Someday the Gitchi-Gami State Trail might extend 89 miles along Minnesota’s North Shore from Two Harbors to Grand Marais — a cyclist’s answer to the 310-mile Superior Hiking Trail.
Until that utopian vision comes to pass, the paved bike trail exists in only a few short segments. The highlight so far may be the 7 or 8 miles between two iconic Minnesota destinations: Split Rock Lighthouse and Gooseberry Falls State Park. It makes for a perfect fall day trip.
After a weekend of tooling around the Iron Range and Superior National Forest, I drove down Hwy. 1 to the North Shore on the way home. The stretch of the Gitchi-Gami just south of Beaver Bay was not as scenic, hewing closely to Hwy. 61.
But then I stopped at Split Rock Lighthouse, parked for free and did the 16-mile ride to Gooseberry and back on the bike trail.
You could make the round trip in a couple of hours, but with both parks to explore, and various scenic overlooks along the trail — including Iona’s Beach Natural Area — you might want to take the whole afternoon. There are also several Lake Superior vistas to see from your saddle, especially heading north.
This being the ragged North Shore, the trail can get twisty and hilly — especially near Split Rock — so let’s call the ride “slightly” difficult. A current detour of the Superior Hiking Trail also uses this stretch of the Gitchi-Gami.
Bonus: Admission to Gooseberry is free on a bike (the DNR will be happy to take your donation), and at a low-traffic hour I was able to gently ride the foot trails to the various viewing points for the upper and lower falls and the lake. It’s hard to get a good look at the 1909 lighthouse, however, without paying the $10 admission (worth it, of course).
No bike rack? J. Gregers Inn on Hwy. 61, just north of Gooseberry, was advertising bike rentals (call 1-218-226-4614 to confirm).
Simon Peter Groebner is the editor for Midwest Traveler stories in Travel and for special sections in the Star Tribune. Find him on Instagram: @simonpeter6.