Friday, February 21, 2014

The Coolest Backcountry Campsites on the North Country Trail in Minnesota, Part 1

As many of you know I created a presentation called “The Coolest Backcountry Campsites on the North Country Trail in Minnesota.”  I did an early version of the presentation at the Laurentian Lake Chapter’s National Trails Day Celebration in June 2012.  After that I presented a more refined version of it at the Midwest Mountaineering Outdoor Adventure Expo in November 2012 and again in April 2013. And lastly, I did the presentation at Fontana Sports Specialties in my hometown of Madison in May 2013.  I have been working on some new ideas for presentations, so it’s unlikely I’ll do the same “Coolest Campsites” presentation again.  But since I have the material prepared, including a great handout, why not cover the material again in the form of a blog entry?

And just like in the presentation, the first thing I’m going to tell you is why I like Backcountry Campsites. Backcountry Campsites have amenities like tent pads, latrines, and campfire areas. Plus, campsites are landmarks on a map, so you once you reach the campsite, you know how far you’ve hiked, etc.  Established backcountry campsites are better than dispersed camping. When you let people pick their own place to camp when they are dispersed camping, they could pick very bad places to camp. For instance, I have seen the remains of campfires at places that are far away from a water source.  In cases like that the campers may not completely put out their fire, leaving it to smolder.  This could cause a forest fire if the wind picks up and blows the ashes just a few feet. And, Backpackers are more likely to stop and camp at an established Backcountry Campsite instead of making camp at a spot where they are not supposed to camp.

There are around 155 backcountry campsites on the North Country Trail in Minnesota.  I have personally visited 135 of them.  All of the Backcountry Campsites are COOL, but what makes some backcountry campsites LESS cool than others. Here are some reasons why some campsites didn’t make the list. They are:
                        Too Sunny
                        Too Close to the Road
                        Too Bumpy or Sloped
                        Too Popular
                        No Water

All of those “Less Cool Factors” can be debated.  For instance, if you are out camping in the spring or fall, having a sunny campsite that will warm you up might be a good thing.  However, it’s not a good thing in the heat of the summer.  And if you’re hammock camping you really might not care if the campsite is to bumpy or sloped, as long as you have two trees to hang your hammock from.

So, what makes some Backcountry Campsites cooler than others? Well, I have a list of things I judge them on. Please note that my criteria for a cool campsite might be different than yours.
Here is the list:
                        Scenic Location
                        Near A Cool Landmark
                        Has Great Amenities
                        Has some Unique Quality you don’t see everyday

So, now for my list of the Coolest Backcountry Campsites on the North Country in Minnesota.  I am listing these campsite from east to west, so we start on the Superior Hiking Trail, then proceeding to the Kekekabic Trail, Border Route Trail which are all NCT affiliated trails, then we head to the NCT in North Central Minnesota.  You can follow along with my handout for this presentation, which has maps to each campsite and more detailed information. For the Handout: Click Here

 East Gooseberry Campsite Video

East Gooseberry Campsite (Superior Hiking Trail)
Start out at the Gooseberry Falls State Park Visitor Center and hike southbound on the Superior Hiking Trail.  It’s over 3 miles out to the campsite.  In that distance you will see the Gooseberry River change from a river full of rapids and waterfalls to a slow meandering river.  This campsite has the best view of the river compared to the other 3 other SHT campsites along the river.  Just seeing the changing features of the river makes the experience of visiting this campsite.

The Boardwalk going out to Lily's Island

South Sonju Lake Campsite (Superior Hiking Trail)
The Campsite isn’t all that cool by itself; in fact it doesn’t have a view of the lake.  But walk down the Superior Hiking Trail about 100 yards and you’ll find a boardwalk going out to Lilly’s Island.  It’s a great little island to have a picnic on or to just observe wildlife.  This little Island is one of the coolest spots on the SHT.

Falls of the Cross River Video

The Falls of the Cross River Campsite (Superior Hiking Trail)
As the name suggests, this campsite is near a waterfall.  This is a great waterfall that is not visited very often by tourists.  Instead the tourists head for Temperance River State Park, which is only about 4 miles away, where they can see many waterfalls.  So, hopefully, you’ll have this waterfall all to yourself to enjoy and explore.

Overlook of Oberg Lake on Oberg Mountain
Onion River Campsite (Superior Hiking Trail)
This is another case where the campsite itself isn’t all that spectacular, but it is near some very scenic landmarks on the Superior Hiking Trail.  If you hike less than a mile to the north you will get to Oberg Mountain, which has a 1.8-mile loop with 8 panoramic views to enjoy.  If you hike south on the SHT from the campsite, you will reach Leveau Mountain which has some panoramic views, too!

That's me exploring the Devil's Track River Gorge just downstream
of the two campsites.

Devil’s Track River Campsites
(Superior Hiking Trail)
There are two spectacular campsites along the Devil’s Track River Gorge.  How’d you like to camp next to a fast falling cascading river.  That’s what you can do at the very small East Devil’s Track River campsite. The river actually curves around the campsite as it descends towards Lake Superior.  A second campsite, the West Devil’s Track River Campsite is on a plateau above the River.  This is a much bigger campsite with several tent pads.  At either location you’ll be able to go out and explore the Devil’s Track River Gorge and Pincushion Mountain.

Hellacious Overlook, a great day hike from the Jackson Creek Pond Campsite
Jackson Creek Pond Campsite (Superior Hiking Trail)
Much like the Onion River Campsite, this campsite is between two high spots on the trail.  If you hike north on the Superior Hiking Trail from the Campsite in about 2 miles you’ll reach Rosebush Ridge, which is the highest elevation on the trail.  There isn’t a scenic overlook right at the “highest elevation” sign, but there are a couple good overlooks on the way up.  Heading south on the SHT from the Campsite you’ll reach Hellacious Overlook.  This is the first location where a hiker hiking south on the SHT from the northern terminus can see Lake Superior.  And this is a long overlook, too. It stretches over 200 yards along a ridge.

Stay Tuned for some more Cool Campsites when Part 2 is published.  It will feature campsites on the Border Route Trail, Kekekabic Trail and North Country Trail in North Central Minnesota.  Until then, make plans to visit one of the campsite I've already posted. If you have any questions on anything I've covered, please feel free to contact me at    For photos and trip reports of my hikes check out my hiking website: Click Here