Knife River Trail (Minnesota) 04-Jun-2017

Lake Superior North Shore Minnesota

Having hiked on the North Shore only once before years ago, we wanted to squeeze in a short “familiarization” hike between our departure from Superior, Wisconsin and are meet-up with the family in Lutsen, Minnesota.  We needed a personal sense of trail and (more importantly) flying, biting, sucking insect conditions.  Getting a feeling for local conditions and practices seems (to us at least) the basis for safer and more enjoyable hikes when we’re away from home.  So we put some more money into the local economy with a purchase of Andrew Slade’s Hiking the North Shore guidebook (2014 edition) and selected from its pages a short out-and-back hike along the Knife River (Hike #11), one of the largest rivers on the North Shore.


From the Highway 61 Expressway between Duluth and Two Harbors at mile marker 18.2, we turned northwest on UT7 (E. Shilhon Road), which becomes St. Louis County Road 2551 after just 0.2 miles. The new trailhead parking lot is on the right 0.7 miles from Highway 61. Unfortunately, we came on an old trail sign on the right side of the road first and mistakenly assumed this to be the trailhead. After trying to follow the old, and much deteriorated, trail for a bit, we backtracked and finally found the new trailhead.  From there, now shorn of any residual hiking hubris, we started up the well-maintained Knife River Trail along the edge of a 2011 logging operation.

Lake Superior North Shore Minnesota

Along the trail past the results, on the right, of the 2011 logging operation

Along the way we passed the remains – just a water-filled hole alongside the trail – on an old copper mine, one that supposedly produced several tons of ore in the late 1800s. This is an instant payoff hike, in that we reached our primary destination, Second Falls, after only 0.75 miles of hiking. We were impressed by how brown the water was, from all the tannin produced by a largely desciduous forest.

Lake Superior North Shore Minnesota

Second Falls on the Knife River

Lake Superior North Shore Minnesota

Second Falls on the Knife River

After enjoying the Falls for awhile, we continued along the trail, now a little less obvious than it was for its first mile. We were braced for massive insect attacks but these didn’t materialize. There were no black flies (!) and the mosquitos seemed dazed and uninspired. There were a lot on non-biting flies that bothered us simply by flying into us and then crawling around. There were, however, plenty of large (and hence visible and removable) wood ticks.

Lake Superior North Shore Minnesota

Continuing along the trail past Second Falls

Past the Falls, the trail gets up on the river bank, to provide a view of a river that looks placid now but seems – judging from the scour and bank erosion – prone to high flood events.

Lake Superior North Shore Minnesota

The Knife River above Second Falls

We passed another small falls,

Lake Superior North Shore Minnesota

A riffle on the Knife River above Second Falls

went along just a little further to where we could get a good look down the river,

Lake Superior North Shore Minnesota

Looking downstream along the Knife River

and then headed back,

Lake Superior North Shore Minnesota

Going back along the trail above Second Falls

stopping at one point to for a close-up look at where the river had smoothed its way over the underlying volcanic rock – further evidence of how powerful this river might be during a flood event.

Lake Superior North Shore Minnesota

Basalt ledges along the Knife River

Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers sometimes deride the Oregon sections of the trail as hiking through a “green tunnel” and try to make consecutive 30s to get through it. Well, HYOH. In Oregon, this “tunnel” is most often formed by evergreens, whose needles are of a more muted shade of green. Here on the North Shore we found a true green tunnel formed by the very bright green leaves of the understory plants and of the tall paper birch trees. Over the next week, we’d walk through this greenery and also get to see it as a vast green carpet from several viewpoints. If you think Oregon is a green tunnel, you haven’t hiked the North Shore!

Lake Superior North Shore Minnesota

Hiking back through a true green tunnel

This was a short (only two miles roundtrip) but pleasant hike to a nice feature – Second Falls – and also a good intro to trail and insect conditions. We’d flicked off a few ticks at the trailhead but one stowed away until we were resupplying at the SuperOne market in Two Harbors. The LovedOne HATES ticks, so when it appeared on my shoulder and I flicked it off on to the floor, she stomped it to death right there in the produce aisle. Tourists do the funniest things!

Lake Superior North Shore Minnesota

Our two mile or so track along the Knife River

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