More about the Lake Superior State Water Trail: Caribou River to Grand Marais

Water Characteristics

The Lake Superior Water Trail offers paddlers a chance to explore the largest freshwater lake on earth. Views of sheer cliff faces, sea caves, and some of the oldest rock formations on earth will reward those who venture onto this great lake.

Lake Superior’s rocky shoreline is beautiful, but often treacherous. Canoes are not recommended. Sea kayaks are better suited to these unprotected and often windswept waters. Be sure to read safety information specific to Lake Superior including the Lake Superior Water Trail Safety Guide, Safety Information webpage, and Lake Superior Boating Guide, and know where small craft harbors and protected areas are located. More specific information about this section of the Water Trail can be found on the Lake Superior Water Trail Map.

Lake SuperiorLandscape

This section of the Water Trail rewards paddlers with many interesting geological formations embedded in the low basaltic shoreline outcroppings, views of small villages from a largely bygone commercial fishing era, broad vistas of the remnant peaks of the Sawtooth Range, and a waterfall at the mouth of the Fall River. Views of forested outcrops, sheer cliffs, and small caves can also be found in this area. Vegetation along the shoreline and atop the rocky cliffs includes aspen, birch, white cedar, white pine, and red pine forests. Wonderful paddling, camping, and launching opportunities exist at Grand Marais where the harbor is protected by the Corps of Engineers breakwall and navigation lights. Picturesque rock outcropping and rugged shorelines await paddles who explore the area. 

Fish and Wildlife

Lake trout, the most prevalent game fish, retreat to very deep water during the summer, when most paddlers are on the lake. Your best chance for success comes in spring and fall, when lake trout occupy shallower water near shore. Troll a spoon or deep-diving plug as you paddle. You might also hook steelhead (migratory rainbow trout), which ascend tributary streams in the spring, or pink and chinook salmon, which appears at stream mouths in fall. A few brown trout inhabit the lake and may lurk at river mouths throughout the year. You may catch trout (usually small rainbows with a few brook trout by fly) by fly-fishing the lower reaches of small tributaries to the lake. The trails in the parks are carved through a forest of fir, cedar, spruce, and northern hardwoods home to a variety of animals such as moose, deer, bear, and wolves.

Cultural Information

Prior to European settlement, the prevalent Native American nations in this region were the Dakota and the Ojibwa. French fur trading posts were established from Duluth to Grand Portage in the mid-1600s after the depletion of the beaver population in the Saint Lawrence River in the early 1600s. Permanent settlement in the region did not occur until the 1850s when first iron ore mining then timber harvesting brought inhabitants to the area. The hospitality and tourism industry has a long past in this region and continues to be a major part of the economy.

Nearby Recreational Opportunities

Paddling is only one of many recreational activities that can be found along the North Shore of Lake Superior. State parks in the vicinity of the Water Trail include Temperance River State Park and Cascade River State Park. Activities in these parks include hiking, camping, rock climbing, and fishing.

State trails in the area include the C. J. Ramstad/North Shore State Trail and Gitchi-Gami State Trail. The C. J. Ramstad/North Shore State Trail is a 146 mile natural surface trail from Duluth to Grand Marais. Primarily used by snowmobiles in winter, it traverses St. Louis, Lake and Cook counties in northeastern Minnesota. The trail winds its way through the forests and across many river and trout streams along the outer bluffs that overlook Lake Superior, providing access to some of the most rugged and beautiful scenery in Minnesota. When complete, the Gitchi-Gami State Trail will be an 86 mile non-motorized, paved trail connecting Two Harbors to Grand Marais along the North Shore of Lake Superior.

The Superior Hiking Trail, also in the area, is a 296 miles footpath that begins in Duluth and follows the ridgeline above Lake Superior up to the Canadian Border. The trail is ideal for both day hikes and backpacking. For detailed information and trail segment maps check the SHTA website.