« Susana Pelayo-Woodward | Main

Superior Hiking Trail

Superior Hiking Trail / Martancik

If you want a vacation, all you have to do is step off campus. You don’t even need a car. The Superior Hiking Trail runs from Duluth to Canada. The 205-mile footpath can take you on a vigorous, challenging adventure, or a relaxing, outdoor getaway. According to Kris McNeal, experienced backpacker and second-year student at UMD, the key to a good trip is planning, planning, planning.
“You have to plan for emergencies, you have to plan for weather, you have to know how to survive,? says McNeal, who swears by the U.S. Army Survival Guide Book.
“I’ve read it like eight times,? he says, “I live by that book.?
Most college age kids who are setting out on a North Shore backpacking trip will not need this book, but McNeal has some good advice for beginning and more experienced backpackers as well.
First of all, you need a backpack. Not just any old backpack, but a backpacking backpack. According to McNeal, the longer your trip is, the bigger your backpack should be.
Most backpacks come with a waterproof covering to protect your pack from rain and dew. If your pack gets wet it will take a very long time to dry and will become extremely heavy, not to mention get your clothes and/or food wet. McNeal just brings along a huge garbage bag to throw over his pack at night and when it rains.
The nice thing about backpacking is that your backpack gets lighter as you eat the food you’ve brought. In the summer time, all your food has to be ‘just add water’.
“If I’m bringing macaroni and cheese, I take it out of the box and put it in a plastic bag,? says Kris. You have to be able to pack all your trash back up and keep it compact.
“You leave no trace on the trail,? says McNeal. Keeping track of your trash is a big thing in any park. They ask you to leave the campsite in better condition than you found it. It’s also a good idea to scatter or bury the ashes from your fire.
According to BWCA.com, Backpacker Magazine named Superior Hiking Trail the trail with the “best trail/campsite/shelter conditions.? The Superior Hiking Trail Association (SHTA) is a Minnesota non-profit corporation. Their purpose is to complete, preserve, and promote the trail. There are crews that go onto the trail every season to repair signage, fix bridges, and make sure the trail is up to par.
McNeal brings along an 8 ounce backpacking stove, which can boil water in 1 to 2 minutes. You can also cook food on it. The SHTA also recommends using a stove rather than a fire. They are more reliable and easier to clean up.
“Almost all the campsites on the trail are next to water,? says McNeal, “But you have to boil it or use iodine tablets, or a backpacking filter pump.?
The water has impurities and bacteria which can make you very sick if you don’t filter them out.
Preserving the lake water is also a very big deal. SHTA asks that you only use biodegradable soap when backpacking. Even with this, you shouldn’t ever bathe or wash dishes directly in the lake or river. You must pour your dirty dish and/or bathwater out at least 100 feet from the water source. If you can, try to not use soap at all. Bring a washcloth and a dish scrubber and you’ll be fine with just water.
You must have the right gear and clothing to get you through. Although days can be very hot, the nights in Northern Minnesota are still very cold.
“You could probably get away with a 30-40 degree sleeping bag,? says McNeal. “Some people bring long underwear but I just wear pants.?
Most days you can wear shorts and a t-shirt, but make sure you have warmer clothes available if weather changes. An absolute must, however is raingear. Most raingear comes in sets and you can compact it into one little pouch for easy packing.
The Superior Hiking Trail is mostly ridge hiking, so there are cliffs and you’re going up and down on rocks. You’ll want hiking shoes. McNeal recommends shoes made with Gortex, which is breathable and waterproof. There are people who simply backpack in their tennis shoes. If you do this, be sure that they are very comfortable and have good traction.
There are 81 designated campsites on The Superior Hiking Trail, all of which are free and require no reservations or permits. First come, first use. Gooseberry State Park and most other state parks have camping fees. The trail crosses quite a bit of private and state park land so you can only camp at the designated sites.
There are a bunch of small items you must not forget. A knife; you never know where this will come in handy. A lighter or two, and matches to start fires. You definitely need some sturdy rope. The food has to be hung in a tree, four feet out and ten feet up, at least. That way the animals can’t get it. A waterproof tarp for the tent is a necessity. It can start storming in the middle of the night and you have to wake up and tie it on.
Superior Hiking Trail can be whatever you make it. McNeal likes to push his limits and cover as much ground as he can in one day. Other people enjoy getting to know their campsite and the woods around it for two or three nights.
According to McNeal the best part about backpacking is the people that you meet on the trail and at campsites.
“Most of the people that go backpacking are really free spirited and they have really cool stories,? he says. You can learn a lot just sitting around the campfire.