The 10 best (most easy) hikes in the state
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Hiking is a great way to slow down to appreciate some of the diversity Minnesota offers—craggy bluffs overlooking Lake Superior, rushing streams hidden in the north woods, ruins of prairie homesteads. So lace up those lightweight hiking shoes, grab some bug spray, and pack a granola bar or two. We’ll meet you at the trailhead.
1. Eagle Mountain
The term “mountain” may be a bit hyperbolic, but at 2,301 feet above sea level, Eagle Mountain is indeed the highest point in the state. For that fact alone, it’s worth a hike. From the trailhead, the route climbs gradually for the first three miles. But in the last mile, as the trail leaves the shore of Whale Lake, the trail rises 400 feet over boulders and tree roots to the peak. The rewards are excellent vistas from the flat-ridge top of the surrounding terrain, including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. A brass survey marker on the west side of the granite outcrop pinpoints Minnesota’s highest spot.
Distance: 7 miles round-trip
Time: 4 hours
Elevation change: 554 feet
Trailhead: From Highway 61 near Lutsen, take County Road 4 (Caribou Trail) north until it ends at Forest Road 170. Turn right, drive east 3.5 miles to trailhead on the left. Because Eagle Mountain is in the Boundary Waters, you’ll need to fill out a form for a day permit at the parking lot.
Contact: Superior National Forest, Tofte Ranger District, 218-663-8060, or Gunflint Ranger District, 218-387-1750
2. Beaver Creek Valley
Beaver Creek Valley Trail snakes through the narrow valley of its namesake creek, tucked in the folds of southeastern Minnesota’s bluffs near Caledonia. The gorge is lush and verdant—more like a jungle than any landscape in Minnesota has a right to be. At most water levels, the stream is crystal clear and filled with brown trout rising to eat aquatic insects. The southern loop of the trail scales the steep valley walls and circles the end of the gorge. Numerous springs seep from limestone cliffs.
Distance: 6.2-mile loop. You can extend it a bit with short detours to Plateau Rock Overlook and Big Spring, the source of Beaver Creek.
Time: 3 hours
Elevation change: 250 feet
Trailhead: Parking lot just past the entrance of Beaver Creek Valley State Park. Ask for directions at the office.
Contact: Beaver Creek Valley State Park, 507-724-2107
3. Magnetic Rock Trail
Magnetic Rock Trail is an easy out-and-back hike that begins at the Gunflint Trail and leads to a weirdly prominent 25-foot-tall slab of rock with magnetic properties. It’s not a pretty route, but it is impressive, weaving among the charred stumps and blackened trunks that remain after the 1999 blowdown, the 2002 prescribed burn, and the 2007 Ham Lake wildfire. Now exposed to full sunlight, the thin soil sprouts wildflowers and, in late July, loads of blueberries. Follow the rock cairns where the trail crosses barren rock outcrops. After about an hour, you’ll arrive at Magnetic Rock—just like Stanley Kubrick’s monolith, but without the apes. Retrace your track for the shortest route back to the car. To make a loop, continue on the trail (it’s part of the much longer Border Route) as it turns south and meets Gunflint Narrows Road, a gravel strip commonly known as Warren’s Road. Go right (west) and hike about a mile back out to the Gunflint Trail. Turn right again (north) and hike 1.5 miles back to your car.
Distance: 3 miles round-trip
Time: 1.5 hours
Elevation change: About 130 feet, with few ups and downs
Trailhead: Gunflint Trail (County Road 12), 48 miles northwest of Grand Marais
Contact: Superior National Forest, Gunflint Ranger District, 218-387-1750. Hiking maps are available from Gunflint Trail resorts.
4. Mount Tom
The appellation “Mount Tom” doesn’t exactly ring with grandeur, but that’s probably as it should be. Climbing through the rolling hills, oak woodlands, and patches of prairie in Sibley State Park north of Willmar is pleasant and pretty, but not sublime. What is awe-inspiring, however, is the panorama from the top of Tom, where a granite-and-wood lookout tower adds a bit of elevation to the so-called mountain, one of the highest spots in 50 miles, offering a view of lakes, hills, and distant towns.
Distance: 3.5-mile loop, including the short climb to Mount Tom and the Lakeview Trail on the shore of Andrew Lake.
Time: 2 hours
Elevation change: 185 feet, with rolling terrain in between
Trailhead: Parking lot just past the entrance to the park. Ask for directions at the park office.
Contact: Sibley State Park, 320-354-2055
5. Superior Hiking Trail
The Superior Hiking Trail stretches 240 miles from southwest of Two Harbors to the Canadian border (with another segment through Duluth and Jay Cooke State Park)— enough distance to keep you walking for weeks. Most hikers, however, sample the trail a bit at a time. Dozens of day hikes are possible, accessible by country roads, highways, and other trails. One of the prettiest (and most strenuous) treks runs from Silver Bay northeastward to Highway 1, ascending spectacular overlooks of Bear and Bean lakes, and of Palisade Valley from the top of Mount Trudee. Hikers have many views of Lake Superior as well. Elsewhere, the trail plunges into creek valleys and cool glades of cedar and maple. To avoid having to backtrack, set up a shuttle with two cars, or ride the Superior Shuttle (superiorshuttle.com), which operates Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from mid-May to mid-October. Park at your end point, ride to your start, and then hike back to your car as fast or as slow as you want.
Distance: 11.1 miles one way
Time: 7 hours
Elevation change: Lowest point to highest spans just 600 feet, but with all the ups and downs, you climb about 1,375 feet and descend 1,300 as you hike to the northeast.
Trailhead: Begin at the parking lot and trailhead on Penn Boulevard on the west edge of Silver Bay. End at Highway 1, just northwest of Highway 61.
Contact: Superior Hiking Trail Association, 218-834-2700, shta.org.