The Superior Hiking Trail is a gem of a long-distance trail along 300+ miles Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior. The claims to fame are too many to list. You will have world class views of the largest fresh-water lake on the planet. You will step your boots onto some of the world’s oldest rock formations, billions of years in the making. You will get a chance to glimpse a multitude of wildlife, including moose, wolves, black bears, beavers, fox, bobcats, lynx, the list goes on and on. You can rest your weary feet in plenty of clean creeks and rivers. You will have lovely, well-maintained campsites. And, of course, you will encounter “Minnesota nice” and likely make many friends along your route.
The Superior Hiking Trail Association has a databook, a guidebook, and a set of maps for sale in their store in Two Harbors, online, and in many local outfitters. There is also a shuttle that runs the length of the trail but we chose to use the infamous Harriet Quarles (218-370-9164, she prefers texting) to get to our trailhead. Northern Minnesota is not for the faint of heart. It can be dangerously cold in the winter and brutally hot and humid in the summer. We were there in early July – probably not ideal but the only time we had. It was hot and the bugs, in some sections, were like clouds. A head net is a must. Luckily, there are a multitude of creeks and rivers in which you can sink your weary body to cool off and escape the bites. In the Northernmost section of the trail, you walk right along Lake Superior for 1.5 miles. The lake’s water is so cold, you go numb in minutes, but it is as refreshing as you could ever hope for during a hot hike. I find it cures all sorts of aches and pains and leaves you cooled down for hours after braving the frigid waters. I would do it all again in a heartbeat.
All of the campsites are very well-maintained and adorned with a latrine, fire ring, and benches. When the bugs are not bad, they are quite nice to lounge around. We started at Jackson Lake Road and went Southbound for about 50 miles to Pincushion Mountain in Grand Marais. There were so many highlights including vast gorges and rushing rivers, pine forests, birch forests, waterfalls, wildflowers everywhere, wild strawberries and raspberries, bird calls that never failed to put a smile on my face, full moon rising over Lake Superior, loons diving in the lake, fireworks over Grand Marais and green. So much green. The views of Lake Superior from the higher elevations are stunning. Aside from looking as large as an ocean, at times you cannot tell where the lake ends and the sky begins. Inside Judge Magney State Park and along the Brule River, you come across a huge waterfall, Devil’s Kettle Falls. I didn’t catch it at first, but my hiking partner commented that part of the waterfall didn’t seem to connect back up with the river. I was a fool and did not believe it, despite the clue in the name of the waterfall. It must go back into the river! It turns out that half of the waterfall drops down into a huge pothole and nobody has ever been able to figure out where it goes.
The trail is probably best to hike in September, when the bugs have died down and the nights aren’t too cold yet. I will certainly be heading back then to catch the changing leaves. Sections of the trail are closed in the Fall due to hunting season so always check the trail conditions page and the SHT Facebook page before planning your trip. Dogs are allowed but must be kept on a leash. Camping is only allowed at designated campsites as much of the trail goes through private land. It can be really tough to find trees large enough to hang a bear bag from since much of the land was logged in the past century. I think I will invest in an Ursack for future trips. And remember to always Leave No Trace!
Best Time to Go: May through October
Distance (if it’s a trail): 300 miles
Difficulty (whether it’s a paddle or hike): Moderate to Difficult
Permits (if any): None – just some reservations if you want to stay in one of the State Parks