North Shore Minnesota – Escape Pod Log 15 – Travel The Broke Dad Way

The North Shore and Grand Marais
Exploring the North Shore of Lake Superior, The Gunflint Trail, and Grand Marais, MN.

Today we venture forth to explore the North Shore of Minnesota. I have loaded up the Escape Pod, fueled up the Jeep, and loaded all of our gear. This will be our second outing since having the baby and I am still not used to all of the extra gear it requires to go camping with a baby or how much more time it takes to load that gear and get on the road. So yes we are running a bit behind schedule.  Don`t get me wrong I use the term schedule loosely as I don’t so much keep a schedule when I am traveling more so just a rough sketch of what it is we want to do in a given day while we travel.

Our starting point is just South of Duluth, MN and heading along the shore of Lake Superior to Grand Marais, MN. We plan on setting up camp in Grand Marais and from there exploring the Gunflint Trail and if time permits Grand Portage, MN.

I am writing this while sitting outside in the sun waiting for a table at the Scenic Cafe just North/North East of Duluth.  We have heard very good things about the  New Scenic Cafe both by word of mouth and also on other blogs I have found while researching this trip. Very excited to finally get to try it out.

Later that day…

Well we were not disappointed.  The good things we heard about the New Scenic Cafe were not false.  We had about a 30 minute or so wait which I hear is a fairly normal occurrence which is a good thing, it means people enjoy eating there.  We were seated at a nice table that overlooked a very pretty garden area. The menu was smallish but filled with all kinds of wonderful selections. My wife and I both had sandwiches but before that I thought we would take our taste buds on an adventure and I ordered escargot. I am so glad we did because it turned out to be some of the best escargot I have ever had. Not that I have the chance to get it to often. Our sandwiches were well done as were our drinks.  We have already made plans to return to the Scenic again for a date night as soon as the baby is old enough to stay with grandma.

Once lunch was done we were on the road again and soon found ourselves in Two Harbors, MN.  We had to make a stop in Two Harbors at the local grocery store to pick up some charcoal for our dinner later that night.  We were in and out and on our way in quick order as we were excited to be back on the road and getting ourselves to Grand Marais and the campground.

I have to say that taking a ride up the North Shore in early October is not a bad way to spend a few hours of your time. The trees were all starting to change colors, there was not too much traffic on the roads, everything was still open and not yet closed for winter so there was a lot of options for stopping to eat, drink, or pick up supplies. I feel like this early October trip up the shore may become a tradition for us.

We arrived in Grand Marais around 3pm and found the campground very quickly. The Grand Marais Campground and Marina was the name of the campground we decided on and we are very glad we did. It is a good-sized campground with several options of camping spots. We picked one of the more expensive spots at $33.00 a night simply because it was closest to the water.  If a person was on a budget or did not care about seeing the water there are spots in the more wooded areas of the campground that run about $20 to $30 a night. I spent some time walking around the campground after we had set up and all of the sites were very nice, clean, not cramped, and easy to get into and out of.

I was excited because I was finally able to set up and use my new Coleman canopy we got for Christmas from my wife’s grandparents.

This was the first time I was able to use it short of a practice run in the backyard so I knew how to put it up and take it down. I have nothing but good things to say about this canopy. I can put it up all by myself in about 5 minutes or less, taking it down again takes marginally longer but I can still do it alone easily.

Campsite in Grand Marais Minnesota
The Broke Dad’s campsite in Grand Marais, MN. with the Escape Pod and our new Coleman canopy.

Another thing I really like about this canopy is my cook tables and our camping chairs fit into it and there is still room to move around.  I was given the pack away kitchen by Coleman for a wedding gift from my parents several years ago and it has made camping so much better. No I don’t get paid to review Coleman products I swear, it just happens I have several Coleman pieces of gear that I use.  The pack away kitchen I use is this one:

It actually takes me longer to set this little table up then it does the canopy but once it is set up it is one of the most useful pieces of gear I have for when we camp. I love to prepare all of our meals outside and this table makes it that much more of a joy.

Here is a photo of my camp kitchen in the middle of an epic breakfast making session.  It really is much more organized than it appears in this photo.

camp kitchen table
The Broke Dad’s camp kitchen in action. Yes, a little messy but functional.

The rest of that evening was spent grilling up chops for dinner and enjoying the campground.

The next morning we were up early and had a breakfast of fried potatoes, bacon, and eggs and then we were off to explore Grand Marais.

Grand Marais for being such a small town really has a lot going on. The first thing that catches your attention about the town is the fact that even though it is way up north Minnesota, literally a stones throw from the Canadian border it feels like a coastal village on the Maine shoreline. It is like one minute you are in Minnesota and the next you are on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, minus the pelicans.

The next thing that impressed me about Grand Marais was the abundance of quaint little shops to visit and get lost in. Everything from antique shops to art galleries, three art galleries for sure that we visited.  There were shops selling fresh made fudge, shops set up to outfit you for a trek into the wilderness, and shops where you could learn how to paint or do pottery plus many more we did not get a chance to see.

Lunch time was spent at the Harbor House Grille. If you find yourself in or near Grand Marais I highly recommend a visit here if for no other reason then to try their maple bacon creme brulee it is beyond amazing. If you have time to sit and have a full meal I was very happy with that as well. I had the smoked trout sandwich and my wife had the smoked salmon burger, both of which were fantastic.  The neat thing about the Harbor House is it is literally a house that has been converted into a restaurant and it is so cozy it makes you feel right at home.  I heard that going for lunch is recommended if you don’t like to wait or are not a fan of crowds as things can get very busy there during dinner hours as it is a popular place to eat in Grand Marais.

Lunch was over and we decided to walk out to the “lighthouse”.   Not really an official lighthouse but a navigational light with no house on the end of a concrete, steel, and rock pier that is called Artists Point. It was well worth the hike out to the light. The wind was blowing just enough that it was creating some decent waves that would crash against the wall and/or rocks creating some very beautiful water effects.

I was able to avoid getting wet except once a rogue wave caught me off guard and my shoe got wet.  This walk is unfortunately not handicap accessible, we had our stroller along and that was a no go.

I would say you should be fairly confident climbing uneven terrain as well if you are planning on taking this walk, there are stairs and uneven rocks to walk over and climb on as you move out towards the light.

I brought my dog with me and she thought it was the best walk we had ever been on. Plenty of places and little shallow pools of water for her to play in. I spent easily an hour or more just hanging out on the point taking photos and videos it was such a beautiful and perfect day.

We decided to head back to the camper after our walk on the point. Grilled up some steaks we bought at the local market and spent the rest of the evening relaxing and reading.

The next morning we woke up to rain. We had half anticipated this due to weather reports but were kind of hoping those reports would be wrong. We had saved a drive up the Gunflint Trail for this day just in case it did rain we figured if it was raining we could still enjoy our day driving and enjoying the scenery from the dry cab of our Jeep.

It was an excellent decision since the rain did not let up until almost noon it gave us time to slowly drive up the Gunflint.   It was raining out but not raining so badly that we could not see the beautiful scenery outside.  By mid-morning we had made our way up a good portion of the Gunflint and had the chance to take some side trips to recon a few campgrounds so we could have an idea which ones we would want to stay at in future trips up the North Shore.

If anyone is planning a vacation that includes the Gunflint Trail I would not worry about which campground is better than another.  I visited at least 5 of them on our trip up and every one of them was just as beautiful as any other.  I don’t think you could go wrong with any of them.  Some of the campgrounds do have some better campsites then others but in my opinion all the spots have something wonderful about them.  Another thing I noticed was that all of the National Park campgrounds up on the Gunflint trail are all very well taken care of and in all the National Park campgrounds I have stayed in over the years I have never seen any with as many restrooms as the ones up there. It felt like for every two camping spots there was a restroom set up. Is that a strange thing to notice? Maybe but I couldn’t help but mention it.

I took The Broke Dog on a hike along Iron Lake starting at the Iron Lake Campground.  Not a soul around but her and I, my wife opted to stay back with the baby as we went exploring.  The dog loved the trail and the freedom to run without restraint.  It was a fun hike and I have plans to return to this campground and camp so we can explore further.  We were there on a Wednesday in the beginning of October and there was nobody else there.  I would say you could find a camping spot pretty much anywhere on the Gunflint this time of the year without any problem at all.

On the way back to Grand Marais from the Gunflint Trail we stopped for lunch at My Sister’s Place.  We chose this particular restaurant because it was featured on Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern on the Travel Channel which is one of my favorite shows and I wanted to have what he had when they filmed Bizarre Foods there.  The Goober Burger which is a hamburger with peanut butter and mayo on it.   I know it sounds like a very odd combination but I was bound and determined to try it and try it I did.  My review of it? It was AMAZING. I was so surprised by how good it was, if I could have eaten two of them I would have.  If you have the chance to stop at My Sister’s Place I would highly recommend trying the Goober Burger.

The final night we spent enjoying the campground, relaxing, and spending time enjoying the beautiful evening.  The wind was coming in strong from the west which was creating some pretty fantastic wave action on the west side beach next to the campground.  i grilled up some Steaks The Broke Dad Way and we watched the sunset into the lake while enjoying dinner.

Sunset on the west beach
Sunset on the west side beach off the Grand Marais Recreation area campground and marina.

The next morning we were up early and on the road south towards Duluth, MN and home.  We made a stop along the way at Gooseberry Falls State Park since it was another fall day we did not want to miss the opportunity to see the falls and the fall colors all at the same time.  We were very glad we decided to stop, it was breathtaking.  The falls were wonderful and the colors were even better.  We hiked along and around the lower and upper falls, there is a nice circle tour hiking path you can take that takes you along one side of the falls, across the river at the bottom of the falls, up the other side and across a bridge near the top of the falls. Was a very fun hike and the views were stunning.

Gooseberry falls on the North Shore of Lake Superior
Middle falls at Gooseberry Falls State Park in Minnesota on the North Shore of Lake Superior.

Overall I would say our trip up the North Shore of Lake Superior and around Northern Minnesota  was the perfect getaway.  It was a wonderful way to spend a long weekend away from the hustle and bustle of work and responsibilities. I am already looking forward to planning our next trip up that way to explore even further.

Thank you for following The Broke Dad Blog and reading the Escape Pod Log. Please feel free to leave comments as I would enjoy hearing from my readers.


Composting with Chickens – Keeping It Simple The Broke Dad Way

composting with chickens the broke dad way
How To Compost With Chickens Guide

Do you wish you could  create perfect compost the fast and easy way without breaking your back? The secret is to add some chickens and your wish is granted.

Several years ago I wanted to start raising and keeping chickens for food, eggs, and as pets because I just love watching them. The problem was that like any animal pet or otherwise it can get expensive to care for and feed them. You need a place for them to sleep, a place for them to eat, food, and water.

So I started researching ways to reduce the cost of having chickens and most of the suggestions I found had to do with selling the eggs, selling the meat, or growing your own chicken feed.

One suggestion that really caught my eye though was to use your chickens to create compost. This compost can then be used in your gardens which in turn reduces the cost of keeping a garden or gardens and some people sell the compost for a nice profit. Several yards of compost can sell for $40 to $100 depending on where you live and even more if you are willing to do deliveries.

So how does it work? How do you put your chickens to work to earn their food and shelter?

I will tell you how but first a few things to consider, learn from my mistakes if you may.

First mistake I made when first starting out with composting with chickens was containment or lack thereof.  In order to best utilize your chickens for the purpose of breaking down compost is you need to be able to keep the scraps that you want composted, the chickens, and the compost that has been or is being created in a manageable and contained area.

If you don’t contain the compost in some way it won’t take long and your chickens will have it spread all over your acreage and though great for the yard it is very difficult to retrieve after that happens without a lot of raking and shoveling which equals a lot of back breaking work which is what we are trying to avoid by having chickens do the work in the first place.

So you need a contained and designated spot for this composting project.

chicken composting the easy way.
Have a designated and contained area for your chicken composting project.

Since my chickens free range most days I was able to convert our chicken run into our composting site. I think this could work for anyone if you have a big enough chicken run. Just make sure to think ahead which leads us to the second mistake I made.

The second mistake I made was I failed to create an entrance into my chicken run big enough to get my wheelbarrow into.  You will want to be able to get your wheelbarrow, trailer, or tractor whatever your preferred method of moving the finished compost from the chicken run to where you will be storing it or using it, into the composting area or as close to the composting area as possible.

So I upgraded my chicken run with a big enough door to get the wheelbarrow in and out of.  While you are planning this out keep in mind the height of your composting area if it is a covered area, half of my chicken run is covered by a lean-to which is high enough for me to stand up straight under.wp-1476430044072.jpg

If you build your roof, lean-to, or overhang to low and you can’t stand up straight you will be very upset with yourself when it comes to shoveling time or pitchfork time. It is nice to be able to stand up straight and not hit your head when doing that kind of work.

One other suggestion to consider when planning out where to have your composting operation is to have it connected to your chicken coop.  I have found this to be useful for days when I am going to be away from home for more than a few hours at a time and unable to keep an eye on my flock. This allows me to be able to still let the chickens out into the secured run in relative safety, still do their composting work, and have access to their coop, food, and water.

Once you have established a proper place for your composting operation you can start working on the actual composting itself.

I live in clay country. This has proved to be a huge pain for me in many ways when it comes to doing projects like gardens, building, installing fencing, and any number of other projects. One thing I have found it to be great for however is doing my composting. Especially when it comes to removal time. When I dig out my compost from the chicken run I always know when I have gone deep enough because it is when I hit clay.

If you are lucky enough not to live in a high clay area and don’t have this natural base this is something you may want to consider adding before you start composting. Some base, or marker, or other way of knowing when you have gone deep enough. Now this is not required. If you are on a limited budget then don’t worry about it but having that marker or base has been very helpful for me when removing the compost.

What to compost? I compost as much as I can.  Depending on what blog or website you visit opinions vary on this but I am  not that technical or picky and my compost has always done what it is meant to do..grow stuff that is planted in it.

Some of the things I compost are as follows:

  • Old bedding from the chicken coop. It all comes out of the coop right out into the composting area (another advantage of having your compost operation connected right to your coop).
  • Grass clippings. I don’t do this every time I mow but several times over the mowing season I will collect all the grass clippings and put them in the compost area. I have an acre of yard I mow so that adds up to a very big pile of clippings. I collect it with my lawn sweeper which connects to the back of my rider and works like a dream. If you want to check out the lawn sweeper click this link to go directly to it on
  • Food Scraps. Pretty much anything that is left over from the house from making and eating meals. Except for a few things which are:
    • Greasy scraps – Don’t break down well.
    • Raw potato scraps – Bad for chickens.
    • Bones – Don’t break down well.
    • Corn cobs – This is a personal preference for me because they don’t seem to break down fast enough and I always have to pick them out of my compost.
    • Coffee grounds and coffee filters.
    • Whole egg shells – Crush them up to little tiny bits. I have read that if chickens relate the egg shells in the compost to the eggs they lay in may lead to them trying to eat their eggs. So I don’t take the chance, I crush them up.
  • I am sure there are more kitchen scraps that should probably not be put into the compost but these are the main ones I avoid and I have never had a sick chicken, duck, or turkey due to diet.
  • Recyclable items that break down easily.  What I compost is:
    • Paper towels
    • Toilet paper and paper towel rolls (in moderation as they break down a bit slower than regular paper).
    • Paper trash. I avoid newspaper though, does not break down well in my experience.
  • Leaves. I also use the lawn sweeper for this.
  • Apples that have fallen off the apple tree.
  • Garden scraps and weeds that have been removed from the garden.
  • Ashes from the fireplace, grill, and fire pit.

My chicken run is rectangle shaped so I pile all the fresh scraps on one end of the run and the chickens go to work pretty much immediately scratching, and pecking, and arguing over who gets what.

Every few weeks I will take my pitchfork into the compost area and turn over what the chickens have been working on and loosen up any areas that have been trampled down.

Packed down compost needs to be turned
Compost packed down after several weeks needs to be turned.

I recommend the Truper fiberglass handled pitchfork which can be found by clicking this link. I have been using this pitchfork for several years and it has worked perfectly for me. I feel it is money well spent for it is lightweight, durability, and requires very little maintenance, basically just a good cleaning after the job is done will keep it in good working order for many years.

Loosing up the trampled down compost allows your chickens to have access to everything that was trapped under the hard packed ground. The girls flock around me when it is time to loosen up the compost too and once I have everything turned over and loosened up they will spend hours scratching around in it.

Loosen the compost with a pitchfork
Turning the compost with a pitchfork once it is packed down helps loosen the soil and allows the chickens to get at what is underneath.

That is about all there is to composting with chickens.  It is a simple, relatively fast way to create amazing compost for your backyard gardens and farm.

Chicken made compost
Compost ready for the garden.

Composting with chickens the easy way.
Composting with chickens The Broke Dad Way.


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