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Location: Finland, MN. Appx 75 mi NE of Duluth

Lodging: walk-in campsites (no showers)

Activities: hiking

Lake/River: Manitou River, Bensen Lake

Special Attractions: n/a

George Crosby-Manitou DNR

Sunday May 18th - Tuesday May 20th, 2008

My first camping trip of the year involved quite the grueling adventure. My dad and I went up to Manitou and had reserved the closest site possible (#21) since we weren't really there for hardcore backpacking. There is no park office here, just a sign area with a slot for each backpack site. If the site is taken there's a slip in the slot. There is a hand pump with water in this area too. Further down the road is a small parking area where all the trails begin. We carried our stuff down the road to the Benson Lake Trail which has a nice boardwalk around most of the trail. Towards the opposite end the boardwalk ends for a bit and the trail is kind of mushy, but then it picks up again. Anyway...our site was up a hill and had a food locker and the toilet wasn't too far away. Apparently this toilet is meant to be shared with sites 20-22. We set up our tent and then walked around the lake. There is a picnic area and a place to put a canoe in on the opposite side of the lake. Beaver activity was very evident along this trail. Following this we headed to the parking lot and followed the Middle Trail (which is also the Superior Hiking Trail) in order to get to the Cascades. Further up there's a sign for the Crosby Hill Trail which I figured must be an overlook, but didn't go check it out. We did go to a marked overlook along the way which was nice. Soon the trail comes to an intersection and the SHT goes south and the trail to the cascades goes north. This was a fun hike along the river. The cascades were quite scenic and worth the hike!

The next day we headed out on the Yellow Birch Trail. This was pretty well defined as it went through the woods and crossed some streams here and there. The map makes it look like the YB ends and turns into the Cedar Ridge with the Misquah trail going east. In reality the YB is the one that goes east all the way to the River Trail by site #7 and the Misquah is the trail that goes up by site #6. This trail is a little bit more difficult to follow and goes up a hill. Site #6 is up a steep hill and there's also an overlook there which we went up to. From here back down to the River Trail the path becomes hard to find. It goes down a hill and it's really a guess on where to go. Finally we made it to the river where there's a sign for site #5. We headed south along the river. This trail is really rough with rocks and roots and down trees to maneuver around. It was pretty along there, but quite strenuous! It was also hard to follow, but there's comfort knowing the river is there. We went by site #7 and then the trail intersects with the Yellow Birch trail. We continued going along the river and the trail seemed to be more clear here. There were still many obstacles and at one point we had to crawl on hands and knees under some brush. Eventually you come to a sign that points to sites 13-16 with "dead end" on it. I had a small heart attack, but then looked to the right and saw another sign for the Matt Willis Trail. We commenced down that trail and after passing the sign for site #12 there's a small bridge over a stream. Here we ate lunch. Then continued on down the lane. The MW trail intersects with the Cedar Ridge trail, but since we were idiots we didn't turn onto this. Onward we trudged through the forest which was extremely dull. There were so many down trees and nothing else to look at. The trail was also extremely difficult to follow due to there still being many leaves on the ground. After what seemed like a decade we reached a run down picnic shelter where the Matt Willis intersects with the Beaver Bog trail. This trail is much easier to follow with less obstacles, but is still very very dull. After 1.5 miles (or what felt like 1.5 million years) we reached the Benson Lake trail and stumbled back to the campsite.

Overall I wasn't too impressed with Manitou. The ruggedness was expected, but is there some stigma against putting up more trail markers to let hikers know they're on the right track? Especially with so much debris on the trails. If you're just looking for scenery stick to the Benson Lake trail and the one to the Cascades. The nights were cold, and our site was pretty windy up on the hill. Didn't see any bears, but we made sure to keep all food in the car overnight since it was so close.

The cascades

View from overlook on the Middle Trail

The Manitou River rushes past

Benson Lake (also pictured at the top of the page)

Somewhere here is the trail! This is where we had to crawl through the brush...