From the leisurely lake walk of downtown Duluth to the rugged Sawtooth Mountains to the gentle Laurentian (north-south continental) Divide, the North Country Trail offers a cache of contrasting hiking experiences in Minnesota.

North Country Trail in Minnesota

Historic marks include the remnants of iron mining along the Mesabi and Vermilion ranges, Native American historic sites, and remnants of Paul Bunyan’s logging era. Also, keep your eyes open wide for “Northwoods” wildlife icons, including moose, whitetail deer, black bear, Canada lynx, timber wolf and bald eagles.

Explore by Section:

Important Minnesota Notes: When visiting the NCT in Minnesota State Parks, a park entrance pass is required. Learn more on the DNR’s website (http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/permit.html). Dispersed camping can take place on county and state-owned land other than state parks.

View the Call of the North Newsletter, created by our Minnesota Regional Trail Coordinator.

Tips for using the NCT in Minnesota during winter.

Superior Hiking Trail

Superior Hiking Trail Association on the North Country TrailWI/MN border to Otter Lake Road where the SHT joins the Border Route Trail. 

Mileage: 310 miles (306 off-road/4 on-road)

Rating: Moderate to Difficult

Need to Know: Camping allowed in over 90 designated backcountry campsites and at nearby Campgrounds. Before hiking the SHT, please check current trail conditions here:  http://shta.org/trail-conditions/

The Trail: The North Country Trail enters Minnesota near Jay Cooke State Park, where the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) begins. This famous 310-mile trail takes hikers first through the City of Duluth before following the ridgeline of Minnesota’s scenic “North Shore.”

Notable Locations:

Get Involved! Trail Maintaining Affiliate: The Superior Hiking Trail is now part of the official route of the NCNST through northeastern Minnesota. The Trail in this area is managed by the Superior Hiking Trail Association. Please visit their website at superiorhiking.org for information about the Trail, and to purchase maps and a guidebook.

Border Region

Border Route Trail, by Eric Moll

The Swamp River in the Grand Portage State Forest (Eastern terminus of the Border Route Trail) to the Western terminus of the Kekekabic Trail near Snowbank Lake.

Mileage: 104 miles (104 off-road)

Rating: Difficult

Need to Know: Backcountry experience and land navigation skills are necessary. Wilderness permits required and trails are very remote. Dispersed camping is allowed but designated campsites exist.

The Trail: The Border Route and Kekekabic Trail sections are now part of the official route of the NCNST through Minnesota. The aptly-named Border Route Trail (BRT) heads 65 miles west paralleling the U.S.-Canada border. Upon reaching the end of the BRT at the famed Gunflint Trail (Cook Co. Hwy 12), the NCT picks up the Kekekabic Trail (“Kek”), which heads 41 miles west toward Snowbank Lake northeast of Ely. The BRT and Kek traverse the million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and should be attempted only by experienced backpackers or wilderness travelers because of the wilderness conditions found there.

Notable Locations:

Get Involved! Trail Maintaining Chapters and Affiliates: The Kekekabic Trail Chapter of the NCTA and the Border Route Trail Association

Maps for this region:

Northeastern Minnesota

Northeastern Minnesota North Country TrailWestern terminus of the Kekekabic Trail to US-2 in Grand Rapids, MN

Mileage: 152 miles (152 off-road)

Rating: Easy

Need to Know: Lodging and camping can be found in many towns along the Mesabi Trail. Visit http://www.mesabitrail.com/communities for more info.

The Trail:  The NCT is currently undeveloped between the Kekekabic Trail and the Chippewa National Forest but long-distance hikers follow the multi-use Mesabi Trail for most of that route. The NCTA is currently working to develop the NCT in the Kekekabic Trail-to-Ely and Grand Rapids areas.

Get Involved! Trail Maintaining Chapters and Affiliates: The Arrowhead Chapter of the North Country Trail Association

Maps for this region:

Northern Central Minnesota

Northern Central Minnesota and the North Country Trail

Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge, by NCTA

South of US-2 in Grand Rapids, MN to the Otter Tail/Becker County line

Mileage: 196 miles (165 off-road,/32 on-road)

Rating: Easy

Need to Know: Dispersed camping is generally allowed (except within Itasca, Greenwater Lake SNA, and Tamarac NWR) but designated backcountry campsites are provided.

The Trail:  This segment of the North Country Trail traverses north central Minnesota’s glacially scoured landscape which features lots of lakes, abundant wetlands, and flat to rolling topography covered with a mix of conifers and deciduous trees.  This section of the Trail is lightly used and offers superb backpacking and day hiking opportunities without the crowds.

Notable Locations: 

Get Involved! Trail Maintaining Chapters: Arrowhead, Star of the North, Itasca Moraine, and Laurentian Lakes Chapters of the North Country Trail Association.

Trail Towns: Walker, Frazee

Maps for this region:

Northwestern Minnesota

Northwestern Minnesota and the North Country Trail

photo by Minnesota Waters and Prairie Chapter

Otter Tail/Becker County line to the MN/ND border

Mileage: 95 miles (16 off-road/79 on-road)

Rating: Easy

Need to Know: Camping is limited to Campgrounds in towns and in Maplewood State Park.

The Trail: A mostly road walk segment of the North Country Trail traverses the rolling Leaf Hills and the agriculturally rich flat Red River Valley.  A new loop trail within the City of Fergus Falls provides an interesting mix of prairie and woodland hiking as does a short segment with Maplewood State Park.  Road routes currently connect these short segments of off-road trail.

Notable Locations: 

Get Involved! Trail Maintaining Chapter: Minnesota Waters and Prairie Chapter of the North Country Trail Association

Trail Town: Fergus Falls

Maps for this region:

Minnesota Events

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