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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Misadventures in Trail Running

Last week’s long run looked a little funky, with 10.7 miles split up into one short run and one longer run. It has a story and some lessons to go along with it.

I didn’t do any running on the Harder ‘n Hell race course last week, but I did do a fair bit of trail running. I had all these grand plans earlier this year to run all these different places, and I hadn’t really done any of them. So I planned to do my Sunday long run at Tettegouche State Park, a bit over an hour away from Duluth up the North Shore.

I didn’t plan ahead, and it cost me. First, I trusted my GPS, rather than looking at a map. DO NOT TRUST THE GPS TO TAKE YOU TO TETTEGOUCHE STATE PARK. It took me to a service entrance, and then once I was at the service entrance, I had no data, so I couldn’t figure out how to get back. The park is aware of it and has a nice sign up with directions on how to get to the actual beginning of the park.

Once I got there, I drove to the trailhead near the falls. It linked up with the Superior Hiking Trail, so I jumped on the trail, which had more people than I would have liked, but it kept me going slow and steady. Unfortunately, I had to pee. I was an idiot and didn’t stop at the rest area at the park entrance. I figured I’d wait til I got away from the touristy area of the park and then hop off the trail. Instead, I was running through the campsites. I thought hey, there’s a bathroom up ahead, I’ll use that, but it was closed. Ugh. Then I realized I was running in a circle and would soon end up at my car. That was enough. I got back in my car, drove back to the rest area, used the bathroom, and then headed back southwest on 61. I decided I’d go to Split Rock instead.

After a few turns along the way and one mad dash across Highway 61 (no cars were coming but I still felt a little freaked out running across a highway), I ended up on the Superior Hiking Trail, and I cruised along. Relatively speaking. I felt fantastic on the run, despite the heat and the poor air quality. If I’d thought ahead, I’d have brought my sunscreen along to reapply, since it was basically useless after probably 2 hours in the car plus half an hour on the trails at Tettegouche. I was amazed at how nice my legs felt through most of the run, until I was on my way back and took a slightly different route and ended up running up several flights of stairs along Lake Superior. This was over 8 miles in, and I thought the steps would be the death of me, but I ended up surviving them and only dragged a little over the final mile. Hooray for me.

I need to plan a little better for these long runs. I drove a lot of unnecessary distance, and I got frustrated running down the “wrong” paths. If I am driving a couple hours round trip, I need to bring some supplies along and plan my routes (driving and running) with a little research. I will give Tettegouche another shot after some additional research, and find some gorgeous views along the way, I am sure. Split Rock was fun, and in the end I turned in a darn good long run.