Bikepacking In the Superior National Forest

I did a post back in June about my first ever off-road bikepacking trip in June of 2007. That’s before anyone was calling it bikepacking. I meant to do more of those types of trips. Eleven years later and I was still reminiscing about that first trip and still hadn’t done a second one. I had a lot of ideas and plans. One of them included exploring the forest service roads of the nearby Superior National Forest. I knew there was NFS campgrounds scattered around that I could use as overnight stops. My adventure friend Jeff texted me in June and said he wanted to try bikepacking. We decided to start with a day trip to get a feel for the terrain and scout some possible routes.

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Honeymoon Loop, Superior National Forest.

The day trip was a huge success and we were confident we could plan an overnight trip before Fall. Jeff texted me again in early August and pushed for a more concrete plan. It was good for me to have someone else urging me on with the planning. I had been hesitant to follow through due to my inability to do big efforts the past few years. I’m not used to scaling down my adventures to fit my conditioning and age. It’s a horrible adjustment to have to make. A plan was hatched and a tentative route was in place. This past weekend we set off despite a possible wet weather report. We had decided to drive up into the Superior National Forest on the Caribou Trail north of Lutsen. We parked the car at a snowmobile trail parking lot where the Caribou trail turns from pavement to gravel. We loaded up the bikes and headed in a northeast direction following NFS gravel roads and minimum maintenance dirt roads. We were heading in the general direction of three possible NFS campgrounds varying in size from 4 campsites to 35 campsites. The distances were 15, 19, and 23 miles. The goal was to reach the furthest one, but if the loaded bikes on rough roads was too much for us we had the closer sites to stop at. I consider this area to be remote. It’s possible to go for hours without seeing a car or person, there is no cell phone service, no services of any kind, and very few people.

There was heavy fog and drizzle on our way up. We set off in these conditions. The first 2.5 miles was on the Caribou Trail. A fairly “busy” main route into the forest.

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Caribou Trail

It was quite muddy and we almost instantly started getting covered in mud. It was a nervous feeling thinking how muddy and wet we were about to get. Turns out this would be the worst of the mud spray.

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Jeff got our first and only flat tire out of the way only 1.5 miles into the ride.
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At 2.5 miles we turned off onto FS161/Mark Lake Road. This unmaintained road was the most remote stretch we would ride. It was surprisingly well maintained with brush cut back. Any vehicle that would go down this would have to be have high clearance.
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An old, but active beaver pond. The dam alongside the road is covered in grasses and wildflowers.
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Me in the fog and drizzle on Mark Lake Road.
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Mark Lake Road
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Lunch stop at Eagle Mountain Trailhead
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The last five miles was on The Grade. A lot of sections of washboard with very soft sides. Not as nice as it looks.
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Our destination for the night.
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Our GPS track for Day One.
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Packed and ready for Day Two.
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Started our day with some washboard gravel. It was mostly downhill and only last 4 or 5 miles.

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Our only section of pavement. It only last about two miles along the north shore of Devil Track Lake.
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Devil Track Lake looking moody.
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Our GPS track with both days. The green way point is our start and finish. The red way point is our stop for the night.

It was a wonderful two day bikepacking trip. We did just over 50 miles total. We want to try and do at least one more in September. The only real challenges were some misfortune for Jeff. He had the only flat tire. He had a bolt wiggle loose and fall out on his rear rack. He was about to use a zip tie for a quick fix when I offered him one of my water bottle mount bolts. Jeff also took a tumble about 5 miles from the end. A mixture of mud and a rutted trail on a downhill section took him down. He had so much pain in his ankle he at first thought he had broken it. It wasn’t broken and he was able to ride it back to the car.

This time I’m not going to wait 11 years before my next bikepacking trip.

6 thoughts on “Bikepacking In the Superior National Forest

  1. anniebikes August 29, 2018 / 3:27 am

    Wonderful that you made the effort and had a good time.

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    • fourseasoncycling August 30, 2018 / 8:41 am

      It was a great time. I need to make this kind of activity more of a priority. It’s more doable now that I have a car to drive to my starting point.

      Like

  2. Joan August 29, 2018 / 6:56 pm

    Sounds like a great trip and well worth a repeat – except for Jeff’s troubles. Thanks for taking us along with all of your wonderful photos.

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    • fourseasoncycling August 30, 2018 / 8:42 am

      Thanks for commenting Joan. It’s nice to know somebody reads my posts.

      Like

  3. Pondero August 29, 2018 / 8:19 pm

    Other than the (hopefully) minor injury, that looks like a delightful outing. I’d enjoy some bikepacking up in that part of the world. It looks so refreshing in comparison with this “we are over it” part of Texas summer. Thanks for the write up and all the photos. It was enjoyed from afar!

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    • fourseasoncycling August 30, 2018 / 8:45 am

      It’s been on my mind to do this for a decade. I was inspired by some of your recent trips to make it happen. More to come. There are 3 National Forests within a few hours of Duluth. Plenty of exploring that could be done.

      Like

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