This is the first checkpoint on the trail, and the busiest! It is the finishing line for the BG 40 teams, and will see all of the BG 120 and Marathon teams stop in too. Starting somewhere around 2:00 PM this checkpoint will see a steady stream of dog teams and the parking lot will be filled with dog trucks.
Most of the BG120 and Marathon mushers will stop here for perhaps 4 hours to feed and rest their dogs, but occasionally a dog team is so amped up for the race the musher will just give them a snack and continue on to the next checkpoint. During warmer races, mushers may want to rest their team not because they are tired but just to keep them from running during the heat of the day. Teams that stay can be seen lined up next to their dog truck resting on straw and eating before they sleep.
The checkpoint is set up in what is basically a gravel pit, so there won’t be much in the way of amenities here – just portable toilets and no accessible building – Two Harbors is just 10 minutes away with great pie, coffee, and anything else you may need. There is limited parking nearby, and overflow parking on the road if it gets crowded.
Cell coverage is spotty here.
Finland is the second checkpoint up the trail and both Marathon and BG 120 dog teams will come in here, so it will be very busy. Teams usually start arriving after 6:00 PM and continue trickling in for several hours into the night. Most teams will rest for several hours, but a few may just have a quick snack and hit the trail.
The Finland checkpoint is hosted at the Finland Community Center on Cramer Road just 1 mile northeast of the town of Finland. From Highway 1 turn right onto Cramer Road just before the statue of St. Urho. Mushers will cross the road at Hwy 1 then minutes later pop out of the woods from the northwest right in front of the Community Center, then will be lead by handlers to their dog trucks which will be parked all around the center’s parking lot and by the ball field next to it.
With the regular parking lot for the community center being filled with resting dog teams, parking for visitors is along both sides of Cramer Road. You may have to walk a short distance to get to the Center.
Race fans are welcome in the Community Center where there are inside restrooms, food and drinks, places to sit and warm up, and Beargrease merchandise.
Trestle Inn is not just the finish line for the BG 120, it is one of the secret gems of the Arrowhead region of Minnesota. Snowmobiler’s know this remote place well and for good reason, and the Beargrease is fortunate to have them host the finish of the BG 120.
Because of turns in the trail, teams seem to almost pop out of the woods at the finish line. The first teams may foreshadow their arrival by their headlamps if the sun has not risen yet.
Knowing that many mushers, handlers, volunteers, and fans will have been in the cold following the race for some 20 hours, Trestle Inn will have an amazing breakfast buffet available starting at 6:00 AM and continuing until the last dog team is in. No one will leave here hungry!
Trestle Inn is about 17 miles north of Finland as the crow flies. Some folk might describe it as in the remote, but dog sled fans will recognize it as perfectly positioned in our beautiful boreal forest.
Sawbill is “the wilderness” checkpoint which means the mushers are required to take care of their dogs by themselves – no handler assistance allowed unlike other checkpoints. Teams have a mandatory rest here for at least 4 hours plus their starting differential. As the teams arrive, they are parked in a secluded wooded area by trained volunteers. Marathon teams start arriving somewhere around 2:00 AM or so and trickle in for about 6 hours. The first teams will start leaving usually by about 6:00 AM or so, and the last teams leaving usually by about 11:00 AM.
Visitors are free to walk around the checkpoint, but are asked to be very quiet to let dogs and mushers sleep. It’s a great place to see the mushers and vets caring for the dogs, but don’t expect much in the way of musher conversation as they have a lot to do before they can get an hour or two of sleep themselves. Sometimes after taking care of their dogs the mushers will grab a bite of food for themselves and then lay down to sleep in the straw right next to their team!
The Sawbill Checkpoint is located on the Sawbill Trail about 8 miles north of Tofte. Parking is restricted to one side of the road, so if you get here late there may be a short walk.
There is a headquarters tent for mushers and volunteers, a veterinary tent for our vet staff, and a vault style toilet – but the town of Tofte is a short 10 minutes away with everything you many need. Note there is no cell phone coverage at this checkpoint.
The historic Trail Center Lodge is the headquarters for this checkpoint. Trail Center Lodge is located on the Gunflint Trail about 31 miles from Grand Marais. You can’t miss this checkpoint as there will be dog trucks and dog teams parked on both sides of the road so please drive slowly! Parking is along side the Gunflint Trail either before or after the checkpoint – volunteers in orange vests may be able to point you toward the best parking options.
Trail Center Checkpoint is about 160 miles up the race trail from the start and 50 miles up the trail through the Sawtooth Mountains from the Sawbill checkpoint. After all the hills they have just gone up and down teams are like to take a good rest of 4 or more hours here. Teams usually start arriving about noon and will be coming and going until evening.
Trail Center Lodge is a full service lodge with bar, restaurant, and gift shop, but cell coverage can be very spotty or unavailable. It also maybe wise to fill your gas tank in Grand Marais. Be sure to watch out for moose while driving on the Gunflint Trail. Seriously, they often come out on the road.
Skyport Lodge and Raven Rock Grill host the Skyport Checkpoint on the shore of beautiful Devil Track Lake. By this point in the race you really get to see if mushers’ strategies are working out or not. Here is where the likely winner of the race may start to make their move.
While it will likely take the mushers 6-7 hours to cover the 61 trail miles from Trail Center to Skyport, it’s only about a 25 minute drive down the Gunflint Trail. Teams will start arriving here probably some time after 8:00 PM and will trickle in for several hours.
From the windows of the Grill you will be able to see the bright headlamps of the mushers crossing miles of Devil Track Lake. The fireplace in the Grill can be an excellent place to warm up and dry out between teams’ arrivals, and there is usually a bon fire going outside too.
Parking is conveniently near by, and its short hop down to Grand Marais if needed.
Mineral Center is the last checkpoint before the finish and a mandatory rest for 4 hours. Mineral Center is about 4 miles west on County 17, then another mile north on County 89. This checkpoint is only about 6-7 miles away from the finish by car, but the dog teams will wind around about 40 miles through remote trails where they often see moose near the trail.
Mineral Center was once a thriving support hub for the local logging industry, but today is an open parking area (that we fill up with dog trucks) and a cozy old log cabin where mushers, volunteers, and race fans can stop in to warm up by the fire for a few minutes. If you are lucky, you might just get there when there is a fresh batch of mini-donuts.
Parking is along County 89, and portable toilets are available. This checkpoint does not get a lot of traffic so it likely will be a short walk to the checkpoint. This far up the trail it can be trickier to estimate when teams will arrive and depart, but they will probably be active between 6:00 AM and early afternoon – but watch on Facebook or Instagram for updated estimates.
A great advantage of this checkpoint is you can watch teams come in and leave, then in just 15-20 minutes pop down to the Marathon Finish line to watch teams come in.
If you have followed the race this far you definitely deserve to treat yourself to the hospitality and comfort of Grand Portage Lodge & Casino. Unlike some of the other checkpoints that lack running water or cell coverage, here you can watch big screens with live GPS coverage of the race and relax in style until it’s time to run outside and watch a team finish.
Dog teams will wind around on the trail just south of the Lodge & Casino to the finish line right outside the back door. This is definitely a stylish and comfortable way to watch a dog sled race.
After they finish, mushers will lead their teams around the lodge back to their dog trucks in the parking lot. After that many of them might be seen walking around inside the Lodge & Casino, though after more than 3 days in the cold with little sleep, they may be walking like zombies until after the get some well-earned sack time.
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