(ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2006)
Panting and gulping water, we stop and look out from a section of the Superior Hiking Trail atop Mystery Mountain along northeastern Minnesota's Lake Superior shore. North Woods dotted with maples flaming red and orange slope down to the deep blue lake. To the south, more color crowns Moose Mountain, where we took in a similar view an hour or so ago. "We were way over there?" I ask. A little feeling of accomplishment blooms. "Yes, and I think that's where we're going," my husband, Ken, says, pointing far away.
We've made the classic, beginner mistake, the one Scott Beattie, veteran hiker and owner of trailside Pincushion Mountain Bed & Breakfast, warns his guests about. "Everyone wants to hike too far the first day," he says with a smile.
We're no exception, but this view and the others along this seven-mile section make the climb and complaining muscles worthwhile. We wanted to see as much as we could in a weekend on this trail, which has worked its way over the last two decades 275 miles from Duluth northeast almost to the Canadian border. Barbara Young of Boundary Country Trekking, who coordinates hikes with stays at trailside inns and lodges, arranged hikes for us on two stretches. Both offer everything an autumn hike here should: mountaintop views, streams with waterfalls and paths through tunnels of trees.
The next day, we tackle a manageable five miles that skirt the rim of Devil Track Canyon. The river by the same name boils at the base of steep granite cliffs a dizzying 200 feet below. South of the canyon, the trail becomes a grassy boulevard. A sign marks the turnoff to Pincushion. We tell Scott that we think we've seen the best parts of the trail. "Those are some nice ones," he agrees, and then rattles off about a dozen of his favorite sections. Some sound just as or more appealing. No wonder hikers return year after year.