Minnesota’s north shore: My happy place

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This year’s fall color on the north shore of Lake Superior is the BEST. I drove up there on Sept. 29 and hiked for a couple of days on the Superior Hiking Trail and stayed at Cascade Lodge (Cabin 2), my all-time favorite place in the world. The weather was cool and damp. I ate a lot of wild rice and drank a lot of lattes. It was fantastic.

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Driving up on Saturday, I stopped and took a brief hike, turning at Hwy. 61 milepost 73 and driving up Sugarloaf Road. The color was pretty and the trail was nice and flat, with no bugs and very little mud. It was a nice little leg stretcher. Here are a couple of pics:

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The next day I set off for a full-day hike. I drove down Hwy. 61 to the intersection of Hwy. 1, just north of Tettegouche State Park. My goal was to hike for four hours, turn around, and hike four hours back to my car. I layered on some warm clothes and brought enough food and water for about three days.

And then I started hiking. I was at the trailhead at 9:45 a.m. and I started with a steep scramble up some boulders on a spur trail to connect with the main SHT. I climbed and climbed and climbed until I reached a very pretty overlook (below)…which confirmed my suspicion that I was GOING THE WRONG DIRECTION.  I was supposed to be on the other side of Hwy. 1! So then I had to climb back down the precarious rock formation, swearing under my breath and already starting to sweat through my fleece.

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I came back to the intersection of the spur and main trails, with this confusing signpost. No wonder I screwed up!

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And then, to add another layer of annoyance, the trail to the north was on the other side of Hwy. 1, right across from the parking lot. I didn’t even need to take the spur trail to get to it. Ridiculous!

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I had spent about 20 minutes going the wrong way. Once I got on the right trail, it started off fairly flat and easy, but then it became steep and a little bit slick. I fell once on the spur trail up to Fantasia Overlook. Just BAM, I was on the ground. My foot went off the edge of the trail into some tall grass – I didn’t know I was so close to the edge. Luckily, I wasn’t hurt. (My biggest fear when I’m hiking, especially when I’m hiking alone, is falling and breaking a bone. I’m old now, and this is a real possibility.) I’m also glad nobody saw me fall; it was not at all graceful, I’m sure.

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I continued on and enjoyed the overlook (photos above), with views of Mt. Trudee, Palisade Head, Lake Superior, and the Silver Bay Harbor, and then carefully went back down. DOWN is the scariest part for me. Once I got back on the main trail, I fell again while crossing some rocks over a slippery stream. But, again, I didn’t hurt myself and nobody saw me, so I kept hiking.

I stayed on this trail until I arrived at the Wolf Lake overlook (below). It was spectacular!

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I know I was here once before, but it felt like a completely new experience – truly breathtaking. The lake is down in a deep depression, and it was surrounded by trees in various stages of turning to their fall colors. I soaked in the beauty (see more photos below) and then decided to head back before my old legs became any more wobbly. I made it back to the trailhead without any more falls.

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I was happy with my hike, and loving the weather. It was supposed to be cool and overcast, but it was sunny and warm, getting up into the 50s. I stripped off all my layers and would have taken off my long-sleeved T-shirt if I had a short-sleeved one underneath; it was that warm. Here are more photos from today’s hike:

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The next day was supposed to be rainy, but when I checked my weather app that morning, the rain had been taken out of the forecast. So I left my raincoat in the cabin. I also wore fewer layers based on my experience the day before.

After eating breakfast at the Cascade Restaurant, I drove Hwy. 61 to milepost 92, turning on Cook Co. Rd. 4 (Caribou Trail) and parking at the trailhead about four miles down the road. From here, you can choose to go south toward Lutsen or north toward Cascade. I headed south, because I wanted to see Lake Agnes, one of the prettiest areas of the entire Superior Hiking Trail in my opinion.

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My confidence was a bit shaken, based on my falls the previous day, and I knew this was a tough section to hike. So I took it slow. The first part of the hike is a very long spur trail to hook up to the main SHT at Lake Agnes. There’s even a spur off the spur to climb to White Sky Rock overlook. I decided to save that for last, if I was still up for it.

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The fall color on this section was stunning, and the forest trail is just incredibly beautiful. This section has some scary areas for me – big boulders and a log ladder (above) – but I was careful and managed to get up and over all of the obstacles. The trail flattens out for a while and comes to a campsite with a latrine (below), which I used (perhaps the prettiest area I’ve ever stopped to pee).

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Lake Agnes was surrounded by glorious fall trees. I could not stop taking pictures (see a few of them, below). Every view seemed more spectacular than the one before.

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Once I left the Lake Agnes area and the trail became steep, I decided to head back. I was glad I did, because it was about this time when it started raining, and it rained lightly the rest of the hike. Oh, and did I mention it was cold, too? I kept on my fleece and gloves the entire hike, and I could have used a stocking cap.

I was even more nervous about going down the log ladder and boulders in the rain, because they’d be extra slippery, but I managed to do it without falling down once. (I will admit that I scooted down a couple of the biggest boulders on my rear end, just to be safe.)

When I got to the White Sky Rock overlook spur, I almost didn’t take it, because it was raining harder, but then I thought, What the heck? I scrambled up the steep, slick trail without incident. The view from up there is incredible (photos below).

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I managed to get back down without falling. Success! And at that point, I decided I didn’t want any more scary challenges, so I headed back to my car.

Here are a few more shots of today’s hike:

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I spent the rest of the afternoon in Grand Marais, eating lunch at Gunflint Tavern, wandering through the shops without buying anything, and then sipping a warm maple latte at Java Moose.

Back at Cascade Lodge, I met some women in the bar from the Twin Cities who were impressed that I’d stayed at Cascade 20+ times. I thought at first that they were being friendly and interested in my experiences, because they asked me a lot of questions. Afterwards, I decided they were more like anthropologists, studying an alien species. Oh, well. Whatever.

That night, I tried to build a fire in my fireplace because it was cold and rainy outside, but I’m never very good at building fires. So it burned for a little while and then went out. But the cabin was still warm and cozy and wonderful.

The next morning I headed home. Here is my parting shot from the north shore: Split Rock Lighthouse:

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2 comments so far

  1. Tim & Janice Coble on

    Absolutely gorgeous!!

  2. frugaloverload on

    The colors are unbelievable! Wow!! Just beautiful! Love this.


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