Spring Hiking on Lake Superior’s North Shore

spring hiking north shore title image...man standing in front of Lake Superior

Spring hiking here in Minnesota wasn’t always high on my list of recommended activities. In fact, before last weekend it wasn’t on my list at all! But I’m older and wiser now.

My husband, Nick, and I celebrated our 26th Anniversary over the past weekend with a stay at our favorite North Shore resort, Bluefin Bay. We’ve stayed there several times in the past in April, too, but it had been a long time.

It just so happened that the weekend before we experienced a historic April blizzard that dumped 18 inches on us in the Twin Cities. I think most of the state got hit.

Besides the snow, there were strong northeast winds all weekend that whipped up big waves on Lake Superior. Combined with the snow and coldish temps, that resulted in wave-formed ice sculptures in many places along the shore.

Some of it was still there when we got there a few days later, even after a few days of warm sun and temps in the 40s and 50s.

So, yes, part of our great hiking experiences during our trip had to do with those cool ice formations. And we had perfect weather. That always helps!

But I realized there are other reasons why hiking in the spring in northern climates is fantastic…

No Bugs!

This is the biggie. Minnesota is famous for its mosquitos. We also have plenty of flies in the summer.

But this early in the season is too early for mosquitos. It’s absolutely wonderful to be out in the woods without the bug spray and the bugs.

No Crowds

The North Shore is a wonderful place to be during the summer—and more people are discovering that. There are times when it’s hard to find a parking spot at the most popular State Parks and hiking trails, especially on the weekends.

spring hiking at gooseberry falls with some snow and ice around the falls
Snow and ice still covering Gooseberry’s Middle and Lower Falls in mid-April (and no other people!)

But in the spring that’s not a problem. The kids are still in school. Families aren’t taking their vacations yet. Spring Break season is mostly done.

We spent a couple hours at Temperance River—a hugely popular summer stopping place—and only saw 3 people. It was awesome!

Same at Gooseberry, Minnesota’s 2nd most popular state park (beat out by Fort Snelling only because it’s in the Twin Cities!). We had the place to ourselves—that is until a bus full of high school students on a history field trip converged on us. But I was happy to see them all outside running around…and we were ready to leave anyway.

No Leaves on the Trees

I used to think this was a bummer. And maybe it would be if I only had one chance a year to get up there. But this past year I’ve spent quite a bit of time in every season Up North, and the bare trees can be a definite advantage.

Some of these woods are so thick we can’t see more than a few feet into them during the summer. But in the spring before the trees grow their new leaves, we can see much deeper into the forest. It gives us a different perspective.

man on a hiking trail in the spring
Nick, my husband of 26 years, on the Caribou Falls trail

In many areas we can see Lake Superior better, the waterfalls better, the rivers better. All because the leaves aren’t out yet. And there are enough of the boreals (pine, fir, cedar, etc.) to give plenty of green to the landscape.

So those are my three top reasons why Spring Hiking can be great on the North Shore, or any beautiful place in northern climates.

Those Cool Ice Sculptures

While there are usually more during the winter months, we could really enjoy them in the warmer air. And since the snow was melted everywhere else, they really stood out against the dark rocks and blue-green water.

This isn’t something you’ll see routinely in the spring on the Shore. We happened to be there at the right time—the week after a spring storm.

ice sculptures created by big waves along the shoreline
Amazing ice sculptures on the Lake Superior shore, Tettegouche State Park (along the hike to Shovel Point)

The Downsides of Spring Hiking

But there are a few downsides of spring hiking, too…

  • Slushy snow, some ice and plenty of mud. Be sure to wear good hiking boots (preferably waterproof) or waterproof trail running shoes. They’ll keep your feet dry and give you good traction. Some parts of the trails can be tricky-to-dangerous. We skipped a couple spots because we didn’t feel like breaking any body parts! Consider traction devices for your boots for icy spots.
  • The weather can be nasty. Minnesota’s weather is ever-changing. Our experience of being on the North Shore in April over the years is less-than-desirable weather 70% of the time! Rain, sleet, snow, 30s and 40s, windy. Not ideal hiking weather.
  • No flowers, lots of brown. It’s true, it’s just not as pretty. So come back again in any of the other seasons: late spring and summer for the flowers and berries…fall for the leaf colors…winter for loads of snow to snowshoe these trails.
  • Many local businesses are closed. This is a very slow time of year for local businesses. So many of the gift shops and restaurants are closed, or only open on the weekends. That may or may not cause a problem for you.
Lake Superior rocky shoreline with one balsam tree
Lake Superior is ALWAYS beautiful!

Great Spring Hiking Spots on the North Shore

Where are the best places to hike in the spring along the North Shore? Pretty much anywhere you’d hike in the summer or fall!

I do recommend, though, trails that give you some lake views (Lake Superior, that is) and trails that bring you to waterfalls. The woods themselves aren’t at their best yet in the spring.

Since one of the biggest advantages of spring hiking is the lack of crowds, I also recommend hitting the most popular spots in the spring:

  • Gooseberry Falls State Park—there’s a whole network of trails around the falls, just a short walk from the Visitor Center. This includes across the footbridge to the other side of the river.
  • Split Rock Lighthouse State Park—You can get both up by the lighthouse (although perhaps not inside—so check the hours) and down by the water.
  • Tettegouche State Park—Some glorious views of Lake Superior and the shoreline.
  • Temperance River State Park—The parking lot is often jam-packed in the summer and fall. Spring will give you some breathing room!
  • Cascade River State Park—This one will probably be icy since there’s a lot of trees along the trails. Consider traction devices for your shoes or boots.

See The Best Hiking Trails on the North Shore for many more details and more suggestions.

Because our wedding anniversary is in April, my husband and I will definitely be back to the North Shore in the spring again. Only now I’ll look forward to hiking then more than ever!

the author and her husband overlooking the Lake Superior shoreline
Selfies with an SLR camera are tricky, but possible! We’re on Shovel Point looking over Tettegouche State Park and Lake Superior

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