Of all the trail guides I’ve used, the format of this one is one of the best, and the information in it is up-to-date and accurate. I am referring to the 5th Edition, published in 2007.
The Superior Hiking Trail goes along the north shore of Lake Superior from Jay Cooke State Park south of Duluth to a connection with the Border Route Trail nearly at the Canadian Border, north of Grand Marais, Minnesota. It is about 200 miles long, almost all of which are completed off road. It has been rated by Backpacker magazine as one of the top 20 trails in the United States, with fantastic scenery, and lots of hills. It is an unofficial part of the North Country National Scenic Trail. That won’t become official until Congress gets around to approving the change in the original NCT route.
The SHT is a very popular hiking trail with options both for camping (backpacking) and lodge-to-lodge hiking. This book is for those who wish to camp or backpack.
The book begins with general information about the trail, and then a history of the trail. Next there is an interesting chapter about the geology of the North Shore, which is very different from anywhere else in the Great Lakes. Next there are chapters covering habitats, birds, and animals. Following this is a history of the settlement of the North Shore area.
The final three initial chapters get to the nitty-gritty of hiking: “Backpacking on the SHT, ” “Minimum Impact, ” and “The Best of the SHT” with suggested day hikes.
I am reviewing the 5th edition of the book, published in 2007. This newest edition includes all of the trail that is completed including the recently opened section through Duluth. However this portion is located last in the book.
So the guide begins just north of Two Harbors, and continues all the way to the Border Route. Then it goes back and covers the Duluth section.
The format is that each section has a black and white map. This is a topographic map with roads and the trail overlaid in bold printing. Also marked on the maps are campsites and parking areas. These are the same as the maps that the Superior Hiking Trail Association sells, but reduced in size. If you are going to hike the trail I suggest you get the separate maps too, since they are much easier to read the elevations, names of rivers, mountains, etc. They are really inexpensive.
Each section is 10 miles or fewer in length. The mileages are noted from point to point in each direction making this guide more useful than most are if you are not hiking in the direction of the narration. So mileages to road crossings, points of interest, etc are noted.
The campsites are indented in blocks within the text. This is really my only complaint with the book. They aren’t entered as simply the next point of interest. The mileage to the next and previous campsite is given, but it’s sometimes hard to figure out just exactly how far it is from the last mileage point. Campsite information includes the number of tent sites, water access, and whether it is a regular site or one for group camps.
Also included in the book are sidebars with lots of interesting tidbits of information such as special types of rock you might see, waterfalls, bogs, etc.
The guide itself is hefty to carry if you are backpacking, but not hiking the entire length of the trail. Backpackers usually take the book apart and just carry the pages they need. This guide does not cover the lodge-to-lodge option.
Overall, the SHTA does a good job of getting actual current information when they publish a new edition of the guidebook. This is largely due to a great network of volunteers who keep track of the trail and its condition. This book is well worth the price. You won’t end up feeling like you were cheated, but had to buy it because it was all that was available.
Update On Aug 30, 2009: I found on my last hike that some of the sections are written for popular loop hikes that include side trails in the main narrative which makes it difficult to get an accurate mileage for a thru-hike. I figured it out finally, but I was surprised that they weren't consistent in format.