SHT – Lutsen to Cascade River State Park

Hikers: Betsy, Colleen
Total Distance: 21 miles
Days: 4 days, 3 nights
May 24- 27, 2019 (Memorial Day Weekend)

Friday, May 24
We took a half day at work and left Minneapolis by 1pm after having a quick sort through all our food and gear at Colleen’s house. Arriving at the Lutsen trailhead in a light rain, we only found 1 car parked in the 3 car lot, and hit the trail in our rain jackets and our packs covered with their bright blue rain covers.

At the Lutsen Trailhead.

One of the first things of note on our short hike to the Mystery Mountain campsite was the bridge over the Poplar River. There was a fog settling over the trees in the distance and the river was roaring and powerful. It was a really great first impression! The second thing of note was the mud. Lots. of. Mud.

Overlooking the Poplar River on our way from Lutsen Trailhead to Mystery Mountain camp.

We arrived at the campsite to find only one other person there – all tucked away in their hammock, and we very quickly set up our tent as the drizzle continued. We arrived much earlier than anticipated and weren’t quite sure how to spend the rest of evening, as we weren’t hungry for dinner immediately. But we did have trail beers – and there is always room for a trail beer. We also explored the campsite and walked south on the trail for a bit – until hitting a big patch of mud and decided we were good for now. The Mystery Mountain campsite is pretty good, although in early season – which it was at the time – when the leaves have not quite filled out – the latrine is quite visible from the main camping area. So it was a good thing we only had the one hammock guy, who never emerged from his hanging home (at least until morning).

Dinner time came, and we boiled water for our freeze dried meals. And this is where Colleen earned her trail name, “Spice Pack”. She opened the little “do not eat” packet from her meal, dumped it in and stirred it around after letting the meal sit for the designated time. Luckily we had extra freeze dried meals in the car, which we would pass by again anyway!

Wildlife seen: a very large rabbit, a grouse

Saturday, May 25

Throughout the night and the next morning we heard grouses drumming. It had stopped raining by the time we got up (around 9?). We made oatmeal for breakfast, and set out some stuff on the wooden benches to dry a bit as the sun sometimes peeked through the clouds. At 10 on the nose, we set off from the campsite and headed back the way we came so we could stop by the car for extra food packets and continue North on the trail. It was difficult not to stop for the same view over the Poplar River we had seen yesterday, only this time it was more clear.

Overlooking the Poplar River again, this time clear.

Just after continuing on to the spur trail back to the main SHT, we came across a large pile of snow! The trail climbed a bit and we got some great views of Lake Superior and the Lutsen ski hills (also still hanging on to some snow). As we got closer to the Poplar River, the quantities of mud we came across increased, but we were treated with finding some moose tracks in the mud! The trail eventually came right up next to the river, which was very high and practically running over the trail. Somehow we missed seeing the West Poplar campsite, where we had intended to stop for lunch – but it wasn’t far to the East Poplar campsite, so there we stopped. I think the SHT guidebook listed more than one tent pad at this site, but from what we saw, only one looked good enough to put a tent.

Continuing on, we saw lots more mud and eventually made our way to both Lake Agnes campsites after signing the trail register at Hunter’s Rock and stopping to admire a very busy beaver’s handiwork on the lake. We skipped going up the steps to check out West Lake Agnes camp, which was high above the lake so that we could claim our spot at East Lake Agnes, right on the lake before anyone else could.

There was only one other tent set up when we arrived, but by the time everyone had arrived, there were probably 2 other tents, and 4 “mockers” set up for the night. After setting up camp, we left our gear and went for a hike to take the spur trail to White Sky Rock. It was really nice to be walking without our packs – and we walked through the “Most Magical” place on the trail, where the scenery completely changes to this quiet, dark, ancient forest that felt almost mystical, with it’s moss and old pine tree roots blanketing huge rocks all around, and where the air felt more dewy and still than the rest of the trail.

We eventually made it to White Sky Rock, where the sun kept threatening to come out, we had a great lookout over Caribou Lake, and were able to enjoy a bit of a lay down with our boots and socks off.

Overlook of Caribou Lake from White Sky Rock

The evening was spent by the fire getting to know the hammock guys. Turned out a couple of them were YouTubers, and had been filming their entire hike (which happened to be mostly the same as ours, but in the opposite direction). They were interesting and friendly – one of my favorite things about hiking this trail is meeting new people at the campsites you share. One of them even put us in their video 😀 Watch starting at 08:58 for the Lake Agnes portion – but the whole video is worth a watch, if you’re into hiking trails.

The Lake Agnes campsite was next on my list for parts of the trail I wanted to visit – and it was indeed very beautiful, but it was also very busy, and being only 1 mile from a trailhead, you get a lot of day hikers passing by on the trail which runs right through the site. Many stopped to wander the campsite and look around, which was a little weird, considering there were campers occupying the site, and most that wandered in weren’t intending to camp there. One girl that was wandering through was even throwing her orange peels on the ground, which was not cool. Leave it better than you found it, yo. I’m glad we stayed there, but I’m not sure I’d go out of my way to stay there again.

East Lake Agnes Campsite – So lovely!

Wildlife seen: Hummingbird, a very blue Blue Jay, Snake
Tips picked up from other campers: Try fritos or funions + siracha in your Chili Mac

Sunday, May 26

As we sat eating our breakfast back by our tent, our hammocking camp-mates were preparing to leave. But not before setting up a tripod for filming a staged and directed exit (see above video at 15:18. “AMERICA! Pew pew”). We left camp about a quarter after 9 and started making our way north. Our next camp would be at Indian Creek camp, about 8 miles away. Our lunch stop was really lovely at Spruce Creek camp…I would love to camp there sometime – it was right on the river and very beautiful. Apparently there were warnings not to use the bridge, as it had been damaged from high water — but it seemed in perfectly good condition to us and everyone else…

The hike from here to Indian creek was partially up along a tall ridge overlooking Lake Superior, and partially along a snowmobile trail. The ridge was beautiful and the views were great most of the time – but we also found a lot of downed trees that required crawling under, over, or around. At one point, as we stood overlooking the ridge, a bird flew by us, only a couple of yards away from the cliff, at eye level, and we could hear the flapping of it’s wings. It was really incredible. The snowmobile trail was full of signs of wildlife – we saw lots of poo from what we think were probably some pretty badass animals – mostly wolf and one from a bear. We also saw some kill scenes, with only animal hair and bones left on the trail. I imagine that part of the trail would be a little more creepy at night.

We arrived at Indian Creek camp to find a couple of other tents set up, but luckily it was quite a large group camp and we found a nice spot down by the second fire area, near the river. We quickly set up our tent before it started to rain a bit, and another couple arrived just after us, looking for a place to put their tent. We had quite a lot of time to spare before dinner time, so I thought I’d work on getting a fire going, since it was feeling a little chilly. Colleen tried to read down by the water, but came back after about 20 minutes because it was too cold. It was probably in the 40’s, and felt much colder by the river. After dinner we joined the rest of camp up at the other fire area (they had a much better fire going), and we learned that Colleen used to work with one of them at REI – small world. We expressed our gratitude to a father/son duo who had been out clearing all of the downed trees that we came across. They reported clearing 49 trees that day! SHT Volunteers — we appreciate you!

Entrance to Indian Creek Campsite. Forgot to get a photo of the actual site itself 🙁

Wildlife seen: Turtle at Jonvick Creek, Grouse, Bunny

Monday, May 27 (Memorial Day)

The next day we woke up to rain and couldn’t be bothered to get the stove out and cook breakfast – so we ate some granola bars and snacks instead. We were scheduled to arrive at Cascade State Park for our shuttle pick up at 11:45am, so we set off at about 8:40am to give us a little extra time in case of some mishaps or unexpected circumstances, of which we only had one 🙂 We ended up going down the 97 steps at Cascade and walking a little ways north before we realized we were supposed to be going south down the river and toward Lake Superior. So back up the 97 steps we climbed to take the other trail! Walking down along the Cascade River toward the state park was quite breathtaking, as the river was raging and there were a few waterfalls to stop and take in.

As you can see from the elevation on the map below, this hike was mostly downhill. As we finished our hike, we ended right by the river as it spewed out into the big lake – and we thought that was a pretty great view to end the hike.

Our pickup by the Superior Hiking Shuttle, which we had scheduled earlier in the week was to be at the Cascade River State Park trailhead – but during our stay at Indian Creek we had it changed to the Cascade Wayside pickup instead, after talking with some of our camp mates who had also planned to be picked up there. Well, when we arrived at the wayside – over an hour early – we found a guy in a Superior Hiking Shuttle van waiting there. He encouraged us and our buddies to go back to the trailhead for pickup instead, as there was a trail center there where we could wait, and it might have a fire going. This sounded good because it was rainy and cold…so we went, as he called the shuttle driver to let her know where to find us. Pickup went as planned, and we made it back to our car at Lutsen! What a great trip!

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