Backpacking in Minnesota: Tips & Trails

Backpacking in Minnesota: A hiker on a trail in Silver Bay, Minnesota

In this post, we'll take a look at:

Backpacking in Minnesota is an adventurer’s dream, with excellent exploration opportunities in the northern part of the state along the Superior Hiking Trail and in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW).

In this post, we’re going to discuss backpacking in Minnesota from an ultralight perspective. We’ll share important tips to help you prepare for your upcoming outdoor adventure.

We’ll highlight the TOP 5 trails in Minnesota, categorized into two groups: day hikes spanning less than 30 miles and multi-day trips featuring convenient water resupply points every few days.

Key Tips for Backpacking in Minnesota

  • What to expect: While the most popular trails are generally well-maintained, be prepared for variable footing with rocks, roots, and mud, as the trails can narrow through thick forests and overgrown brush at times.
  • Essential gear: You might want to consider countermeasures against mosquitoes and bring good rain gear, including Gore-Tex shoes. Also consider bringing a bear canister.
  • Wildlife: In Minnesota’s backcountry, the main wildlife concerns include bears, wolves, and moose. Black bears, attracted by food or garbage, are found statewide. Wolves, mainly in the north, can be aggressive if threatened. Moose, large and potentially charging if cornered, require extreme caution when encountered. During rutting season, also give white-tailed deer a wide berth.
  • Wild camping: Wild camping is permitted in remote areas like the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and National Forests, but regulations must be followed, such as maintaining a minimum distance of 150 feet from trails and shorelines. Permits are mandatory for overnight stays in the Boundary Waters. State Parks allow backcountry camping only at designated sites, not for dispersed camping. Always avoid camping on private property without permission or in public areas where local laws prohibit it.
  • Best time to go: The prime time for Minnesota backpacking is late spring through fall (May to October), with milder temperatures and optimal trail conditions. June and July bring warmth, but mosquitoes can be an issue. Late summer to fall sees fewer bugs, smaller crowds, and pleasant daytime temperatures with colorful foliage. Yet, nights get chilly by September, requiring proper cold weather gear. Avoid early spring’s muddy trails and winter’s limited backcountry access due to deep snow.

Top 5 Day Hikes (Under 30 Miles)

Embark on these scenic day hikes where you can witness the practicality of your ultralight gear:

  1. Superior Hiking Trail: Bean and Bear Lake Loop (6.9 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  2. Superior Hiking Trail: Bean and Bear Lakes (6.3 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  3. Northern River, Trout Brook and Prairie Loop (7.2 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  4. Eagle Mountain Trail (6.6 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  5. Superior Hiking Trail: Carlton Peak (7.0 miles).
    See on AllTrails.

Top 5 Multi-Day Trips

Explore these fantastic backpacking trails in Minnesota, offering water resupply points every two days:

  1. Superior Hiking Trail (283.7 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  2. Luce Line Trail (74.9 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  3. Sioux Hustler Trail (31.2 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  4. Superior Hiking Trail: Section 5 (47.9 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  5. Kekekabic Trail (38.6 miles).
    See on AllTrails.

Annual Weather Averages

The weather for backpacking in Minnesota can vary depending on the season. Here’s a general overview:

  • Spring (March to May): Spring temperatures range from chilly to mild. Trails may be muddy due to melting snow. Bugs, especially mosquitoes, become active in late spring.
  • Summer (June to August): Summer brings warm to hot temperatures, with June and July being the warmest months. However, it’s also the season with the highest chance of encountering mosquitoes and other insects.
  • Fall (September to November): Fall is characterized by cooler temperatures and vibrant foliage. Nights can become chilly, especially in September. It’s generally a pleasant time for backpacking with fewer bugs.
  • Winter (December to February): Winter in Minnesota is cold, with snow and sub-zero temperatures. Backcountry access may be limited due to deep snow, making winter backpacking more challenging.

Before making your outdoors gear selection, take a look at the weather statistics for Minnesota (Silver Bay):

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
High °F232737496170767464523826
Low °F6818303948545345352412
Rain/Snow (D*)435791110109865
Note: This table is approximate; weather can change with altitude.
D* – Days of rain or snow.

FAQ

Can I have a campfire while backpacking in Minnesota?

If you’re backpacking in Minnesota and want to have a campfire, it depends on where you camp and the current rules. In most state parks and forests, campfires are allowed, but they must be in designated areas and fully extinguished before leaving. Check for any seasonal burn bans due to high fire danger. Contact local authorities or visit state park offices and national forest visitor centers for the latest information on fire restrictions in the area you plan to visit.

How to deal with wildlife encounters while backpacking in Minnesota?

Make noise on trails to avoid surprising animals, store food securely to discourage bears, and back away slowly if you encounter one. If charged by a bear, stand your ground and use bear spray if you have it. Coyotes usually steer clear of humans, but keep your pets leashed. Deer are harmless but easily startled, so give them space. Don’t disturb wildlife babies, as their mothers are likely nearby. While venomous snakes like rattlesnakes exist, they’re not aggressive unless threatened, so give them plenty of space if you see them on the trail.

What are some tips for fishing while backpacking in Minnesota?

Fishing is a favorite activity for backpackers in Minnesota, thanks to the many lakes and rivers. You can catch tasty fish like trout, walleye, northern pike, and bass using compact ultralight gear at remote sites. In winter, there’s even ice fishing. Remember to check licensing requirements, follow the seasons, clean up waste away from water, and consider catch and release.

What are some safety tips for backpacking in Minnesota?

Embark on an excursion through Minnesota’s great outdoors for an adventure immersed in nature, but be sure to prioritize safety. Acquire a detailed trail map before following paths through dense Northwoods forests, and inform others of your intended route. Pack brightly colored clothing, first-aid supplies, flashlights, whistles and bear-resistant food containers. Watch your footing on uneven, rocky terrain. Make noise to avoid surprising bears, moose or other wildlife. Stay hydrated and focused so you can fully revel in Minnesota’s natural splendor while keeping safety a priority. With adequate precautions taken, you can delight in the beauty of Minnesota’s backcountry wilderness. Stay alert, be ready for the unexpected, and remember prudent planning prevents poor performance on a Minnesota backpacking trip.

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