Saturday, February 21, 2015

Hike to skyscraper view of Lake Superior

Carlton Peak rises over Lake Superior, as seen from Britton Peak.
Photo courtesy of  U.S. Forest Service.

Carlton Peak rock
rose to surface
billion years ago

Grand views of Lake Superior and the surrounding countryside await day hikers atop Carlton Peak on the Minnesota North Shore.

A moderately steep segment of the famous Superior Hiking Trail heads to the peak, whose bald rock summit towers 85 stories over Lake Superior. Carlton Peak is in Temperance River State Park, but much of the 7.6-mile (round trip) trail heads through the Superior National Forest.

To reach the trailhead, from Tofte, Minn., take County Hwy. 2 (aka Sawbill Trail) north for two miles. Park in the Britton Trail Trailhead lot on the road’s east/right side. Don’t park in the Carlton Peak overlook, which is more of a wayside.

Head south on the trail, which crosses a mixed hardwood forest. There’s lots of birch and pine, but also a good amount of maple along the way.

Spur trail to overlook
The trail is a gradual uphill climb most of the way. It crosses County Road 2, so watch for traffic, and then make sure you don’t accidentally turn onto the intersecting Lutsen Trail.

Next, the trail crosses Carlton Creek, which flows down the hill into Lake Superior. Boardwalks are in place here and wherever else the trail dips through wet areas.

You’ll soon notice a lot of rocks and boulders along the trail, giving you the same feel as if hiking a mountain out west. Carlton Peak is one of the points on the Sawtooth Mountains range, which stretches along the North Shore.

A spur heading east leads to the Ted Tofte Overlook (look for the sign nailed to a birch tree), which offers unobstructed views. The Carlton Peak summit looms over the overlook.

Heading back to the main trail, continue south/west. Watch for signs that point to the summit. The trail becomes much steeper here with some cliffs, so keep a close eye on any children accompanying you.

The peak sits at 1526 feet above sea level. From there, you can see Lake Superior, the village of Tofte, the Temperance River Valley, and Taconite Harbor.

The bald rock summit is a massive chunk of anorthrocite, a rock consisting of hard green and pink crystals. About 1.1 billion years ago, the light rock floated up through lava to the surface.

During the last ice age, glaciers scraped away the volcanic rock above the anorthrocite. Since then, humans have quarried rock from the peak to face the lower portion of the Tofte Ranger Station, to construct Taconite Harbor, and as a building material for other structures.

The trail is named for Reuben Carlton, who guided surveyors into the area during 1848. For the next several decades, commercial fishermen in Lake Superior relied on the peak for navigation.

An alternate Superior Hiking Trail route to the peak leaves from Temperance River State Park.

Read more about day hiking Northeast Minnesota in my Headin’ to the Cabin: Day Hiking Trails of Northeast Minnesota guidebook.