28 Miles of New Superior Hiking Trail
The Superior Hiking Trail Association is
unveiling a 22-mile section of trail near
Two Harbors on September 1, 2009.Rudi Hargesheimer writes about this
new trail and an additional six-mile section that will probably not open until 2010.
By Rudi Hargesheimer- Feature Writer
Lucky me! Gayle Coyer, Executive Director of the Superior Hiking Trail Association, offeredt
o provide me with a “sneak peek” shuttle for a 28-mile backpacking trip on the newest sections of the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) around the backside of Two Harbors.
Ranked as the “Second Best Long Trail in the Nation” by Backpacker Magazine readers, the 205 miles of Superior Hiking Trail from Lake Country Road 301 northeas
t to the Canadian border is spectacular in its beauty with panoramic views from high ridges and cascading waterfalls plunging down deep canyons.
But the area south of Lake Country Road 301 had been an enigma since the SHT was first built. Although at first there was no obvious route to take around Two Harbors, determined SHTA volunteers spent years pouring over maps, speaking with landowners, scouting the woods, and hanging pink ribbons until a path around town began to take shape.
I was eager to be the first person to hike this newest stretch of trail, so Gayle gave me rough maps with my way penciled in and dropped me off at Fox Farm Road. Pink ribbons led north and east toward Rossini Road where the 22 miles of trail to Lake County Road 301, completed and opening by Sept. 1, 2009, will officially begin.
But the first six miles of my hike from Fox Farm Road was on a six-mile corridor not yet ready in 2009 for public use and I soon found out why. This first segment was “cleared,” but not built. I came along right after the chainsaw crew had taken out the biggest of the trees. The pink ribbons remained, but there was no treadway on the ground.
Lucky me, I thought again as I slowly picked my way over uneven ground and stumbled over eight-inch stubble.
After a few miles of really rough going, I encountered Larry Sampson and a crew of volunteers building treadway.
Using mattocks, hoes, axes, saws, shovels and rakes, they were grubbing out the perfect trail. Pointing at their work, Larry proudly said, “Once we’re done, you’ll be able to walk barefoot.”
Sure enough, the new treadway was silky-soft and absolutely flat. I asked Larry how far the crew would make in one day.
“We hope to do 1,000 feet,” he said.
Only 1,000 feet? I suddenly had new respect for the tremendous effort and time that has gone into building the SHT. The crew still had six miles to cover with bridges and boardwalks coming later. No wonder there was no promise of a date to be finished, although the goal is to have it complete in 2010.
The unfinished six-mile section had a “Tall Hill Lookout,” a name coined by Gayle and the volunteers, along with beautiful sections along the Knife River and through mature maple forest. Some of the scenes by beaver dams and ponds were gorgeous.
When I got to Rossini Road, the soon-to-open 22-mile section followed a big arc around the backside of Two Harbors through gently rolling country heavily forested in maple and other hardwoods. Logging was evident in many places making the trail interesting as the new-growth and pine plantation forests added spice to the old-growth forest. Small creeks and the tiny headwaters of the Knife River lent wonderful ambience to the North Shore experience.
At McCarthy Creek, I sat a long while admiring the waterfall lined with green grasses and abundant wildflowers. I camped at the Ferguson campsite on the Knife River. I might have been the first person to use the site.
The next day I crossed the Drummond Grade road, passed an old mine site and skirted around the Lake County Demonstration Forest. A large bridge spanned the Stewart River and from there the trail meandered toward Lake Superior. The maple forest was beautiful.
Near Reeve’s Road the trail broke out of the forest and followed a spine of bedrock downward with that characteristic ridgeline feel so dominant in the northern sections of the Superior Hiking Trail.
After following the top of an escarpment, I was surprised by Reeve’s waterfall tumbling between two huge boulders. At Reeve’s Road the trail followed Lake County Road 2 for a very short distance. I could not pass up the opportunity that presented itself there: a cold beer and a juicy hamburger at Dixie’s sure hit the spot!
At Dixie’s, the trail followed a snowmobile trail before heading down the long gradient toward Lake Superior as a curiously straight hiking-only trail. Evidently I was following a property line, which is the only reason the Superior Hiking Trail is ever straight.
The straight line led to the banks of Silver Creek. I followed the creek’s meanders until encountering the campsite on the creek and the well-established Superior Hiking Trail to the Lake Country Road 301 parking lot full of cars of people hiking north toward Canada. Now they have the option of heading south toward Duluth.
Compared to the classic big views further north, the unfinished section (opening 2010) and the new 22- mile section (opening September 1, 2009) was mostly a pleasant walk in the woods: not spectacular, but highly enjoyable, even so.
Once again, I feel lucky – and grateful – that as of September 1, 2009, the Superior Hiking Trails around Two Harbors is open!
Note: A gap of about 30 miles still exists between the new Two Harbors sections and Duluth. In Duluth and in Jay Cooke State Park, a remarkable 42.5 miles of new trail was built over the past six years. Watch for a future issue of this magazine for an article featuring this unique urban backpacking experience.
Rudi Hargesheimer is a manager at Midwest Mountaineering. He has been a longtime board member of the Superior Hiking Trail Association and The Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota. His side business is North Shore Photo Art.
Maps and information about the new 22-mile section will be available at the Superior Hiking Trails Association (SHTA) store and on the SHTA website beginning September 1. The staff in Two Harbors can sell you the maps and guide books you will need, plus great t-shirts, hats and other trail-related items. Proceeds benefit SHT maintenance and future trail building efforts. Ask about volunteer opportunities, too!
Visit the SHT store and office
M-F 9-5; Sat 10-4; Sun 12-4
Closed on weekends October 24th – May 15th
731 7th Ave, P.O. Box 4
Two Harbors, MN 55616