More accolades roll in for Superior Hiking Trail
Jody Nonnemacher can tell with a simple look whether the people who enter her office are ready for what awaits them.
“It’s a challenging trail,” she said. “It can be rocky. It can be rooty. There are many ups and downs. It’s definitely not a flip-flop path.”
Nonnemacher sees hundreds of hikers pass through the trail’s office in Two Harbors each summer, some on their way out from the footpath that snakes along nearly 300 miles of Lake Superior’s North Shore, and others on their way in.
Sculpted into the Northeastern Minnesota countryside beginning in the mid-1980s, the trail has garnered widespread attention over the years, most recently from RootsRated, a national outdoors website that called the trail the “Best of the Best” when it comes to hiking, backpacking and camping.
“You have people coming in all the time that are either beginning or ending their great adventures,” Nonnemacher said.
The 18-inch-wide trail rambles its way from Jay Cooke State Park to the Canadian border, across jagged cliffs that drop into Lake Superior and through ancient forests of birch, aspen and pine trees.
It’s unlike anything Nonnemacher saw at her former residence in northwestern Iowa, from which she had to drive about an hour to reach a site that was “remotely wild,” she said.
“It was just such an amazing find to have this be literally right in my backyard in Two Harbors,” said Nonnemacher, who moved to the area in 2011 and one day stumbled into the trail office, where she soon started working as a volunteer.
“This was really my first exposure to anything like this.”
The trail, along with its 93 campsites and 53 access points, is maintained largely by volunteers. Two paid trail maintenance supervisors handle the bulk of the day-to-day work, but more than 250 volunteers help get the trail ready each spring and keep it maintained throughout the summer.
They must have the path weed-whipped, the overhanging trees properly lopped and the bridges and boardwalks repaired by the time hikers start pouring in with the warmer weather. And everything must be in order when snow powders the landscape, giving snowshoers their turn on the trail.
“I went out with a crew a couple weeks ago,” Nonnemacher said. “It’s long days. It’s just tough work. To know that (the supervisors) do that day after day and that volunteers are actually joining in … it’s amazing.”
Nonnemacher and her family pitch in, too. They’re responsible for cleaning up one of the campsites — from emptying the latrines to removing debris from the fire pits.
“Just getting out there … you experience the commitment to doing it,” she said. “You can imagine if there wasn’t somebody out there doing that work.”
Even among other hiking trials, Superior Hiking Trail is special, Nonnemacher said.
Access points every five to 10 miles mean hikers can tailor their journeys to their abilities and schedules. Some routes follow a loop, letting hikers circle back to where they parked their cars.
“There are many people who want to try and just hike the whole trail in bits and pieces,” said Nonnemacher, who can be counted among that group. She doesn’t backpack or camp when she hikes, but she sometimes makes day trips with her daughters.
“They scamper through pretty well,” she said about the girls, ages 11 and 9. “I’m trying to see as much of the trail as I can. I’m chipping away at it.
“There are many points where you go through the woods. There are points where you come out into rock outcroppings looking out over Lake Superior. Some areas you look at the backcountry. As a newcomer, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh. This is fabulous.’ ”
The Superior Hiking Trail is free to use and doesn’t require registration, which Nonnemacher notes as advantages over other trails. Hikers flock to the trail from the corners of the world, she said — including Switzerland, Germany and Japan.
It can be accessed locally at a trailhead on Lake County Road 301 near Betty’s Pies, as well as a trailhead on Reeves Road in Two Harbors.
“You see so many cars go by, and everybody has boats and canoes and kayaks and bikes — all this gear that they’re taking along for their adventure,” Nonnemacher said.
One of the perks of the trail, she said, is that travelers can pack a little lighter.
“You just need to have a good pair of shoes,” she said.