After decades of visiting and hiking in the North Shore, it is hard to believe that I had never done the classic 3.2 mile roundtrip hike to the top of Leveaux Mountain. Located adjacent to the more popular trail up Oberg Mountain in Tofte, Minnesota, the Leveaux hike affords a more challenging jaunt up one of Minnesota’s sawtooth mountains, a small range of low mountains that extend 30 miles from Carlton Peak in Tofte, Minnesota, just short of the Canadian border, to Grand Marais.
The Sawtooth Mountains rise gradually from Lake Superior and have a steep, sharp drop-off on the north face giving their profile the look of a saw hence their name. They are part of the Superior National Forest and Superior Hiking Trail and are home to many gorgeous hikes with incredible views of Lake Superior and the surrounding boreal forest of spruce, birth and fir. For those unfamiliar with Minnesota, the Superior Hiking Trail has been rated among one of the best long distance hiking trails in the country by Outside Magazine. Thankfully there are plenty of day hikes and spur hikes on the Superior Hiking Trail affording a multitude of options for day hikers and those with young kids.
The Leveaux trailhead starts at the end of the parking lot about 2 miles off of Highway 61 (mile marker 87.4) on Onion River Road near Tofte, Minnesota. The parking lot is used for both the Oberg and Leveaux Mountain trails. I had been to this parking lot many times as the Oberg Mountain hike is one of our all time family favorites but surprisingly had never bothered to check out the Leveaux trail. Shorter than the hike up Leveaux at roughly 2.6 miles, the Oberg trail is an awesome hike for all ages and abilities. In less than an hour roundtrip, you can get up on top of Oberg and see a technicolor of fall colors if you time it right. I have probably done the Oberg hike at least a half a dozen times. This time my dad and I wanted something different so we chose the less popular Leveaux.
As we set off through the thick forest, we did not see a soul and had the entire hike to ourselves except for one lonely hiker. It was a far cry from the crowds of hikers we saw just the day before at the Temperance River Park and judging by the parking lot at the trailhead, over 90% of the hikers in the other cars were doing the Oberg trail. The first mile of the trail is through thick boreal forest of spruce, pine and fir trees and then you start the climb up to the first and second scenic loops into the maple trees. The first loop is a little longer and then you reach the shorter second loop, where you are rewarded with stunning views of Lake Superior as well as the forest below.
One thing that always impresses me about hiking in the North Shore is the quality and maintenance of the trails. This monster of a trail that spans over 310-miles through some darn right inhospitable territory during many long winter months is very well maintained on its popular hikes. We were delighted to see fresh cuttings of shrubs alongside the trail meaning someone was recently out there ensuring the trail doesn’t get overgrown and lost. The Superior Hiking Trail is maintained by hundreds of hard-working volunteers as part of the Superior Hiking Association, who build, maintain and care for the trail. It is amazing the service that they do to provide us with access to such incredible nature.
As we hiked, my dad and I chatted about all the hikes we have done over the years. I love hiking with my dad and the North Shore of Lake Superior is where my first steps into the woods as a young child all began. When I was a toddler and too small to make the longer hikes, my dad used to carry me on his back. As I grew older, we made the trip to the North Shore every single fall until I left the house for college. My dad is the one who truly instilled a love and passion for hiking within my soul. A love that I am passing on to my own children right now.
We reached the first loop after a mile and the second smaller loop a half a mile later. It is a little tricky to figure out which way to go as it was not very well marked. But thankfully I had taken a photo of the trail map with my phone and was able to pull it out for reference. We didn’t want to end up going the wrong way and continuing on the 310 mile long Superior Hiking Trail by mistake! The second loop is the best as it has the most magnificent views. From the top, Lake Superior looks like it is part of the horizon it is so vast and blue.
This time, we did not pack a lunch as we normally do. Instead, we had to get back down as quick as possible so we could pick up my kids and mom for lunch at our favorite place in Grand Marais, The Angry Trout. Located right on the shore of Lake Superior, the Angry Trout serves up the most delicious fresh fish in town. The herring and whitefish are both caught daily and served either grilled, on top of a salad, lightly fried in a sandwich or as fish and chips. As much as I love a nice picnic lunch with a view, there is no way I could visit the North Shore without a visit to The Angry Trout. It is that darn good.
After lunch it was time to do our usual arts and craft shopping in quirky yet fun Grand Marais. Only a hop, skip and a jump from the Canadian border, Grand Marais is always a fun destination when you are visiting the North Shore and its a place I’d been visiting ever since I was a child. It is fun to see how so much has changed yet so much still remains the same in this sleepy, little town. Known mostly as one of the jumping off points for the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area, Grand Marais has become a destination in its own right with its nice mix of good restaurants, breweries, and eclectic little shops.
We always are sure to hit our favorites and save a little time for throwing rocks. Many of the shops have been here for years and even I used to go into them when I was a child. Even the good old Ben Franklin, perhaps one of the few remaining nickel and dime stores in the nation, is still going strong.
If you go:
Check out my post “My Favorite Corner of Minnesota: The Gorgeous North Shore”
The Angry Trout – best place to eat in Grand Marais
Check out www.superiorhikingtrail.org for information on hiking trails, campgrounds and more.