The amazing Mount Josephine trail

We’re always updating our best-selling book, Hiking the North Shore, getting ready for future reprintings. I’ve been revisiting some of my favorite trails, especially the ones off of the beaten path, in order to update the trail information in the book before we go to press and send off the final files.

I was eager to return to Mount Josephine, Hike #48. From the top, it’s one of the most dramatic views on the North Shore. Here’s the trail description text you’ll find printed in our upcoming 2017 second edition.

Hike #48 — Mount Josephine

A 2.5 mile out-and-back hike on the Grand Portage Reservation

What makes it unique. This rough and challenging trail has the steepest climb—and the most dramatic view—on the North Shore.

Finding the trailhead. Follow Highway 61 for 35 miles past Grand Marais to mile marker 144.0, the main turn-off for Grand Portage. Turn right on County Road 17 (you will stay on County Road 17 to the trailhead). Turn left at the four way stop just past the Trading Post entrance. Follow Mile Creek Road 0.9 miles, past the Grand Portage National Monument information center. Turn left on Upper Road (still County Road 17). Follow Upper Road 0.9 miles to a parking lot on left. The only signage are fire numbers 183 and 193.

Try this Google Maps link to the trailhead location.

Distance: 2.5 miles
Time: 1.5 to 2 hours
Difficulty: difficult. Best for experienced hikers with stamina and the ability to route-find on unmaintained trails. The trail climbs 600 feet in just over a half mile—perhaps the steepest climb on the North Shore.
Trailhead facilities: none

No pain, no gain is a good mantra to adopt for this hike. The terrain requires hard work. Finding the trail and following it is hard work. Fair warning: this trail is not as well maintained as other trails in the area. But the view from the top is extraordinary as you stand at the highest point directly on the Minnesota North Shore.

Once you’re parked at the nearly unmarked trailhead, you’ll see two rough old roads leaving the parking lot. Take the one on the right. The route follows an old, level roadbed, with rusted car remnants just off the trail.


Two old roads leave the parking lot at trailhead; take the one on the right.

Watch for the obvious turn off at about 0.6 miles. A sign reads “Summit 1 Mile,” and the route heads uphill to the left. It’s a remarkably straight traverse, with a climb about one-quarter mile long. Two switchbacks get you to a saddle, in an older hardwood forest. Deadfalls across the trail may not have been cleared, so get used to following a beaten path around them.


At 0.6 miles, the route heads uphill to the left.

The last part of the trail is the rocky and steep climb to the summit. The views open gradually and remind you of why you’ve worked so hard to get here. On top, there are a series of viewpoints looking inland, toward Grand Portage Bay, and toward Hat Point. The biggest view of all is toward Pigeon Point, the Susie Islands, and distant Isle Royale.


The last part of the trail is a rocky and steep climb to the summit.

This peak is 700 feet higher than Lake Superior below. At 1,300 feet above sea level, Mount Josephine is not as high as Carlton Peak (1,530 feet — read about Carlton Peak here and here), but it’s much closer to the lake, so the effect is really breathtaking. A solid stone foundation marks the site of a fire lookout tower. It’s a thigh-rumbling hike back down the way you came. There is no water along the hike, so bring plenty on warm summer days.


At 1,300 feet, Mount Josephine is 700 feet higher than Lake Superior

For an extra visual treat, view Grand Portage photographer Travis Novitsky’s Susie Islands photos on his website. The Susie Islands are the island cluster visible from Mount Josephine’s summit trail and are contained within the Grand Portage Reservation. Amazing Mount Josephine. Amazing Lake Superior!


Add your thoughts, or comment via facebook

9 Responses

  1. Karen Hartley says:

    Thanks so much for your great description of this hike. We are volunteers at Grand Portage National Monument for the summer and we have been going through the hikes in your book one by one. Mt. Josephine is one of our favorites just because of the spectacular views and the fact that we can walk to the trailhead from where we are living. We are usually the only people on it because it is unmarked. Love it!

    • Andrew Slade says:

      Karen, I’m so glad you’re enjoying the hikes and getting out on trails. And it’s great you’re volunteering at the GP National Monument. This one is a treasure — no one seems to know about it.

  2. Andrew Slade says:

    Thanks so much for the shout out to our trail guide! Much appreciated. And great to see your blog. How wonderful to have the time to explore with Tom and write about your adventures.

  3. steve Fox says:

    I’ve hiked this trail at least 8 times over the years. I guess I don’t really consider it a diffucult climb but I guess it depends on how fit you are. It is one of my favorite climbs in Minnesota behind Carlton Peak. Ive got a copy of your guide at home and I’ve enjoyed it very much.

    • Andrew Slade says:

      It’s great to hear from other fans of Mt. Josephine. It’s such a beautiful hike. Definitely in the same family of hikes as Carlton Peak, but way fewer people.

  4. Dick Dohrmann says:

    Is the hike doable in winter??

  5. Dave Pederson says:

    My wife spent summers here when her father was a National Park Service ranger at the Grand Portage National Monument in the 60’s and 70’s. We made the climb in honor of her father after he died.

    I studied every web page I could find on this trail, and talked to current National Park Service people.There are at least 4 trails shown on different web sites.

    This land is part of the Grand Portage Reservation. According to the National Park Service (who does not control the land and does not formally represent the tribe) the only trail that the tribe allows the public on is the trail head at fire marker 183. And the route is described in this web page.

    My wife and I made the hike, and the difficulty seems over stated. We are in our early 60’s, over weight, and had no trouble getting to the peak and back with stops along the way and a 30 minute break on top in 3 hours. This is 1 hour 15 minutes each way.

  6. Andrew Slade says:

    What an honor to your father-in-law to make that hike. It must have been very meaningful to return to Grand Portage. I’m glad you made it to the top and back. It’s one of the steepest climbs I know of in Minnesota. Short but steep.

What do you think?