Sunday, February 28, 2016

SHT walks ridgelines over Split Rock park

Superior Hiking Trail - DOT Wayside to Southeast Split Rock River
Campsite segment, courtesy Minnesota DNR.
Superior Hiking Trail - DOT Wayside to ATV Trail on
Chapins Ridge segment, courtesy shta.org.

Minnesota trail
offers views of
Lake Superior


Day hikers can enjoy great views of Lake Superior on two segments of the Superior Hiking Trail in Minnesota’s Split Rock Lighthouse State Park.

While the segments share the same access trails, upon reaching the SHT, hikers can go in one of two directions – left/southwest to the Southeast Split Rock River Campsite or right/northeast to an ATV trail on Chapins Ridge. The former is shorter while the latter offers better vistas of Lake Superior.

To reach the trailhead, from Two Harbors travel north on Minn. Hwy. 61. Park at the Split Rock River Wayside. Take the access trail around the lot and under the highway to the Gitchi-Gami Trail. Go left/northeast on the trail.

In 0.3 miles, look for the Merrill Grade Trail. It is to the left on the other side of Hwy. 61 and is marked with a yellow gate. Carefully cross the busy highway to the trail; you may need to walk a ways in the ditch or along the shoulder to reach the gate.

After walking 0.2 miles up a steep grade, you’ll reach the first junction with a connector to the SHT. Go left/northwest onto in. These by far are the most arduous portions of the hike. In 0.2 miles, you’ll reach the SHT. You’ll have to decide there which segment you want to take.

Left/southwest to Split Rock River campsite
This route heads to the Southeast Split Rock River Campsite for a 3.2-mile round trip from the DOT Wayside.

When the connector reaches the SHT, go left/southwest. For most of this segment, the trail follows the ridgeline at about 850 feet elevation. It’s about 0.9 miles from the connector to the campsite.

The campsite marks a good spot to turn back. Alternately, you can continue on; in 0.6 miles is the footbridge across the Split Rock River. This reaches the end of the Split Rock River Trail described in another entry.

Right/northeast to ATV Trail
Following the ridgeline, the trail offers excellent vistas of Lake Superior and the Split Rock Lighthouse below for a 5.6-mile round trip.

When the connector and the SHT meet, go right/northeast.

Along the way, the trail passes several rock outcroppings. Most of these mark the former shoreline of ancient Glacial Lake Duluth.

The trail soon begins a long but gradual descent to a wetlands surrounding Split Rock Creek. A footbridge heads over the stream, and then it’s uphill once more.

Next the SHT junctions with the Merrill Grade Trail at 0.8 miles from the connector. From there, the SHT leaves Split Rock State Park, as heading north along the century-old railroad line that was used to haul fallen logs out of the highlands to the lake.

Eventually the SHT splits from the old railroad grade and heads through a spruce forest. Rocky ridges with steep drops and lichen-covered boulders offer visual delights.

In 1.3 miles from the Merrill Grade Trail, the SHT intersects an ATV trail. This marks a good spot to turn back. If continuing on, however, the SHT reaches the Chapins Ridge Campsite in 0.4 miles.

Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.