Trekking the Superior Hiking Trail
You can backpack, day hike, stay in lodges or go with a group on Minnesota's premier path.
© Beth Gauper
Hikers descend from Oberg Mountain on a warm day in May.
To a novice, Minnesota's Superior Hiking Trail presents a bewilderment of possibilities.
There are 277 miles of trail between Jay Cooke State Park near Duluth and the Canadian border. Some are in the city, some deep in forest. Many stretches include spectacular views of Lake Superior, but others (gasp!) are a little boring.
People come from all over the nation to hike this beloved trail, and some take three weeks and do the whole thing. But there are many ways to hike the trail.
You can fit in a couple of the most popular day hikes on a trip to the North Shore, or you can spend a weekend backpacking.
You can walk a loop, pay for a shuttle or shuttle yourself by car or bicycle.
You can spend as much as you want, too — from $349 per day to stay in a lodge on a guided trip to $35 per day to
backpack with a non-profit outdoors club.
Here's how to plan your trip on the Superior Hiking Trail.
First, buy a copy of the sixth edition of "Guide to the Superior Hiking Trail’’ (Ridgeline Press, $15.95). If you're planning more than a few day hikes, spend $25 to join the Superior Hiking Trail Association, whose volunteers maintain the trail.
If you're planning to hike for more than a few days, join the trail Yahoo group, whose members have posted invaluable advice about gear, campsites, mileage and itineraries. They're also gracious about answering questions.
For day hikes on and around the trail, get tips from Andrew Slade's 2011 guidebook "Hiking the North Shore,'' which lists 50 in the region and
includes handy maps.
What to know
Allow an hour for each 1½ miles, or 1 mile with a backpack. Even day hikers should bring water and snacks, wear sturdy shoes and be prepared for sudden weather changes.
Be sure to treat your skin and/or clothes for ticks, especially in spring and summer. Disease-carrying deer ticks are not
uncommon along the North Shore. For more, see How to
prevent Lyme disease.
© Beth Gauper
The Superior Hiking Trail through Duluth offers hikers many views of Lake Superior and the harbor. This is the section of the Superior Hiking Trail east of the Highland/Getchell trailhead.
Before heading out, check the Conditions page of the Superior Hiking Trail website. In spring, bridges may be out and the trail very muddy. In late summer, water may be low in streams.
In fall, hunters are out, and when the deer firearm season starts in November, the Lake County part of the trail closes. In
winter, trailheads may not be plowed.
Use extreme care around the rivers. Furious currents can drown swimmers, especially in the Temperance River.
Bears rarely are seen on the trail, but most hikers put their food in canisters or trees, which also helps protect it from
For help finding your way to trailheads and landmarks, see North Shore by the mile.
Choosing a hike
Spur hikes start right off Minnesota 61, many in the state parks — especially Gooseberry Falls, Tettegouche, Temperance River and Cascade River.
There aren't many loops, but the five-mile loop up and down the Split Rock River, four miles east of Gooseberry Falls State Park, is very popular.
The trail association describes trail sections. For a short backpacking trip, it recommends the 11-mile stretch between Silver Bay and Minnesota 1, on the east side of Tettegouche State Park, for its scenery, campsites and fairly reliable water.
For a longer backpacking trip, try the 24-mile segment between Grand Marais and C.R. Magney State Park via the dramatic
Devil's Track and Kadunce river gorges. It includes the vista from Pincushion Mountain as well as the only segment directly
on the Lake Superior shoreline, which is difficult.
For a list of popular day hikes, see Hiking the North Shore.
Duluth has many lovely stretches of trail, and it's easy to shuttle yourself there. For more, see Duluth's hiking heaven.
Five ways to hike the trail
You can rough it or hike in luxury. All of the trips below include lodgings, meals and transportation as noted. Cost is per
person and, for lodge trips, based on double occupancy. For camping trips, meals (mostly groceries) are estimated at $20 per
$349 per night — National travel companies occasionally offer guided trips. Trailbound Trips of Illinois offers lodge trips for women that include meals, lodgings in Beaver Bay and transportation from Duluth. Daily hikes range from two miles to five miles.
© Beth Gauper
The hike to Carlton Peak through birch forest is popular year-round.
$197.50 per night — Guided weekend lodge-to-lodge trips are offered by nonprofit Wilderness Inquiry of Minneapolis, not including transportation to Grand Marais. Some are for women, and all are open to people with disabilities. 612-676-9400.
$135 per night — Self-guided weekend lodge-to-lodge trip arranged by Barbara and Ted Young's Boundary Country Trekking. Package includes shuttle, breakfast, trail lunch and an annual membership in the Superior Hiking Trail Association
The total includes $30 for dinner in a restaurant and may be higher, depending on the route and the season; peak summer and
fall trips cost more.
$50 per day — Self-guided, self-arranged weekend camping trip with return from Superior Shuttle ($35 for three stops, for a hike of 20-25 miles). Add the cost of camping gear and maps. Shuttles are offered Fridays-Sundays and holidays from late May to mid-October, 218-834-5511.
$35 per day — Guided weekend camping trip offered to members of the Minnesota Rovers Outdoors Club of the Twin Cities. Add $25 for an annual membership ($10 for students and non-metro residents). Members can borrow backpacks and other camping gear from the club.
Transportation from the Twin Cities is by carpooling; those who don't drive contribute to expenses.
Many other non-profit clubs offer similar trips; see Join the club.
The Superior Hiking Trail Association leads free 10 a.m. hikes throughout the year, including naturalist briefings and shuttles that get hikers to the trailhead. Reservations aren’t needed; just show up.
In 2013, they're May 11, Cook County Road 1 near Schroeder to Temperance River Wayside, 8 miles; June 1, new section of trail on east edge of Duluth, Lismore Road to Martin Road, 6.9 miles; June 2, new section of trail on east edge of Duluth, Lismore Road to Normanna Road, 6.9 miles; June 2, Temperance River Wayside to Britton Peak near Tofte, 4.8 miles; and Aug. 17, Skyline Parkway at Highland/Getchell to Twin Ponds in Duluth, 7.4 miles.
Fall hikes are Sept. 21, Jackson Lake Road to Otter Lake Road near Grand Portage, 8.7 miles; Sept. 22, Jackson Lake Road to Arrowhead Trail, 5.1 miles; Sept. 28, Lutsen Mountains to Oberg Mountain, 7 miles; and Oct. 5, Rossini Road to Fox Farm Road near Two Harbors, 6.4 miles.In winter, the association leads snowshoe hikes. For more, see North Shore by snowshoe.
Superior Shuttle offers shuttles Fridays-Sundays and holidays from late May to mid-October, 218-834-5511.
In Grand Marais, Harriet Quarles provides custom shuttle services anywhere on the trail. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, 866-387-1801.
© Torsten Muller
A hiker enjoys the view from Mount Trudee on the Superior Hiking Trail.
In Two Harbors, North Coast Call-N-Ride offers rides to and from
Beaver Bay, Silver Bay and Finland.
Arrowhead Transit buses offer limited service, but it's very cheap — $2.40 between Tofte and Grand Marais, $2.60 from Grand Marais to Grand Portage, $7.35 between Silver Bay and Duluth, $14.70 between Grand Marais and Duluth.
It travels between Grand Marais and Duluth the second Tuesday and fourth Thursday of the month and between Tofte and Grand
Marais the first and third Thursdays.
It offers a commuter service from Grand Marais to Grand Portage National Monument Monday through Friday, leaving Grand Marais
at 7:15 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Call 218-370-1515 or 800-223-1850 for details.
At many points on the Superior Hiking Trail, hikers can shuttle themselves by stashing their bicycles at the end of a hike, then returning to their starting point by riding on the Gitchi Gami Trail.
For more, see Walk 'n' roll.
There are 86 primitive campsites along the Superior Hiking Trail. They're first-come, first-served. They have latrines and fire pits, but drinking water must be taken from streams or lakes and purified.
For more, see Where to stay on Minnesota's North
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