Hiking the SHT: Gooseberry Falls to Castle Danger

The Superior Hiking Trail suits all kinds of hikers. Day hikers, thru-hikers and backpackers can find a section of the trail that fits what they’re after.

The trail has been ranked among the best in the United States. There are dozens of sections that allow flexibility for trips both long and short. It stretches for over 300 miles from south of Duluth, Minn., to the Canadian border.

The landscape changes the farther you go, making wild transitions. At some points, you could be hiking to the top of great bluffs. At others, you’re winding along the trail next to the river at the edge of the forest.

I decided to take on a 9-mile section of the trail with a buddy of mine. Our plan was to start at Gooseberry Falls State Park and hike down to Castle Danger. Typically, it seems like people go from Castle Danger to Gooseberry Falls. For us, the Superior Hiking Trail shuttle service schedule worked better to do the opposite.

The shuttle service picks up hikers at various points of the trail. There are trailheads every five to 10 miles, making it fairly easy to refuel or grab a quick ride back to the car. For two people, the shuttle cost $30 to go from Castle Danger back to Gooseberry Falls State Park.

Tip: Make a reservation in advance to guarantee a spot. The trail has seen increased traffic over the years, which can make space on the shuttle limited. 

We got to the park a little later than expected Friday afternoon, but the visitor center stays open until about 7 p.m. seasonally. If you think you’ll be later, call ahead.

After checking in at the visitor center, we drove down to the campground parking lot where we left the car for a weekend in the woods.

From the lot, you follow a short trail that intersects with the Superior Hiking Trail. This short bit of trail has a lot to offer in itself. You hike past points that overlook Lake Superior, the Gooseberry Falls and more.

If that’s all you did, it would still be a good trip.

Reaching the trail, we hiked on toward our first site. It’s just outside Gooseberry Falls State Park, past a small wooden shelter that sits near the border of the park.

We followed the blue blazes that showed our way to the first campsite near the Gooseberry River. It was dark before we reached the site, having taken our time getting there. It wasn’t a big issue, though, since the sites are well marked with wooden signs showing carved blue lettering.

Wooden signs with blue writing mark the Superior Hiking Trail

This section of the trail has five campsites. They all offer enough room for multiple tents. Hikers must share the sites too.

It’s nice to meet other folks on the trail. Sometimes hikers have good ideas or stories. Other times, they offer a good forewarning on trail conditions. Either way, it’s about making room for everybody.

The next morning, we made coffee and breakfast before heading out. The sky was turning gray quickly. Rain was in the forecast, which meant the trail would get nice a muddy — really muddy.

Saturday, it rained on and off throughout the day. That was manageable, but it did leave a few points on the trail made your boots soggy.

That night, however, it poured. The forecast didn’t call for thunderstorms, but they came through anyways.

We reached the last campsite on the trail by Saturday afternoon. It sits about a mile and a half from Castle Danger in a woody area on the other side of Mike’s Rock. (We asked many people, and we’re not totally sure why it’s called Mike’s Rock.)

The stormed passed quickly, though, and the weather calmed later in the night.

The mile between the last campsite on the trail and Castle Danger takes you up and over bluffs. The views are incredible.

You climb steep rocky steps. Moss grows over the boulders, blanketing the ground. Trees mix together, creating a great wave of green until reaching Lake Superior.

Sunday morning when we were hiking out, we stopped on top of one of the bluffs. A clearing in the trees lets you look out over the forest and the great lake. The entire scene is taken up by what hikers flock to the trail for.

When you go up, you must come down. Hiking out was challenging.  The rocks were slippery. The steps are prominent, but there are some angled downward.

A nice set of trekking poles or a walking stick can help you keep an extra point on the ground for stability. Watch your step and go slow if it’s wet.

Otherwise, enjoy the hike.