Linking people with nature by footpath along Lake Superior's North Shore.
The Superior Hiking Trail is designed as a footpath only, comprised principally of an 18-inch treadway through a clearing approximately four feet in width. SHTA policy prohibits the use of motorized vehicles, mountain bikes and horses on the Trail. The steepness and narrowness of the Trail in most areas makes it unsuitable for cross country skiing, although snowshoe travel is possible in many areas.
The Trail is routed principally along the ridgeline overlooking Lake Superior. At its lowest point, the Trail goes along the lakeshore, which is 602 feet above sea level. At its highest point the Trail is 1750 feet above sea level and more than 1000 feet above Lake Superior. The Trail is characterized by ascents to rock outcroppings and cliffs, and descents into numerous river and creek valleys crossed by attractive and functional bridges. Panoramic overlooks of Lake Superior, the Sawtooth Mountains and inland woodlands, lakes and rivers are abundant along the length of the Trail. At many points, the Trail follows rivers and creeks, often for distances of a mile or more, show-casing waterfalls and rapids, bends and deep gorges where thousands of years of rushing water has cut into layers of ancient volcanic rock.
Hikers enjoy varied forest scenes. The gradual transition from oak, maple and basswood to the boreal forest of balsam, pines, spruces, cedar and tamarack is interrupted by re-growth forest of aspen and birch. Wildlife abounds: encounters with deer are common and sightings of moose, beaver, black bear, eagles and grouse. Fortunate hikers will remember many varieties of songbirds. Wildflowers are especially prevalent in the spring, but some varieties are evident through the hiking season. Wild blueberries and raspberries provide a special midsummer treat at many points along the Trail.
The Trail crosses national forest and state park lands, state and county property, and private property. The Trail connects and traverses seven state parks. Many property owners - individuals and corporations, in addition to governmental units - have granted easements or permissions to cross their land for the construction of the Trail. In some areas, special restrictions apply as conditions of the permissions that have been granted on private lands. Please observe and obey all posted restrictions (such as requirements to stay on the Trail through private property, or prohibitions on fires, camping or hunting). The privilege to use these private lands depends upon the cooperation of Trail users and their respect for the special restrictions.
The one constant feature of the Trail, and the characteristic that distinguishes it from other forest trails, is the presence of Lake Superior - the legendary lake Native Americans celebrated in song and story as 'Gitche Gumme' (Gi-chee GOO-me). The Trail features many spectacular views of the Lake, as well as many more subtle views through the trees, allowing the hiker an endless selection of spots to rest, lunch and meditate against the backdrop of Lake Superior's many moods and colors. From some vantage points, the Wisconsin/Michigan shoreline is visible on the horizon; other views feature islands - Isle Royale on the northern part of the Trail, and the Apostles on the southern end.
The Superior Hiking Trail is accessible directly from Minnesota Highway 61, on spur trails accessed from 61, or on many intersecting roads. Seven of the state parks along the North Shore (including Crosby-Manitou State Park, which is inland) are connected by the Superior Hiking Trail and provide access to it. Along Highway 61, look for the brown signs with the Superior Hiking Trail logo on them. The distance between access points - most from five to ten miles apart - makes the Trail easily divisible into one-way day-hikes, accomplished by leaving a vehicle at the access point destination and shuttling to the next access point to begin the hike. If your party does not have two vehicles, shuttles may be arranged through some of the local resorts, outfitters or the Superior Shuttle.
When planning a hike, allow one hour for every one to two miles. Day-hikers should carry a pack with adequate water (river and lake water along the Trail must be treated before it is consumed), snacks, sunscreen, bug repellent, toilet paper, compass, flashlight, and an extra clothing layer and raingear if conditions warrant. Remember that weather conditions can change rapidly; dark storm clouds and chilly winds sometimes move in quickly and unexpectedly on what began as a warm, cloudless day. If you plan to hike more than one or two hours, it is best to be prepared for weather changes.
The Trail is also ideally suited for long-distance hiking. The hiker seeking an extended trip can hike the 245 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail to its eastern end, then continue along the Border Route Trail, which in turn links with the Kekekabic Trail. (Please note: Both the Border Route Trail and the Kekekabic go through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. You must obtain a wilderness permit (self-registration where you enter)prior to entering the BWCA.) These connections provide a multi-week adventure of over 300 miles, from near Ely in the west to near Grand Portage in the east, and thence southwestward to Two Harbors on the Superior Hiking Trail.
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