Lake Superior State Water Trail

Lake Superior Water Trail

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Trip planning and safety | Lake Superior boating guide (PDF)

Kettle River location mapLake 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

Segment 1 - Boy Scout Landing to Knife River

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About this segment

Beginning at Minnesota Point, this water trail segment heads northeast past low cliffs, stately mansions and cobblestone beaches. It also encompasses the estuary of the St. Louis River where the world's longest freshwater sandspit protects undeveloped backwaters and industrial waterfront from Lake Superior waves. You'll find a maze of bays that offer paddling options when the lake has less than ideal conditions.

Harbor safety

  • The Duluth/Superior Harbor is the largest freshwater port with both commercial and recreation vessels sharing the water. Large commercial vessels deserve respect. These ships need a long distance to stop, produce a large wake and often can't see paddle craft. 
  • Stay near the shore and well away from commercial vessels. Do not paddle in fog or other poor weather.
  • Outgoing currents through the entrances of the Duluth-Superior Harbor can clash with incoming waves to create chaotic paddling conditions. Seek instruction and practice kayak skills before paddling from the harbor to Lake Superior. Be certain your boat has adequate bow and stern flotation and a pump for emptying a flooded boat.
  • Get lake conditions and safety reports: paddlesafetwinports.org.

Local contacts

DNR Two Harbors Area Office, 1568 Highway 2, Two Harbors, MN
218-834-1420

Nearest medical facility

St. Luke's Hospital, 915 East First St., Duluth
Tel. 218-249-5616

St. Mary's Medical Center, 407 East Third St., Duluth
218-786-4000

Segment 2 - Knife River to Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

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About this segment

This water trail segment begins at small resort communities near Two Harbors and continues northeast where high cliffs dominate the shoreline. There are areas with limited public access points, especially between Stewart River and Castle Danger, so be sure to plan ahead.

Explore on shore

Gooseberry Falls State Park
Pull onto shore at water trail mile 51 near the Gooseberry River to access park trails, picnic tables, restrooms, water and a paddle-in campsite (first-come, first-served). 

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
Get a glimpse of this iconic lighthouse from the water at water trail mile 57.7 before heading onto shore for hiking trails with closer views. Also enjoy park picnic tables, restrooms and water. 

Local contacts

DNR Two Harbors Area Office, 1568 Highway 2, Two Harbors, MN
218-834-1420

Gooseberry Falls State Park, 3206 Highway 61 East, Two Harbors, MN
218-595-7100

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, 3755 Split Rock Lighthouse Road, Two Harbors, MN
218-595-7625

Nearest medical facility

Lake View Hospital, 325 Eleventh Ave., Two Harbors
218-834-7300

Segment 3 - Split Rock Lighthouse State Park to Schroeder

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About this segment

Paddle past tall cliffs, low basalt rock outcrops, and rocky beaches on this segment of the water trail. There are areas with no public access, particularly between Kennedy Landing and Sugarloaf Point. Be sure to plan ahead with an eye on the weather and personal needs.

Explore on shore

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
Get a glimpse of this iconic lighthouse from the water at water trail mile 57.7 before heading onto shore for hiking trails with closer views. Also enjoy park picnic tables, restrooms and water.

Tettegouche State Park
Pull onto shore at water trail mile 72.5 near the Baptism River to access park trails, picnic tables and vehicle parking. 

Local contacts

DNR Two Harbors Area Office, 1568 Highway 2, Two Harbors, MN
218-834-1420

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, 3755 Split Rock Lighthouse Road, Two Harbors, MN
218-595-7625

Tettegouche State Park, 5702 Highway 61, Silver Bay, MN
218-353-8800

Nearest medical facility

Lake View Hospital, 325 Eleventh Ave., Two Harbors
218-834-7300

North Shore Health, 515 5th Ave. West, Grand Marais, MN
218-387-3040

Segment 4 - Schroeder to Grand Marais

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About this segment

Paddle past basalt rock outcrops, rocky beaches and distant views of the Sawtooth Mountains along this segment of the water trail. There are areas with no public access, particularly near Tofte and Lutsen. Be sure to plan ahead with an eye on the weather and personal needs.

Explore on shore

Temperance River State Park
Beach your kayak near the mouth of the Temperance River at water trail mile 95.2 and stretch your legs on park trails. You'll also find vehicle parking and a picnic areas just a short walk from the lake.

Cascade River State Park
Pull onto shore near the Baptism River at water trail mile 115.4 to access park trails, picnic tables and vehicle parking.

Local contacts

DNR Two Harbors Area Office, 1568 Highway 2, Two Harbors, MN
218-834-1420

Temperance River State Park, 7620 West Highway 61, Schroeder, MN
218-663-3100

Cascade River State Park, 3481 West Highway 61, Lutsen, MN
218-387-6000

Nearest medical facility

North Shore Health, 515 5th Ave. West, Grand Marais, MN
218-387-3040

Segment 5 - Grand Marais to Pigeon Point

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About this segment

This water trail segment passes cobble and sand beaches and low basalt rock outcrops. Much of the segment is within the Grand Portage Indian Reservation and has limited public access points. Plan ahead with an eye on the weather and personal needs. 

The first nation people of the Grand Portage Reservation have a rich natural and cultural history. Respect the privacy of the Reservation Lands and visit the Grand Portage National Monument area to learn more. Use of all reservation land needs prior authorization by its Trust Lands and Natural Resources Office at 218-475-2415. In order to cross the border into Canada or the U.S., you will need to notify the appropriate customs office for proper entry protocol.

Explore on shore

Judge C.R. Magney State Park
Pull onto shore at water trail mile 140.4 near the Brule River, or paddle upstream if the water is high enough, and you'll find a short trail leading into the state park. From there, enjoy picnic tables along the river or hike further on park trails. If you have an hour or two, you could hike the steep Devil's Kettle Trail to see the river plunge into an impressive pothole. 

Local contacts

DNR Two Harbors Area Office, 1568 Highway 2, Two Harbors, MN
218-834-1420

Judge C.R. Magney State Park, 4051 East Highway 61, Grand Marais, MN
218-387-6300

Nearest medical facility

North Shore Health, 515 5th Ave. West, Grand Marais, MN
218-387-3040

Water characteristics

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.

Trip planning and safety

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.

Landscape

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.

History

Prior to European settlement, the prevalent Native American nations in this region were the Dakota and 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. 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. Permanent settlement 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.

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

Buffer protection

The Minnesota buffer law establishes new vegetation buffers along rivers, streams and ditches to help filter out chemicals and sediment before they reach waterways.