To honor the 73rd anniversary of D-Day, we decided to squeeze two short, but different, hikes into one day: a gondola-facilitated hike around Mystery Mountain on the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) (Hike #35 in Andrew Slade’s Hiking the North Shore guidebook (2014 edition)) and another on the SHT to big views from the summit of Carlton Peak (Hike #32 in his guidebook). For the first hike, I think we just wanted the novelty of a gondola ride to the top of Moose Mountain. For the second hike, it seemed essential to soak in the views being offered to us by the run of clear, sunny, cloudless weather we were experiencing here on the North Shore (unlike the rain and snow we’d be enduring if we were back home).
Rounding Mystery Mountain
The very new looking gondola ride is part of the Lutsen Mountains ski resort,
and one of its cars whisked us quickly over the roaring Poplar River and up some 400 feet to the northeast edge of Moose Mountain.
Once on top, we had a view south from the Summit Chalet out over Lake Superior,
and northwest, from the Mystery Overlook,
out over the green carpet of a late Spring forest toward Mystery Mountain. So green, so many trees…
After all this touristy gazing, it was time to get on with the hiking. From the gondola terminal, we followed a spur of the SHT along the northwest side of Moose Mountain, a rocky,
sometimes narrow but otherwise intriguing way to get to the main SHT. While the trail signage on the North Shore was proving to be generally better than that on most trails in Oregon, on this spur the signage got kind of sparse and we had to perform some “squirrel-crossing-a-road” decision making to figure out if we’d gone too far or not far enough. Turned out not far enough but we eventually came to the massively signed junction with the main SHT. From there we turned northeast and descended into and across the Rollins Creek drainage,
then climbed up the slopes of Mystery Mountain through the greenest of green tunnels,
to a viewpoint overlooking Lake Superior,
then through more greenery past the Mystery Mountain Campground,
then over the Poplar River (fortunately there’s a stout bridge here),
and back to the ski area parking lot. A short (4.4 miles; 700 feet of elevation gain) but varied and interesting hike along a delightful section of the SHT. A great way to spend the morning!
Climbing Carlton Peak
Carlton Peak is not the tallest of the Sawtooth Mountains along Lake Superior’s North Shore, but it stands out as a lone high point, 924 feet above lake level, separate from the ridges to the north and south. This prominence has allowed it to serve as a distinctive navigation aid for commercial fishermen on the lake. After eating lunch and collecting the LovedOne’s sister, we drove south to the Britton Peak Trailhead parking lot on the east side of County Road 2 (Sawbill Trail), two miles from Tofte, Minnesota. The trail starts from the parking lot, goes a short ways before crossing County Road 2, then plunges into the forest, crosses some boardwalks,
transits more green tunnels, which are actually quite beautiful in the way that the sunlight plays and dances off the leaves,
does a short climb, and then a longer climb up around some impressive cliffs,
and then a final short climb to the open summit, graced as it is with some remnant foundations.
From here, it being a totally clear day and all, we had expansive views in all directions, northwest over a green sea of trees,
and south out over the lake, where we could see the jetty of Taconite Harbor hugging the coast. For whatever reason, the LovedOne’s sister felt she needed just a little more altitude for the perfect photo.
After that, it was back the way we’d come to the parking lot. A short hike (3.4 miles roundtrip; 700 feet of elevation gain) to spectacular views. So, a day filled with two great hikes (7.8 miles, 1,400 foot elevation gain total), all under perfect weather conditions and with no meaningful bugs!