Lake Superior has the largest surface area of any freshwater lake on our planet, containing 10% of all the fresh water on earth. The lake's 32,000 square mile surface area stretches across the border between Canada and the U.S. Two countries, three states, one province and many First Nations surround Superior's magnificent shoreline.
The Minnesota portion of the Lake Superior State Water Trail extends from the St. Louis Bay in Duluth to the Pigeon River on the Canadian border, a distance of approximately 150 miles. Cook, Lake and St. Louis counties all have lake shoreline.
Water trail segments and maps
Get maps and more information for the five paddling segments of Lake Superior:
- Boy Scout Landing to Knife River
- Knife River to Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
- Split Rock Lighthouse State Park to Schroeder
- Schroeder to Grand Marais
- Grand Marais to Pigeon Point
The Lake Superior State 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.
Shipwrecks are tragic reminders of Lake Superior's power, something that no paddler should underestimate. Lake cliffs can be serious hazards to the unwary. Calm summer waters can change to life-threatening conditions in minutes, and cliff areas can prevent you from seeking safety on shore.
About 1.1 billion years ago volcanoes spewed fiery lava, which cooled and built up in thick layers, forming the bedrock along most of the North Shore. Much later, when glaciers moved down from the north, they scraped and dislodged the rock. As the melting glacier retreated, it left deposits of rock and soil on top of the scoured bedrock. Between the many glacial advances, streams on the land gradually eroded through these deposits and into the bedrock. As the surrounding volcanic rock was worn away by erosion or the scouring action of glaciers, agates were released from the lava.
Lake Superior agates are believed to be among the oldest in the world. Visitors like to search for them, and anyone can appreciate the remarkable colors and intricate patterns of the wave-polished stones. Collectors value rocks for their size and unusual markings. A rock and mineral show is a good place to see many different agates.
Fish and wildlife
Eating fish from a Minnesota river or lake? Read the MN Department of Health's fish consumption advisory.
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. You may catch trout -- usually small rainbows with a few brook trout -- by fly fishing the lower reaches of small tributaries to the lake.
On shore, animals such as moose, deer, bear and wolves live in the forests of fir, cedar, spruce, and northern hardwoods.
Traditionally the region has been home to the Dakota, and later the Ojibwe Indians. 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. Grand Portage, near the northernmost point of the water trail, was a major trading center for the fur trade.
Daniel Greysolon, Sieur du Lhut – Duluth's namesake – explored the Saint Louis River in 1679. The establishment of large numbers of towns in the region did not occur until the 1850s, when first iron ore mining and then timber harvesting brought inhabitants to the area. By 1870 Duluth was the fastest growing city in the country, but the stock market crash of 1873 nearly wiped it from the map. Duluth remained a strong industrial port in the first half of the 20th century and then transitioned from a natural-resource-extraction-focused economy to a tourism-focused economy the latter half of the century, after a decline in the production of high grade iron ore.
Hospitality and tourism continue to be a major part of the economy along the North Shore, which is a major tourist destination for hikers, paddlers, campers, cyclists, off-road vehicle enthusiasts and more.
Established in 1993 as a state water trail, Lake Superior is the largest of the Great Lakes, which is the meaning behind its name. The name Lake Superior first appears in 1673. Earlier names like Grand Lac (French) and Kitchigumi (Ojibwe) also refer to the vast size of the lake.
Protect the lake
Your experience on the lake depends on a healthy environment. As you explore the beauty of this waterway, also do your best to protect it.
Protect your waters
Before launching...before leaving
- Clean off aquatic plants and animals.
- Drain all water away from the landing.
- Dispose of unwanted bait in the trash.
- Learn more about aquatic invasive species and their prevention.
The Minnesota buffer law establishes new vegetation buffers along rivers, streams and ditches to help filter out chemicals and sediment before they reach waterways.