295 Miles Never Felt So Short
The name of the Superior Hiking Trail aptly describes this long stretch of hiking land in Minnesota. Superior is not only a fitting description for its location but its quality. The trail starts southeast of Duluth and ends roughly 295 miles northeast by the Canadian border, west of Grand Portage. This long trail traces the rocky North Shore of Lake Superior and treats visitors to waterfalls, rapids and gorges that wind through Minnesota's famed Arrowhead Country. Hikers who have discovered Minnesota's hidden gem are always impressed by the well maintained trail itself, its signage and its campsites. Considering the trails length, this is something in which the Superior Hiking Trail Association (SHTA) deserves a hearty pat on the back for. For those itching to discover some of the best wilderness Minnesota has to offer, there is a walk for every level of hiker, from short loops and small branches on the trail for the beginner to tackle and all 295 miles for the advanced back country conqueror. Its length and the scenery it provides has made "The SHT," as it is so fondly called, one of the best long hikes between the Appalachian Trail and the Continental Divide.
The Division of Superior Hiking Trail
The Superior Hiking Trail is generally separated into two primary sections--a northern section and a southern section. The southern section is only a measly 40 miles long and starts southeast of Duluth in Jay Cooke State Park. Within this park, hikers will be treated to a juxtaposition of million year old rock and 10,000 year old glacial sediment deposits that guard the lower reaches of the St. Louis River. As trail hikers cross the bridge over the St. Louis River, be sure to indulge in the park's most famous sight. The river itself twists and turns over ominous black rock, giving the river valley a grim look. These rocks are ancient slate and provide and unforgettable scene.
Though the trail has just began while in Jay Cooke State Park, it is here where hikers can find the first of 81 campsites spread out along the trail. These campsites were built and maintained by the Superior Hiking Trail Association and are used to facilitate the trail for use by long distance hikers. The campsites are free to use, but are little more than flat, clear ground with running water and pit toilets. Hikers who intend on camping will need to bring their own gear. The trail does run through towns where those who require more lavish accommodations can get a hotel, but camping keeps the costs of hiking this trail extraordinarily low.
The Southern Trail
The southern part of the trail leads through lesser parks in and outside of Duluth such as Brewer Park, Enger Park, the Lakewalk and through Hartley Nature Center. Once visitors reach Martin Road, the hard part of this trail begins. This southern section is short and newer than the northern part of the trail; it is also more popular for the leisurely hikers. It provides excellent examples of Minnesota wildlife without straying too far from Duluth. Since it sticks so close to the city, many long distance hikers chose to skip this leg. Therefore, for many the trail truly begins at Martin Road.
The Northern Trail
The northern trail is the original trail before the southern addition was added in. It stretches in 255 miles and is where the trail really begins to trace Lake Superior. It is around 25 miles between Martin Road and the next town so be sure to have some supplies on hand. This portion traces the shoreline nearly the entire way and occasionally runs alongside Highway 61 which does take away from nature for a bit, but not much. The first town visitors will come across is Two Harbors, a rather peaceful moderately sized town, but the trail doesn't go deep in the city. Outside of Twin Harbors, visitors will come across the first of seven state parks along this trail--Gooseberry Falls State Park. Gooseberry Falls State Park gets its name quite obviously from the falls within it. The primary attraction of this park is its four level waterfall in which the trail that connects the Superior Hiking Trail through this park leads right past. After Gooseberry, the trail leads to the town of Silver Bay. It is worth taking a break here and going to check out the historic Split Rock Lighthouse. This lighthouse was constructed in 1905 after a series of shipwrecks along the coast and has since maintained its 1920 appearance. It has come to be known as one of Minnesota's best known landmarks.
North of Silver Bay, there is another stop that merits a bit of a side trip. Hikers will begin to notice steep cliffs overlooking the lake. Four miles outside of the city, visitors should follow a gravel road around one of these cliffs to the Palisade Head. This 200 foot cliff overlooks the lake and the trail below. It makes an excellent stopping point for a meal or just for a quick break. Just a few short miles away, the trail leads through yet another state park, this time it is Tettegouche State Park. This park has been classified as at North Shore Bicultural Region. It treats trails hikers along the rocky coast of Lake Superior and over the Baptism River, providing excellent views of the river's rapids and small falls.
After passing through the towns of Little Marais and Schoeder, the trail crosses over the Temperance River. This river and the lands surrounding it is rocky and the trail can be a bit rough at times. Here visitors will spot small falls and some beautiful white water. The trail then continues on to Lutsen, one of the large towns along the trail. Many thru-hikers choose to stop in the city of the day or two to enjoy the nightlife.
The portion between Lutsen and one of the last towns of Grand Marais is one of the longest portions of the hike, so visitors should get supplies within Lutsen. The trail passes over the rough Cascade River and through some rocky highland. While the Superior Hiking Trail is primarily flat, it is here that it gains a bit of altitude and has some somewhat steep climbs. However, after Grand Marais lies the final leg of the trail at roughly 40 miles. There are not many towns in between before the trail ends at Grand Portage by the Canadian border. It is fairly smooth hiking and it is your last chance to soak in views of the lake before the trail ends on a very lonely, secluded gravel road. By this point, hikers of the SHT will be very familiar with Lake Superior and its moods. How its waters can shift from hues of gray, green and blue in the course of a day. Where one moment the lake reflects the sun like it is a full moon and the next the waters on the horizon are indistinguishable from the clouds in the sky. The wilderness alongside the hike is brilliant, but there is a reason why the trail chose to trace this mighty lake, it is one of the most alive feeling bodies of waters in the United States and along with the trail that traces it provides an exhilarating adventure.