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.

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.

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.

Jeff got our first and only flat tire out of the way only 1.5 miles into the ride.
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.
An old, but active beaver pond. The dam alongside the road is covered in grasses and wildflowers.
Me in the fog and drizzle on Mark Lake Road.
Mark Lake Road
Lunch stop at Eagle Mountain Trailhead
The last five miles was on The Grade. A lot of sections of washboard with very soft sides. Not as nice as it looks.
Our destination for the night.
Our GPS track for Day One.
Packed and ready for Day Two.
Started our day with some washboard gravel. It was mostly downhill and only last 4 or 5 miles.


Our only section of pavement. It only last about two miles along the north shore of Devil Track Lake.
Devil Track Lake looking moody.
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.

Fall Bike Camping pictures.


I found out on Friday I wasn’t needed at work on Monday. Looking at the weather forecast and the DNR Fall peak color watch (which was at 50-75% for our area), I decided it was prime time for a Fall bike camping trip. Some might call it a S24O, but I don’t think mine version is a pure S24O since I’m doing it on my days off. I ended up with perfect conditions and some great pockets of intense color. Both days started out foggy and cleared to a vibrant blue sky. Temperatures were 60F-65F (16C-18C) and the low was around 45F (7C). Virtually no wind on the first day and light winds off Lake Superior the second day. Since I don’t care for hot weather, this weather was about as perfect as it gets for me.


New asphalt on the Munger Trail for a short section. I got a late start in the day. Check in time at the state park I had reservations for wasn’t until 4:00. I didn’t leave my house until 4:30.My destination was Jay Cooke State Park. Nineteen miles away the way I took. Sixteen miles of the 19 was on recreational trails.



First open view of the St Louis River as I approached the Park Office.

Tip: Bungee cords come in handy if you’re thinking of hauling firewood.

I arrived at the Park Office at 5:45. They close at 6. Not a big deal since I already had a reservation. But you can’t purchase a bundle of firewood outside of office hours. I almost never have a fire when camping solo. With no wind and cold temps, it was an ideal evening for a fire. I didn’t decide until I was in the office, but I did bring bungee cords to haul the wood just in case. I’m glad I did. What I didn’t bring was any type of fire starter. I improvised with one paper towel I had, twigs from around campsite, and handfuls of pine needles from the huge pine tree in the middle of the campsite. It worked.


Obligatory campfire shot.

When I camp here I like to arrive early enough to get in a walk down by the river before dinner and before dark. With sunset at 6:45 there was no time this trip. I set up camp, fixed dinner and had the fire. It was quite nice. The temp had fallen to 46F degrees by 10:00. I never got chilled with the fire going. It was a moonless night. It was pitch black away from the fire.


In the morning I woke to fog and my food bag still hanging in the tree where I had left it.


By the time I got the food bag down, started heating water for coffee and took the tent down the fog was lifting.


By the time I was done with my muffins and coffee, the fog was gone.


After breakfast I spent a few hours walking around the park and the St Louis River. The sun was so bright it made it hard to take pictures that weren’t overexposed.Here’s some of the better ones from my walk and ride home.

Here’s a link to the route I took home. It’s the same route I took to the park the day before.

Ely’s Peak in Duluth as seen from the Munger Trail.

Photos from the week.

It’s been an unusual September when it comes to the weather. I generally look forward to September because the weather can be some of the best of the year. Dry, cool, windless days with brilliant blue skies. This year we’ve seen little of that. It’s been cloudy with chances of rain more days than not, and windy. I’ve been less motivated to get out. Sunday, after being inside all day I forced myself out the door for a bike ride around 4:30. That’s late in the day even for me to get going. It was well worth it. I did some exploring of the old industrial river front. It’s mostly abandoned, polluted super-fund sites nowadays. Duluth was established as a town to support the mining and logging industries. These and other heavy industries spent the next hundred years using the harbor and polluting it. It is slowly being cleaned up and areas, like Canal Park, are now tourist attractions. Here’s pictures I took during this ride:

A picture of a bridge from a bridge.
The Arthur M. Anderson off-loading a load of what I think is limestone.
Another shot of the Arthur M. Anderson. This is about as far up the river these large freighters travel. It’s almost 5 miles up river.
It’s a half mile to the river down this stripped piece of industrial land between two boat slips.
This is on the corner where the boat slip meets the main shipping channel of the St. Louis River. Minnesota is on the right, Wisconsin on the left.



The half mile long slip for a very large boat or two.
An old mail car. I’m guessing one of the two historic railroads in town has plans to restore it.
Signs that Fall is fast approaching.

Thursday I was motivated to get out for a late evening ride. After a week of clouds and rain it managed to clear off about 5 in the afternoon. Seeing that crisp blue sky is all I needed to get me outside. It’s also the night Susan is gone to St Paul for a night class. I was free to stay out as long as I wanted.  Here’s a few pictures from that ride:

It’s almost too bright to photograph.


A father and son using the mountain bike trails. Trails with a view. This section of trail was built in the summer of 2015.
Glorious late in the day sunshine.
Last light of the day looking south over the Keene Creek ravine towards the St Louis River and Wisconsin.

Today, Friday, I was off from work. It was another cloudy, windy day. No rain though. It took me all day to get myself outside. When I finally went I decided to walk some of the trails near my house including some of the Superior Hiking Trail. According to today’s DNR report our Fall colors should be in the 50-75% range.


Some places it appeared this was accurate, other places it didn’t.

Keene Creek
Keene Creek

As always, once I get myself out the door I rarely regret it. This is a lesson I learn again and again and again.

I was told today I’m not needed at work on Monday. My current job is a part-time position. I work when they need me. With the day off I made some camping reservations for Sunday night. I’ll be doing an overnight bike camping trip. Really looking forward to it. It’s will be only my second bike camping trip of the 2016.




May sunset, full moon rise, overnight camping trip.

Taking the scenic route.

This past Saturday was a full moon. The folks over on the Steel on Wheels Forum scheduled a Sunset/Moonrise Virtual Meet-up event. Jeff and I participated in the April edition. For the May edition we decided to do it as an overnight bike camping trip. Three weeks ago we reserved a walk-in campsite at Jay Cooke State Park. It’s a 16 mile bike ride from my home. Jeff lives another 11 or 12 miles further.  The long range forecast was looking very bleak at first. May can be cold and rainy. Or it can turn out to be possibly the best weekend weather of the year. It turned out to be 80F degrees, cloudless, and extremely dry air. So dry the humidity was down around 15-20%. That is desert dry. And a challenge to stay hydrated in. The low was in the mid-50’s and Sunday it was sunny, dry, and 71F.

Not only was it warm, but the leaves were out. There has been many Memorial Day weekends here in Duluth where the leaves are just starting to come out. It was amazing to be outside this weekend with perfect weather and early leaves.

All but the first two miles was on the Munger Trail. We were able to take our time, not worry about traffic, and enjoy the scenery. We even took time to stop and watch some baby geese.


Here’s our route on Saturday. We took a three mile round trip detour into Carlton to buy some snacks: //

A rare picture of me.

We checked into the park campground, set up camp, and went down to the river to scout out our options for sunset and moon watching.

Jay Cooke State Park’s iconic Swinging Bridge over the St. Louis River.

Since the river runs through a small valley I didn’t think we’d have a good vantage point for either the sunset or the moonrise. Turns out it was better than I expected. With the help of some apps on our phones we discovered the sunset would be slightly off to the right of the river looking upstream and over the tree tops. The moonrise would also be off to the right looking downstream.

Looking downstream. We learned the moon would rise over the treetops to the right.

We headed back to camp for some relaxing and dinner.

Jeff in maximum relaxation mode.

Our dinner and clean-up ran late. We thought we might have missed the sun dropping below the treetops. By the time we reached the river we noticed sunlight still on the south bank.

Sunlight still shining on the south bank.

We raced up the river bank to a bend in the river and were able to catch the last of the sun just moments before it dropped below the treetops.

Interesting rock formations and driftwood high up in trees.

This month the moon was up 15 minutes before the sun set. However it would be nearly 90 minutes before we would see it rise above the treetops from the our vantage point on the river. We spent the time climbing and sitting on the strange rock formations. Jeff found on his phone that the rocks we were sitting on have been exposed for 1.1 billion years. We sat and pondered that for awhile. It’s amongst some of the oldest exposed rock on the planet.

Jeff climbing on the 1.1 billion year old exposed rock. Waiting for the moon to rise over the tree tops to his right.


We watched Jupiter rise. It was the first bright “star” in the sky. When the moon finally came over the tops of the trees we spent about twenty minutes trying to get a decent shot. Here’s my best attempts:


The bright star to the lower right of the moon is Mars.

We eventually headed back to our campsite. Our site was in the woods enough we couldn’t get an unobstructed view of the moon. We had bought a bundle of firewood and sat at the fire until midnight. I forget to get the obligatory fire shot.

Sunday morning was cool, but calm. We had a leisurely breakfast and then packed up and headed back to town. I was home by 11:00 am.

All in all, it was a successful overnight bike camping trip. And, it was my first bike camping trip of 2016. I’m already looking forward to more.