December 10, 2023

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North Country Trail: Minnesota Arrowhead | GO

Since 2019, the northeast corner of Minnesota, shaped like and known as “the arrowhead,” has officially been a part of the North Country Trail. It had been unofficially recognized as the best viable route since 2000, but Congressional approval for such a huge change from the original plan came slowly.

The north and eastern legs of the arrowhead are some of the most rugged hiking on the North Country Trail. Three pre-existing trails agreed to become parts of the NCT. These are the Kekekabic Trail (the Kek), the Border Route Trail, and the Superior Hiking Trail.

Both the Kek and the Border Route must be backpacked. These are mostly within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and there are few road access points.

The logistics of hiking this section became enormous. Two friends from Scottville, Monica and Keira Hatch, wanted to backpack with me. We left from the west end of the Kek with high spirits in early August. Unfortunately, I planned mileages that were unrealistic. We finished the Kekekabic Trail, but were unable to do the Border Route in the time my friends had available.

Two other Michigan friends, Bill Courtois and David Snoek, drove to Minnesota to backpack the Border Route Trail with me near the end of September. All this extra driving and shifting of gear took a lot of time, but we got it done.

I took a few days off to attend the annual North Country Trail Association Celebration, held this year in Walker, Minnesota.

Then I needed to hike the 300 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail from what is called the 270-degree Overlook at its northern end to the Wisconsin border just beyond the tip of Lake Superior. You can see me smiling as I take a break high above the gorgeous autumn trees, knowing that the Kek and BRT were completed.

These Arrowhead miles, about 390 of them, are incredibly scenic. Choosing a few highlights is nearly impossible.

The Kekekabic Trail features lakes and hills and rocks. The Agamok River cuts through it, spanned by a large wooden bridge, the components of which were hauled in by dogsled. No motors are allowed in the Wilderness. The Border Route gets its name because you are constantly hiking along sheer bluffs above blue lakes and rivers with Canada on the opposite side of the water. The Superior Hiking Trail climbs hill after hill with views of Lake Superior and inland vistas that are equally spectacular.

It has been named one of the top 20 trails in the country by Backpacker magazine.

The Superior Hiking Trail includes walking through the city of Duluth, a surprisingly beautiful route winding through parks, nature preserves, other city property, and including a culturally rich stretch of urban trail known as the Lakewalk.

At Jay Cooke State Park, the trail crosses the St. Louis River on a beautiful swinging bridge with stone towers. In just a few more miles I finally reached Wisconsin.

It was all grand, but honestly it felt as if I’d never get out of Minnesota. There are about 870 miles of North Country Trail in that state alone.

At this point, I’ve already completed 4,000 miles of this trail, and I’m finally hiking in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Only a mere 800 miles to go.

Joan Young, 74, is walking the 4,600 miles of the North Country Trail with the goal to finish it in one year.