This Stretch of Trail Might Be the Best 24 Miles in the Great Lakes Region

This 23.6-mile backpack along the shore of Lake Superior is perfect for a long weekend or a weekday escape.

Photo: Chelsey Lewis

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Going for a walk on the beach is always an adventure, especially when that beach is covered in pebble-size rocks that give way with every step—and those steps are weighed down by a 30-pound backpack.

Adventure is certainly in the air on the only stretch of the Superior Hiking Trail that runs right along the lake, gifting hikers an intimate view of Lake Superior and its undeveloped shoreline. The rest of the 310-mile trail climbs the forested hills above it, providing views from afar; but this 1.6-mile segment known as the Lake Walk has an up-close view of the greatest of the Great Lakes. 

My friend and I pause on a rocky outcrop to fill our water bottles and soak in the sunshine. We’re only about 8 miles into our 24-mile weekend, but we’re already feeling the rooty, rocky trail in our feet. She peels off her socks and boots and dips her feet into the frigid water. The notoriously stormy lake is calm for now, and gentle waves lap against the shore while a duck bobs along the placid surface in the distance. Basking in the bright summer sun, I think that this stretch of beach, bordered by towering evergreens and vivid blue water, is a Midwestern paradise the equal of any white-sand Caribbean cove, well worth the foot-sinking hike to get here.

Distance: 24.5 miles

Difficulty: 2/5

Rating: 3/5

Turn by Turn from Superior Hiking Trail Trailhead

  1. Catch a Harriet Quarles Transportation shuttle (reservations required, 218-370-9164) from your shuttle car drop point, Pincushion Mountain trailhead in Grand Marais, to Judge C.R. Magney State Park.
  2. At the park, take a quick pre-hike detour from the trailhead for the Superior Hiking Trail and follow a path from the east end of the parking lot to the Devil’s Kettle, a waterfall that disappears into a pothole in the 1.1-billion-year-old volcanic rock.
  3. Retrace your steps to the parking lot and take the Superior Hiking Trail from the west end. Follow the trail as it traces Gauthier Creek, then enjoy the downhill as you follow the Little Brule River. Pitch camp for the night at the South Little Brule River campsite at mile 5.7, which has developed tent pads and a shared fire pit.
  4. Continue following the trail downhill to Highway 61. Cross the highway and follow the boardwalk to the beach for the 1.6-mile Lake Walk. Follow the shoreline to the southwest, keeping your eyes on the treeline for the blue-blaze trail marker that marks the end of the beach section. Head back through the trees and cross Highway 61, then wind uphill into boreal forest.
  5. Climb north to expansive lake views, then head west to the Kadunce River. Keep right at the Kadunce River spur at mile 11.1.
  6. Cross a couple more creeks before ascending again to a ridge-top meadow with views of Lake Superior. At mile 15.4, follow the spur to the Cliff Creek campsite and pitch your tent for night #2. 
  7. Follow the trail west then south through more meadows and over several more creeks before reaching the Devil Track River’s gorge. 
  8. Pass the West Devil Track campsite, then cross the river to reach the East Devil Track campsite at mile 21.5. Since it’s only a few miles from the Pincushion Mountain trailhead, you’ll probably be sharing this site with a few groups. Grab the tent pad uphill from the firepit for the best sleep soundtrack: River rapids drifting up from below. 
  9. Take your time breaking camp before starting the final 3-mile push to the trailhead. 
  10. At mile 22.3, follow the white-blazed spur to the left to reach Pincushion Mountain overlook and impressive panoramas of the surrounding forest and Lake Superior. 
  11. Continue to follow the blue blazes of the Superior Hiking Trail through the intersections with the Pincushion Mountain trail system, and finish your four-day trek at Pincushion Mountain trailhead.

Permit None Contact Superior Hiking Trail Association