Trail Review: Gitchi-Gami Trail (Gooseberry to Split Rock)

The Gitch-Gami State Trail is a paved trail with segments scattered along the North Shore. Its intended route, when finished, will run from Two Harbors to Grand Marais (89 miles, I guess), but right now it only has a few sections.

I ran the section from Gooseberry Falls State Park to Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, which is 8.1 miles, if you start at the actual trailhead. The trailhead is located at a picnic area a bit over a mile down the road through the state park (actually the terminus of the road), so a State Parks vehicle pass is necessary. The route is a bit shorter if you start near the Visitors’ Center – the trail crosses the road near the entrance to the park, so parking alongside the road (for free – and by the road I mean the one inside the park, not Highway 61) and jumping on the trail there will save about 1.1 miles.

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This is the elevation map of the trail (it’s from my GPS watch, so I’m sure there are some errors). It looks pretty jagged, but note the scale on the y-axis. That flat little part at the beginning is the section of the trail that winds from the trailhead back to the park entrance (at about 1 mile) – after that, the trail crosses Gooseberry Falls (the bridge has the potential to be a bit crowded) and then there’s more climbing up to the highest point of the trail segment. It’s not exceptionally steep, but it’s still about a mile of uphill running, right at the beginning of the run.

A lot of the trail is along Highway 61, so it isn’t secluded or exceptionally peaceful. On a busy weekend day in the summer or early fall, there will be a lot of traffic, and probably a lot of bikers. (I ran on a Sunday late afternoon, so it was quieter.) This also means the trail is fairly exposed, so there’s not a lot of shade. There are a few short, blessed sections of shade, but overall it’s not a woodsy trail.

There are several sections with nice lake views that are very tempting to a runner who just wants to be done. Come, sit at my picnic table, enjoy listening to the waves, these spots seem to say. Stop torturing yourself, aren’t you hot? Look at these nice, shady trees. If I wasn’t such a businesslike runner, I’d listen. The first of these sections comes after the first big descent.

About 4 miles in, the trail reaches the Twin Points Beach public access. This is an alternative spot to start the a run, one I am going to consider for the future when I do other segments – and I’d also like to explore the beach. It provides a brief respite from the sun, before dumping you back out along the highway.

Shortly after that, the trail descends to the mouth of the Split Rock River. I wanted to veer off the trail and right into the lake, it looked so cool and clean, with a typical North Shore rocky beach. Instead I endured a series of ascents for the final 2 miles (give or take) of the trail segment. This section separates from the highway, so it’s a bit more secluded. It finally winds its way down into Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. It does not actually end at the lighthouse, it ends before the lighthouse, at the trail center near the campground.

I like this trail when I want to get out of the city and my typical road routes, but I still want easy to manage terrain. I actually did it as an out and back for a long run (I prefer the Split Rock to Gooseberry direction) and found it really pleasant, except for the long periods of exposure to the sun, but that would be the same on a road run.

I’m looking forward to running additional segments of the trail, although I don’t know if I’ll venture beyond the Silver Bay endpoint – for a paved trail along a highway, it doesn’t seem worth driving all the way to Schroeder or Lutsen. (If I learn those segments are more scenic, I’ll give them a try, otherwise I’ll have to wait til I’m up there for another purpose.)

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