Northern Superior Uplands

The information and resources on this webpage are designed to help woodland landowners in northeast Minnesota. The Northern Superior Uplands (NSU) area spans all or parts of Carlton, Cook, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake, and St. Louis counties.

Woodlands in this area

This area is home to thousands of lakes, vast stretches of northern forest, lush wetlands, diverse wildlife, unique plants, and the Minnesota's Lake Superior coastline.

Area covered by handbook

Area covered by handbook

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Northeast Minnesota is home to a thousands of wildlife species. Learning about the animals that live in your woods is a great way to connect to the habitat. Get to know your critters and keep on the lookout when you walk your property. Minnesota has about 350 species in greatest conservation need that are either rare, declining, or threatened. Examples in your area include Canada lynx, spruce grouse, Connecticut warblers, great grey owls, boreal owls, northern goshawk, trumpeter swans, and northern brook lampreys.

Minnesota Biological Survey - collects data on rare plants and animals, native plant communities, and landscapes. Use it to find out about species in your county.
Pollinators - learn about what you can do to help these important insects and birds.


The list of plants for this area is exhausting. From small flowers, to ferns, to towering pines, naming them all is impossible! Getting familiar with the common native trees in your area is a great way to start. Find the right tree for your property.
Wood lot Tree Planting and Care - learn about native landscaping, what trees to plant, where to find native tree stock, and what to know before you plant.

Native Plant Communities

To more easily keep track of all the plants, ecologists use native plant communities, which are groups of native plants that interact with each other and with their environment. These groups of native plant species form recognizable units, such as oak savannas, pine forests, or marshes, that tend to repeat over space and time. The native plant communities tie into the ecological classification system that describes a given landscape area of the state. Northeast Minnesota is located in the Laurentian Mixed Forest and there are a wide variety of native plant communities found within the Northern Superior Uplands section. Several local types of forested native plant communities are highlighted below.

Northeast Minnesota Native Plant Community Spotlights:

Northern Mesic Mixed Forest
Northern Dry-Mesic Mixed Woodland
Northern Mesic Hardwood Forest

Habitat Spotlight:

Northern White-Cedar Forests

Invasive species

Invasive species are plants, animals, and insects that are not native to Minnesota and cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health. There are many things you can do to reduce invasive species on your land.

Intruder Alert!
Common Tansy

Geology and landscape

The Northern Superior Uplands section encompasses approximately 6 million acres, which largely coincides with the extent of the Canadian Shield in Minnesota. This area is characterized by glacially scoured bedrock terrain with numerous lakes and thin and discontinuous deposits of coarse loamy till. The section has high relief, reflecting the rugged topography of the underlying bedrock, and features the highest point in Minnesota at Eagle Mountain, topping out at 2,301 feet.

This area receives more of its precipitation as snow than any section in the state. It also has the longest period of snow cover and the shortest growing season.

The upland vegetation is remarkably uniform, consisting mostly of fire-dependent forests and woodlands. Forests with red and white pine were widespread in the past, mixed with aspen, paper birch, spruce, and balsam fir. Much of the pine was cut in the late 1800s and early 1900s, leaving forests dominated mostly by aspen and paper birch. Jack pine forests are present on droughty ridges and bedrock exposures, as well as on local sandy outwash deposits. The highlands along Lake Superior have a local climate moderated by the lake that favors forests dominated by sugar maple with some white pine, yellow birch, and white cedar. Peatlands and wet forests are present throughout the area as inclusions within broader upland forest areas. Sparsely vegetated cliffs and bedrock outcrops are common in the rugged terrain along Lake Superior and in the border lakes region of the northern part of the section.

Logging, forest management, tourism, recreation, and mining are important industries in this area. There are extensive areas of forested public land that are managed for wood products and recreation. Due to the wide-ranging forested landscape, this area produces the cleanest drinking water in the state.

Ecological Classification System

While northeast Minnesota is in the coniferous forest biome (or Laurentian Mixed Forest), we use the Ecological Classification System (ECS) to focus landscape information on a more local level. The ECS divides the landscape into progressively smaller areas based on similarities and differences in climate, geology, natural features, and plants. This webpage focuses on Northern Superior Uplands section, which both contain a combination of deciduous and coniferous trees.

Landscape Management Plans

A detailed plan created by the DNR for the Northern Superior Uplands section helps land managers put their land in context with state land management goals for the area. In addition, the Minnesota Forest Resources Council has created a Northeast Landscape Plan to guide any landowners toward common management goals for sustainable forests, clean water, productive forests, and healthy wildlife habitat.


A watershed is the total area of land surrounding a body of water (such as a lake, river, or stream) that drains water into that body. Watersheds can be small or large. Small watersheds surrounding creeks and streams join to create larger watersheds surrounding major rivers. Northeast Minnesota is located along a great divide in North American water flow. Depending on your land's exact location, your actions can affect the quality of water that will flow either into the Great Lakes and ultimately the Gulf of St. Lawrence by way of the St. Louis River, into Hudson Bay by way of the Rainy River, or into the Gulf of Mexico by way of the Mississippi River.
What watersheds are and why they are important
Learn more about your watershed


CP-PMOP book cover

Woodlands of Minnesota Handbook - is both a reference and workbook. It contains information on the past and present condition of land in the regions, insight into some of the biggest challenges woodland owners face here, and tips for making and accomplishing goals for your woods.


Workbook only

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