Walk 'n' roll
Thanks to a bike trail, backtracking on the Superior Hiking Trail is a thing of the past.
© Beth Gauper
A bicyclist watches waves from a nor'easter batter the breakwall at Tofte Town Park.
Going hiking on the Superior Hiking Trail? You'll want to pack sturdy boots, thick socks, water bottles, maps and rain gear.
Oh, and don't forget the bikes.
There's a new trail on the North Shore, a nice flat one, too. It's the paved Gitchi-Gami, with a 17½-mile stretch that links Gooseberry Falls to Split Rock State Park and Silver Bay Bay and a 6½-mile stretch that links Schroeder to Temperance River State Park and Tofte.
Bicyclists and skaters love the trail, of course. But so do hikers up on the ridgeline — because if they stash bikes at the end of their hikes, they can spend the whole day hiking one way, then use the trail to get back to their cars in a flash.
It has always been possible for hikers to shuttle themselves by bike along the 270-mile Superior Hiking Trail, and in some places, the shoulders on Minnesota 61 make it fairly safe. But the Gitchi-Gami State Trail makes it safe and fun.
"I think we're going to see a lot more creative loops," says Gayle Coyer, director of the Superior Hiking Trail Association. "People are putting two and two together."
Up, up and away
One August, my husband and I left our bikes at the Britton Peak Trailhead, 2½ miles up the Sawbill Trail from Tofte. Then, we drove to the Temperance River Wayside, left our car and started hiking up the east side of the river.
There were a lot of people along its narrow, rocky gorge, mostly watching two swimmers, a heavily tattooed man and a woman in a purple bikini. The man was giving onlookers a thrill by jumping over waterfalls and into pools of dark water, not particularly smart considering the river was lower than we'd ever seen it.
"He climbed up here in his bare feet and jumped off, must've been 100 feet!" one watcher exclaimed as we passed.
As usual, people were hanging over the sides of the bridge above, gazing into the swirling river. As we looked up, we saw two bicyclists zooming by behind them, which surprised us until we realized the bridge must now be part of the Gitchi-Gami.
Drought had left potholes high and dry, and upstream the river was little more than a boulder bed. Near one pool of trapped water, a great blue heron stood, blending perfectly into the dark-gray basalt. We watched as it flexed its legs to take off, then relaxed and began to hunt, fleeing only when a clutch of shouting children approached.
© Beth Gauper
In Temperance River State Park, bicyclists and hikers share a bridge over the gorge.
As soon as we left the river, we left the people. As famous as the Superior Hiking Trail has become, the vast majority of visitors don't venture beyond the scenic river gorges.
"The first time I came up this trail, I met hikers going to Britton Peak, and I thought that was incomprehensibly far away," Torsten said. "I went up a bit from the trailhead and thought, 'Nah, that's far enough.'"
The maples already were changing color, and the trail was lined with fireweed and blue aster. Dry conditions had kept the insect population down, and hiking was as good as it gets; even so, we passed only four other people on the way to Carlton Peak.
Suddenly, its smooth gray flank loomed ahead of us, heaved up from the Earth's crust a billion years ago.
Once atop the 924-foot summit, it's hard to leave. There's a panoramic view of lake and inland forests, and the rock dome, warmed by the sun, is a good place to stretch out as lake breezes whip about overhead.
As we lounged amid the foundations of an old fire tower, Tom Jollie of Shoreview came over and tried to launch a kite with his son, Matt. Jollie said his family, including wife Karen and 15-year-old daughter Laura, often come to Carlton Peak to play, exploring its cavelike niches and watching for ore boats on the horizon.
"It's my favorite place," he said. "We always want to do something new, but Matt said, 'We can't not go.'"
People seem to just materialize on Carlton Peak. When we finally left, there were 16 people atop the rock, yet we saw no one along the 1½ miles to Britton Peak.
The good thing about having a bike at Britton Peak is the fun has just begun. We hopped on and started flying downhill, at one point keeping pace with a deer we'd startled; over 2½ miles, I had to pedal only a few times.
At the highway, we looked for the bike trail and finally asked at Bluefin Bay, where staff directed us through the resort, past the fire hall and onto Tofte Park Road. That took us past tiny Tofte Park, which had a charming 1920s cobblestone fountain, bridge and sluiceway, and on to the little boat launch.
A nor'easter was picking up strength, and waves were pounding against its breakwall of basalt boulders, sending a wall of water at least 40 feet into the air. Just an hour before, Karen Jollie had asked us if we knew a good wave-watching spot, and now we'd found one.
At the end of the town road, we crossed the highway to the Gitchi-Gami, following it through forest and into Temperance River State Park; soon, we were the bicyclists zooming over the gorge bridge.
Another beautiful spot
The Gitchi-Gami increases the number of easy loop hikes that can be made on the North Shore; other good ones include the five-mile hike up and down the Split Rock River and the eight-mile hike up and down the Cascade River. And in fall, everyone wants to hike the beloved Oberg Mountain loop, a two-mile path above maple forest.
But the next day, we walked instead at Sugarloaf Cove, near Schroeder, Minn. Until 1971, it was used by a paper company to store logs and assemble them into 40-acre rafts that were towed 62 miles across the lake to Ashland, Wis.; once, there were 14 buildings on the 34-acre property.
© Beth Gauper
A family of hikers enjoys the view from Carlton Peak.
Now, thanks partly to neighbor Emily Andersen and her father, the late Gov. Elmer L. Andersen, it has gone back to nature and is one of the most beautiful spots on the North Shore.
A one-mile interpretive trail led us through a red-pine plantation and alder thicket to a U-shaped cobblestone cove. There, an exhibit explained the geologic events that produced the rocks before us — basalt, white and red granite, gray gneiss, orange and pink rhyolite, greenstone.
The cove, it turns out, faces gales head-on and is another good place to watch waves: "It's exciting in a good nor'easter — stop by and watch the action!" the exhibit read.
On the opposite point, there's the knob of rock that gave the cove its name. The point holds undisturbed forest and is part of a fragile scientific and natural area, so we left it alone and continued on the trail, crossing an old tombolo on a boardwalk and emerging at the mouth of Sugarloaf Creek.
Amid the pebbles, we found an unusually good collection of cool stuff — a smooth piece of red pine worn down to its growth lines, like an agate; a piece of fungus poking out of a birchbark sleeve; a gnarled piece of bleached driftwood. In every square foot of beach, there was a beautiful still life.
We found out why Sugarloaf Cove has so much to look at when we followed the wildflower-lined trail to the log interpretive center. There, a table and a tub underneath it were overflowing with bark, cobblestones, feathers, animal teeth, shell fungus and logging artifacts that eagle-eyed site manager Pam McDougall has confiscated from light-fingered visitors.
The rest of the North Shore would look like Sugarloaf Cove, too, McDougall said, if so many people weren't carting away all the cool stuff for their own yards and collections.
"Some of these things have been up here so many times," she said. "When I see it, I say, 'Oh, that's really cool, let's keep it here so other people can see it, too.'"
The Sugarloaf Cove loop was so interesting we could have walked it twice, even three times; backtracking isn't necessarily bad. Still, there's a lot of beautiful ground to cover on the North Shore. And for most of us, time's awastin'.
Trip Tips: North Shore hike/bike
Hikes with bikes: To shuttle yourselves, simply leave bikes at the end of your hike and drive to where you want to start. The Superior Hiking Trail Association lists four hikes that lend themselves to bike shuttles.
On one of them, the five-mile stretch between Temperance River State Park and the Sawbill Trail (County Road 1), hikers can
lock their bikes at the Britton Peak trailhead and start hiking from the Temperance River parking area on Minnesota 61.
After they reach Britton Peak, they'll have a 2½-mile downhill glide on the Sawbill Trail to Tofte, then a three-mile ride on
the Gitchi-Gami State Trail (the first part goes through Bluefin Bay resort and follows Town Park Road; then it crosses the
Bicyclists can ride through Temperance River State Park, then take the first gravel road they see down to the highway, backtracking a short distance to their cars.
Tip: At the bottom of the Sawbill Trail, buy a picnic at the Coho Cafe and eat it in Tofte Park, along the lake.
Hikers also can use the Gitchi-Gami on three other stretches: the six miles between Gooseberry Falls State Park and the Split Rock River Wayside
(should work for a skate shuttle, too); the 11.3 miles from the Split Rock River to County
Road 4 (Lax Lake Road), which is paved and goes downhill into Beaver Bay; and the 4.5 miles between Beaver Bay and Silver Bay.
And in Duluth, hikers can use Skyline Parkway to return by bike. The Superior Hiking
Trail has trailheads at Twin Ponds and the intersection of Skyline Parkway, Highland Street and Getchell Road; the 7.4-mile
hike can be shortened to 5.7 miles by using the North 24th Avenue West trailhead.
Hikers also can shuttle themselves on the 3.2 miles between the Spirit Mountain Chalet and the Magney-Snively trailhead or the 4.3 miles between Magney-Snively and the Munger Trail at 123rd Avenue West, using a gravel part of Skyline Parkway and Becks Road.
Two other bike-shuttle hikes suggested by the SHTA, using Minnesota
61 for a return, are the 8.6-mile stretch from Gooseberry Falls State Park to Castle Danger and the 5.1-mile stretch from the
Arrowhead Trail north of Hovland to Jackson Lake Road.
Not all sections of Minnesota 61 are safe for bicycling: "It varies widely; it goes from a dream shoulder to being barely a foot wide and really dangerous," says SHTA director Gayle Coyer.
Loop hikes: The interpretive trail at Sugarloaf Cove is short, only a mile, but there's so much to see people might want to walk it twice. It's five miles west of Schroeder, and there's a program every second Saturday.
Just east of Beaver Bay, a spur leads up the ridge from Cove Point Lodge, branching off after a mile to create a six-mile partial loop.
On the Split Rock River, a bridge allows a very scenic hike of five miles up one side and down the other.
From the Caribou River near Sugarloaf Cove, it's a 1½-mile hike past Caribou Falls to a bridge and back.
From two miles up the Onion River Road between Tofte and Lutsen, the two-mile Oberg Mountain loop has overlooks of the mountain's maple forest.
On the Cascade River between Lutsen and Grand Marais, it's eight miles up and back.
Bike rental: Sawtooth Outfitters, at the end of the Sawbill Trail in Tofte, rents road bikes, 218-663-7643. It also can do bike repairs.
Gitchi-Gami State Trail: This state trail along the North Shore has a 17½-mile segment from Gooseberry Falls State Park to Silver Bay. There's also a 6½-mile segment from Schroeder past Tofte, including the milelong Tofte Park Road.
Accommodations: People who stay along the Gitchi-Gami State Trail can zip from one trailhead to another. The Tofte
section now stretches between Chateau LeVeaux, a condo resort 2½ miles east of
Tofte, and Superior Ridge Resort Motel in Schroeder.
Split Rock Cabins is a half-mile from the Split Rock River loop and a three-mile ride on the Gitchi-Gami from both Gooseberry Falls and Split Rock Lighthouse state parks. Well-tended cabins sit right on the lake, 218-226-4735.
In Tofte, Bluefin Bay is at the end of the Sawbill Trail and Sugar Beach Resort is at the end of Tofte Park Road. In Beaver Bay, lodgings are at the easternmost point of the 13-mile segment of the Gitchi-Gami.
Guided hikes with shuttle: The Superior Hiking Trail Association offers regular hikes and organizes hikers into shuttles. 218-834-2700.
Information: For trail maps and the "Guide to the Superior Hiking Trail," call the Superior Hiking Trail Association, 218-834-2700, or stop by its headquarters in Two Harbors at 731 Highway 61 (Seventh Avenue).Last updated on May 10, 2011
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