|Tettegouche State Park & North Shore|
Breathtaking scenery and an opportunity to see a wealth of wildlife greet the visitor to the North Shore, Minnesota’s common name for the coastal area of Lake Superior. Five stellar state parks, numerous wayside rests and observation areas dot the shoreline from Silver Bay to Grand Marais to make...
Superior National Forest-North Shore Trails
|Description: Year-round recreation opportunities are plentiful on the Superior National Forest (SNF) for those who love the out-of-doors. The setting for adventure is the boreal forest ecosystem with fresh clean lakes and a colorful cultural history.
The water-rich Superior includes more than 2,000 lakes and rivers that early Native Americans, voyageurs, missionaries, loggers and explorers once traveled. About a third of the Forest lies within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). Visitors to the BWCAW will find a sense of solitude and primitive recreation.
Boreal forest vegetation makes up most of the landscape: the glacier-carved lakes, rocks and soil are blanketed in pine, fir, spruce, aspen, and birch trees. In its southern reaches, the forest also includes a significant area of northern hardwoods and cedar.
When looking for wildlife, keep in mind the forest contains a wide variety of habitat types. These habitats are dynamic: aside from forest management activities, constant change results from natural events such as wind, fire and the natural process of trees aging and competing with other vegetation of the forest. What you once knew as a birch forest might now be pine, or vice versa. This year's pond may become next year's sedge meadow.
Across the Superior you will find dry uplands and boggy lowlands; riparian forests along waterways; forests dominated by black spruce and tamarack, cedar, fir, birch, and pine (jack, white and red pine are found on the forest); mature forests as well as young forests in areas of recent fires, windstorms or logging. Of course, the lakes and streams of the forest provide habitat for many aquatic and terrestrial animals.
The Superior National Forest offers great opportunities for wildlife viewing. There are hiking, biking and skiing trails galore. From day hikes of an hour or less, to extended backpacking trips, there are trails maintained by the Forest Service, National Park Service, Minnesota DNR and State Parks and local municipalities to travel. In fact, there are 43 hiking trails listed as Gunflint and Tofte options, so pick up or download a map and chose your pleasure.
And as to distance, from the quarter-mile Britton Peak trail to the 200+ miles of the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT), there will surely be a path to meet your needs and liking. The SHT is a footpath that follows the rocky ridgeline above Lake Superior from Two Harbors to the Canadian border.
Speaking of the border, if you get close, consider stopping at Grand Portage State Park. The High Falls Trail begins at the park office and goes north along the Pigeon River. A 700-foot boardwalk provides easy access on the last part of the trail. Three overlooks (one wheelchair accessible) give awesome views of the 120-foot waterfall. The Middle Falls Trail begins at the park office and is a winding scenic trail that takes visitors over ridge tops, through heavily wooded forest, and along the riverbank. Visitors will appreciate the semi-mountainous terrain with its breathtaking views of the river gorge and Lake Superior. Watch for birds and animals along the way.
For those who don’t have the time—or maybe have put their hiking days behind them— taking the driving routes along the North Shore and side roads are always worthwhile for birding and wildlife watching from the car. Starting from Duluth, there numerous county and forest roads, from narrow gravel to paved, to bring you inland. Some loop around, some you’ll find lacking even a “dead end” sign. The most well-known are the Gunflint and Sawbill Trails and Minnesota Highway 1 to Ely. It doesn’t take more than a good map to select your route.
Wildlife to Watch: SNF is highly diverse in its vegetation, age and patch mosaic. This results in varied habitats for birds and a list of 225 regular species plus 45 casual visitors. With 163 nesting species, the Superior has the greatest number of breeding birds of any national forest, including species emblematic of the northern landscape, such as the boreal owl, three-toed woodpecker, bald eagle and common loon. On this list too are 24 species of warblers.
The importance of the Superior was recognized by the American Bird Conservancy as one of 50 Globally Important Bird Areas (IBA) of the United States.
There are several factors that make this vast site an ideal place for birds and bird watching. First, it contains about four million acres within the statutory boundary. A significant portion is along the Lake Superior shore. This provides a unique opportunity for birding along a major migratory flyway and for spotting specialty species like peregrine falcons that nest on the cliffs.
Second, about 90 percent of the NSF is in natural vegetation, either forest, shrubland (including harvest sites), and bog/marsh/fen; another nine percent of the landscape is water that includes 2,000 lakes and ponds. Its forests are a mixture of the northern boreal forest types and the southern deciduous forest types; many bird species are near the edge of their range on the Superior.
Each season creates a different birding experience. Spring and especially fall migration bring concentrations of birds especially along the North Shore of Lake Superior. Many vagrant species have been found; the list of birds that are classified as accidental for the Superior National Forest and adjacent Lake Superior is over 50 species. The summer breeding season provides opportunities for exploring back roads and diverse habitats to discover some of the bird specialties of this northern forest. Winter is also a time of searching for rare species, especially northern finches, woodpeckers and owls.
Signature animal species: moose, black bear, wolf! You’ll be lucky to spot even one of these magnificent creatures, but the odds are better in this part of the state. Wolves often trot down roads, bears amble through backcountry, open fields and sit in berry patches and moose graze on aquatic vegetation in ponds. The exceedingly elusive Canada lynx, a federally listed threatened species, makes its home here. Don’t count on seeing these animals, but enjoy other northland species like white-tailed deer, beavers, otters, snowshoe hare, weasels and porcupines. In addition, many other small mammals, amphibians and reptiles live on the Superior. Listen for the howl of a wolf. Look for animal signs too—scat, beaver chisels, paw and hoof prints in the sand.
Special Tips: Hikers: Stop at a ranger station or park headquarters for a U.S. Forest Service map. Plan ahead and be prepared with appropriate gear, compass/GPS unit, drinking water and insect repellent. Pay attention to time and weather.
Drivers: Many side roads branch off of relatively main roads, so it’s important to watch the signs. In some case, signage is good; sometimes not. A current, quality atlas-gazetteer is your best bet—be sure it has details showing the numbered Forest Roads (FR) and County Roads (CR). Bring water and food along, as amenities are few and far between. Fill your vehicle with gas before starting out.
Other Activities: The Superior Hiking Trail Association (SHTA) is a Minnesota non-profit corporation whose members are dedicated to the completion, preservation and promotion of the Superior Hiking Trail. Today, membership has grown to over 3200 people, including members in 26 states and Canada. The most visible activities of the SHTA are the popular organized hikes scheduled throughout the hiking season, including wintertime snowshoe hikes.
Ownership: USDA Forest Service
Size: 4 million acres
Closest Town: Duluth to Grand Portage
Best Seasons for Wildlife Viewing: