If you want to xc ski the North Shore but all the snow has fallen on the South Shore, Brule, Wisconsin is your easiest opportunity to enjoy lake-effect snowbelt skiing. Plus the trails are lovely, with regular and careful grooming provided by the Brule Valley Ski Club. Duluth can be totally brown, but as you drive east past Poplar and Maple on Highway 2, suddenly the snow piles up. Here, early season skiing can start in mid-November.
The Afterhours Ski Trail system is comprised of three main, interconnected loops which are all accessed by the same entry loop. From the parking lot just off Highway 2, the entry loop begins almost immediately with a short 1-way climb to connect you with the network of trails and many options. There’s a perfect trail for everyone here—with easy, intermediate and advanced options—and most are groomed for both striding and skating. The trail signage is thorough and all junctions are marked. While looking at a trail map may make the vast system appear daunting at first glance, it’s easy to navigate whether you’re a beginner or experienced skier.
Finding the trail. The Afterhours Trail is about 25 miles east of Superior, Wisconsin on US Highway 2. Watch for a sign reading “After Hours Trail 1 mile” on the right, and then the turn onto the Afterhours Road. Parking is right above the highway; there is an upper lot close to the warming hut and a lower, overflow lot. The local club opened a new, bigger chalet this winter and it’s gorgeous.
Trail difficulty. There is mostly intermediate terrain here. Trails are groomed quite wide, so only the steepest hills and turns down by the river present any challenge.
Pass requirements. Annual ($25), Daily ($5), required for 16 years and older; free for under age 16.
Trailhead facilities. Trailhead warming hut and outhouse. The town of Brule has restaurants, gas stations, and a motel.
Beginner and Advanced. Choices, choices. Easy start or hard? Easy return or difficult? Everyone starting these trails makes these choices right away, but both trails roll up through white pine to the same spot, Hilltop Junction, then onto the triangle trails that connect to the Loop trail. On the way back, it’s the classic end-of-ski downhill run, either easy or difficult—but both fun.
Beginner. Gentle curves take you through sugar maple forest.
SALLY’S CLASSIC (10.2K)
Beginner to Intermediate. Weaving through the western half of the system, this intimate trail gives classical skiers their own delightful loop. In some conditions, this is the best skiing in the system. There are a couple very short downhills with turns to give this trail its intermediate rating. Depending on whether there is bountiful, fluffy snow or packed, icy conditions, these very short sections may give a brief pause to the true beginner skier.
Beginner. This is the main one-way trail taking you back to the trailhead. It’s curvy but easy. Take it after the Spruce Trail for a beginner route.
Beginner. Nice flat trail that is lined with the distinctive Norway spruce, an exotic tree noted for its drooping branches. This connects with the Entry and Aspen trails for a fun beginner route of about 4K.
Intermediate. Starts easy and flat, following an unplowed, summer-only road straight to the west. Things get interesting when you finally turn left, crossing wetland areas, passing large Norway spruce, and winding back down toward the Brule River valley.
Intermediate. When the snow is fresh, this is considered the best trail in the system, with great downhill runs, views of the Brule River, even wolf scat. The pine forest can leave needles on the trail. This is the route of an 1890s logging railroad and was the route used by early Brule River vacationers to reach their camps. A spur trail leads to Little Joe Lookout, with a view of Little Joe Rapids, before bending back to the north.
WHITE PINE (4.4K)
Intermediate. This is a long winding trail that starts in thick white pine and then descends toward the river valley into open aspen woods. Take a break at the old, gnarled jack pine overlooking the Brule River valley before starting the gentle climb back up.
Intermediate. This is signed as “North Loop,” “West Loop,” “South Loop,” and “East Loop,” but it’s all one trail, mostly flat, easy and wide. Near the “Northeast Junction,” is an unmarked outhouse.
LITTLE JOE (1.0K)
Advanced. This is rated advanced because of the wild roller coaster near its end at the River Trail by the Little Joe Rapids lookout. It feels like running a slalom course, with large white pines as the slalom gates.
- Afterhours Ski Trail descriptions were excerpted from Skiing the North Shore: A guide to cross country trails in Minnesota’s spectacular Lake Superior region, by Andrew Slade.
- Read our earlier post here on our favorite Classic Trail experience at Afterhours Ski Trail.
- Read another post here on a disappointing snow year on the North Shore…and how we headed to Brule to find good snow.
- And where did the name of “Brule” Wisconsin come from, anyway? Here’s a quick read and short history on Etienne Brule.
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