Listen closely and you can almost hear the sound of gently falling snow; or perhaps the humming of computers has begun to toy with our minds. Either way, the much anticipated winter season is just around the corner and with it comes the mind-boggling question of where to go snowshoeing.
This month’s destination-du-jour is slightly east of the Rockies, a touch west of the Appalachians and nearly a stone’s throw from being missed altogether. It’s nestled beside the remnants of an ancient mountain range and dances alongside the largest freshwater lake in the world. Therein lies the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) of Northern Minnesota’s North Shore. Its name not only gives inclination as to the adventure it has to offer but also having more than 200 miles of marked trails and an unlimited amount of land begging to be explored.
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. Currently he serves as the director of operations for Wolf Creek Environmental Learning Center (http://www.wolf-ridge.org), ski instructor at the Lutsen Mountain ski area and, for purposes of this article, local expert to snowshoeing adventure in the North Shore.
The residents of Minnesota take tremendous pride in the beauty of their state and in doing so 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.
For those looking for a variety of novice or easier hiking trails, it’s suggested to go by way of the state parks. The array of well marked trails are most often accessible by road side parking lots (that don’t require day passes) and can be a great way for the whole family to enjoy the spectacular North Shore wilderness. If a little more guidance and pair of snowshoes is what you’re looking for, then head over to Sawtooth Outfitters (across from the Bluefin Bay Resort in Tofte) and they’ll be sure to equip you with all your snowshoeing needs.
While the marked trails and state parks are enjoyable for many, snowshoeing up and down the North Shore River is 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 and 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 allow for expeditions that vary from the likes of Two Island River and Beaver River, both about three-miles long, to 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.
Conveniently located by the lovely town of Beaver Bay is Cove Point Lodge (http://www.covepointlodge.com), 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, as well as 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. 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.
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 you’re settled in town, the Superior Shuttle runs all weekend and will pick hikers up from a number of spots along the shore and shuttle them to the trailheads. See http://www.superiorhikingshuttle.com for schedules and more information.
So what are you waiting for? Come check out what the Minnesohhhhtans have known for quite some time…the Superior Hiking Trail is the SHT.
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