Discover Minnesota’s premier backpacking trail, as we describe our dog-friendly backpacking trip along the Superior Hiking Trail from Gooseberry Falls to Castle Danger.
The Superior Hiking Trail
The Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) is the most well-known backpacking trail in Minnesota. The trail starts south of the city of Duluth and travels along the North Shore to the border of Canada. Much of this route is along the ridgeline overlooking Lake Superior. And while no horses, motorized vehicles or mountain bikes are allowed on the trail, the entire route can be explored with your dog. (Note: dogs do need to be leashed on the SHT).
The SHT is 326 miles if each section is hiked separately (due to spur trails used to get on and off the trail). If you hiked straight through, there are 310 miles of the main trail for you and your dog to enjoy.
Many hikers do not include the southernmost section in their thru-hikes, simply due to logistics. The southern section is urban and does not offer overnight campsites. If you want to explore the 41 miles of the main trail from the Minnesota/Wisconsin border through the city of Duluth, you will need to plan a series of day hikes.
As a result, it is the 269 miles of trail in the popular North Shore segment that gets the most traffic. This segment runs from the city limits of Duluth to the northern end of the trail. There are trailheads about every 3-11 miles in this section. And backcountry campsites are even more frequent with 94 backcountry campsites located along this section of the trail.
While we had hiked on a loop section of the SHT previously, this summer Glia and I joined a friend to spend our first night on the SHT. We hiked north to south, from Gooseberry Falls to the Castle Danger trailhead.
The Gooseberry Falls to Castle Danger Section
This section of the SHT is 9.1 miles in length (including a 1.1-mile access spur trail). The spur trail is within Gooseberry Falls State Park and offers great views of several impressive waterfalls. If you don’t mind the state park crowds, you shouldn’t skip this spur trail.
We hiked this section north to south, so we used our state park vehicle sticker to allow us to park in the day visitors parking lot overnight. (You do have to check in with the visitor center staff in order to leave your car overnight at this location.)
Our original plan was to hike out to a campsite and then back to Gooseberry Falls the next morning. However, we met a fantastic fellow backpacker who offered to drive us back to our car from the Castle Danger Trailhead. As a result, we were able to hike the full section.
This was great because the segment near Castle Danger is just as scenic as the section within Gooseberry Falls State Park. The ridgeline views of Lake Superior from Mike’s Rock and near the Castle Danger trailhead are fantastic.
Official information about this section of the SHT can be found at SuperiorHiking.org.
Hiking in Gooseberry Falls State Park
The first few miles (especially along the spur trail) are the most populated section of this route. Gooseberry Falls is a popular day hiking location for people traveling along the North Shore’s main highway (Highway 61). Be prepared to make your way through groups of people, dogs, and strollers as you head from the parking lot to the SHT. The further away you get from Upper Gooseberry Falls, the quieter the trails become.
The trails within the state park are well-maintained and easy to traverse. And the route to the SHT offers plenty of views of the stunning Gooseberry River. We had to stop for a couple of pictures along the way.
Fifth Falls trail is the main trail out to the SHT. You will follow this trail for about 1 mile until you reach the official SHT.
Once on the official SHT, we left behind the day hikers and had the trail to ourselves. The trail stays inside of Gooseberry State Park for another mile or two, still following the winding Gooseberry River. Note, that as you leave the crowds behind, the trail becomes increasingly less maintained.
From the State Park Boundaries to the East Gooseberry Campsite
As the plants to the side of the trail get taller and the tree branches get lower, the trail becomes a single file path. I was happy to only have one dog with on this adventure, as there would not have been a lot of room to maneuver with two dogs.
We were treated to occasional views of the river, but the river became less impressive as we traveled south along the trail. It also became a bit buggier, with more mosquitoes. We were lucky, however, that while there were definitely mosquitoes, there weren’t so many that we had to constantly swat them away. (These hikers –link to blog post on CreekstoPeaks.com – had to run through swarms of mosquitoes during their visit in August 2014.
There are 5 campsites along this section of the SHT: Gooseberry Multi-Group, Middle Gooseberry, East Gooseberry, West Gooseberry, and Crow Valley.
We aimed for Middle and/or East Gooseberry as they are roughly at the halfway point. We ended up sharing a site at East Gooseberry, but if you get the opportunity, Middle Gooseberry has the best river access.
Our campsite was nice and level and our fellow backpacker had a great fire going that evening. It was a peaceful evening in the woods of northern Minnesota.
East Gooseberry Campsite to Mike’s Rock
The next morning, we packed up and finished the hike to Castle Danger. The trail from the East Gooseberry Campsite to Mike’s Rock was very similar to the hike from Gooseberry Falls State Park to our campsite. Overgrown with limited views.
Although the picture below is a little blurry, it gives a good impression of what the least maintained section of the trail looked like.
However, once you pass Mike’s Rock, the trail becomes rockier and more open. There is also a little bit more elevation change. Nothing is too technical, but when hiking with a dog, there are a few spots that it helps to have a longer leash with you. That way, your dog can traverse the rocky ascent/descent with more freedom.
This section is also where the best views of Lake Superior are located.
Hiking This Section of the Superior Hiking Trail with a Dog
We enjoyed this section of the Superior Hiking Trail. Except for weaving through a mid-sized crowd that contained several other dogs near Gooseberry Falls, we mostly had the trail to ourselves. This was especially nice as the trail narrowed, and we didn’t have to worry about giving other people/dogs space during our hike.
We did end up passing two groups of backpackers on our morning hike from East Gooseberry to Castle Danger. And the campsites were pretty full. But we didn’t see any other dogs on the trail.
The beginning and end of this section were spectacular with great views of Lake Superior near Castle Danger and stunning waterfalls in Gooseberry Falls State Park. This made up for the slightly underwhelming middle section.
Overall, this was a nice section of the SHT and we love having this dog-friendly trail with free campsites available so close to home. This section is only 3 hrs from our home in the Twin Cities Metro area.
Since this is only 9.1 of the total 326 miles of SHT, we likely won’t be back to this section in the near future. But we will definitely be planning more adventures on the dog-friendly Superior Hiking Trail.
What do I need to know about hiking with a dog on the Superior Hiking Trail? While dogs are welcome on the SHT, they must be kept on a leash regardless of how well trained they are. This is both for your dog’s protection and the protection of wild animals and plants. It also helps fellow hikers feel more comfortable on the trail.
Do I need to reserve a campsite on the Superior Hiking Trail? There are no reservations, fees or permits required to use the campsites on the SHT. As a result, campsites must be shared with other hikers. Each campsite has 2 to 8 tent pads, a fire ring, and backcountry latrine. Use leave no trace principles when backpacking and camping along the SHT.
Where can I find out more information about the Superior Hiking Trail? Head on over to the official SHT website: superiorhiking.org. And while you are there, consider becoming a member to help support the maintenance of this dog-friendly backpacking trail.
What other backpacking trails are located near the Twin Cities metropolitan area? There are a handful of backpacking trails in Minnesota and Western Wisconsin. Some of the ones we have heard about are the North Country Trail (https://northcountrytrail.org/trail/minnesota/), the Border Route Trail (https://www.borderroutetrail.org/), and the Ice Age Trail (https://www.iceagetrail.org/hiker-resources/). The Ice Age Trail was our first backpacking experience.
What kind of backpack is Glia wearing? Glia has a Grounbird Gear harness and backpack. Find out more about this great company in our review of Glia’s Grounbird Gear Harness and Trekking Pack.