Back to Basics: Hitting the Superior Hiking Trail
Teaching, working on an independent study, writing my dissertation and training has made for quite the hectic summer. Our trip to Maine two weeks ago was a perfect race getaway and I couldn’t have been more happy with the entire experience. It was an amazing, albeit busy vacation. That journey left the beautiful epicurean and I longing for something a bit more relaxed and low-key. We may not have scheduled our two summer vacations as well as we could have, but stealing away to the North Shore of Minnesota for an anniversary camping trip was just the peaceful and relaxing getaway we both needed.
I’ve been in love with Lake Superior for quite some time, and the beautiful, ocean-like waters and wooded environment have become a favorite source of calm for both of us over the last couple of years. This year, we headed out for our first solo camping adventure with a car full of camping essentials, a wonderfully stocked gluten-free pantry, and a Vizsla eager for adventure. Our destination was a wonderful campsite at Gooseberry Falls State Park.
The falls are a popular day trip and tourist attraction for locals and visitors alike, but once you get past the easily accessible falls, you enter the best trail system in the country! I was thoroughly excited for the opportunity to run and hike the surrounding trails and do as much exploring as possible. There is something about new trails and the thrill of the unknown that brings me such joy, especially when I have no destination in mind, other than wherever I decide to stop, turn, and head back to camp. The past week did not disappoint on any level.
We arrived on Monday afternoon, and we squeezed in a nice little hike down to the Falls to get Looper acclimated to her new hiking pack. She was a bit hesitant at first, but wore it proudly by the end of our trip. The next day, I headed out on my first adventure along the Superior Hiking Trail. This 296-mile trail follows the rocky shore of Lake Superior from Duluth all the way to the Canadian border. I picked it up just beyond the North falls and headed southwest along the Gooseberry River for several miles. I stumbled upon an old bridge that appeared to have been abandoned some time ago. Just on the other side was a beautiful field of wild flowers, and butterflies everywhere. It seemed like a perfect resting and refueling point. In all honesty, I could have set up camp there and been completely happy! The whole run back to camp, I found myself daydreaming about that field, and did my best not to trip over the rooty, rocky single track trail. it was a perfect way to begin my running adventures.
The next day, we headed up to Tettegouche State Park for a wonderful morning of hiking and exploring. It was a great morning, with some fantastic climbs, and we soaked in the beautiful views. On the way back, I decided I wanted to start my run for the day a bit early. So, we pulled off the road outside Beaver Bay, I changed into my running clothes in the car, and I hoped on the trail and ran back to camp. The next few hours were filled with beautiful views of the lakeshore throughout the entire run. I had to keep reminding myself to look forward and not constantly strain my neck to the left to enjoy the postcard view! I had only planned on 8-10 miles, but had neglected to remember one of the most important rules about trails. They aren’t straight 🙂 Needless to say, when I got back to camp, I had logged 14 miles and still had a big, dopey smile on my face!
On Thursday, my plan was to tackle more of the Superior Hiking Trail. I hoped back on the trail, and headed north after finding my way around a slight detour. This was the run that proved to me just how much more I love trail running. It seemed as though there was something new to smile about around every turn, and it was so quiet that I might as well have had the entire trail to myself! After some beautiful wooded scenes straight out of a Bob Ross special, the trail climbed and followed Bread Loaf Ridge. When I got to the top, I was greeted by one of the most incredible views of the surrounding forest and lake that I had ever seen. I soaked in the cool air as the sun danced on the water and I could have lost myself forever in that moment and not cared. In an instant, it became my favorite running view of all time. I meandered back down the ridge, into the forest, and eventually back to camp, passing waterfalls and listening to the uninterrupted sounds of nature around me. I’ve never spent much time meditating, and the thought of sitting still for long periods of time is hard for me to swallow, but this run fit every definition of a meditative state I have ever read.
We ventured out for a final hike on Friday as well. On the advice of some wonderful friends who had just returned from the area, we headed to the Split Rock River Loop just north of Gooseberry Falls. This 6.5 mile hike proved to be our favorite of the trip and rewarded us with stunning views of the lakeshore. In addition, we happened upon several backpacking campsites along the trail. When we reached the final site, it was occupied but the folks camping were just on their way out. They invited us over to check out their site, and we were hooked! I’m not sure either of us could have dreamt a more perfect campsite, with plenty of space, access to trails, and miles of lakeshore to ourselves. We were in love and determined to stay there at some point. We may have discussed it the whole way back to our campsite 🙂
As we drove back on Saturday, we enjoyed blissfully reflecting on a wonderful week of camping. The weather was perfect (lows in the 40s/50s, highs in the 70s, the bugs were minimal, the hiking was great, our campfire meals were delicious, we rested and read, and I ran the trails like a kid in a candy store. In addition, we had recently read a story about resetting your internal clock with a few nights of camping, and his trip did just that for us. It also made us realize just how simply we can live, and be completely happy and content. When we got back, we were both even more invested in downsizing and minimizing our lives.
Oh, and that amazing hike-in campsite on the Split Rock River Loop…we already have it booked for next year!