Long time Eagle Scout and scoutmaster Todd McMahon (a.k.a. T-man) has hiked five hundred miles over the last three years. In the process, he’s trekked the Superior Hiking Trail from north to south, seeing eighty of its 93 backpack sites. With an eye out for the “coolest” sites, he offers veteran advice for an overnighter on the trail.
McMahon prefers backpacking because camping by a road “just doesn’t feel like you’re getting out there.” He enjoys seeing more wildlife in the woods and rates backpack sites on their scenery, amenities, or unique qualities.
He ranks the East Gooseberry Campsite among the “coolest,” because the hike in from the state park wayside follows the fluctuating Gooseberry River.
“It changes from this raging river with waterfalls to this . . . meandering river,” he described.
A lightweight backpacker, McMahon doesn’t bring much more than a tent, sleeping bag, dehydrated food, and one pan to boil water for the food. His extra gear includes hand sanitizer, a compass, cell phone, and a voice recorder in his fisherman’s vest. His rule is, “everything has to be zipped in or buckled in.” He carries a Spot Messenger for emergencies. If there’s no need to press the SOS or 911 buttons, he can hit “I’m okay” to keep his mom and sister easy.
McMahon says a three-day hike on the Superior Hiking Trail between Hovland and Grand Marais offers a little bit of everything. Starting at Judge C.R. Magney State Park, hikers can take in some waterfalls to the east before hiking back west toward Grand Marais. Overlooks, the scenic Lakewalk, and waterfalls dot the way. The last stretch crossing Devil’s Track River includes some strenuous climbs.
Two more of McMahon’s “coolest” backpack sites flank the river. The “fast falling Devil’s Track River . . . kind of curves around the campsite” on the east, said McMahon. The western site is larger and sits on a plateau. McMahon has explored the Devil’s Track River gorge from these sites.
The hike ends at Pincushion Mountain Trailhead, where McMahon has found Harriet Quarles’s shuttle services a big help.
Those not ready for a big trek can try what McMahon lables the most convenient site: Onion River between Leveaux and Oberg mountains is a large site a half mile from the road with many scenic overlooks nearby.
McMahon says new backpackers should start slow. After some simple hiking, they can work from a base camp before moving from site to site.
McMahon is a through-hiker himself: he hikes until dark and stays at different spots each night. Sometimes he combines a few days of backpacking with light biking, like his hike-and-bikes from Split Rock Lighthouse State Park to Gooseberry Falls State Park.
“Number one rule for backpackers is to listen to what your body’s telling you,” advised McMahon.
A record of McMahon’s journeys can be found by searching “I saw T-man” online.