One of the great and lesser-known trails in the United States is the Superior Hiking Trail in Minnesota. You would think with a name like that, everybody would know it, but since it was only started in the 1980’s it is often overlooked. Spanning 310 miles of rugged midwestern wilderness along the banks of beautiful Lake Superior, it is not to be missed. It spans eight wonderful Minnesota state parks, starting at the Wisconsin border and going all the way up to Canada. So whether you are a thru-hiker or a weekend trekker, the Superior Hiking Trail should be on your adventure list.
Why hike the Superior Hiking Trail
The thru-hiking section of the trail clocks in at only 269 miles, which is shorter than many thru-hiking trails, making it perfect for those who want to try out long-distance treks. Also, since it is not well known, it is often not very crowded and perfect for people trying to experience the solitude of the woods.
It is also excellent for day-trippers since the first 52.8 miles do not allow thru-hiking. Besides that, there are trailheads every 5 to 10 miles, making any excursion length you want possible. The Superior Hiking Trail is gorgeous, with endless views of the largest great lake in North America. Plus, most of the campsites along its 310 miles are entirely free.
How long does it take to Hike The Superior Hiking Trail?
Most people take between 2 to 4 weeks to complete the thru-hiking section of the Superior Hiking Trail. However, your time will depend on how much hiking you have done in the past and at what pace you are comfortable hiking for extended periods. The biggest challenge you will face is the common elevation changes on the trail. Since the trail ranges from 602 to 1,829 feet and climbs 37,821 feet over its length, it is no joke. If, however, you are an experienced thru-hiker, then this should not be too difficult.
Camping and access options at The Superior Hiking Trail
Most of the 93 campsites on the Superior Hiking Trail are entirely free, perfect for those hiking on a budget. These campsites are spaced about every 5 to 10 miles, making it easier to plan a trip that is as long or short as you desire. Access points are also around every 5 to 10 miles, so you can jump on and off the trail as you please.
Best sections of the Superior Hiking Trail
If you are not looking to complete the Superior Hiking Trail in one go and are looking for a 3 to 5-day trip to wet your toes, there are plenty of areas worth checking out. Outside of the first 52.8 miles of day hiking trail, the rest of the route is separated into six sections.
Duluth to Two Harbors
The first 57.5 miles of the thru-hiking section of the Superior Hiking Trail is the best place to start if you are a beginner and have not done too much overnight hiking. The terrain is not too steep, and there is plenty of cellphone service in case something goes wrong. This section is broken up into eight smaller sections ranging from 4 to 10 miles, which makes it an excellent stretch for day hikers too.
Two Harbors to Silver Bay
This 44.6 miles section of the trail will probably be the most crowded of all of them, but that is because it is such a beautiful section of trail. Most people will be stopping at Gooseberry Falls State Park, and you should too. There is a lovely cascade of waterfalls that are particularly pretty if you go during peak foliage in the Fall. Also, be sure to stop at Mike’s rock for some gorgeous views of Lake Superior.
Silver Bay to Caribou Falls State Wayside
There are 45.3 miles from Silver Bay to Caribou Falls State Wayside. In those miles, there are two beautiful lakes, the Bean and the Bear. Plus, three viewpoints on top of Round Mountain, Mount Trudee, and Raven Rock are not to be missed. This section will be some of the more strenuous hiking you do since the elevation starts to increase.
Tips on hiking the SHT
Like all hiking trails, you will have to deal with the bugs a lot, but they are ways to try to avoid the worst of it. First, try not to plan your hike in early and mid Summer. That is when the bugs will be the worst, instead try to shoot for early Fall if you can. Also, the mosquitoes like to come out around sunset, so if you can duck into your tent around 7 or 8, you should not be attacked too severely. Keep in mind, you are hiking, and one of the unfortunate realities of hiking is that you get bug bites. It is just how it goes.
One of the great things about the Superior Hiking Trail is that many sections come with a shuttle service. This makes it possible to get a full day of hiking and then be driven back to your car. Be sure to schedule this at least four days in advance and on one of the days they are operating.
Since the Superior Hiking Trail is well known in Minnesota, plenty of businesses will hold your resupply packages until you arrive. Just call them in advance and make sure they do not mind holding your package for a few days.
Frequently Asked Questions
When can you hike the Superior Hiking Trail?
The general consensus is that the best and prettiest hiking is done in the Fall, particularly during September. That way, you miss the buggy seasons and most of the thunderstorms. Also, it is a lot cooler than the Summer, and fewer people will be crowding the trail after Labor Day.
If the Fall is not a viable time for you, then your next best bet will be late Spring. There will be some rainfall, and the bugs will be coming out, but people have and continue to thru-hike the SHT in May.
Day hiking options at SHT
Since the first quarter of the Superior Hiking Trail is made for day hikers, it is the perfect spot for a Saturday adventure in the woods. The trailheads are spaced out every 5 to 10 miles, so you will never get caught in an ultra-long trail with no way out. In addition, the shuttle service ensures that you will not have to call up a buddy to get you back to your car. Not to mention that the many different sections give you the choice of tons of different sights and hiking experiences.
The Superior Hiking Trail is exceptionally well maintained by the Superior Hiking Trail Association so that you can rely on blue trail markers marking your path every 50 to 100 feet. However, spur trails are marked in white and are not a part of the Superior Hiking Trail proper. The SHTA has tons of resources on its website, including a guidebook and trail maps, which are essential for anyone attempting a thru-hike.
Which way should I hike the SHT?
Most people choose to go from south to north, and they do that for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, there is a lot more cell phone service in the south, so if you get in trouble early on, it will be a lot easier to call someone. Besides that, the southern section of the trail has easier terrain than the northern sections. Starting the south makes it easier to get your trail legs under you before you try to tackle the bigger stuff.
What are some of the best local spots to stop at while hiking the SHT?
When you eventually decide to get off trail for a little bit, be it a zero-day or a resupply, there are a couple of spots worth checking out in one of the nine towns near the SHT. These towns are at least 1.3 miles off the trail, so you will have to arrange for a ride. All of these will have food because let’s be honest, that’s all you will have on your mind while hiking the SHT. Grand Marias, Two Harbors, and Silver Bay are the most common resupply stops, so we’ll focus on those.
Minnesota is known well for its cheese and smoked fish, and Lou’s has both of those in spades. Opened in 1925, it is about as authentically North Shore as it gets.
If you are not much of a fish person, try out the Vanilla Bean Restaurant, where you can try their signature “Bacon Wrapped Mini Doughnut Bloody Mary” or “Oven-Baked Omelets.”
I know that when I am out for a long hike, the only thing I really crave is a greasy slice of pizza. If you have similar feelings, then a stop in Jimmy’s Pizza in Silver Bay is worth the extra mileage.
If you are looking for something more down-home, then check out Northwoods Family Grille. They have enough award-winning burgers and smoked fish to satiate any hungry hiker.
Known for their cake donuts, skizzles, and kabobs, this sweet treat shop is delicious. Be sure to check their website before you arrive, they keep odd hours, and nothing would be worse than missing out on The World’s Best Donut.
If you are looking for a lesser-known thru-hiking trail exploring the largest North American lake, then the Superior Hiking trail is perfect. Well maintained, free campsites, and breathtaking sights are just some of the things you can expect to enjoy on your next thru-hike. If you are not looking for a long hike, then just go for a day. There are enough day hiking trails to last you for years.
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