For fall color lovers, new links on Superior Trail
DULUTH, Minn. (AP) — Working alongside geologists and ecologists to complete the last two segments of the Superior Hiking Trail taught volunteer Leon Pitzen to see the 296-mile-long footpath along the North Shore ridgeline in a new light.
"Most people come up and run from one vista to the next," said Pitzen, a former St. Cloud resident who retired to Two Harbors. He's learned to appreciate elements of his surroundings — even when they don't include expansive views of Lake Superior. "That's what's so fabulous on the Duluth section, if you like a variety of plant life and wildlife."
A profusion of mushrooms, berries and ferns flourished in early August during a 1-mile taste of the new 14-mile stretch of the trail workers completed in northern Minnesota this summer.
The new links likely will get a lot of use this fall, the St. Cloud Times reported.
"Whenever we open a new section, everyone wants to hike it," said Gayle Coyer, executive director of the Superior Hiking Trail Association.
While Pitzen said he enjoyed building the trail during the summertime — Coyer tells him he's not just building a trail but leaving a legacy — Pitzen is among those who prefer to hold off on hiking until the temperature drops and the insects disappear.
Later in the season, the fungi will persist, but the bunchberries and bluebead lilies and ferns bordering the trail will turn deep gold and rich rust, contrasting with pines and spruce and whatever berries remain.
September is an ideal time to explore the Superior Hiking Trail.
Peak fall color usually arrives mid-September to early October, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Hikers who set out to see brilliant oranges or reds are sometimes surprised; the Superior Hiking Trail runs through a great deal of aspen and birch.
In a few places, maples bring a bit of contrast to all that yellow.
"If you want to get the real gorgeous fall colors, (visit the) Lutsen, Tofte and Silver Bay areas," Coyer said.
Following are a few suggestions for September treks.
Steven Coz, a SHTA volunteer who serves on the committee that schedules hikes, leads about five outings a year on the Superior Hiking Trail. His fall-color-hike suggestion coincides with the 7-mile trek he'll lead Sept. 28 from Lutsen Mountains Recreation Area to Oberg Mountain.
"The colors should be spectacular, given the location and the time of year," Coz said. "There's going to be some climbing involved — at least a couple of good ascents and descents. The colors will be nice because it's primarily maple. Toward the end of the hike, people have the option to do the Oberg Mountain Hike."
Coz rated the Lake Superior views from Oberg Mountain among the best of the trail.
"There is one spot where, if you know where to look, you can see a tiny bit of civilization. But if you don't know where to look and there's no lakers on the big lake, then there's no evidence of man," Coz said.
. MAKING A LOOP
One less colorful but always popular day hike because of its easy access from a lot just south of Split Rock Lighthouse State Park is the 5-mile Split Rock River loop.
"The ideal time to do that hike is in the springtime or after a big rain when there's a lot of runoff because the river (will be) rushing," Coz said.
The water levels weren't exceptionally high, but the sound of rushing water accompanied an early August ramble that found ripe gooseberries and blueberries as well as bear evidence along the trail. At several spots up the west side of the Split Rock River and then back down the east side, waterfalls, ledges and swirling pools diverted groups of hikers. The trail afforded both clifftop and water-level views on both sides of the river. Rock formations jutting above the river sprouted ferns rooted in crevices. A one-person-at-a-time bridge crossed the river.
The river views and Lake Superior overlook images can be savored during the grassy, fireweed-flanked descent down a ski trail and then back along U.S. Highway 61 to the starting point. Taking the box culvert under the highway to wade in frigid Lake Superior was a nice way to end a hot day's hike.
. TRAIL SAMPLER
To get a good feel for the nature of the Superior Hiking Trail, Coz recommended the 11-mile stretch from Silver Bay to Minnesota Highway 1. Because it's an out-and-back trek, making it a day hike requires planning for a shuttle.
"It's long. It's rugged. You need two cars to do it; there are no intersecting roads," Coz said. "What you're going to experience is a lot of hard work."
While some might struggle to finish 11 miles — and Coz issues a warning about getting too close to the edge — he deems the views worth the effort.
"The views over Bean and Bear lakes are, well, my use of the word 'spectacular' again," Coz said.
Those who want to take a shortcut might consider starting from the Peen Boulevard parking area at Silver Bay and using a spur trail (leading to U.S. Highway 61) to make it a 4-mile loop.
The Bean and Bear lakes loop topped Coyer's list of fall suggestions, too.
"It's just gorgeous," Coyer said. "So many people come here to see the fall color and they go to Gooseberry (State Park), and there's no maples there."
The Superior Hiking Trail Association offers a year-round lineup of guided hikes. All hikes begin at 10 a.m. and proceed rain or shine. Shuttles are arranged. (Find details and directions under the "events" section at www.shta.org.) The fall schedule includes the following:
Sept. 21: Jackson Lake Road to Otter Lake Road — An 8.7-mile route that includes the highest elevation on the trail at 1,829 feet, along with old-growth maples and overlooks of Jackson Lake and the Swamp River Valley.
Sept. 22: Jackson Lake Road to the Arrowhead Trail — A 5.1-mile route dips into creek valleys and climbs atop rocky ridges overlooking Lake Superior and Isle Royale.
Sept. 28: Lutsen Mountains Recreation Area to Oberg Mountain — A steep, 7-mile hike known for brilliant fall colors, it provides overlooks at Moose and Mystery mountains.
Oct. 5: Rossini Road to Fox Farm Road — A 6.4-mile trek passes through aspen and pine forest, several beaver ponds and the West Branch of the Knife River. Hike leader Steven Coz said this is among the flattest hike options.
MAPS: In addition to those you'll find in the book "Guide to the Superior Hiking Trail," the SHTA website, www.shta.org, links to detailed maps. Paper versions are available at the SHTA office in Two Harbors. Call 218-834-2700 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.