Facts and Statistics
Commonly known as the SHT, it is one of the finest hiking trails in the continent. Located in northeast Minnesota, the SHT passes through more than 300 miles of beautiful vistas and rugged landscape, in the Lake Superior region. It follows a ridgeline facing Lake Superior for most parts. The path is 46 cm wide, set in the middle of a 1.2 m clearing. The trail passes through forests of aspen, birch, pine, fir, cedar, and pine.
You will enjoy views of Sawtoon Mountains, boreal forests, babbling brooks, abundant wildlife, and rushing waterfalls. The highest point is 558 m above sea level while the lowest point is 183 m above sea level. It is meant for hiking only. Horses, mountain bikes, and motorized vehicles are not allowed on this trail.
Construction on the SHT started around the 1980s, and the trail now covers more than 500 km. The builders of this trail were inspired by the Appalachian Trail. The Superior Hiking Trail Association was then formed in 1986, to oversee management, construction, and planning all the daily maintenance and care of the trail.
The trail reached the halfway mark around 1990, which is after three years after commencement. Trail improvements have continued since then. In 2013, the trail became a continuous footpath, suitable for both thru-hikers and day hikers.
The SHT is composed of two primary sections, the North Shore Section and the Duluth Section. The Duluth section is 66 km long. Starting southwest of Duluth city, you will find a trailhead at Jay Cooke State Park. The trail spreads to the northeast, cutting across the Spirit Mountain Recreation Area, and a series of parks such as Historic Downtown Area and Hartley Nature Centre, before ending at a trailhead on the northern side of the city, on Martin Road. This section is very popular with day hikers.
The North Shore Section is 410 km long. It starts at the trailhead on Martin Road, extending to the northeast, travelling along Lake Superior. It traverses seven state parks that include Gooseberry Falls State Park and Tettegouche State Park among others. This portion of the trail passes near Lutsen and Grand Marais towns, before ending at the Canada – US border.
It offers backcountry experiences, making it suitable for both backpackers and day hikers. You will gain around 11,500 m in total elevation, on the North Shore Section if you are going north. The northern part of the SHT is connected to the 105 km long Border Route Trail.
Why It Is Great
Most hikers will agree that the most scenic and most popular sections of the SHT are to the north of Duluth. It cuts across the stunning Gooseberry Falls Park, where it is extremely breathtaking. From this section, the trail heads back to the shores of Lake Superior, where vistas display rocky outcrops, dense forests, and the ocean-like horizon of the great lake. Whether you are descending to the shores of the lake or ascending the rocky cliffs, the blue horizon will always catch your eye.
Throughout the entire section of the trail, there are dramatic landscape changes. For larger parts of the trail, you are going to hike above the elevation of Lake Superior, showing you the rock-strewn ridgeline.
You should note that the terrain gets more rugged the farther you head north. It is advised that you wear a pair of solid hiking boots here. As indicated earlier, the landscape alternates between quiet meadows, hardwood forests, steep cliffs, rushing waterfalls and boreal forests. Beginning from Temperance, the trail follows a curvy nature, all the way to Canada. This can be quite arduous, but the views are worth the effort.
You don’t have to worry about motorists or bikers, since the trail is only designed for foot traffic. This gives it a more natural experience. If you have a careful eye, you can forage for delicious raspberries and blueberries bordering the trail. You also have a chance of encountering wildlife, since the trail cuts through wilderness. Look around your feet for animal footprints. You might even spot mountain lions and bears, if you are lucky enough.
The trail is very comfortable during spring, especially before the hatching of mosquitos. This is also the period when wildflowers are blooming, making the trail burst with color. Autumn is also another great time to hike this trail. The trail is looking ablaze during this time, due to oaks, ashes and sugar maples.
The SHT is 311 miles long, starting south of Duluth, all the way to US – Canadian border. Considering that there are trailheads after every 10 miles or so, it is easy for hikers and backpackers to customize their own journeys. It is managed by the Superior Hiking Trail Association, that encourages people to highly camp. There are more than 90 backcountry camp sites that do not require any reservations or fees.
The southern section of the trail can be said to be urban. However, it still provides hikes with amazing views of scenery, especially the upper hills of Duluth with Lake Superior below. For most parts of the southern section, the trail remains inland, taking backpackers through rocky pine-covered ridges and rolling hills.
The SHT passes through numerous private lands, therefore, you should only camp at the designated areas or campsites. Campsite facilities are shared by the hikers. You can also bring your dog, as long as it is on leash.
Avoid reckless waste disposal when hiking. It is advisable to carry your waste and dump it at the designated areas. The Superior Hiking Trail Association takes a great deal in maintaining this hike, and it is always good to make their work easier. For transportation, you can use a shuttle service that picks you up after picking your car, and drops you at the trailhead. You can also hike first, then take a shuttle on your way back.
Whether you spend a whole summer backpacking or it is just a weekend trip, you will surely enjoy an epic adventure. You are going to encounter some of the most unexpected remoteness and dramatic scenery. Ranked among the best places to see in the United States and Canada, the natural rugged beauty of Lake Superior provides you with a hiking experience you will not forget.
YouTube User ‘Tom Wigren’ Hikes The Superior Trail
2 thoughts on “The Superior Hiking Trail”
Hi Brian been reading your article on the SHT and I am thru hiking the trail in September and wanted to find out what most hikers wear when thru hiking the trail during the fall.
Thank you for your time and look forward to hearing from you
It’s going to vary from person to person. I could write a big list here, but I’d be typing for half an hour. So I searched the web for a bit and found this gear list, that I think is a good starting point.
Granted, it’s for another trail. But still.
They’ve also got this other gear list and yet another gear list.
Seems to me like all the stuff on these lists combined, makes for a rather comprehensive source of inspiration!