Skinny Ski Paradise – The Sugarbush Trails

North Shore Cross Country Skiing on the Sugarbush Trails

Did you know that Minnesota’s North Shore is home to the largest system of cross-country ski trails – not just in Minnesota – but the whole United States! For me, there is no better cross country skiing on the North Shore of Minnesota than the Sugarbush Trails in the Lutsen-Tofte area. The Sugarbush Trails are surrounded by the beauty of the Superior National Forest, and there are distances and difficulties suitable for skiers from beginner to expert. 

Map of Sugarbush Ski Trails

Map of Sugarbush Ski Trails

The Sugarbush Trail Association maintains 65 kilometers of groomed trails set for classic and skate skiing. There are three designated parking areas for accessing this lengthy ski trail system. Two are located along the Sawbill Trail that runs north from Lake Superior in the town of Tofte (mile marker 83.4). For my recent skiing excursion, I chose instead to head up the Onion River Road (mile marker 86.1). This pretty little road is located halfway between Tofte and Lutsen on Hwy 61. It meanders north to the Superior National Forest parking and trailhead for the popular Oberg and Leveaux Mountain hikes. As you can see on the trail map, there are tons of ski trails to explore.

Here are a few of my suggestions and favorites:

Easy and Scenic

Clip-on your skis and head across the parking lot to the Onion River Road trail. This is basically the non-motorized portion of the road you just drove up. From here, you’ll discover an out-and-back route with round trip totals of 11 kilometers (over 6 miles!). The difficulty is considered easy with several rolling hills that will get your heart pumping. But you will not encounter any technical or steep inclines to tackle.

One thing I love about this trail is how wide it is, complete with two sets of classic tracks and a large skate skiing area in the middle. In addition, you can just pick how far you want to go and turn around halfway. While skiing along this trail you won’t hear any noise of traffic. The peaceful sounds of the north woods and your skis gliding along the snow is all you’ll hear. Pine trees coated with snow and fresh moose tracks were the highlights of my recent ski along this wonderful trail.

The Perfect Beginner’s Loop

While cross country skiing along the Onion River Road you will notice more trails heading off from this main drag. If you’re ready to explore more of the Sugarbush Ski system I suggest taking a left at the first intersection you come across – just over a mile from the start. This will turn your adventure into a 4.75-kilometer loop (almost 3 miles) ending back at the parking area. I always enjoy the long gradual downhill that starts just as you turn off the Onion River Road Trail…weeee! Be sure to keep veering left at the two other trail intersections encountered along the way. You will soon find yourself back at the parking area. This fun loop is perfect for beginners, families with kids, and those times you can only fit in a quick ski.

An Intermediate Adventure – Oberg Loop

Looking for a bigger challenge but not quite ready for the technical difficulty of the ‘most difficult’ trails? Try the Oberg Loop! This trail is so beautiful that you won’t even notice that you have to work a little bit harder on this 7.2-kilometer loop (4.5 miles). If you have ever climbed up to Oberg Mountain you will quickly notice that much of this trail is situated just below the backside lookouts from the hiking loop. The ski trail winds through deep forests and along ravine ridgelines with glimpses of Oberg and Leveaux Mountains in the distance. After working hard for a few miles, I always appreciate the last mile of this loop. It utilizes the easier Onion River Road Trail back to the parking area.

Enjoy your Sugarbush Ski Trail Adventure!

Save some time for a stop at the adorable and historic warming house located next to the parking area. Complete with piles of wood and a wood stove, it’s the perfect spot to relax and make plans for your next cross-country ski excursion. Don’t forget to pack some hot chocolate!

Sara Taylor, Lutsen Resident & Freelance Marketer

Sara on the Sugarbush Trails

Sara is a Lutsen resident and freelance marketer.

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Need to rent some skis?

Check out these local outfitters for rental packages and services like waxing and retail products:

Sawtooth OutfittersTofte

Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply – Grand Marais

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One thought on “Skinny Ski Paradise – The Sugarbush Trails

  1. Greg Fangel says:

    I am one of the board members of the Sugarbush Trail Association and want to thank you for this great story! We are very proud of our ski trails and spend much time taking care of the trails year ’round. Thanks again for great writing about a great trail!

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