Trail Running on the Superior Hiking Trail
So you already love hiking on the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT). You know your favorite section and how long it takes for you to hike it start to finish. Have you ever thought what it might be like to see all of the coolest parts on that hike in a shorter amount of time? Or thought about linking up multiple sections in the time it takes to do just one? Well trail running might be the answer.
What do I need?
In addition to the normal day hike essentials there are a few other must-haves when you head out for a trail run on the SHT.
- Water bottle – even in the north woods it can get hot, especially when combined with humidity. Having water out on the trail is an absolute necessity for trail runners.
- Water treatment – iodine tablets or chlorine drops are light weight and keep you from having to ration your water throughout the run. With all of the water sources available treat yourself to as much water as you can consume!
- Electrolyte replacement – to go along with your water make sure to bring some sort of electrolyte replacement such as salt tabs, drink mix, or chews. This will keep cramps at bay and your brain functioning soundly. Good decision-making skills are important while trail running.
- Nutrition – running on the SHT is legendary for the sheer number of steep, quick uphills and downhills. If you aren’t used to it, or even if you are, it can be hard to internalize just how many calories you will burn during your adventure. Bringing food in the form of trail mix, energy bars, or tacos can provide the difference between an enjoyable frolic in the forest and a stomach-growling slog back to the car.
- Headlamp – you never know what is going to happen out there. Carrying a headlamp gives you cheap insurance for any unexpected happenings.
- Lightweight windbreaker – in the northwoods it gets cold quick, especially when you are sweating from trail running. Having a lightweight windbreaker to put on when you stop for a snack, treat water, or stop to check out a moose eating something.
- Small pack – you’ll need something to hold all of the above items, right? There are an infinite number of options out there but having a small pack to carry your stuff keeps your hands free to catch yourself in case you trip.
Where are you going to run?
The Superior Hiking Trail is laid out in sections of 3-11 miles with a trailhead parking lot on each end of the section.
Since the SHT is an end-to-end trail, here some good options for planning your run:
- Out and Back – Start at any trailhead and do half the amount of miles you want to run and then turn around and run back to your car.
- Run with a Friend and Use Two Cars – Drive both cars to your end point, leave one car, drive to your start point, do your run, and then take the car at the end point to pick up the other car. Remember to place all valuables out of sight, lock your car, and don’t forget your keys!
- Use Public Transportation in the City of Duluth – Look for nearby Duluth Transit Authority Bus stops or make arrangements with a local taxi service for pick up or drop-off at your selected trailhead.
- Catch a Shuttle on the North Shore – The Superior Shuttle runs on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from mid-May to mid-October. The Shuttle starts at the Castle Danger Trailhead north of Two Harbors in the morning, and then goes north stopping at trailheads – some on a regular basis and some on a reservation-only basis – to Pincushion Mountain Trailhead in Grand Marais. Visit SuperiorShuttle.com for more information or to book a reservation. You can find other shuttle services listed on our Trail Services page. For a shuttle, it’s easiest to park at the end point of your hike, take the Shuttle to your start point, and then run back to your car.
- Make a Loop – There are several loops on the Superior Hiking Trail that are 2-8 miles in length where you leave from one trailhead parking lot and return to the same parking lot.
- Take a Bike – If you enjoy a little biking on the back roads there are some sections where it’s possible to leave your bicycle at your end point, drive your car to your start point, do the hike, and then ride your bicycle back to your car.
Use the Trail Sections section of this website to research trail sections and find trailhead parking areas.
If you plan to run the trail often you may want to purchase the “Guide to the Superior Hiking Trail.” This useful guide has a mile-by-mile description of the trail with information about the trail route as well as scenic features along the trail.
Pocket maps of the trail are available as a six map set. (Maps may be purchased individually only in our retail store.) These maps show topography and include an elevation profile that will be useful in planning your route.
You can purchase the guide book and map set online, at the SHTA retail store in Two Harbors, or in select parks and businesses.
How do I navigate the trail?
- Trailhead signs give basic mileage information including distances to campsites and the next trailhead.
- The entire trail is marked with blue paint blazes or SHT logo signs. In areas that are blazed a turn in the trail is marked by two blue paint blazes with the higher blaze indicating the direction the trail turns. White paint blazes mark spur trails to and from the main SHT or to overlooks. If you pay attention to the blazes and signs you should have no difficulty staying on the trail.
- The trail goes across over 60 parcels of private land, and many of these properties are not marked as private land. Respect private landowners’ rights by staying on the trail.
- Eat a lot. When you’re running nutrition doesn’t sound good much of the time. Doesn’t matter. Take care of yourself and eat on a regular schedule to avoid the dreaded bonk. This is arguably as important as hydration in a medium length (2-4 hour) run.
- Walk the steep hills. Unless you’re very strong or out for a sixty minutes or less, conserve your energy when you hit the steep parts. You’ll ultimately make better time.
- Don’t be a hero on the down hills. Lots of rocks and sizable roots out there.
- Music is up to you. Some people really like it and nature is nice too. Good energizer when you’re getting tired.
- Don’t forget to look around. Sometimes the blending of an intense workout and nature cause you to keep your head down. Make sure you to pick it up once in a while.
- Always carry a map of your route with you. Make sure to pay attention as you move along so if you become confused you know where you last were on the map. Even experienced trail users can get confused.
- Most trailhead parking lots have no facilities. Runners are encouraged to use the backcountry latrines found at designated campsites. If you do need to relieve yourself, move away from water, campsites, and trails. To deposit human waste, dig a hole 3-6 inches deep. Cover and disguise the hole when finished. Pack out toilet paper and sanitary products.
Think you’ve got it figured out?
Why not try a race on the SHT? The rugged nature of the trail makes it the perfect proving ground for trail runners. Check out the following races on the SHT to satisfy your competitive side:
- Spring Superior Trail Races (25k and 50k)
- Voyageur (50 mile)
- Fall Superior Trail Races (50 mile and 100 mile)
- Wild Duluth (50k and 100k)