The North Country National Scenic Trail
(NCT for short) spans 4,600 miles from the Missouri River in North Dakota east to Lake Champlain in New York. Along the way, it traverses northern Minnesota from Fort Abercrombie to Jay Cooke State Park passing through the City of Fergus Falls, Maplewood State Park, Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge, Itasca State Park, Paul Bunyan State Forest, Chippewa National Forest, City of Grand Rapids, City of Ely, the Superior National Forest's Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and then follows the world-famous Superior Hiking Trail south to the Wisconsin border. Designated by Congress in 1980, the NCT is administered by the National Park Service making it a very long, skinny National Park. It's different than Yellowstone or Voyageurs, however, as the National Park Service doesn't own the lands the NCT passes on and instead partners with local governments and private landowners along the route. The day-to-day management - including promotion, trail building, and maintenance - is accomplished by the "Red Plaid Nation" - the group of 1,500+ volunteers affiliated with the non-profit North Country Trail Association (NCTA).
Fall is considered by many to the best time to hike in Minnesota because of the brilliant fall colors, more pleasant cooler daytime temperatures, and the absence of summer's bugs. Here are some suggested hikes to check out:
Maplewood State Park - Hike 2.8 miles on the NCT from the Trail Center to the Maplewood Church within Maplewood State Park east of Pelican Rapids. Enjoy rolling hills with beautiful lakes and absolutely beautiful fall foliage. It's possible to loop back to the Trail Center on other park trails or you can do an out and back hike.
Permits: State Park admission fees apply.
NORTH CENTRAL MINNESOTA
Itasca State Park- Hike 2.5 miles (one-way) from the Gartner Farm trailhead into the DeSoto Lake campsite and back on the NCT within Itasca State Park north of Park Rapids. Enjoy old-growth Norway and White Pines, beautiful remote lakes, and BWCAW-like solitude.
Permits: State Park admission fees apply.
Paul Bunyan State Forest- Hike the Lake Twenty-one and Nelson Lake loops from the Lake Twenty-one Day Use Area trailhead in the Paul Bunyan State Forest south of Lake George. There are many ways to hike the figure eight loop trails (part of which is the NCT) around these two beautiful lakes.
The Gulch Lakes State Forest campground is adjacent to Nelson Lake.
Chippewa National Forest- Hike 9 miles from the Shingobee Recreation Area trailhead off Hwy 34 to the Lake Erin Trailhead off of Hwy 371 on the NCT in the Chippewa National Forest southwest of Walker. Pass by numerous beautiful lakes and enjoy views of the Shingobee River valley and rolling hills covered in a mixed forest which is very colorful in the fall.
If you're feeling adventurous, you can do a hike and bike trip using the paved Paul Bunyan State Trail and/or the Shingobee Connection Trail.
Kekekabic and Centennial Trails - Hike 2.4 miles from the Gunflint Trail trailhead to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (signed) boundary on the Kekekabic Trail northwest of Grand Marais. Enjoy great views of brilliant fall colors, spot wildlife along pristine lakes, and learn about the area's mining history on this rugged trail. On your way out, hike the Centennial Trail 1.9 miles from its intersection with the Kekekabic Trail to the trailhead (total loop distance is 5.6 miles).
Permits: a free, self-issue permit is required if you enter the BWCAW and can be obtained at the trailhead.
Moss Lake, South Lake, Border Route, and Caribou Rock Trails - Hike a 13.2-mile loop from the Hungry Jack Rd.trailhead into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on the Moss Lake, South Lake, Border Route, and Caribou Rock Trails northwest of Grand Marais. Enjoy great views of brilliant fall colors, spot wildlife along pristine lakes, and learn about the area's mining history on this very rugged trail.
Permits: a BWCAW permit is required and can be obtained at the Forest Service office in Grand Marais or online.
Superior Hiking Trail, Duluth - Hike 4.3 miles from the 123rd Ave. W. trailhead to the Magney-Snively Park trailhead on the Superior Hiking Trail in Duluth. Enjoy great views of Duluth and the St. Louis River from both Ely's Peak and Bardon's Peak and also soak in the old-growth forest in Magney- Snively Park.
Superior Hiking Trail, Tofte - Hike out and back on the Superior Hiking Trail to both Leveaux and Oberg Mountain loops from the Oberg Mountain trailhead off Onion River Rd. northeast of Tofte. Get to the parking area early but head southwest to Leveaux first (3.5 mi.) to beat the crowds and then hike to Oberg in the afternoon (2.2 mi.) after the crowds depart. Both feature fantastic overlooks of Lake Superior, distant peaks on the Sawtooth Range, and inland lakes.
Superior Hiking Trail, Hovland- Hike out and back 2.4 miles on the Superior Hiking Trail to the "Hellacious Overlook" from the Jackson Lake Rd. trailhead north of Hovland. This section features a fantastic overlook of Lake Superior including Isle Royale. If you want to hike more, head north from the trailhead past the highest point on the entire SHT on Rosebush Ridge (1,829') to the Andy Creek Rd. trailhead (5.4 miles). Be warned, however, there aren't any grand views along this section but you stand a pretty decent chance of seeing a moose.
ABLE TO VOLUNTEER AND HELP?
The NCT and its component trails are all maintained by volunteers and the NCTA is always in need of more volunteers willing to help out. No experience is required and there are tasks for people of all ages and abilities. If you would be interested in volunteering, please contact us(seehttps://northcountrytrail.org/contact-us/ ).
If you cannot volunteer, please consider donating to support our work(https://northcountrytrail.org/donate).