Snowshoe Minnesota’s North Shore: State Parks & The Superior Hiking Trail

Listen carefully, and you can almost hear the sound of gently falling snow. The much-anticipated winter season is here, and with it comes the mind-boggling question of where to go snowshoeing along Minnesota’s North Shore.

Minnesota North Shore

The impressive north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota

The North Shore is slightly east of the Rockies, a touch west of the Appalachians, and nearly a stone’s throw from being missed altogether. However, the state parks and Superior Hiking Trail nestle beside the remnants of an ancient mountain range and dance alongside the largest freshwater lake in the world.

In writing this article, I heeded the advice of a gentleman by the name of Pete Smerud. For upwards of 20 years, Pete has lived in Minnesota’s North Shore area and employed himself in an assortment of adventure-minded jobs. He has served as the director of operations for Wolf Creek Environmental Learning Center, a ski instructor at the Lutsen Mountain ski area and, for purposes of this article, local expert to snowshoeing adventure in the North Shore.

Snowshoe Trails For All In Minnesota’s North Shore

The residents of Minnesota take tremendous pride in the beauty of their state. In doing so, they have made it possible to retain a wealth of public land and numerous state parks, all of which are accented by gorgeous rivers and the stunning Lake Superior.

State Parks

For those looking for easy-moderate hiking trails, it’s suggested to go by way of the state parks. The array of well-marked trails are most often accessible by roadside parking lots (that don’t require day passes). Plus, it can be a great way for the whole family to enjoy the spectacular North Shore wilderness. There are several state parks on the North Shore of Minnesota that offer snowshoeing and snowshoe rentals including:

  1. Cascade River State Park, Lutsen
    • snowshoeing allowed anywhere except groomed ski trails, snowshoe rentals available
  2. Gooseberry Falls State Park, Two Harbors
    • snowshoeing allowed anywhere except groomed ski and snowmobile trails
  3. Grand Portage State Park, Grand Portage
    • snowshoeing allowed anywhere, including High Falls, snowshoe rental available
  4. Jay Cooke State Park, Carlton
    • 6.8 miles of marked snowshoe trails, snowshoeing allowed off-trail, rentals available.
  5. Temperance State Park, Silver Bay
    • snowshoeing allowed anywhere except groomed ski trails
  6. Tettegouche State Park, Silver Bay
    • snowshoeing allowed anywhere except groomed ski trails, snowshoe rentals available
  7. Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, Two Harbors
    • snowshoeing and fat bikes share 8.7 miles of trail, snowshoe rentals available

If a little more guidance of the area and pair of snowshoes is what you’re looking for, then head over to Sawtooth Outfitters (across from the Bluefin Bay Resort in Tofte). They’ll be sure to equip you with all your snowshoeing needs.

Gooseberry Falls, North Shore Minnesota

Gooseberry Falls Image by Deanna Klemesrud from Pixabay

Superior Hiking Trail

For a more advanced snowshoe outing, the Superior Hiking Trail provides constant elevation changes through ascents and descents. The trail runs a total of 310 miles and connects 8 different state parks across Minnesota. Choose to hike a section of the trail, which ranges from 34.5 to 57.5 miles.

Or, you can complete a day hike between trailheads, which range from 3 to 11 miles. The Northern terminus trailhead in Hovland provides an excellent 270-degree overlook of the surrounding area

The North Shore Rivers

While the marked trails and state parks are enjoyable for many, snowshoeing up and down the North Shore rivers are what comes highly recommended. Keep in mind that the area allows for a certain amount of exploration, so knowing your ability is of great importance.

The steep drainage of Lake Superior turns areas typically inaccessible in the warmer months, but it becomes a winter playground for snowshoers and skiers come mid-January. As the drainage freezes, it forms alpine-like gorges, canyons, and gushing waterfalls that seem to be frozen midstream.

With a pair of snowshoes strapped to your feet, these frozen waterfalls become a thrilling adventure of climbing and sliding that ultimately lead to the mouth of Lake Superior. And if you want to be like the locals, tradition suggests that you dip the tips of your snowshoes or skis into the water to “complete your run” once you’ve reached the lake.

The plethora of rivers allows for expeditions that vary. Snowshoe the Two Island River and Beaver River, both about three-miles long, or the Split Rock River, which can take about four hours when done in its entirety. The Split Rock River boasts seven waterfalls and is local to some highly recommended lodges and restaurants.

Split Rock Lighthouse, Northern Shore Minnesota

Split Rock Lighthouse, Image by Mike Goad from Pixabay

Eat, Drink, Stay On Minnesota’s North Shore

Whether it’s the cajun trout at the Lemon Wolf Café in Beaver Bay or the tantalizing pizza at the Coho Café in Tofte (minutes from the Onion River and near Sawtooth Outfitters) that you fancy, there are plenty of restaurants to suit even the most discriminating traveler.

Conveniently located by the lovely town of Beaver Bay is Cove Point Lodge, a spectacular choice for a night’s stay that sits on 150 acres of land overlooking Lake Superior. Each room has a magnificent view of the lake. Also, right outside its door is a trail leading to the Split Rock Lighthouse. Another option for lodging is a quaint little bed and breakfast called Gowdy’s Inn.

If you’re traveling from out of town, the Duluth International Airport is located just over an hour from many points along the North Shore area. Or perhaps you’ve chosen to drive. Then hop on the infamous (thanks to Bob Dylan) Highway 61, and it’s a straight shot up North. Once settled in the town, catch the Superior Shuttle, which runs all weekend. The shuttle will pick hikers up from several spots along the shore and shuttle them to the trailheads. View the Superior Shuttle schedule for more information.

Go Visit!

So what are you waiting for this winter? Come check out what the Minnesohhhhtans have known for quite some time. The State Parks and Superior Hiking Trail is the SHT.

Updated November 2019

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Katie Eggers