Superior hiking trail thru-hike
Don't let this trail's well-known status and superb blazing fool you: it is a rugged path to walk.
September 5 – September 14, 2016
10 days – Southbound
Click to download the Superior Hiking Trail Worksheet, which contains a gear list, resupply itinerary, meal plans and weather/trail conditions.
The Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) is a 310-mile footpath that stretches from the Minnesota/Wisconsin border nearly to the border of Canada. Located along the north shore of Lake Superior, Minnesota's Sawtooth mountain range thrusts hikers up for magnificent vistas and cool breezes. But the views come with a price: the SHT has almost no switchbacks, and although the climbs are short, they are many in number and go straight up over rocks and roots to no end. Keeping a three-mile-per-hour pace was practically impossible on some stretches, due to the amount of rock scrambling or root hopping or navigating muddy trail. But its impeccable blazing makes for a smooth walk with little to no confusion; I had little need for my compass.
The Superior Hiking Trail Association (SHTA) sells a set of 6 maps covering the entire route for a buck a piece. The only mileage information on the maps is distances from trailhead to trailhead, but a SHTA volunteer compiled an unofficial list of mileages for the entire trail that may be helpful in planning or walking.
Add maps of the Border Route Trail and Kekekabic Trail could potentially make for a 430-mile hike from Duluth to Ely. These trails are not frequently maintained as they traverse the remote lands of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Ely's own Safe Ride L.L.C. has a shuttle service that would transport a hiker from Ely to Duluth for around $150.
The Superior Hiking Shuttle, based in Castle Rock, Minnesota, offers a convenient service for the majority of hikers found on the Superior Hiking Trail – day hikers and section hikers.
The SHT is a nearly complete footpath for its entire length. Despite its relatively immaculate maintenance, The tread varies greatly and, in some cases, is pretty rugged. Forget switchbacks; the SHT on has two. Though the Sawtooth Mountains stand short and rocky, the trails go straight up the sides of the mountains, making for some lung-busting climbs and knee-killing descents. Not to mention the rocks, roots, and mud.
The Superior Hiking Trail is primarily a footpath, with a few short sections of road walking. At times, the tread is shared with local snowmobile trails. I saw many people hiking the trail, including section hikers, thru-hikers, day hikers, and school groups. The University of Minnesota at Duluth takes their entire freshman class on orientation backpacking trips to start off the year.
In the winter, dog sled teams use the trail and snowmobilers and snowshoers are out and about.
The Superior Hiking Trail is so well blazed, I hardly needed my maps. A few times I noticed "blaze pollution" but otherwise the blazes were spaced appropriately. Getting lost on this trail might take some doing, depending on the section. I began to rely on the blazes so much, that I would begin to get worried if I hadn't seen one in a while, wondering if I had gotten off the footpath somehow.
The creatures I encountered most were slugs which would crawl on my groundsheet and everything else while I was sleeping, leaving their slimy marks traceable for days to come. Mice would stir me awake during the night, and a frog literally jumped into my sleeping quilt during a rainstorm (and nearly scared me half to death).
I rarely carried more than a liter of water at any given time. Halfway through the trip I ran out of Aquamira drops and decided to go the rest of the way without treating water sources at all. Luckily, no issues arose.