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Best Dog-Friendly Backpacking in the Upper Midwest

While the upper Midwest is not well-known for its backpacking, there are some trails well worth exploring. Instead of mountains or slot canyons, you will enjoy waterfalls, lake shorelines, and forests. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t dramatic rocky views and wilderness that extends for miles in any direction.

If you are looking for a grand backpacking adventure in the upper Midwest, let me recommend these 4 dog-friendly backpacking trails: two in Minnesota, one in the upper peninsula of Michigan, and one right over the border in Canada.

1. The Superior Hiking Trail

The Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) runs for 310 miles from the Minnesota-Wisconsin border south of Duluth to a northern terminus near the Canadian border. Most of the trail parallels Minnesota’s North Shore, treating hikers to rocky ridges, views of Lake Superior, cascading waterfalls, and many stretches of rugged forest.

Dogs are allowed on all 310 miles of this trail as long as they are leashed. And campsites are all come, all served so you don’t have to plan your trip to visit the SHT months in advance either. Simply choose a beautiful time of year and show up!

But even though the campsites are free, still make sure to leave no trace and be a good trail steward. And if you love the trail as much as I do, consider donating to the Superior Hiking Trail Association.

Read more about hiking the SHT with your pup.

2. The Porcupine Mountains

While the SHT holds a big piece of my heart, the Porcupine Mountains are another lovely backpacking destination in the upper Midwest. Just a few hours from my home state of Minnesota, the Porcupine Mountains are located in the upper peninsula of Michigan.

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness is the largest state park in Michigan. Located in the upper peninsula, the park covers 60,000 acres of forest, lakes, and rivers along the shore of Lake Superior. The Porcupine Mountains form a 12-mile-long escarpment that parallels the Lake Superior Lakeshore for a distance of 1.5 miles. On a clear day, you can see 25 miles to the west from areas of this escarpment.

The park contains 90 miles of hiking trails, 2 developed campgrounds, many backpacking campsites, and some backcountry cabins (the cabins are not dog-friendly). Besides the cabins and park buildings, the park is otherwise pet friendly. However, like the majority of parks in the Midwest, dogs must be kept on a 6-foot leash and cannot be left unattended.

Backpacking in the Porcupine Mountains is $20 per night for groups of 1 to 6 persons. Group sizes are limited to no more than 6 persons. Permits are issued upon arrival to the park, at the visitor center. Reservations are available six months in advance and up to 72 hours before arriving at midnrreservations.com or 1-800-44PARKS. During the remainder of the year Oct. 15 through May 14, campers must register at park headquarters.

Find out more about hiking at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.

3. The Border Route Trail

The Border Route Trail (BRT) is a 65-mile trail in the northeast corner of Minnesota. It is a beautiful, remote trail that follows the Canadian border into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA). The eastern terminus of this trail is just outside the BWCA and connects with the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT). At the western terminus of the BRT, you can connect with the Kekekabic Trail and continue hiking through the western half of the BWCA.

Dogs are allowed on this entire trail. They do not have to be leashed but must be under control at all times. There is a lot of wildlife, including moose and bears, along the Border Route Trail. As a result, it is imperative for everyone’s safety (yours, your dogs, the wildlife’s, and other visitors) that your dog stays with you, comes when called, and does not harass wildlife or other visitors.

You will need a permit to stay in the BWCA overnight from May to September. A permit costs $38 as of writing this blog post. Prices may change in the future. This permit system helps support Superior National Forest (the organization that manages the BWCA). It also helps limit how many people are using the trail, which keeps this area rugged, remote, and wild. Permits can be obtained at Recreation.gov.

Read more about hiking the Border Route Trail.

4. Sleeping Giant Provincial Park

Sleeping Giant Provincial Park sits on a peninsula across from Thunder Bay, Ontario. Per Northern Ontario Travel, the park is named after an Ojibway legend, in which ” the Sleeping Giant is “Nanabijou” — The Spirit of Deep Sea Water — turned to stone when the white man was given the location of a nearby silver mine.”

Sleeping Giant Provincial Park is home to over 60 miles of hiking trails and several lovely backpacking campsites (or a developed campsite and rental cabins if that’s more your style – yes there is one dog-friendly cabin). The hiking trails will take you through forests to the rocky shores of Lake Superior or up on top of The Giant for spectacular views of the surrounding area.

There are a total of 27 backcountry campsites in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. These campsites are broken up into 7 zones. You will reserve a specific zone to camp in when you make your reservations. Within each zone, the individual campsites are first-come, first-served.

Find out more about this fantastic park just across the border from Minnesota.

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