Hike Overview – Jessica – September 2016 Superior Hiking Trail

From September 17th to September 23rd I hiked roughly 90 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT).


The Superior Hiking Trail stretches 300 miles from south of Duluth, MN to one mile short of the Canadian border.  For much of the trail, it hugs the “North Shore” coastline of lake Superior and provides gorgeous views.  You can find much more information about the trail at the Superior Hiking Trail Association (SHTA) website.

I started at Co Road 6 just north of Tettegouche State Park.  This is where I left the trail in May on my aborted thru-hike attempt from Martin Rd in Duluth.  The closest town to the Co Road 6 trail head is Finland, MN.  Right after this trail head, heading north, the SHT veers inland.  There are beautiful views, but of valleys and inland lakes instead of Lake Superior.  I would suggest this trail head as a starting point (again, heading north) for someone new to multi-day hikes as once you get up and over Section 13, the trail is rather gentle for several miles.

I ended my September hike at the Pincushion Mountain parking lot, near Grand Marais, MN.  This meant I hiked northbound, or “NOBO” in long-distance hiking slang.  Grand Marais is very much the “last stop for civilization” going north in Minnesota.  If you keep driving on Hwy 61, you will lose cell phone coverage and radio reception.  I would liken it to the “100 mile wilderness” on the Appalachian Trail in Maine, except that I’m just guessing.  I have not yet hiked the 100 mile wilderness and I have only driven north of Grand Marais.  Next year I hope to complete the section of the SHT between Grand Marais and the “270 Degree Overlook” – the northern terminus which is about 1 mile shy of the Canadian border.

The SHT is blazed with blue rectangles and SHT signs

The SHT is blazed with blue rectangles and SHT signs

I arranged to leave my car at the Pincushion Mountain parking lot and got a ride with the Superior Trail Shuttle Service (http://superiorhikingshuttle.com/) down to Co Road 6.  During hiking season, there are set pick-up times at trail heads between Castle Danger and Grand Marais on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays with additional cost if driving further south than Castle Danger or north of Grand Marais.

Using these set days and times makes the shuttle cost very reasonable.  But the shuttle service does operate 7 days a week, year-round.  You can arrange for a personal shuttle via their website or by phone.  (This is how I left the trail in May when I was sick.)  It is strongly recommended to reserve a shuttle from your vehicle to a starting point and hike towards your vehicle.  This gives you a lot more flexibility in your hike as you will not be forced to a strict schedule for a shuttle reservation at the end.

When hiking the SHT you are required to stay at the established campsites.  The trail goes through a large amount of private land and SHTA has worked hard for the easements and access to land in order to build and maintain the trail.  Just recently a section of trail had to be closed because a private land owner had found too many camp fires and trash on his land and rescinded his easement.

I respected this requirement while on the trail, which meant that as it got later in the day I could not decide to “just go a little further.”  At each campsite I had to determine how far it was to the next campsite, what topography was coming up, and whether I was comfortable pushing on.  The guidebook and the maps made easy answers of the first two questions.  In May, I used rainy days as an excuse to push on because I did not want to sit around in my tent in the rain.  This time around I brought a 2-person ultralight tent so that if it rained I would be comfortable waiting it out and have room for all my gear to stay dry.

Here is a quick rundown of my planned versus actual mileage:


The difference in Total Planned vs Actual Mileage is due to the fact I got a shuttle to my preferred drop off location and did not have to re-hike about 7 miles (State Rd 1 to Co Rd 6).  And the difference between actual miles and my FitBit?  That’s elevation, spur trails, and some setting up and breaking down at camp.  Of course I like to look at that mileage since it’s longer and makes me feel more bad ass!  But if someone were to ask how far I hiked on the trail, I use the guidebook mileage.

One thing to notice is that in my actual mileage I started out slower than I planned, but consistently felt stronger each day of my hike so that every day I hiked more miles than the previous.  Obviously that is not a trend that could go on forever; I was probably going to max out at around 19-20 trail miles.  But I am pointing this out because it is important to NOT PUSH YOURSELF at the start of hike.  Let your feet get used to all day hiking, your knees get used to the extra weight of a pack, your stomach get used to different food, and your body get used to the different activity.  Doing so will set you up for success and I am very pleased with how I spread the miles out for this trip.

I also want to point something else out:  These miles were planned (and hiked) for me, by me.  I get concerned sharing my mileage because I do not look like the average “athlete” and someone might think, “If she can do it, it must be easy!” when the reality is I train specifically to excel at long-distance hiking.  I’m not trying to be cocky here; there are TONS of people out there who hike faster and longer than I do.  Maybe you are one of them.  But please take your own health and experience in to consideration to plan a hike that is best for YOU.  Remember, you can always go faster and surprise yourself with an early end.  It is much harder and stressful if you’ve planned too challenging of a hike and you run short on time.

For more information on my hike, I have also posted the daily notes I kept and interjected some extra information (as best I recall), photographs, and a short rundown of what I ate (Part I & Part II).  There is also a review up for my footwear.  At least one more gear review will go up regarding my shelter, and possibly more details regarding my food.  If there are details you are interested in reading about in another blog post, please let me know!