The Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) was already nearing its 10th birthday when I discovered it in 1995. At the time, a person could often hike all day without seeing more than a handful of other people, and it was relatively easy to find a vacant campsite among the approximately 90 sites scattered every few miles along the trail.
But as interest in backpacking has grown, and the popularity of the SHT has increased, finding solitude is not as easy. An empty campsite is becoming an endangered species. Fortunately, though, what a lot of newer (and some older) backpackers seem to want these days is an extension of what they are building online with social networks — a community. Today, many backpackers prefer sharing a campsite with other parties. It’s an opportunity to make new friends, bond, and compare notes.
On the SHT, campsites are required to be shared by parties. And multigroup sites cater to larger groups. You’ll find little consternation on Facebook SHT group pages, but when you do, it is usually a discussion about frustration with backpackers who don’t welcome others who want to share a site.
What you won’t find is much talk about bad experiences in shared sites. By and large, backpackers are laid-back and respectful. One post in the Facebook trail group last year described a large group of college kids taking up a small site. “It’s where I had to camp, but that’s fine,” read one post. “It’s the way it goes. The trail has gotten much more crowded, so if I care about solitude I know better.”
Gayle Coyer, executive director of the Superior Hiking Trail Association, said despite the increased use of the trail, there are still areas where it’s common not to see many people. The Duluth-to-Two Harbors section is remote and beautiful. Coyer said solitude-seekers should check out the sections closest to the Canadian border, or those sites that are not close to trailheads. They could also avoid backpacking during the most popular times of the year, such as fall color season.