I had been itching to do a North Shore bike packing trip for some while and had a free weekend coming up in mid-October. I almost wrote off the trip early in the week because the weather report was calling for lots of rain. By Friday it looked like the rain was going to hold off, so I decided to go for it last minute. Packing up early Saturday, I stopped at Walmart on the way out of Minneapolis to pickup provisions and a few last essentials.
My research indicated that the C.J. Ramstad/North Shore State Snowmobile Trail is the recommended bikepacking route along the North Shore of Minnesota. My (very) loose plan was to access the trail outside of Finland, MN and ride in as far as I could, maybe camping at one of the small shelters located about every 10 miles along the trail, and ride back out the same way on next day. Of course, nothing ever quite goes as planned. When I arrived at the trail head it was immediately clear that it would not be easy going. I had heard that the trail is usually mowed in the fall in preparation for snowmobile season, however the grass was chest high, wet, with narrow, muddy ATV wheel tracks. Leaving my car there I decided to bike the 9.5 miles back down CO. HWY 7 to the campground in Finland.
About 6 miles inland from Lake Superior, Finland State Forest Campground is a quiet little gem that is isolated from the crowed state parks on HWY 61. Several of the sites right on the Baptism River were already taken by the time I rolled in, but I was able to find an great site tucked against a rock outcropping. After setting up camp and dinner of instant potatoes and quesadilla I explored some of the surrounding ATV trails and dirt roads.
It was a crisp, clear night with a nearly full moon, temps dipping into the 30s. I woke up chilly once or twice when I rolled off the center of the pad, but for the most part the R20 Nemo kept my backside warm. Side note: I got this nifty little drip filter that makes camp coffee a breeze.
In the morning, I rode back to the car, stashed my sleeping and camping gear, then continued along CO. HWY 7 as it follows Ninemile Creek north. The road was hard packed gravel; very smooth and fast. 7 passes through Finland State Forest and into Superior National Forest. The road was fairly quiet, though there was the occasional F350 pickup ferrying orange clad hunters through the Public Land. Throughout the day I heard the drumming of grouse and found their field dressed remains at ATV trail heads. Traveling light and with no specific destination, I had the freedom to stop, take pictures, and explore side tracks. I would spot an a ATV trail running off into the forest and would follow it a few hundred yards into thicker forest before it became impassible.
One highlight was the old LVT Steel Trestle as it crosses 7 on its way to Taconite Harbor. The top of the trestle provided beautiful views of the valley and Ninemile Creek. The railroad was overgrown and covered with taconite pellets from the Iron Range and mines further inland. Breaking here and consulting the map, I picked Ninemile Lake as a destination for the day.
There is another great campground at Ninemile Lake in the Superior National Forest that I definitely have to keep in mind the next time I head north. After exploring the campground and filling up with water I hustled back to the car. It was 4pm and there were still views to be had. I hit all the hot spots along the Lake as I made the drive back to Minneapolis. All in all I only rode maybe ~35 miles over the weekend, but it was great to get the lay of the land.