July–August 2024

Bucket List

Bike the Gitchi-Gami State Trail

Holly Scherer


My husband and I sat on the smooth pink stones that form Iona’s Beach on Lake Superior’s North Shore. “Do you want to check out that bridge?” I asked, pointing to a span that carries bicyclists and pedestrians over the edge of the lake on the Gitchi-Gami State Trail—and would soon carry us as we continued north on our bikes. “I was thinking the same,” he said with a smile. Before we resumed our explorations, we took a moment to relax to the sound of the lake lapping against the crescent bay while soaking in the warm sun on that cool summer day.

This was the first of many unforgettable rides on the Gitchi-Gami. Although we’d explored much of the North Shore, experiencing it from our bikes made it feel like the first time. We spent most of the day riding about 40 miles, stopping at our favorite sights and breathtaking overlooks that are accessible only from the trail.

I now consider the Gitchi-Gami to be the most beautiful paved trail in Minnesota. Hugging the North Shore, it traverses rugged terrain and showcases dramatic cliffs, majestic waterfalls, rocky shorelines, and unique beaches.

The trail is a work in progress that consists of four segments totaling 33 miles. When complete, the trail will stretch 86 miles from Two Harbors to Grand Marais. The longest segment is 18 miles and runs from Gooseberry Falls State Park to Silver Bay. Crossing two waterfalls, several beaches—including Iona’s—and views of Split Rock Lighthouse, this stretch is spectacular.

The next long segment begins in Schroeder and ends at Ski Hill Road, 12 miles to the north, with an extension opening soon. This segment also passes beaches and waterfalls but runs a bit more inland. The terrain is flatter, with fewer jaw-dropping vistas, and it’s a wonderful route to ride on a windy day. In Tofte, a short gap in the trail diverts riders to the shoulder of Highway 61 for one-third of a mile.

The Gitchi-Gami State Trail is a must-see for any cyclist visiting Minnesota’s North Shore. The awe-inspiring views and fresh Lake Superior air will beckon you to ride it again and again.

Plan Your Ride

Find up-to-date maps as well as information on trail segments, parking, and services by visiting mndnr.gov/gitchigami.

  • Unlike many of Minnesota’s state trails, the Gitchi-Gami is more challenging with its rolling terrain, especially through Split Rock Lighthouse State Park.
  • Keep in mind that the weather along the big lake has a mind of its own—sometimes showing off three seasons in a single day. Pack layers and rain gear to make your time on the trail more enjoyable.
  • The Gitchi-Gami passes through three state parks—Gooseberry Falls, Split Rock Lighthouse, and Temperance River—all of which have water, restrooms, and bike tune-up stations.
  • You can book campsites up to 120 days in advance at these parks as well as four additional state park campgrounds along the North Shore. 

Must-See Sights

  • Gooseberry Falls State Park: Check out the historic Lakeview Shelter, the CCC Picnic Area, and Gooseberry Falls.
  • Iona’s Beach Scientific and Natural Area: Leave bikes at rack and follow the trail to the beach.
  • Split Rock Lighthouse State Park: Leave bikes at trail center and follow the trail to the lake for views of Pebble Beach, Ellingson Island, and Split Rock Lighthouse.
  • Temperance River State Park: View the Temperance River Gorge from the trail.
  • Ray Berglund State Wayside: Leave bikes and take the short trail to the lakeview picnic area and the Onion River.