Backpacking the Superior Hiking Trail [MN, USA]

The Superior Hiking Trail is a 300-mile hiking and backpacking trail that follows the Lake Superior coast in north-east Minnesota. Starting from Duluth and extending all the way up to the USA-Canada border, this is one of the legendary trails in America, in the same class as the Appalachian trail.

My brother and I set out on a 4 day trip to conquer the Northern 28 miles of the trail with an out-and-back from Judge C.R. Magney state park, so 56-miles total trip.

Website: http://shta.org/

Price of Admission: Technically free, but parking or shuttle may cost you money

We bought a Minnesota State Park pass for $25 that covered our overnight parking.

Judge C.R. Magney State Park

Brule River
The Brule River runs through the entire park and is a staple of Northwest Minnesota’s natural beauty.

We started the trail near the top… not sure if that’s cheating! Judge C.R. Magney is located 14-miles North of Grand Marais, Minnesota and we used it as our starting and ending point.

There is an option to take a shuttle from certain areas to the trail but we opted to save some money and just keep the car parked somewhere we knew it would be safe. Like I said above, the price for a Minnesota annual state park pass is $25 and covers overnight parking at any Minnesota state park.

Waterfalls
There are tons of waterfalls around the park that bring water down the Brule River to Lake Superior.

Since we left on a Saturday afternoon there was a ton of traffic in the park. But once you make it to the Superior Hiking Trail section of the state park you are lucky to see ten people the rest of the day.

The Superior Hiking Trail is one of the best kept nature trail secrets in the United States. Many people know the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail, but it seems like few adventurers know of this Minnesota trail.

Devils Kettle
Devil’s Kettle is a famous section of the waterfalls that has a mysterious ending. Scientists are not sure where the water that lands at the bottom goes… They’ve used tracking devices, golf balls, colored dye. Read more about it on the wikipedia page.
Beautiful Brule River.
Beautiful Brule River.
Uphill both ways
The trail managed to rise and fall in elevation throughout. There was few flat sections on the part of the SHT we hiked.
Chipmunks
Chipmunks were the most common wildlife sighting. We saw and heard a buck (male deer) through some branches but I didn’t manage to get a photo.
Looking East
Looking East from the highest point in Judge C.R. Magney State Park towards Lake Superior.
Perched over Flute Reed River.
Perched over Flute Reed River. Plenty of water and snack breaks along the whole trip.
Camp 20 Road
Unfortunately there were several stretches of road during the hike. Fellow travelers told us that private-owners had restricted access to the trail on their property (easement).

The above caption makes me want to elaborate on the trail. It is a combination of public land and private land (something almost unheard of in Texas where I’m from). The private owners of the property allow “easements” on their property so hikers like us can enjoy the beautiful trail and not walk the roads.

Unfortunately people sometimes restrict access to the trail. It can be for valid reasons such as minimizing vandalism (very little of that on trail) or privacy. Just a good reminder to always be respectful of the public land (our land as citizens) and private land (other’s land as our friends).

Rejection at Hazel Camp and Pressing Forward

After hiking 8 miles from 1pm to 6pm we were faced with a rare obstacle. The Hazel Campsite on trail was packed all the way down to the latrine. Most of the time it is rare to come across more than 10 people during your day on the trail and 3-4 people at each campsite.

So we were faced with a decision: do we press another 3 miles to the next campsite or try to find a place to sleep alongside the trail? It is worth noting that it is against the rules (or laws?) that apply to the trail. You are not allowed to simply set up a tent on the side of the trail, and truthfully there isn’t any room to do that anyway.

We pressed on. At 6:00pm we had an hour and a half before the sunset to make it to the next site, South Carlson South Pond. We arrived at night fall and enjoyed our Spanish rice dinner.

End of Day 1: ~11 miles

Day Two…

minnesota forest
Tall trees along the path North.
trees
Paul (my brother) wanted to pose with his favorite tree. I believe they are quaking aspens but I really am not a tree expert.
tall trees
This section of the trail was a seemingly never-ending forest. Thank you to all the maintenance crews that keep the path clear!
Watering Hole
Our watering hole of choice. We filtered the water with my Sawyer Mini, which I will link to at the end of this article.

backpack post
He also has a thing for boardwalks. This railing was the perfect height to alleviate the suffering of carrying our backpacks.
socks over river
Airing my socks over a river. Thanks to my sister for the awesome socks!
Overlook
Arguably the most beautiful section of trail we did was this elevated section where we could see Lake Superior.
Pond
We stopped for lunch at this section to admire the view and eat some peanut butter tortillas.
boardwalk
I thought he looked cool so I decided to include this photo of a small creek crossing. We passed many creeks that were bubbling and many that were bone dry. It rained on us the first night so there was a little more water than usual for the summer season.
big rock
Gotta love when glaciers just leave huge rocks in random places!
Heart rock
Heart rock on trail 🙂
At the top
So happy to reach the highest point on the trail. The SHT changes in elevation very frequently and you are usually walking uphill or downhill.

By the end of the day we made it to the Northern-most campsite on trail, Andy Creek Camp. I would recommend filling up at a different water source than Andy Creek cause the water tasted a little funkier than every where else on the trail.

We somehow managed to stay stomach-healthy on the trail thanks to the Sawyer Water filter and plenty of water sources. General tip is to always filter from moving water as stagnant water is a breeding ground for stomach viruses and bacteria.

End of Day 2, ~ 14 miles (25 miles total)

Day Three: Saying ‘Hi’ to Canada

End of SHT
From Andy Creek Camp it is three miles to the Canada-overlook.

It rained again so we left our tent to dry as we headed North to say ‘hi’ to Canada. Follow the trail all the way north to a muddy logging road and you will find the trailhead for the Border Route Trail.

Overlooking Canada
Overlooking Canada and America. Shout out the my orange nalgene for always being down for any adventure.
Canada
Land of natural beauty, Canada… from a distance.
Panorama
Canada-American Panorama from my iPhone.

We hiked up a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer to enjoy at the outlook (we are nerds, that’s why). Here is the glorious video/gif!

After taking in all the natural beauty and drinking our shaken-up PBR we headed south. There are less pictures from this point on as it is the same section of trail.

Back South
Heading south we decided to take another long break at the Lake Superior overlook.
Arty shot
I like to take some “artistic” shots whenever I get the chance. Looking forward to getting a DSLR camera in the future!

Sunset at Woodland Caribou Camp
Sunset at Woodland Caribou Camp. Great campsite next to a running water source and amazing beaver dam.

Here is a video of where we filled our waters at that campsite.

End of Day Three: ~15 miles (40 miles total) 

Day Four: Why Do We Always Push?

My brother and I had to decide whether we wanted to complete the last 17/18 miles in one day or push it into 1.5 days and wake up early the next morning.

Of course we decided to spend more time on trail…. But that’s not how the story ends.

Looking at Lake SuperiorPlenty of green in the Minnesota forest.

Rock climbing
Our descent from the rocky section of the trail back to the forests.

We made it to our target stopping spot by 3:00pm, which left lots of time to relax and enjoy the warm summer sun. Well, if you know me and my brother, that is just not an appealing proposition.

So we decided to push the last eight miles into Judge C.R. Magney to get back to his car and return to civilization early.

Good luck
Words of encouragement from a bridge.
water filter
Water filter frustration. Our Sawyer mini started to clog and slow (I didn’t pack the syringe cleaner… don’t ask me why). Thank you to friendly hikers Bill and Sandy that let us borrow their cleaner syringe!

If there was one thing we would both probably change it would be bringing an additional water filter or just using tabs/pills. The Sawyer mini I have kept us from any stomach distress but took about 4-5 minutes per 16 ounces… and when you are hiking more than 10 miles a day during summer you drink a lot of water!

Moving forward I will most likely be buying a gravity system or just relying on iodine tablets for purification.

Judge C.R. Magney Sunset
We got to the car at about 8:30pm, hiking the last thirty minutes in darkness.

Review and Recommendations

Wow, this is a long post right? There is so much to talk about and more than a hundred photos I did not share in this post…

The Superior Hiking Trail is a gem. I really haven’t heard or read many posts on this trail and it is a shame because it was an absolute blast and a beauty.

Water Filter

As I complained earlier we were under-prepared for filtering the water. Two mini filters would have saved us 1-2 hours during the trip, and a gravity filter would have made cooking our meals at night a much more enjoyable process.

Hiking Partner

Part of what makes a trip like this so special is spending uninterrupted time with someone you care about. My brother and I live in different states so to get several days in a row to catch up on everything in his life and discuss some of the finest philosophical points was a blessing. I wouldn’t trade this trip for anything and me and him will always have the inside jokes and stories from this trip for the rest of our lives.

Get out There!

Backpacking seems to scare some people, at least some of my friends who have never been camping. Read a couple articles on what to bring, and check out my post before I left about what to bring backpacking.

Adventure doesn’t go perfectly. If you want a flawless trip, check into a cruise. And there’s nothing wrong with that!

I urge you to get all your camping gear together (or go buy some secondhand or discounted gear) and hit the trail as soon as possible. The more you do it the better you will get. And I guarantee you will have the time of your life!

3 Comments

  1. What a great post! Thanks David! I had a great time hiking and filtering water haha.

  2. Rose Applegate

    I enjoyed your views of MN. My grandmother was born there in 1898. I’ve only seen the inside of an airport in MN, yet, in many ways it was a homeland for a lot of Finns. . . Hope you two have an opportunity to hike a little in the mountains up the road from the Guild.

  3. JoAnn Willis

    Great pictures and write up! Really enjoyed the words of encouragement from the bridge! Makes me want to get out there and see this awesome trail! Thanks!

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