November 29 – December 1
Thanksgiving Day Weekend
- Daytime air temperatures 28F – 38F
- Water temperature 50
- Winds 12 kts
- Waves 1-3 feet
- Wind, waves, rocks, open water
- Ice, snow
- Hot tubs, hot meals, warm beds
Seven of us took advantage of a long Thanksgiving weekend this year and kayaked the frigid waters of Lake Superior. Well… the Lake was as cold as it usually is, somewhere between 40 and 50 F, but elsewhere in the state things were pretty well locked up in ice and we knew this would be a last chance to paddle in the midwest for this year.
Located midway between Duluth, Minnesota and Thunder Bay Ontario, lies the quaint town of Grand Marais. What is commonly a jumping off point for summer canoeists heading to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Grand Marais and the rugged North Shore area of Lake Superior also offer majestic scenery and an abundance of sea kayaking opportunities. Summer is the usual time of year to kayak on the “Big Lake”, but winter can provide it’s special brand of beauty and challenge. White snow and icy shores, contrast starkly with the black water and rocks. This truly is a (wet) winter wonderland.
Launching in town, whether inside the harbor or at East Bay is very convenient and easy and allows for a quick return to your nearby hotel. We launched at East Bay and soon we were enjoying the beautiful ice formations on the shore of artist’s point and took many portrait type photos that would make pretty Christmas cards. We also played the areas on both sides of the harbor mouth.
Rock gardening (an aspect of sea kayaking of playing in waves around rocks) in this area is phenomenal; we had been here before, many times in fact, but the waves and wind are always different and we never get bored. This area offers a beautiful playground with lots of varied structure, and the town of Grand Marais offers many choices of lodging and restaurants.
There are a few drawbacks to visiting this time of year though: the temperatures are cold, so appropriate skills and gear are required. Additionally, because the weather is cold, and the paddling sessions are often shorter, the long winter nights also need to be considered: after watching the annual Christmas Parade, a hot tub, and videos in the hotel room are one way to pass the time, or catch the live entertainment at the Gunflint Tavern. If you are off the water in time you can shop the many galleries and stores. Almost everything is within walking distance, so you can do a little window shopping on your way to any of the restaurants.
This is not an adventure for novices: gear and experience will be your greatest assets. Over rating your skills could lead to your demise; Lake Superior is a cold body of water that sets up it’s own weather patterns and can change quickly. Keep in mind that you must also be part of a skilled group at this time of year, it is likely that there is no one who can assist you if you run into trouble; these areas are remote and isolated.
Consider visiting other parts of the north shore as well; we paddled the area of Split Rock Lighthouse on our way back to the twin cities, but there are also many beautiful places for winter kayaking along the way, some that have easy put-ins and others with arduous portages.