Monday, June 24, 2013

Tettegouche State Park: Shovel Point Trail (Blog Hike #311)

Trail: Shovel Point Trail
Hike Location: Tettegouche State Park
Geographic Location: northeast of Silver BayMN (47.33872, -91.19588)
Length: 1.4 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: July 2010; trailhead pic taken July 2017
Overview: A short lollipop loop with outstanding Lake Superior views from rocky, exposed Shovel Point.
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailheadTettegouche State Park is located on SR 61 4.5 miles northeast of Silver Bay.  Turn right to enter the park.  Pass the main park road which exits to the right and park in the large blacktop rest area parking lot.

The hike: Established only in 1979, the land comprising Tettegouche State Park has a history of conservation which goes back much further than its life as a state park.  After being logged from 1898 to 1910, a group of businessmen from Duluth called the Tettegouche Club bought the land for use as a fishing camp and retreat.  The rest of the group was bought out by group member Clement K. Quinn in 1921, and for the next 50 years he would maintain the land in its natural state.  In 1971, Quinn sold the land to the deLaittres family, who in turn transferred the land to the state in 1979.
            Today, the park boasts 23 miles of hiking trails, a 34 site campground, 5 picnic areas, excellent fishing in both lakes and rivers, and 4 waterfalls.  When I drove into the park on a late July morning, I wanted to hike to one of the waterfalls.  Unfortunately, the park ranger informed me that the trail to the closest waterfall was closed, and I had rain moving in from the west.  Thus, I chose to hike the trail described here.  The Shovel Point Trail does not pass any waterfalls, but it does provide superior views of Lake Superior for most of its distance.  Also, since most visitors never get past the trails near the rest area, you will be able to find some solitude on this trail.
Rest area trailhead
            Begin on the paved trail at the picnic table as it heads south toward Lake Superior.  In only a couple hundred feet, you arrive at an overlook which provides your first lake view.  You can linger for awhile here, but much better views lie ahead.
Lake Superior view from first overlook
            Turn left to leave the overlook with the lake some 100 feet downhill to your right and the northwoods forest on your left.  After another couple hundred feet, pass a second overlook; this one features some small rock caves just above the lake below.  Past the overlook, angle right to leave the pavement and begin the Shovel Point Trail.  The paved trail exiting to the left leads to the truck section of the rest area.
            The trail descends the first of many wooden steps as it gets closer to the lake.  These steps give this trail very much a front country feel in spite of the lack of traffic.  At the bottom of the second set of steps, the trail forks.  The right fork leads downhill to a beach along the shore of Lake Superior.  This beach is no place to build a sand castle: while most beaches are made of sand, Lake Superior’s beaches are made of pebbles and rocks.  You can hike the steep trail down to the beach, but you will get a view of the beach later on the main trail, plus there are easier Lake Superior beaches to access than this one.
Lake Superior beach
            Turning left to continue along the main trail, the trail continues descending and passes a gap through the trees through which the aforementioned beach can be viewed.  The park’s forest consists mostly of birch (yellow and paper), maple, and aspen, and you will see many of these species along this trail.  Continuing downhill, you soon cross a wooden bridge over a small creek.  This bridge is located just above the point where the creek drops over a cliff and into Lake Superior, making for a scenic photo opportunity.
            Looking at the cliff above and ahead of you tells you what is coming next.  Sure enough, you are now at the lowest elevation of the hike (excluding the side trail to the beach, of course), and the next wooden steps lead up.  At 0.6 miles, you reach another overlook.  This overlook points southwest toward a small natural arch along the shore of the lake.
Natural Arch along Lake Superior
            Past the overlook, the trail heads out onto bare rock and becomes harder to discern.  A trail appears to go right along the cliff edge, but in fact the main trail stays near the spine of the ridge.  The bare rock seems an inhospitable place for life, but the rough pale-colored spots on the rock are lichens, algae-fungus partnerships that manage to live here. Signs tell hikers to remain on the main trail (so as not to damage the lichens), but they would be more effective if it were easier to tell where the main trail is.  I noticed some construction materials near this point, so maybe some help is coming on this front.
            Now descending moderately, some spur trails lead right to more overlooks of Lake Superior.  Each one is worth a visit because the rock formations along the lake shore are different at each location.  Also, you have gained enough elevation to make the views inland worthwhile too.
Another Lake Superior overlook
            0.7 miles into the hike, the trail heads onto the bare rock of Shovel Point.  Notice some veins in the otherwise monolithic pink granite.  A final set to steps lead to an observation at the very tip of Shovel Point.  From here, 270-degree views of Lake Superior open up.  More pink granite can be seen in either direction, and some more rock caves can be seen to the northeast.  This is the highlight of the hike, so take a few minutes to soak up the views.
Observation deck at Shovel Point
View northeast from Shovel Point
            To continue, climb back up the wooden steps and angle to the right to take a narrow gravel path which leads along the clifftop.  Unlike most other parts of this trail, there are no railings here, so watch your step and keep children firmly in tow: a fall down the cliffs to the right would almost surely be fatal.  Soon the trail curves left and begins climbing away from the clifftop.  At 0.8 miles, the trail rejoins your outbound trail to complete a small loop around Shovel Point.  Retracing your steps 0.6 miles will return you to the rest area and complete the hike.

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