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9 best North Shore hikes

You gotta see Bean and Bear Lakes with full fall colors.

You gotta see Bean and Bear Lakes with full fall colors. Andy Witchger

Lace up your boots, grab a water bottle, and explore the nine best hikes on Minnesota's fabulous North Shore. Before heading out, click here to maximize the fall colors.

Superior Hiking Trail

Location: Stretches the entirety of the North Shore, from Jay Cooke State Park to the Canadian border.
Length: More than 300 miles
Difficulty: Varies

The popularity of through-hiking has boomed in recent years, spurred in part by works like A Walk in the Woods and Wild. While hiking the Pacific Crest Trail or Appalachian Trail can take months of effort that often end in failure, the Superior Hiking Trail is a far more accessible endeavor. The trail passes through much of the North Shore’s most beautiful terrain, and though solitude is easy to find, the frequency of State Parks and the proximity of Highway 61 means that if something goes wrong you’re never too far from help. For those less-inclined to disappear into the woods for weeks at a time, hiking shorter portions of the trail can be similarly rewarding.

Temperance River to Carlton Peak

Location: Temperance River State Park
Length: 6.5 miles
Difficulty: Moderate

Waterfalls and churning gorges punctuate this highly trafficked trail along the Temperance River. Fortunately, the crowds quickly give way to a quiet riverside path that slowly works its way toward one of the highest peaks on the shoreline. The riverside hike is a draw on its own, but those willing to scramble to the top of Carlton Peak are greeted with remarkable views of Lake Superior and the perfect picnic spot.

Mt. Josephine

Location: Grand Portage
Length: 2.5 miles
Difficulty: Challenging

Chances are, if you’ve made it this far north on Highway 61, you’re ready for a bit of adventure. Nearby Pigeon Falls is certainly worth a visit, but the journey up Mt. Josephine will take your breath away. The 600 feet of elevation gain in half a mile is as challenging a climb as you’ll find on the shore, and the overlooks of Hat Point, Grand Portage Bay, the Susie Islands, and (on clear days) Isle Royale National Park are arguably the most extraordinary viewpoints on Lake Superior. Carlton Peak may be 200 feet higher, but Josephine’s proximity to the lake gives it the edge.

Bean & Bear Lakes

Location: Tettegouche State Park
Length: 6.5 miles
Difficulty: Moderate

The trailhead for Bean and Bear is off the beaten path. Just a gravel parking lot in Silver Bay that lacks conspicuous markings, the trail’s humble beginnings belie its beauty. A meandering path flanked by birch, maple and pine traverses streams and rocky outcroppings, giving way to stunning overlooks at each lake. The trail is enjoyable at any point of the year, but if you time your hike correctly, you can enjoy rolling hills alight in fall colors as far as the eye can see.

Cascade River Loop

Location: Cascade River State Park
Length: 7.5 miles
Difficulty: Challenging

The falls at Cascade River State Park are a quick pit-stop on the way to Grand Marais for many Minnesotans. Only 100 yards off the highway, the conveniently located highlight leaves few people seeing the need to continue farther on the trail. Those people are wrong. The loop climbs the river’s edge, tracing a gorge filled with black volcanic rock and rushing waterfalls. Moss, ferns, and lichen fill the gorge, while spruce, cedar, and birch line a trail that snakes its way deep into the woods before returning to Lake Superior. Spurs to Lookout and Moose Mountains make this trail worth repeat visits.

Palisade Head and Shovel Point

Location: Tettegouche State Park
Length: 1.5 miles to Shovel Point; .5 miles of cliffside wandering at Palisade Head
Difficulty: Easy

While some hikes make you work for the reward of a beautiful vista, Palisade Head and Shovel Point deliver with minimal effort. A favorite spot for photographers, the dramatic rhyolite rock formations also offer excellent rock-climbing and blueberry picking. On clear days, Split Rock Lighthouse and the Apostle Islands are visible, but the real draw is the dramatic, 300-foot drop into churning waters.

Gooseberry Falls

Location: Gooseberry Falls State Park
Length: 1-20 miles
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate

Gooseberry’s allure is clear: Three of the state’s best waterfalls cascade within 100 yards of the highway, so there’s no question why it’s the most-visited state park on the North Shore. Unfortunately, few of the half-million-plus annual visitors venture past the mile of paved trails surrounding the falls. The upper falls open up to 20 miles of hiking amid mixed evergreen, birch, and aspen forest that connect with the Superior Hiking Trail. Expect overlooks of Lake Superior, wildlife encounters, and a scenic crossing of the frequently neglected Fifth Falls.

Sugarloaf Cove

Location: Just south of Schroeder
Length: 1.5 miles
Difficulty: Easy

Sugarloaf Cove is an oft-overlooked gem sandwiched between Tettegouche and Temperance State Parks. One of Minnesota’s great restoration success stories, what was once a barren logging operation now boasts a restored wetland and densely forested paths that wind their way toward Sugarloaf Point. Snowshoe hare burst forth from patches of blooming wildflowers and white-tailed deer graze along the shoreline. The songs of nesting warblers, calling loons, and waves lapping on the shore create the perfect environment for taking in a sunset or late-night stargazing.

Devil's Kettle

Location: Judge C.R. Magney State Park
Length: 2.5 miles
Difficulty: Moderate

The trail to Devil’s Kettle is a breeze -- at least until you reach 200 wooden stairs that descend to a series of waterfalls. For years, hikers have been drawn to Devil’s Kettle not just by the beauty of the hike, but by the mysterious waterfall, half of which inexplicably disappears into a hole in the volcanic rock. Scientists seem to have confirmed that the "disappearing" water rejoins the river farther downstream, and plan on confirming their findings with dye tracing experiments this fall. Even without the mystery, the panoramic views of the Brule River Valley and the serene trail that follows the river upstream are worth the trip.

All photos by Andy Witchger