Knife River hiking: new trailhead, shorter trail

Change happens. Hiking trails sometimes get rerouted or abandoned over time. The Knife River hike (hike #11) is one of the 50 featured, fabulous hikes in my book Hiking the North Shore, and this post outlines the updates you’ll need to know to prevent a misadventure when you hit the trail.

The Knife River hike as written in my trail guide was a 6.4 mile hike from the village of Knife River; the hike went up the river to a scenic campground and back to the trailhead. Since I finished the book in 2011, two unfortunate and one positive event changed the trail so much that I have to rewrite the entire description:

  • A major logging operation in 2011 wiped out a full half-mile of the trail, north of Shilhon Road.
  • The flood of June 2012 washed out major sections of the trail, especially in the first half mile of the hike up to the fish ladder and Expressway crossing.
  • The remaining trail was formally adopted by the Knife River Recreation Council in the fall of 2012. No longer was this trail an abandoned stepchild of the Superior Hiking Trail.

I hiked on the old trail this weekend from the village of Knife River. If I hadn’t known where I was going, I would have been lost right away. With the old Superior Hiking Trail signage gone, there was no easy way to pick through the maze of cross trails and access roads. The flood had wiped out the footpaths that crossed below the expressway bridges. The remaining trail had not been brushed or cleared at least since last year, and the twenty-year-old bridges were rotting away. I was relieved to get through the clearcut areas and back on the maintained part of the trail, and found the improvements to be dramatic.

Realizing the poor shape of the trail from the village up to Shilhon Road, volunteers built the the newly christened Knife River Hiking Trail a new trailhead. Local residents have worked along the entire trail making much needed improvements. It’s now back and better than ever…just a little shorter in length. Find out more about the local community support on the Knife River Hiking Trail FaceBook page.

Finding the new trailhead:

From the Highway 61 Expressway between Duluth and Two Harbors at mile marker 18.2, turn northwest on UT7 (E. Shilhon Road). This gravel road changes names to become St. Louis County Road 2551 after just 0.2 miles. At 0.7 miles from Highway 61, look for the trailhead parking lot on the right.

From this new trailhead, the trail runs along the top of the Knife River Valley, skirting the 2011 timber cut before a steep descent to the banks of the river near Second Falls. It’s three-quarters of a mile to Second Falls, then the trail continues to the rapids campsite. If you turn around here, it’s a four mile out and back hike. It’s a shorter trail now, and an easier one.

Nearby eats, treats & lodging tip: After your hike, head to Great Lakes! Candy Kitchen in Knife River for extra special deliciousness.


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