Destinations

Hiking the Superior Hiking Trail

The Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) is a place that is known all over the country for its breathtaking views and arduous stretches. Spanning a whopping 310 miles from start to finish, thousands of people make an homage to the trail every year.

Of course, very few actually choose to hike the entire trail, instead putting in at a specific point somewhere along the line and coming out at another. How does one figure out, then, how to find such a point? From there, how do you have a good trip? Luckily, it is not too difficult.

When Should You Hike the Superior Hiking Trail?

First, you will want to think about when you leave for the hiking trip. Generally, the best time to do a trip is sometime in the summer, spanning anywhere from the beginning of June to the beginning of September (though September can be a bit chillier). You always the option to plan your hike in winter months such as January if you enjoy the cold but you would need to pack much more gear in order to have a fun and safe trip.

superior hiking winter
The trail is open in winter, but going then requires different equipment.

Getting back to summer, we would personally recommend going either any time during the latter half of July through the end of August. The reason for this is that June is when many people plan “end of school trips” to the area, which results in much more foot traffic than usual within the SHT.  Late June is also often the height of mosquito and black fly season as new hatches emerge.  As for going in late August, that is when most people have headed back home for school or work, which also results in less traffic.

And you can’t forget about the weather aspect of this decision. Hiking the SHT in April or May brings a likely chance of rain, which is never fun! A fall trip is pretty but may be a bit too cool for a comfortable hiking trip. If you hit the right fall week when the weather is good, it can often be make for the best hiking of all, but the later you go in the fall, the more you are rolling the dice on the weather.  You will want to pack everything from shorts to thermal underwear.  Mother nature could throw anything at you!

Choosing your Route

Once you have decided on when to go, it is time to decide where to go!

Start with what you want to see. If you’re not sure, our recommendation is to check out all the different types of views offered by the trails of SHT in Finland, MN. For example, a 28-mile hike from Finland to Tettegouche State Park will give you scenic views of Lake Superior, bountiful blueberry picking opportunities, and what we consider to be the most spectacular view in all of the North Woods. This view is clifftop overlook at Section 13, which requires a fairly short yet quite steep hike up a particularly strenuous stretch of trail to get to. Once there, you will have the opportunity to walk out to the open top of the cliff and look at a magnificent combination of a pine bog, the sawtooth mountains, pine forests, and two other beautiful cliffs on either side of you. It’s truly amazing.

If you are looking for something a bit more tame that is still more than satisfactory in the viewing and hiking department, look no further than the town of Castle Danger, MN. With a nicely sized put-in on Castle Danger road, you can start hiking not too far away from the esteemed Gooseberry Falls. Going a 18 miles will not only take you to Gooseberry, but will also bring you out on a beautiful beach of Lake Superior where you can cool off! Part of this stretch also takes place on a paved, open area of the SHT, which allows you plenty of sun and takes you by many nice little lodges along the lake in Two Harbors. One we personally had a great experience with was Bell Sheep Homestead, as the staff were nice enough to fill all of our waters.

What to Bring for Your SHT Hike

SHT overlook
Many plan their route around key vistas.

Next, you will need to think about what gear to bring on such a trip. Start with the essentials like food, water or shelter. Here is a list of whatwe would recommend for a good trip:

  • Tent
    • Make sure it has a tarp and rain fly! For more information, check out our piece on good 4-person tents.
  • Sleeping Bags
    • Check the temperature rating of the bag if you are planning on going during a cooler part of the year.
  • First Aid Kit
    • These can often be bought pre-arranged, but it is not at all difficult to find a list online and create your own.
  • Rain Gear
    • Should include a coat, pants, and boots.
  • Non-perishable Food
  • Cooking Stove
  • Water Containers
    • We recommend at least two liters per person.
  • Water Purifier(s)
    • We would recommend any well-rated filter and/or iodine drops or tablets. If you go with a filter, the types that are gravity-operated are nice because they are often easier to use and work fairly quickly. If you go with iodine, make sure you know how much to put in your water before drinking it, and also make sure you let it sit long enough. This may vary depending on what kind of water you attain and what kind of iodine you buy. One more thing to consider about iodine is that it sometimes leaves the water with a slightly odd taste.
  • Sunscreen and Bug Spray
    • This is mosquito country in June and July, so bring plenty of mosquito repellent to make the trip more enjoyable. You might also encounter black flies in late June, especially around water sources. And while the SHT isn’t in the heavy range for Deer Ticks, you can’t be too careful.  Their range is spreading.
  • A medium-to-large-sized hiking backpack
    • These packs are commonly equipped with loops on the sides that can be utilized by attaching carabiners to carry extra things.  A waterproof backpack is a big plus.

      best waterproof backpack
      Don’t skimp on your backpacks.
  • Map
    • You will want at least one very detailed map of the stretch you will be hiking, and preferably a couple maps. Different maps have different detail, and we have had more than one situation where it was useful to reference both maps in order to determine where we were, or to identify the best path forward. Local outfitters often have the best maps of specific sections of the trail.
  • Optics
    • Consider bringing a small pair of binoculars to really be able to take in the views, especially from some of the higher vistas. You don’t want anything too heavy or bulky.
  • Quality Footwear
    • You are going to want good hiking boots, and you don’t want to skimp.  Some parts of the trail are going to be rocky and rugged, others might be lower and even a bit wet.  You will be climbing, you might be mucking through mud.  That means you need versatile footwear.

There are then other optional items you could bring. Consider including sleeping mats, travel pillows, gas stoves, and portable eating containers. It really all comes down to how much equipment (and pounds) you are willing to carry along with you as you hike.

Hiking on the SHT can be an incredible experience, and like other famous trails including the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Rim Trail, the trail and surrounding area has a personality and vibe all its own. Just be sure to do a little planning on your route and your supplies, and you will be sure to have a hike that you won’t ever forget.

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