Last summer I had a goal. Section by section, day hike by day hike, I would follow the Superior Hiking Trail from my home in Duluth to Two Harbors. Summer turned into Fall, and when deer hunting season came and the trails closed for hiking, I had made it only as far as the Rossini Road. Not even to Lake County. And while I’d blogged about the first six hikes in great detail, there is no online record of the last three hikes, from the Sucker River to Fox Farm Road and through to Rossini Road. That’s okay—those trails were fine but the hikes were gloomy, through fresh clear cuts and threatened always by incoming rain or snow.
It was my birthday a few weeks ago, in late May, and time to get going again on my goal. I phoned a friend who is also a naturalist to invite him along, picking up where I’d left off. We packed lunch and field guides and brought the dogs. Like everything this year on the North Shore, spring was running late and I had high hopes for finding lots of spring wildflowers.
Of all the SHT hikes between Duluth and Two Harbors, this one has the longest shuttle. Although the hike itself is 6.9 miles, the drive from one trailhead to the other was going to be about 14 miles, along dirt roads. So I called Mary of North Coast Call N Ride and arranged for a taxi ride. If you visit her website, you might still find Mary’s picture of Bunter and me at the trailhead when you scroll toward the bottom. Mary knows this part of the Superior Hiking Trail very well and stays busy all summer shuttling hikers. She was on time and the rates were quite reasonable. We drove to the Lake County Demonstration Forest about eight miles north and west of Two Harbors and met Mary there. She brought her minivan, since she knew we’d have dogs. We left our car at that lot, and Mary drove us south, west, and then north again to the Rossini Road trailhead. Total cost was about $30, plus tip.
My book Hiking the North Shore features day hikes at both ends of this particular hike, so I’d been here before. My “McCarthy Creek Hike” is #12, and is a 6.2 mile out-and-back hike. My “Lake County Demonstration Forest” is #13 and is a 3.1 mile loop hike. In between was about three miles of terrain new to me. This is one of the more level stretches of the entire Superior Hiking Trail. In the maple woods of the western half, the trail is soft and smooth, with few of the rocks and roots that trip up hikers further up the shore.
From Rossini Road the trail soon reaches an open area of young spruce and fir forest. White and blue violets were growing in scattered places along the trail in the open sunshine. Soon enough the trail enters maple forests, and for nearly three miles the trail rolls gradually up and down maple-covered hills. In this wet spring, many of the low-lying areas were filled with standing water. The trees had only just begun to leaf out, and ephemeral wildflowers like bloodroot, bellwort and spring beauty popped up everywhere. We stopped to identify and photograph flowers. I lay down flat on the ground to take some close-ups, which is probably when I picked up the ticks.
Two hours in, we stopped for lunch halfway, at the footbridge over McCarthy Creek. Tiny brook trout were trying unsuccessfully to leap the small cascade, miniature versions of those salmon in Alaska torrents. Continuing east toward the Demonstration Forest, the forest turned to more northern species like balsam, pine and birch, and the soil turn from rich and leafy to thin and rocky. With visions of birthday cake with my family, I picked up the pace and we rolled on to the Lake County Demonstration Forest in just another hour and a half. No more field guides and botanizing.
It was great to get back on the trail. I’m now three-quarters of the way to Two Harbors. The next hike is a doozy, 11 miles from the Demonstration Forest to Reeves Road, just off Lake County Highway 2. I’m thinking I might actually finish this epic journey…this summer.
To read more about the Superior Hiking Trail sections between Duluth and Two Harbors, see my earlier posts:
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