Growing up in Minnesota is a treasure. With over 10,000 lakes, numerous state parks and hundreds of miles of hiking trails, there are plenty of places to refuel, find beauty and get outdoors. One of my favorite places to get outside in Minnesota is the North Shore of Lake Superior. Home to the 310 mile long Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) and one of the launching off points for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), the North Shore is blessed with hundreds of miles of hiking trails cutting through pristine boreal forests, untouched lakes, rugged shoreline and places so remote you won’t see a soul. I have been fortunate to have visited the North Shore ever since I was a small child and it is among these very trails that I fell in love with hiking and being outdoors.
Last week I had the opportunity to visit the North Shore with my two kids and parents who were visiting from Arizona. Going “up north” as we Minnesotans love to call it, is a rite of passage for my family and the tradition began as soon as I could walk. My dad used to carry me on his back along the many hiking trails up north and one of our all time favorites for years has been the seven mile hike to Eagle Mountain, Minnesota’s highest point. We actually did that last summer for my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary and brought along three generations of hikers – my dad, me and the grandchildren. It was wonderful!
This time I desperately wanted to find something new to do and after an unsuccessful stop at the Ranger Station in Tofte, I realized that I knew more than the young ranger did about the hiking in this part of the state. I had done them all many times. It wasn’t until I purchased a local hiking guide called “Hiking the North Shore: 50 fabulous day hikes in Minnesota’s spectacular Lake Superior region“ by Andrew Slade, that I discovered a few new ones I didn’t know about before. With only two full days, we had to pick and choose which hikes to do, and the first day we decided to revisit the Temperance River State Park and hike 6 miles roundtrip from the Temperance River gorge trail to the top of Carlton Peak. I was elated to have a new hike to do.
The Temperance River State Park is one of many state parks along the North Shore of Minnesota and is located near Tofte off of Highway 61 (near mile market 80.3). The park encompasses over 5,000 acres of rugged beauty with 6 miles of hiking trails as well as a spur trail to the Superior Hiking Trail. The park is most renown for its namesake, the mighty Temperance River which is the longest river on the North Shore stretching over 38 miles to its terminus in Lake Superior. What makes this park and hiking there so magical is its winding systems of dramatic gorges, waterfalls and potholes, all carved out over millions of years ago by the incredible force of the water. If you hike downstream, you can see where the Temperance River dumps into the mouth of Lake Superior and if you head upstream, you will be spellbound by its incredible gorges, some dropping hundreds of feet below.
The most common hike in the park is the 2.6 mile loop that curves around both sides of the river and takes between 1-2 hours. It is relatively easy however be mindful if you are bringing young children as there are no fences near the steep edges along the gorge. While the view is very impressive, it is a long dangerous way down! There are a few fascinating placards along the way telling visitors about the history of how the gorges were created over 12,000 years ago at the end of the Great Ice Age. You can also view the remains of an ancient lava flow and where a roaring waterfall used to exist.
We set off around 10:30 am on a hot, humid mid-August day, amazed by how crowded the trails were for a Wednesday. Although I prefer to hike without a lot of people, it was a good sign to me that our state parks are being well used and treasured. The start of the trail follows the Temperance River for about a mile and then you can either continue on the loop or branch off to the Superior Hiking Trail spur trail that will continue on to either Carlton Peak (in two more miles) or even further yet, Britton Peak (another mile).
As soon as the trail meandered away from the river, the crowds diminished and the trail got a bit harder. Instead of a relatively wide, flat footpath we began climbing up and some parts were a bit rocky. For the next mile, we continued up to the top of Carlton Peak for an overlook that spanned across the forest and to Lake Superior. The view of Lake Superior is always breathtaking as it is so blue and so vast, it looks like an ocean as opposed to a lake.
After almost two hours we finally made it to the top and were relieved to be there given the heat and humidity. The view was stunning and I could only imagine what it will be like a month from now when all the leaves are painted in hues of yellow, orange and red. If only we could make it back up for the fall colors!
As we headed back, the hike went much faster given it was mostly downhill. We were hot, sweaty and thirsty as we didn’t bring enough water. But the good news is not only did I find a new favorite hike, we had two ice-cold waters awaiting for us in the car. Nothing tastes better than water after a revitalizing walk in the woods!
If you go:
Check out www.superiorhikingtrail.org for information on hiking trails, campgrounds and more. Also visit The North Shore Visitor’s guide to the Temperance River State Park. Temperance River State Park: There are a total of 6 miles of hiking trails within the park (plus spur trails you can add on). Trails wind along both sides of the river past eight pools and seven overlooks with sheer rocky ledges. (Be careful with young children!). Also be sure to read my post “The Five Best Family Hikes Along Minnesota’s North Shore” for more fantastic hikes.