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Explore Minnesota's Superior Hiking Trail

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A couple hikers on the Superior Hiking Trail's Bean and Bear Lake Loop / Alyssa Hei

Explore Minnesota's Superior Hiking Trail

By Stephen Sebestyen

The scenic 310+ mile Superior Hiking Trail is perfect for hikes of all lengths and adventures of all sizes.

Superior Hiking Trail landscape

Follow the 326-mile Superior Hiking Trail from Duluth to Grand Marais / Backpacker.com

The soundscape of my hike changed yet again. Hiking through the final stand of trees on the forest’s edge, the quiet woodland thrum of the last few miles gave way to the gentle crashing of waves against weathered stone. 

Cresting the small rise on the sheer cliff edge, Lake Superior revealed itself some 50 feet below. It extended far and wide in each direction, boasting a vastness my Colorado-based brain struggled to comprehend. I was used to lakes that I could swim across if need be, and this appeared to more like the Atlantic coastline than a single lake. I strained to see anything in front of me beyond waves and horizon.

As the most expansive body of fresh water in the world, Lake Superior is nothing if not impressive to behold. Equally as impressive though, and arguably more beautiful, was the trail I had spent the morning traversing some small part of, the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT).

Covering 310+ miles along the western edge of its namesake lake, the SHT goes from Jay Cooke State Park at Lake Superior’s southern tip to the Canadian border. While most of the trail follows the shoreline, it also winds inland to climb short vistas, descends through valleys, and crosses over the many tributary rivers that feed fresh water into Lake Superior. The trail is incredibly well marked, with blue blazes spaced evenly and consistently, and small SHT tags at every turn to keep hikers on track. Waterfalls are  frequent and a mainstay of the trail as well.

The sheer length of the SHT lends itself well to being portioned, and the trail is broken up into seven main sections, which are then further subdivided into shorter hikes. With trailheads every few miles and 94 backcountry campsites, there are opportunities for any length of hike—from a short, day adventure to weekend backpacking or a month of thru-hiking the entire trail.

Man and dog at Superior Hiking Trail overlook

Sunset on the Superior Hiking Trail / Alyssa Hei

Still transfixed by the view and snacking on almonds, I hear a new rustling in the woods behind me, and turn to see a group of backpackers marching in my direction, their smiles broadening as they discover the same view I had been enjoying. A brief hello reveals they have been on the trail for three days now, with two more still ahead.

Their travel will culminate near the northern end of the trail, at Judge C. R. Magney State Park and the famed Devil's Kettle waterfall, which appears to suck half the Brule River underground. The mysterious waterfall has inspired hikers with a certain sense of awe since its discovery, and is the perfect capstone to the lengthy and majestic SHT. Even with the recently released explanation of the waters seemingly magical disappearance, the sight is no less stupendous. (See where to go chasing waterfalls in Minnesota.)

Despite the strong urge to follow the group on their journey north to see Devil's Kettle and all the other features farther along the trail, the day's sunlight is already showing signs of fading. I bid the backpacking group adieu and start back on the SHT. As the soundscape once again changes and the scenery evolves into a different kind of beauty, I find myself wishing only that I had another month to dedicate to hiking the trail in full. 

This article was originally published on Backpacker.com

Learn more about hiking in Minnesota. See ten must-see hikes in Minnesota.

Know Before You Go

  • A vehicle permit is required to enter Minnesota state parks and many regional parks. Save time by ordering one online before you arrive at the park.
  • For comfort and safety on the trail, be sure everyone has appropriate footwear (tennis shoes, not flip-flops).
  • Bring a water bottle for each hiker as well as plenty of sunscreen, bug spray and snacks.
  • Pick up a paper map at the park office or load a GeoPDF map before you leave (don’t rely on your phone to navigate because cell and Internet service may not be available in the woods).
  • The accessible trails at Minnesota state parks are stroller friendly as well as wheelchair friendly.
  • Some Minnesota state parks have all-terrain electric wheelchairs for use on unpaved trails.
  • If your dog will be hiking with you, keep it on a leash and clean up after it.
  • Don't pick wildflowers or otherwise disturb the landscape. "Take only photos, leave only footprints."

Stephen Sebestyen is an avid traveler, photographer, and writer based in Boulder, Colorado. You can follow his adventures @stephensebestyen.