superior hiking trail tips

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 to Go

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). Speaking of chilly, there is also always the option to plan your trip in winter months such as January. Of course, the hike then would be more difficult, and 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.

Focusing back on summer, I would personally recommend going either any time during the latter half of July or 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 (Disclaimer: The vast majority of hikers up north are extremely kind and friendly, but considering our current circumstances with regards to COVID, hiking at a time with less people is probably the best way to go). It is also nice to be up on the trail during lower-traffic periods because more people are already up north than usual due to travel restrictions. 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. Another reason to go up during the aforementioned times in summer has to do with the weather. Hiking the SHT in April or May brings a likely chance of rain, which is never fun! There then of course is Fall, which is pretty but often 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.

Choosing your Route

Once you have decided on when to go, it is time to decide where to go! When it comes to finding a place to put in, you need to think about what it is you want to see. My personal recommendation for a stretch that has pretty much all the different types of views offered by the SHT is in the town of Finland, MN. I believe that there may be multiple areas to start hiking the trail in Finland, but any will do great. A 28-mile hike from Finland as a starting point to Tettegouche State Park as an ending point will give you scenic views of Lake Superior, bountiful blueberry picking opportunities, and what I consider to be the most spectacular view in all of the North Woods (not to mention other magnificent sights). The view I speak of is a clifftop overlook at a point on the trail called Section 13, which requires a fairly short yet quite steep hike up a particularly strenuous stretch of trail to get to (don’t worry, it is still on the trail and does not require you to go anywhere uncharted or dangerous). Once atop Section 13, you will have the opportunity to walk out to the open top of the cliff (watch your step for cracks so you don’t twist anything) 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 good 18 miles (or less- there is beauty everywhere on the SHT) will not only take you to Gooseberry, but will also dump you out on a beautiful beach of Lake Superior where you can cool off and refill you water (granted you have iodine pills or a water filter)! 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 I

SHT overlook
Many plan their route around key vistas.

personally had a great experience with was Bell Sheep Homestead, as the staff were nice enough to fill all of our waters (we were a bit of a ways from the beach at that point)! Wonderful people around there.

What to Bring

Alright. You have decided on where and when- that’s great! Finally, you will need to think about what gear to bring on such a trip. First, it is good to think about essentials. Essentials would be anything having to do with food, water or shelter. Here is a list of what I would recommend for a good trip:

  • Tent – Make sure it has a tarp and rain fly!  For more things to look for, 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 – Coat, and then pants and boots if you have them.
  • Non-perishable Food
  • Water Containers – I would recommend at least two liters per person 
  • Water Purifier(s) – As far as water purifiers go, I 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.  Why two 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.

There are then other optional (although oftentimes very nice and useful) items you could bring. Such items include sleeping mats, travel pillows, gas stoves, and portable eating containers. The latter two items aren’t quite “essentials” but are extremely commonly brought because of how great they are to have.  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 like 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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