Reciting the iconic name of the North Shore’s superior, paved pathway might spark a smile. That’s because Gitchi-Gami Trail is super fun to say – and even more fun to ride! Your turn… say ‘Gitchi-Gami’ aloud a couple times, and then puff your chest up just a bit, Minnesota friends.
Beginning in Two Harbors, the Arrowhead region’s recreational Gitchi-Gami Trail stretches for close to 30 miles in spurts along Highway 61 with a view that catches your breath and captures your heart. Because off on the horizon, and sometimes right at your feet, beautiful Lake Superior awaits. Everyone from bicyclists to bladers to babies in strollers enjoy the paved path that meanders along some of Minnesota’s most pristine wilderness, parks and landmarks, quaint and welcoming small towns, and of course, the vastness of Lake Superior.
The origin of Gitchi-Gami holds historical significance – as well as heart and soul – given in the Ojibwe language, Gitchi-Gami defines Lake Superior. For reference, I found this excerpt from Lake Superior Magazine:
Today in Ojibwe language class, thanks to dialectic differences, you are more likely to see gichi-gami, gitchi-gami or kitchi-gami for Lake Superior. Loosely, it does indeed mean “Big Sea” or “Huge Water,” but just about always refers to Lake Superior.
So, where am I going with this? Currently the furthest Northeast access point of the existing* Gitchi-Gami Trail happens to be located in Lutsen, at the junction of Ski Hill Road and Hwy 61.
And, fortunately, it’s approximately 1.5 miles south of 142C at Caribou Highlands. During our family vacation this month, we packed the bikes with hopes for good weather to explore the route from Lutsen to Tofte, about a 20-mile round-trip trek. On a particularly beautiful Tuesday morning, we set off…after Eric tuned up all the two-wheelers…
A note of kudos to Caribou…they are sweet on cyclists ♥ The resort offers a snazzy maintenance station equipped with all types of gadgets and gear for guests and visitors to tune-up their bikes and pump-up their tires before or after a ride. It’s adjacent to the main parking lot, near to the lodge check-in, in case you’re in the vicinity and are in need of bike repair, tools and/or tweaks.
The first leg of the journey is a breezy flight down Ski Hill Road, no pedaling required. Simply sit back, enjoy the wind on your face and that Lake Superior vista dazzle your outlook on life.
Once you get rolling, the trail winds parallel to Highway 61, but with breathing room. There are some inclines, both upward and downward, and this section of the path is fairly manageable for cyclists of all levels.
There are so many favorite photos from this adventure, and this is one of them. We had just embarked from Ski Hill Road, biking the Gitchi-Gami Trail along the north side of Highway 61. We passed by this rustic grey garage which displayed a hand-and-heart crafted sign reading “You Are Beautiful.” Good reminder, friends. Yes. You. Are. ♥
With lunch on the horizon, we made a pit stop at Coho Cafe . The Northwoods Salad was delicious if you enjoy fresh mixed greens tossed with feta, walnuts and dried cranberries; the bread wasn’t as fresh as I’d like, but still tasty. And, we downed lots of water! Then, onward to Tofte Park, which rests along the Lake Superior shoreline…
The day was beautiful. We relaxed, rested, tossed rocks, watched the waves and took a few minutes to enjoy the lake-scape…together.
As the boys grow up, it’s more challenging to schedule outings with the four of us. I’m so grateful both Z and E were up for the biking adventure. <overflowing heart!>
A wonderful memory…looking out over Gitchi-Gami, seeing the waves rolling in, noticing the lovely little blooms and butterflies. Just breathing.
This adventure is definitely one for the memory books.
As we made our return, heading East towards Lutsen, a light fog rolled in cooling the air. We made a few more stops to admire the scenery, and the wildly creative masterpieces displayed in the neighborhood!
Ready for more? This snapshot tour is informative, offering details of the trail’s beautiful and convenient locations; and who doesn’t love getting lost in a few Lake Superior photographs!
Here are two other completed trail segments recommended by the Gitchi-Gami team that are on our bucket list:
- From Tofte to Schroeder, riders can navigate the falls and gorges of Temperance River State Park. This has always been one of our favorites!
- The longest Gitchi-Gami paved segment connects Gooseberry Falls State Park to Beaver Bay and Silver Bay on 17 continuous miles winding through beautiful Minnesota forest, state parks, Lake Superior’s Iona’s Beach (a State Natural and Scientific Area) and tucked-away vistas.
I connected with the Gitchi-Gami Trail Association to learn more about their important work. Here’s what Michelle Pierson, master consultant and trail facilitator extraordinaire, shared verbatim. She kindly offered a few updates on what’s planned in the near future and how everyone can get involved to support this superior trail that’s a gift to so many Minnesotans and visitors!
*The DNR was recently awarded a federal grant to help extend the trail from the Ski Hill Rd into Lutsen’s town center area. We are currently working with several groups (the North Shore Scenic Drive Council and the Town of Lutsen) to conduct a public input process for trail design, amenities, and a possible wayside/trail head at the gravel lot at Ski Hill Rd.
The trail is maintained and developed by the MnDNR (and sometimes partners with MnDOT). We are a friends group that advocates for the trail and helps promote it. Our board is all volunteer, but the Association has hired a consultant on a small part-time contract (ooh, that’s me!) for about 10 hours a week.
The trail holds an annual Gitchi Gami fundraiser ride in August. We do look for volunteers for this event and a couple other events each year.
Members help contribute to the Association and that money is used to develop educational materials about the trail, advocate for the trail, and help contribute money to DNR when they have an expense that isn’t budgeted.
The Gitchi-Gami Trail Association works to see a completed 89-mile trail that will wind from Two Harbors to Grand Marais.
Next steps…tune up your bike and hit the trail. It’s unforgettable! In closing, Michelle couldn’t have summed things up more succinctly: Happy Trails!
This story first appeared on From Lutsen with Love in August 2018. All reflections and images are my own.