Afton Alps Ski Area, Afton, MN

The Best Ski Areas in Minnesota

I love to ski and while here in the Midwest we don’t have the amazing mountains of Colorado or Utah, Minnesota surprisingly has quite a lot of ski areas to learn on and hone your skills. I grew up skiing Minnesota’s often icy and cold ski areas, learning to ski at the tender age of three. For me, skiing is the best way to survive our notoriously long Minnesota winters and a way to get outside in the depth of our coldest months.

When I tell my non-native friends that I spend my weekends skiing in Minnesota, they are often surprised until I remind them that it was little suburban ski area Buck Hill in Burnsville, Minnesota where one of the best skiers in the world got her start, Lindsey Vonn. Taught at Buck Hill by the renowned Erich Sailer who also groomed slalom racer Kristina Koznick, Vonn put Minnesota on the map for many young ski hopefuls. Vonn eventually moved to Colorado to train on the bigger mountains but often looks back nostalgically on the icy, sometimes brutal conditions of Minnesota skiing where she got began.

Given my love for skiing, my husband and I started our own kids skiing when they were toddlers with weekly lessons at Buck Hill. Once the kids were in elementary school, we joined a Twin Cities based ski and snowboard club called Blizzard that brings us to a different ski area every Saturday from December through March. We have been members of the ski club for six years and have skied all over the state. While one ski area crosses the Minnesota border slightly into Wisconsin and the best ski area is near the Canadian border, all ski areas are within an hour to four and a half hour drive of the Twin Cities. Here is a list of my favorites in order.

Lutsen Ski Area

https://www.lutsen.com

Located in Northern Minnesota near the Canadian border is Lutsen Ski Area, one of the largest ski areas in the Midwest. Nestled within the stunning Sawtooth Mountains with massive Lake Superior as a backdrop, Lutsen Ski Area encompasses four interconnected peaks, 95 runs, a gondola, and 825 feet vertical rise (not bad for the Midwest). Although it can be cold, it is by far the best skiing Minnesota has to offer and makes for a great family, friend or couple weekend trip. Besides skiing, there is also nordic skiing, snowshoeing, dog sledding and sleigh rides so there is plenty to keep you busy.

About a four and a half hour drive from the Twin Cities, Lutsen is best experienced over a weekend and there are tons of great lodging options available. You can stay mountainside, at the Lutsen resort or at a Lutsen Sea Villa along the edge of frozen Lake Superior. Lutsen has been a favorite ski area of mine since I was a kid. We usually go skiing in early March to escape the colder winter months however you never know when you may just luck out with warmer weather and good snow. Some friends of mine just got back from an early January trip and the conditions were outstanding.

Check out current conditions and see a trail map here. To view accommodations check out Lutsen Resorts.

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Bell Tower, Prague

Self-Guided Walking Tour of Prague: A Complete 2-3 Day Itinerary

While Paris has always been my first love, little did I know that I’d also fall madly in love with the old world charm and beauty of Prague. In my opinion, few cities in the world compare to the magical architecture of these two cities, both equally adored in my eyes. I first saw Prague while I was living and studying abroad in Paris back in 1993, just four years after the Velvet Revolution. With over 40 years of communism, much of Prague’s beauty had been shroud in mystery and wasn’t unveiled for the world to see until 1989 with the fall of communism.

Prague’s history is long and deep which makes this charming city even more fascinating. Founded around the end of the 9th century at the crossroads of Europe, Prague became the seat of the Kings of Bohemia with a thriving marketplace alongside the River Vltava. Feuding kings, bloody wars, and the building of the Old Town Square surrounding the immense Prague Castle defined this prospering city that reached its glory in the 14th century during the reign of Charles IV. Charles IV commissioned the building of New Town, the spectacular Charles Bridge, the Gothic masterpiece Saint Vitus Cathedral and the Charles University, the oldest in Central Europe. Thanks to Charles IV, the “golden age” inspired much of the beauty you see in Prague today.

When to Go

Today, Prague relishes as one of the top major tourist destinations in all of Europe where people from all over the world come to take a step back in time and marvel at this masterpiece of architectural delight. Prague’s multi-layered history of architecture takes us back to her founding 1,100 years ago in the Romanesque era to her flourishing by the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque eras, all within 3.34 square miles.

With only 1.3 million inhabitants, Prague sometimes can feel overrun with tourists blocking its tiny, winding cobblestone streets and filling up its squares. But despite the hordes of tourists, the magic of this city is spellbinding and is bound to take your breath away.

The best time to go to Prague if you want to avoid tourists yet take a little bit of a chance on weather is during the shoulder season meaning either Spring or Fall. We went in early May and had fairly good weather with a little spring rain. It wasn’t too unbearably crowded or hot like it gets during the busy summer months. I imagine September would be lovely in Prague.

Neighborhoods to See

Prague is made up of five independent municipalities: Hradčany (Prague Castle), Lesser Town (Malá Strana), Old Town (Staré Město) and New Town (Nové Město) and Josefov (the Jewish district) was added in 1850. Although Prague was one of the few European cities untouched by WWII, the Nazi occupation lead to the demise of the Jewish population who either fled or were killed in the Holocaust. The Germans who had formed the largest ethnic group in the city were expelled after the war. Then came 40 years of communism followed by freedom and an opening to the world.

In this guide, I will focus on the top touristic neighborhoods to see first for old world charm and architectural bliss:  Malá Strana (Lesser Town), Old Town (Staré Město), Malá Strana (Lesser Town), and Hradčany (Prague Castle). We stayed in Nové Město (New Town) which despite its name, is not new as it was founded in 1348 by Emperor Charles IV to link Old Town with other parts of Prague. There is plenty to see in Nové Město as well in terms of stunning architecture, the Wenceslas Square, department stores, shops, restaurants and more. Another district you must visit is Josefov, Prague’s old Jewish ghetto filled with beautiful synagogues, an old Jewish cemetery and the Jewish Town Hall. We only had time to briefly visit the Old New Synagogue (Staronová synagoga), one of the oldest and most valuable European and world Jewish monuments, and the oldest synagogue in Central Europe. We simply ran out of time. I would highly recommend spending at least half a day in Josefov if not more. If you like to shop, then you could also easily spend a half to full day in New Town as well. The itinerary below is meant for at least 2-3 full days to explore at a leisurely pace.

Prague at sunset on the Charles Bridge.

Prague at sunset on the Charles Bridge.

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Blackett's Ridge Hike, Sabino Canyon, Tucson, Arizona

The Best Hikes in Tucson’s Sabino Canyon

There is no better way to connect with the raw beauty of nature than by doing a good hike. I grew up hiking and for the past twenty years I have enjoyed sharing many hikes with my father, my siblings and my own children wherever we can find a good trail especially when we are visiting my parents in Arizona.  Tucson is a hiker lover’s paradise. With over 300 days of sunshine a year, a desert climate and four different mountain ranges surrounding the city, there are endless opportunities to take a beautiful walk or challenging hike in nature. Whether it be to the Santa Catalina Mountains in the north, the Rincon Mountains in the east, the Santa Rita Mountains in the south or the Tucson Mountains in the west, you will find no shortage of trails to explore.

Fortunately for me, my parents have lived in the foothills of the Santa Catalina mountains for over 25 years and their home is only five minutes away from one of the best places to hike in all of Tucson, Sabino Canyon Recreation Area with tons of hikes through both Sabino and Bear Canyon.  Over the decades Sabino Canyon Recreation Area has become my outdoor playground and I try to hike every day when I’m visiting my parents. It is achingly beautiful and perhaps one of the most stunning places in all of southwestern Arizona.

While there are several hikes and walks to choose from, these are my top four recommendations for the best hikes in the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. I have put them in order of difficulty which does not necessarily mean distance. All of the hikes are appropriate for children over ten as long as they have a decent level of fitness however I wouldn’t recommend bringing a child under ten years old on any of these unless you are prepared to take a lot of breaks and be mindful of the dangers that exist. Instead, I would stick with walking on the paved path that runs 3.8 miles (7.6 miles roundtrip) through Sabino Canyon or even wandering around some of the shorter nature paths near the entrance of the recreation center. There used to be a guided tram service that brought tourists to both Sabino and Bear Canyon but unfortunately the service has been shut down while the park service rethinks its environmental impact. This has dramatically impacted available hiking options especially for families with young kids or for those who can’t walk as far.

Sabino Canyon

Sabino Canyon is beautiful any time of year.

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First Time Guide to Climbing Kilimanjaro

Have you ever had a dream for so long that it never stopped bugging you until you decided to just do it? For me, it has always been Kilimanjaro. I had wanted to climb this epic mountain ever since my father did it in October 1999. There really had not been any dream or travel goal that I have had for that long.

Like most dreams, there have been many obstacles and road blocks along the way. It wasn’t until a few years ago that my decades long dream became a reality.  I had wanted to make this climb special and have it be somewhat similar to my life-changing trip to Nepal. Serendipitously I was connected with the U.S.-based non-profit Solar Sister, an organization who provides solar electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa. For their fifth year anniversary, an international team was planning to climb Kilimanjaro in June of 2015.  Each climber was required to raise $4,000 to support the hiring and training for 8 new solar sister employees in Africa and to celebrate the success of Solar Sisters, we would climb Kilimanjaro together as a multigenerational, international team. It was a perfect opportunity and I seized it. Looking back today, it was even better than I ever dreamed it would be. It was truly epic. Figuring out what on earth to do next after such an incredible climb will be the challenge.

Why go?

Kilimanjaro, the fourth highest peak among the seven summits, soaring at 19,340 feet (5,895 m) and one of the world’s highest freestanding mountains, has long been one of the most popular climbs given its relative ease of climbing (no technical climbing ability is necessary) and beauty.  Located 200 miles (330 km) south of the equator in Northern Tanzania, the snow-capped volcanic dome of Kilimanjaro dominates the skyline like no other mountain on earth.

Kilimanjaro is actually not a single peak but a vast complex of cones and cores spreading over 38 miles (61 km) long by 25 miles (40 km) wide. There are three distinct volcanic cones: Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira. Uhuru Peak is the highest summit on Kibo’s crater rim and is the hopeful destination of thousands of climbers every year.

Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

For me personally, I had grown up hiking, and climbing Kilimanjaro had been a long-term goal of mine after seeing my dad’s photos of his own climb back in 1999. I also desperately wanted to get there soon before the snow that caps the top of this mighty beast and makes it so stunning, is gone forever. Some scientists predict that the glaciers atop Kilimanjaro will be gone as early as 2030. What a tragedy!

What Route to choose?

There are six main climbing routes on Kilimanjaro with the Marangu Route (also known as the “Coca-Cola Route”) being the easiest and most popular. Our group chose the longer, more scenic Machame route that can take anywhere from 6-7 days and is known as one of the most beautiful routes on the mountain, passing through five distinct ecological zones and affording dramatic views every single day of the climb. The Machame Route also has one of the highest success rates for reaching the summit since it allows proper acclimatization before the final summit push.

Total Length of Hike: 62 miles (100 km) up and 24 miles (38 km) down.

Image of Mount Kilimanjaro Climbing Routes (Wikipedia)

Image of Mount Kilimanjaro Climbing Routes (Wikipedia). Our route was the Machame colored in brown.

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Ebensee, Austria

A Hike on the Feuerkogel in Ebensee Austria

Located a short distance off the shores of Lake Traunsee in the lovely Austrian town of Ebensee is the hiking region of the Feuerkogel. Accessed either on foot or via cable car, the Feurerkogel is one of Austria’s sunniest high altitude plateaus with astounding panoramic views of the Salzkammergut lake region and the Austrian Alps. For those hiking enthusiasts, the Feurerkogel has a variety of traditional Austrian lodges where you can grab a delightful bit to eat or spend the night hiking hut to hut along the many high alpine trails. For us, it was yet another fabulous area for us to hike that was not far from our farm stay at the Landgut Wagnerfeld in Altmünster.

We left for Ebensee shortly after breakfast, following Hauptstraße/B145 south for about thirteen kilometers as it swerved around the edge of Lake Traunsee and finally turned inland towards the mountains. We passed through a lovely residential area that was built around the Traun river as we headed towards the cable car station. As I looked around at our surroundings, it was hard to fathom that such a beautiful town was once home to one of the most horrific Nazi concentration camps of all time. Today a memorial is all that remains of the Ebensee Concentration Camp. The barracks and camp were destroyed after the Liberation in 1945.

Ebensee, Austria

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Dachstein Krippenstein, Austria

A Hike On Top of the World on Heilbronner Circular Trail in Dachstein Austria

After days of late June rain, we finally rose to a glorious robin egg blue sky at our farm stay in the lakes district town of Altmünster in Austria. We could not have been more thrilled! Finally the sun had arrived and we could see The Salzkammergut region of Austria in all her glory. The view of Lake Traunsee juxtaposed against the incline of the Austrian Alps was even more spectacular than I had pictured in my dreams.  It was going to be a perfect day for a hike and we knew exactly where we intended to go: Back to The Dachstein Krippenstein in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hallstatt and Daschstein where we would complete the Heilbronner Circular Trail on top of the Alps. We had been to the Dachstein Ice Cave a few days ago in the rain and knew that once the clouds lifted it was going to be a magical place to see.

We left Altmünster around nine o’clock and arrived in Obertraun an hour later to find a full parking lot, a far cry from what we had the rainy day before when we visited the Dachstein Ice Cave. To our dismay, the queue for the cable car was very long, filled with families, hikers and tourists who were waiting just like us to be carried up to the top. Normally I would have been perfectly patient but I had waited so long to see the sun and get out on a hike that I was getting a bit restless. Unfortunately we waited over an hour until it was our turn to continue on up however once we arrived, it was so breathtaking that I soon forgot the long wait to get there.

Austria is a country filled with mountains. Did you know that the Alps take up almost two-thirds of Austria? It is a hiker lover’s dream!

We walked off the platform of the Dachstein Krippenstein Mountain station to the surreal beauty of the Austrian Alps. At roughly 6,886 feet (2100 meters), we felt like we were on top of the world. While the majority of the visitors veered to the right towards the 5fingers viewing platform, we choose to go to the left and take a hike on the Heilbronner Circular Trail, a two-hour roundtrip hike with dazzling, jaw-dropping views of the snow-covered peaks of the Alps, the Hallstätter Glacier, and the lovely town of Hallstatt and the brilliant blue lake Hallstätter See, in the green valley far below. We would head over to 5fingers after our hike.

Dachstein Krippenstein , Austria

Getting off at the mountain station into a breathtaking world.

Dachstein Krippenstein, Austria

Max and Sophia smiled for the camera.

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Blackett's Ridge Hike, Sabino Canyon, Tucson, Arizona

Best Hikes in Tucson: Blackett’s Ridge Trail

Tucson is a hiker lover’s dream. With plenty of sunshine, a desert climate and four different mountain ranges surrounding the city, there are endless opportunities to take a beautiful walk or challenging hike in nature. Whether it be to the Santa Catalina Mountains in the north, the Rincon Mountains in the east, the Santa Rita Mountains in the south or the Tucson Mountains in the west, you will find no shortage of trails to explore.

Fortunately for me, Tucson is like my second home as my parents have lived in the foothills of the Santa Catalina mountains for over 25 years and their home is only five minutes away from one of the best places to hike in all of Tucson, Sabino and Bear Canyon.  Over the decades Sabino Canyon Recreation Area has become my outdoor playground and I try to hike every day when I’m visiting my parents.

One of the best shorter yet difficult hikes in Sabino and Bear Canyon is the hike to Blackett’s Ridge on the Blackett’s Ridge Trail. In less than three hours roundtrip (4.6 miles), you will definitely get your heart pumping and your legs burning in both the rocky ascent and descent. However it will be worth your effort as the panoramic views are perhaps some of the best ones in all of Tucson and you will so spellbound by your surroundings, you will soon forget how tired your legs feel.

During a recent visit to Tucson, my dad and I decided to take a mid-morning hike to Blackett’s Ridge as I realized I hadn’t done this hike in years and had never written about it on my blog. Despite the sore knees and exhaustion once we finally reached the top, I was really glad we did it. I had simply forgotten how incredibly stunning this hike is and why it has now become one of my favorite hikes to do in Tucson. If you have only one hike to do in Tucson and want to go for the most incredible views, then the hike to Blackett’s Ridge is the one to do.

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Hiking Hut to Hut in the Gaistal Valley

Nestled within the Mieminger mountains to the south and Wetterstein mountains to the north, lies the stunning, idyllic Gaistal Valley. Stretching west from the tiny hamlet of Klamm in the region of Leutasch, Austria, this achingly beautiful landscape is home to miles of hiking and biking trails, farms, alpine refuges and mountain “huttes” (huts) where you can explore some of the most nostalgic, untouched nature in Austria. It is here we chose for our third and final day of hiking in Seefeld in Tirol, perhaps saving the absolute best for last.

We headed out after breakfast, excited about the day ahead. We had heard about Leutasch from the Seefeld tourist office as it is one of five municipalities in the Olympiaregion Seefeld and is particularly known for its awe-inspiring beauty. You could easily hike for days going hut to hut, dining on delightful regional cuisine and finding refuge in the traditional alpine huts. There are plenty of amazing long-distance hikes (enough to make me drool and want to come back).  For us, we only had the day so we decided to make the best of it.

We left shortly after breakfast, heading north on L14 for roughly 10 kilometers to the small town of Föhrenwald in Leutasch where we somehow got lost. Thankfully there was a hiking store in town that provided us with much needed directions and an excellent map of Leutasch and the Gaistal Valley. Otherwise we for sure would have been driving in circles through all the different tiny Austrian hamlets that make up Leutasch. We took a left on Leutascher Ache following the windy road passing through villages and farms until we reached the start of the parking area a little bit past the village of Klamm. Thanks to our stop at the hiking store, we knew to proceed all the way to the P5/Salzbach, the last of five parking lots, where we would begin our hike. There are 12 huts interspersed along the hiking trails through the Gaistal Valley, and we decided to visit two of them, the Gaistalalm and Tillfussalm.

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Rosshütte, Seefeld, Austria

A Panoramic Alpine Hike: Hiking the High Trail to Seefelder Spitze

I slept like a baby my first night in Seefeld. Perhaps it was the freshness of the Austrian mountain air combined with the blissful feeling of being at peace in the mountains. Or maybe it was the anticipation for the day ahead knowing that I’d finally be in the place I’d been longing to be for so many months: Way up high at the top of the world in the heart of the Austrian Alps.

The kids rose to the smell of scrambled eggs, freshly baked bread and strawberry jam. It was the first time we had a homemade breakfast in two weeks and I was enjoying the normalcy of cooking and having a kitchen again. I stepped out on our apartment’s spacious wood deck, rose my head up to the sky and smiled, letting the morning sun gently warm my face. We were going to have a wonderful day of hiking ahead. I was looking forward to checking out the Rosshütte Ski Area – one of two main Alpine ski resorts in Seefeld- which has a couple of fantastic panoramic hikes at the top of the Alps overlooking the Olympiaregion. After yesterday’s hike along the lower-laying plateau, I desperately craved to get up high knowing very well that the views would be breathtaking. Thanks to the Seefeld Tourist Office, we had a route in mind. It would be my children’s very first high alpine hike and I wanted it to wow them.

After breakfast, we set off on foot, heading to the base of the ski resort located about a 15 minute walk from town. When we arrived at the base of the mountain, we purchased a ticket to ride the funicular up to the Rosshütte mid-station located at 1760 m saving us a long, long hike up. We saw people hiking along the way but in my opinion, I preferred to save my energy (and especially the kids’ energy) for the top where the views would be astounding.

Rosshütte, Seefeld, Austria

Setting off on foot to the Rosshütte ski area (my daughter Sophia, son Max and father).

Rosshütte, Seefeld, Austria

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Lake Möserer See, Seefeld Austria

Our First Family Hike in Austria: The Circular Walk from Seefeld to Lake Möserer See

One of the most important reasons why we chose to visit Austria over all the other amazing European countries was for the Alps. I am absolutely obsessed with mountains and I believe that Scottish-American environmental philosopher and advocate John Muir’s famous saying “The mountains are calling and I must go” is one of my life’s mantras. Hiking is one of my most beloved activities and any opportunity I get to be in the mountains, I will wholeheartedly take.

My last real hike in the Alps was back in the summer of 2012, when my dad and I spent six days trekking in Vanoise National Park in the heart of the French Alps of Savoie. During that hike, we left town and spent the next week hiking hut to hut in the Alps and by the end of the week I felt incredibly refreshed and rejuvenated. It was so amazing to escape modern day life for awhile and spend every minute of the day outside in nature. There were no phones, no internet and nothing to do at the end of a day’s hike but take off your boots and relax with a glass of local wine in hand.  I don’t think I ever feel so alive and at peace as I do after a week in the mountains.

For our trip to Austria, we couldn’t escape the entire time to the mountains since we had my two children along, but we could spend as much time as possible doing day hikes. My son could have handled some longer overnight hut to hut hikes but my eleven year old daughter was new to the experience and the last thing I wanted to do was scare her away from my passion. Instead, I had to make sure to select the right amount of hiking to do and be mindful of the distance and difficulty. I would learn that there are three different levels of hiking in Austria: Beginner (mostly flat, wide open paths for all ages and abilities), Intermediate (uphill, high altitude paths that have some steep ascents and decents and narrow paths at points) and Advanced (no way would I bring my daughter on these ones as there are points where you need to grab on to a railing and one slip and you could stumble down very very far). Obviously we stuck to the beginning and intermediate trails but learned on our second hike that proper footwear and hiking poles are an absolute must for intermediate trails and these trails can be a bit scary for a kid who has never hiked way up high).

After a hearty lunch in town at a local Austrian restaurant, it was time for us to get out and do our very first hike in Austria. The sun had finally come out from underneath its hiding place in the clouds and we could finally see the mountains. At first glance of the breathtaking snow-capped peaks of the Austrian Alps, I smiled. I was going to love this place, I could feel it in my bones.

Seefeld, Austria

The Olympiaregion Seefeld is surrounded by the Kerwendel National Park, the Wildmoos Nature Proetcion Area, the stunning Wetterstein Massif and the Hohe Munde mountain. It is a stunning area for skiing, hiking and enjoying the glory of the Austrian Alps.

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Superior Hiking Trail: Hike to Leveaux Mountain

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.

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Temperance River State Park

Superior Hiking Trail: Temperance River to Carlton Peak

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.

Map of Superior Hiking Trail. Photo credit: Superior Hiking Trail.org

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.

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