northern-lights-chasing basecamps is Clearwater Historic Lodge and Outfitters. These cabins, just minutes from the BWCA, provide north-facing panoramas from the shores of Clearwater Lake.” If you are lucky enough to be up here during an Aurora event, seeing the Northern Lights in person is an experience not to be missed and well worth staying up for!