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Thru-Hiking the Superior Hiking Trail with Your Dog

One of my favorite hiking trails in Minnesota is the Superior Hiking Trail. This dog-friendly hiking trail stretches 310 miles from the Minnesota-Wisconsin border south of Duluth to the Minnesota-Canadian border. While I have hiked several short sections of this trail, recently I have begun considering a thru-hike with my dog, Glia.

While there are many great resources about thru-hiking the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT), there are very few online resources that discuss the logistics of bringing a dog with on an SHT thru-hike. Especially for someone who is hiking solo with their dog.

As the SHT becomes increasingly popular, it only seems right that someone should put together details on hiking this trail with a dog. From dog-friendly lodging and dog-friendly shuttles to planning a trip that your dog can handle, keep reading to get started planning a dog-friendly thru-hike of the Superior Hiking Trail.

One of the many magical waterfalls along the Superior Hiking Trail

A Thru-Hike on the Superior Hiking Trail

When planning a thru-hike of SHT, the first decision you have to make is whether you are going to plan a Traditional or a Total thru-hike.

Traditional vs. Total Thru-Hike

A Traditional thru-hike begins at the Martin Road Trailhead in northern Duluth and stretches to the northern terminus of the trail at the 270 degree Overlook. This thru-hike is 260 miles in length (not including spur trails).

A Total thru-hike begins at the Wild Valley Road Trailhead and passes through the city of Duluth on its way north. This hike is approximately 300 miles in length (not including spur trails). The difficulty with this route is that while there is an SHT campsite near the southern terminus in the Red River Valley, there are no campsites in the Duluth Section of the SHT. Total thru-hikers must make arrangements to be transported to a campground or motel each night until they have made it through Duluth.

There are several dog-friendly hotels in Duluth, so if your dog is okay with spending the night in a hotel, a total thru-hike with your dog is possible. But you will need to decide whether or a traditional or a total thru-hike is the right fit for you and your dog.

Northbound (NOBO) vs. Southbound (SOBO)

The second decision you have to make is whether you are going to hike the trail heading north or heading south. The Superior Hiking Trail organization points out a few things to consider when determining which direction to hike.

If you hike SOBO, you will begin in the most remote section of the trail where cell reception is limited and transportation options are scarce. They point out that it is harder to arrange a bail-out early in the trip if plans change, so it is recommended that you have some previous backpacking experience if you plan to start your hike at the Northern Terminus.

If you hike NOBO, you will start with gentler terrain and have easier bail-out points. However, it can be more challenging to schedule a pick-up at the northern terminus due to limited cell reception.

You can also hike a “flip-flop” hike. Often this is where hikers travel north to Grand Marais, then arrange a shuttle from Grand Marais to the northern terminus. From there they will hike south back to Grand Marais. If your dog rides well on a shuttle, this could be an option for you and your dog.

When to thru-hike the Superior Hiking Trail with Your Dog

The final big decision to determine for your thru-hike is what time of year do you want to hike during.

Winters get cold and snow gets deep. With my short-coated dog, winter is definitely not an option for a thru-hike. If you plan to thru-hike in the winter, you should have plenty of winter backpacking experience.

Spring can be nice if you get your timing right. But snow can be present until late May. And when the snow melts, the trail can be muddy. You will also have more difficult river crossings. Additionally, the SHT inside of the City of Duluth is closed during the spring thaw (approximately April 1st to mid-May).

Summer can be hot, muggy, and buggy. Early summer has fewer mosquitoes, but more ticks. Later summer is drier, which means less mud, but also less water sources.

Fall is lovely with beautiful colors but again is drier with fewer water sources. If there has been a good freeze, the bugs will be almost gone. But beware of fluctuating fall temperatures and late fall snowstorms. Many hikers consider late September/early October to be the best time for a Superior Hiking Trail thru-hike. But be aware, that this is often when the trail is busiest. (And the trail is closed again in the City of Duluth during the freeze/thaw cycle, approximately mid-October to mid-November).

While you will want to pick a season that you will enjoy, make sure it is good timing for your dog also. A hot summer thru-hike can increase the risk of heat stroke, especially for thick-coated or black dogs. Alternatively, if temperatures are dropping below 32°F at night in early spring or late fall, small or short-haired dogs may have trouble keeping warm enough to spend 2-4 weeks on the trail.

How Long Will Thru-Hiking the SHT Take?

On average it takes 2-4 weeks to thru-hike the Superior Hiking Trail. The fastest known time (supported) was just 4 days and 9 hours. But unsupported is 5 days and 17 hours. However, these are experienced and in-shape hikers/trail runners. The average backpacker will only hike about 1-2 miles per hour on this trail and won’t hike more than 15-20 miles per day.

Make sure that both you and your dog are conditioned to hiking 15-20 mile days before you start your hike. Hiking several long days in a row is a lot different than hiking long miles on a weekend. Don’t forget to schedule rest days for both of you to recuperate. Watch your dog closely while on trail to make sure they are staying comfortable and enjoying the thru-hike.

Dogs on the Superior Hiking Trail

Planning a thru-hike is a lot of work, even without bringing your dog. Planning a trip that is dog-friendly will take some extra effort. Below are some resources to help make your planning easier.

Basic Dog Guidelines on the SHT

If you are preparing for a thru-hike on the Superior Hiking Trail with your dog, be aware that dogs must be kept on a leash at all times while on the trail. Even at your campsite.

This means that your dog may end up on a leash for a 2-4 weeks straight. Make sure you and your dog are both prepared for this. Good leash skills and a comfortable collar/harness are a must for a dog-friendly SHT thru-hike adventure.

And remember that your dog will need to leave-no-trace, just like you. This means that you will need a system for removing your dog’s solid waste from the trail.

During a day-hike, it is easy to bag your dog’s waste and then drop it off at a trash can as you drive away from the trail. But during a thru-hike, you may have to carry your dog’s waste much further or bury it along the side of the trail.

When burying your dog’s waste, you need to dig a hole 3-6 inches deep. Place the waste inside and then cover and disguise the hole. If you are at a campsite when your dog defecates, consider disposing of the waste in the campsite latrine.

Dog-Friendly Superior Hiking Trail Shuttles

Since one of the first things you will need to determine is how you are getting to the trail, it may be helpful to have a list of dog-friendly shuttles that will bring you to/from SHT trailheads. (Most shuttles run from mid-May to mid-October.)

Shuttle ServicePrice/dogRulesPhone #
Superior Shuttle Service$10Dogs need to stay on the floor of the vehicle(218)-834-5511
Harriet QuarlesFree (with paying human)Dogs must be well behaved.(218)-370-9164
*There may be more shuttles open again once COVID restrictions are reduced.

Dog-Friendly Lodging Along the Superior Hiking Trail

Many people who thru-hike the Superior Hiking Trail like to take 1 or 2 rest days. This can be a great opporutnity to sleep in a real bed and recharge electronics at a hotel or lodge. If you are thru-hiking with your dog, it is important to know which lodging locations are dog-friendly ahead of time.

Dog-Friendly Hotels in Duluth

  • Super 8 by Wyndham Duluth
  • Motel 6 Duluth, MN
  • Pier B Resort Hotel
  • Radisson Hotel Duluth
  • The Suites Hotel
  • Sheraton Duluth Hotel
  • Fitger’s Inn

There are a few more dog-friendly hotels in Duluth, but these are the ones that are conveniently located close to the trail.

Dog-Friendly Hotels Along the North Shore

  • Country Inn of Two Harbors (Two Harbors, MN)
  • Grand Superior Lodge (Castle Danger, MN)
  • AmericInn by Wyndham Silver Bay (Silver Bay, MN)
  • AmericInn by Wyndham Tofte near Lake Superior (Tofte, MN)
  • Solbakken Resort (near Lutsen, MN)
  • Cascade Lodge Lutsen MN (near Lutsen, MN)
  • Aspen Inn (Grand Marais, MN)
  • Best Western Plus Superior Inn (Grand Marais, MN)

This list is always evolving. If you know of any other great dog-friendly lodging on the North Shore, please let us know. Bonus points if it is a walkable distance from the Superior Hiking Trail.

The only place we have personally stayed at is Cascade Lodge near Lutsen, MN. We enjoyed our stay there and wrote about this lodge in our post A Dog-Friendly Winter Weekend at the North Shore’s MN State Parks.

Veterinary Clinics Near the North Shore

While everyone backpacking with a dog should have a dog-friendly first aid kit, injuries and illness can occur that may need advanced care. Something you don’t want to have to think about, but should know ahead of time, is where the nearest veterinary clinics are located. I recommend printing out and bringing a list of local veterinary clinics with you so that you can access it even with limited cell phone service.

Veterinary ClinicCityPhone Number
Grand Avenue Veterinary ClinicDuluth(218) 525-1937
PetCare of DuluthDuluth(218) 461-4400
Blue Pearl Pet Hospital (24 hrs)Duluth(218) 302-8000
Waters Edge Animal Hospital and Urgent CareDuluth(218) 464-4774
Dougherty Veterinary ClinicsDuluth(218) 722-3963
Duluth Veterinary HospitalDuluth(218) 728-3616
North Shore Veterinary HospitalDuluth(218) 525-1937
Lake County Veterinary ClinicTwo Harbors(218) 834-4234
Two Harbors Vet ClinicTwo Harbors(218) 834-1333
Grand Marais Veterinary ClinicGrand Marais(218) 387-2063
Lake County Veterinary ClinicGrand Marais(218) 387-1383
Cedar Grove Veterinary ClinicGrand Marais(218) 877-7321

Additional Dog-Related Considerations

A few other logistics to consider when planning to bring a dog with on a thru-hike, include the following:

How much extra gear do you need to bring for your dog? And are you willing to carry it?

There are a few extra supplies you will need to pack if your dog is coming with on a thru-hike. Even just the basics of your dog’s food and water can add extra weight to your pack. Are you prepared to carry most of this?

For more information on what I personally back for a weekend backpacking trip with my dog, click on the link below.

What will you do with your dog when you need to resupply?

If you are backpacking for 2-4 weeks, you will likely need to purchase more food and replenish your supplies at some point. Since dogs aren’t allowed inside most stores, how will you re-supply?

You could send USPS boxes of pre-packed supplies to a dog-friendly hotel to pick up along your route. Or you could check to see if any of the local grocery stores have curbside pick-up. But whatever you do, make sure you have a plan ahead of time.

What will you do with your dog when you shower?

If you are backpacking solo with your dog, you may not have anyone to watch your dog while you shower. Getting a room at a dog-friendly hotel may become a necessity, as dogs aren’t allowed in State Park campground shower houses.

Looking for more inspiration on hiking the Superior Hiking Trail with your dog?

Check out this interview with Heidi Nisbett who hiked the SHT with her boyfriend and her dog. Or watch the YouTube video below for an overview of the trail.

And of course, I have written a few posts about some of the segments that Glia and I have hiked.

As I continue to work on planning a dog-friendly SHT thru-hike, I will likely be posting more resources here on Pawsitively Intrepid. But if you have more questions or any helpful suggestions, let me know in the comments below.

Happy Hiking Everyone!

Kate, Glia, & Sasha

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