Split Rock River Loop
There is an incredible amount of hiking along Highway 61 along the North Shore of Lake Superior. Specifically, the Superior Hiking Trail has many day hiking options if you’re willing to scout them out.
The Split Rock River Loop is one of the more popular tourist day hikes. This is a 4.3 mile loop. Most of the hike is right along the Split Rock River. The hike is moderately difficult, lots of climbing and descending, roots, staircases, and steep ledges. But the views are spectacular and there is something new around each bend.
During the first half of the loop the trail stays close to the river, giving great views of rapids and falls. While the trail is busy, the noise of the river also gives the illusion of being more secluded, covering up the sounds of the freeway and noisy hikers.
The route is pretty self-explanatory so we didn’t bring a map, however, it is difficult to tell when you make the actually “loop” and are heading back towards the highway. There were a few instances we thought we were heading back only to notice we were still walking against the current of the river. You will know when you start heading back when you encounter a modern, wooden bridge that has a sign that indicates only one hiker should walk across at a time.
A mile or so after the bridge, the trail veered away from the river and we began to ascend. While it was hard work, particularly since it was at the end of the hike, the view was incredible. We stopped next to a small shelter and enjoyed the view, realizing we still had quite a way to work our way back to the car…since we could see the parking lot as a tiny pinprick in the distance.
There are various signs along the trail letting you know where campsites along the Superior Hiking Trail are located and notifying you of how many miles left to a certain destination. Over halfway through the hike you will enter Split Rock River State Park. Eventually the trail splits and you can continue further into Split Rock State Park or you can turn right and head back down a boarded path to a snowmobile trail towards Highway 61 and the parking lot. The snowmobile trail is wider and has an easy descent back to the road.
One thing to note is that the trail literally spits you out onto 61. At first we thought we must have taken a wrong turn. The trail just ends. We could see where other hikers had come out the same way and started a makeshift trail, however it was sloppy and wet and eventually you are walking down a narrow trail with grass up to your hips. We opted to walk along side of the road because at this point we were hot and exhausted.
There are a few things to plan for since four miles looks a lot different when you’re hopping over roots and rocks and climbing steep hills. Make sure to wear waterproof hiking boots because even when it’s completely dry out (like it was for us!) some of the trail was still ankle deep in mud and muck! Pack in water and a trail snack for some energy (and a camera for the wonderful glimpses of the falls!). Lastly, don’t overdress! It’s easy to wear too many layers when the temperature by the lake seems so cool. Once you get up in the woods and away from Lake Superior and the highway, the temperature will be warmer and you’ll want to be cool and comfortable as you hike.
Overall this was a wonderful, moderately difficult hike. If you’re in the Two Harbors or Castle Danger area try out the Split Rock River Loop, especially on a weekday when it won’t be so busy. The experience is well worth it.