Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Grand Silver Bay Loop

Silver Bay is one of my favorite towns on the North Shore of Lake Superior. It's a company town, built by the Reserve Mining Company in 1954 to process low grade iron ore. The ore is extracted from the ground and shipped by rail from the mines in Babbit, Minnesota, sixty miles to the northwest. After decades of mining, low grade ore is all that's left. Reserve's revolutionary (at the time) process concentrates the ore, creating taconite, a high grade ore pellet used in making steel. The taconite pellets are then loaded onto ships and sent to steel mills on the lower Great Lakes. A ship can be seen loading in the photo-map below.  The Silver Bay area is an interesting mix of State Parks, heavy industry, motorized recreation, a bicycle trail and last but not least the stunning Superior Hiking Trail. I'm constantly amazed by how well all these competing interests get along in the area.

The Grand Silver Bay Loop is a great multimodal day hike that I pieced together mainly on the Superior Hiking Trail.  You'll be hiking on the SHT of course, but you'll also spend time on the Twin Lakes Trail, an ATV trail, a bicycle trail and a few roads and city streets too. Park your vehicle at the Beaver Bay trailhead (see the SHT guidebook). The hike departs from either one of the SHT's Beaver River camp sites, a short mile or 2 from the trailhead. Get to the camp site early (but not too early, last night's campers may still be sleeping), set up your tent, grab your day pack, lunch and water and head out. I've also stayed 2 nights at the campsite, arriving late the afternoon before the hike and setting up. You also may be able to get dropped off or park your vehicle for the day somewhere on the W Road and hike the loop from there, avoiding camping altogether (I'm not sure about parking limitations, if any, on the W Road). This 12.5 mile loop hike is a real workout but you'll be slack packing so you should have no trouble. According to my GPS the hike took me 8 hours, 3 hours of which I was resting, eating or taking pictures. I climbed and descended about 2000 feet  (see the elevation profile at the bottom of this post) . Click the picture below for a larger view.

Follow the blue blazes of the SHT from your campsite heading northbound. Please see your SHT guidebook for a complete description. This very scenic and hilly section of trail  crosses over the mining company railroad tracks and eventually leads you to the Penn Blvd Trailhead in Silver Bay. From there you head up, down, up, down, up, up up and eventually up to the cliffs overlooking Bean and Bear Lakes. Plan to spend some time at the top basking in the beauty that's all around you. This is a great spot to eat  your lunch and take some pictures.

Past the Bear Lake campsite and trail register, you'll see the Twin Lakes Trail spur. Leave the SHT here and follow the white blazes of the TLT. You'll eventually descend down towards town. The first ATV trail you encounter is known as the George's Gorge Trail. You can short circuit a couple miles of relatively uninteresting green tunnel by taking this ATV trail back into town. If you prefer you can stay on the TLT and hook up to the same ATV trail closer to town. Once in Silver Bay you have opportunities for food, refreshment and resupply. Make your way down the main street through Silver Bay to the Rukavina Ice Arena. Anyone you encounter can point you in the right direction. Next to the ice arena is a trail head for the paved Gitchi-Gami state bicycle trail. Follow the Gitchi-Gami for a couple miles and go under the railroad tracks, using the new box culvert. The bike trail terminates at the W Road. Take a right on the W for a short distance until you come to an unmarked but wide open ATV trail. Take a right on this trail a short distance until you see the blue blaze of the SHT, which should look familiar because you were there 8 hours earlier. Take a left and head back down to the lovely Beaver River and your campsite.

This is a busy campsite because it is so close to the Beaver Bay trailhead. Be prepared to follow the SHT ethic and share your camp. You're bound to meet fun, interesting and knowledgeable people with whom you can share a fire and your day's adventures.

 At no time while you're on this loop are you required to trespass. The SHT exists in this area due to the good graces of Cliffs Natural Resources so we need to be proper trail stewards.

If you use Google Earth let me know and I can send you a KML file for the Grand Silver Bay Loop. It's really awesome.

A new multimodal trailhead is under construction in Beaver Bay for the SHT, Gitchi-Gami and motorized recreation trails, so be prepared for changes when that is complete, probably some time in 2015.

Elevation profile.  Click the picture below for a larger view.


  1. Loop options for the SHT? I approve, Tom!

  2. Thanks Sam! It was a lot of fun figuring out that loop without trespassing. There's a huge new trailhead under construction in Beaver Bay which will change everything. The mining company wants to move the trail away from needing to cross over their tracks too.

  3. Compiling a list of hikes like this along the shore would be a cool project, Tom.