Sunday, March 29, 2015

Trail reaches top of Laurentian Divide

A segment of the Laurentian Divide Fitness Trail
provides the first leg of the route to the top of Lookout
Mountain. Photo courtesy of U.S Forest Service.

Lookout Mountain tops out
at 1841 feet, north of Virginia

Day hikers can head to the peak of an 1841-foot hill that straddles a major continental divide in Minnesota.

The route is among several cross country ski paths in the Lookout Mountain Trail System that can be day hiked during spring, summer and fall. From the trailhead to the peak is about 2-miles round trip.

The trail is accessible via the Superior National Forest’s Laurentian Divide Recreation Area off of U.S. Hwy. 53/Minn. Hwy. 169. The parking lot and picnic area is about four miles north just before Hwys. 53/169 split.

From the parking area, pick up the Laurentian Divide Fitness Trail, going south from Station A to Station B. The trailhead starts at about 1578 feet elevation.

Rock 2.5 billion years old
The trail system traverses the Laurentian Divide – also known as the Northern Divide – in which water flows to vastly different ends of the continent. Waterways north of the divide head to Hudson Bay while those south of it go to the Gulf of Mexico.

After Station B, continue on the trail to Station C. At Station C, go northeast to Station F.

The Laurentian Divide has its origins in underground rock that cooled into granite some 2.5 billion years ago. Over the thousands of millions of years since, uplift and erosion unveiled the Giants Range Batholith, a hard rock that is literally miles across.

Several different minerals exist within the granite. The pink and white specks are feldspar, the gray crystals are quartz, and the black pieces are biotite and hornblende.

From Station F, go right/southeast onto the jeep trail. You’ll quickly start gaining in elevation, beginning the 220-foot climb to the summit.

Ski lodge history
Pines and mixed hardwoods sit at the hill’s base, but a maple hardwood forest dominates the divide’s crest.

During the late 1950s, local businessmen opened the Lookout Mountain Ski Lodge here, but barely enough money flowed in to enlarge the recreation area or to allow for expansion of summer activities. By the 1960s, the U.S. Forest Service closed the facility because safety requirements couldn’t be met.

About a half-mile from Station F, at 1800 feet elevation, take the spur trail heading directly west. This takes you to just below the rocky summit. From the peak, you’ll be able to see Virginia-Eveleth to the south, open pit mines to the west with smaller ones to the east, and an endless forest to the north.

Marshy areas can be found at the hill’s base, so be sure to don and carry insect repellent.

Learn more about nearby day hiking trails in my Day Hiking Trails of Northeast Minnesota guidebook.