Today, we’re excited to announce the next release in our new map series: the NCT in Minnesota. We have 92 maps, coming in at just over 486 miles. The NCT in Minnesota runs through a diverse tapestry of landscapes, perfect for the day or longer distance hiker. Welcome to the Land of Sky-Blue Water!
The map set for “Northwest Minnesota” starts quietly on the edge of the prairie at the North Dakota state line and works its way on-road through a landscape favored by migratory waterfowl. Bring your birder’s guidebook and binoculars. The first-off road segments of NCT are in the NCTA Trail Town of Fergus Falls. Grab any snacks or supplies you might need as the Trail works south through town and crosses the Otter Tail River. To help interpret this remarkable prairie pothole landscape, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service maintains a visitor center at the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center (open 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM Monday through Friday). Once the Trail leaves Fergus Falls, it’s back on-road until hitting Maplewood State Park. Maplewood State Park offers camping and a network of trails providing opportunity for the day, weekend and longer distance hiker. From here the Trail heads to the town of Vergas and on to the NCTA Trail Town of Frazee. Large statues of wildlife (a loon and turkey respectively) are found in these communities. This is a peculiar occurrence found in many small towns in the upper Midwest (many along the route of the NCT). A selfie with these North Country totems is mandatory!
Continuing on from Frazee, the “North Central Minnesota” map set introduces the hiker to the northwoods. The transition from prairie to forest is apparent and dramatic. Starting at Hubble Pond Wildlife Management Area, that NCT begins a very long and nearly continuous section of off-road Trail stretching nearly 170 miles. If you’re looking for a place to backpack “up north,” this is it! The NCT in this section passes through a number of notable public lands including Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge, Itasca State Park and the Chippewa National Forest near the NCTA Trail Town of Walker. The Trail is connected to these lands through a network of state and county forests. Dedicated groups of NCTA volunteers have worked tirelessly over the last couple decades to make this a world-class hiking destination. If building and maintaining the Trail wasn’t enough, they’ve also written a guidebook. Get this inside perspective on the NCT by folks that built it: Guide to Hiking the North Country Trail in Minnesota.
The “Northeastern Minnesota” map set starts after the Trail leaves the Chippewa National Forest near Remer and heads towards Grand Rapids, MN. This area is a mix of contrasts. Heading northeast from Grand Rapids, the NCT mostly follows the Mesabi Trail. This is a multi-use trail that runs through the working landscapes and mining communities in the Mesabi Iron Range and ends up in the outdoorsy town of Ely, the gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. From Ely the map set continues north to the famed and rugged Kekekabic Trail. The “Kek” is a remote trail that runs through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Although this map set ends where the Kek meets the Gunflint Trail, there’s plenty more great hiking. The NCTA partners with the Border Route Trail Association and Superior Hiking Trail Association. The information and maps these organizations provide will take the hiker roughly 365 more miles through the rest of Minnesota to the Wisconsin state line.
These maps continue to be available as a no-cost digital download, please consider making a donation to support this work. The PDF files can be printed at home as well as used on a mobile device with the Avenza App. The maps are made at a scale that is built for on-trail navigation: one inch equals a half-mile. The numbered mileage index shown on these maps allow you to easily estimate mileages along the Trail. Additionally, by loading the digital version of the mileage index on a GPS receiver you can use the numbered index to relate your location from the GPS receiver back to the maps.
Please note, these maps will be updated regularly. Always make sure you have the most recent version. Also keep in mind that the numbered mileage points will also change with the Trail. These are virtual points and don’t represent a permanent location on the ground. Please be cautious when using these points to communicate a location along the Trail.
You can find these maps and others at https://northcountrytrail.org/trail/maps/