Sweetheart’s Bluff Hiking Trail in Grand Marais
Sweetheart’s Bluff Nature Area
One of Grand Marais MN’s best hiking trails is also one of the town’s best kept secrets. Sweetheart’s Bluff Nature Area is a simple hiking trail system right in the city of Grand Marais that offers two loops and a short ridgeline trail. The Lake Loop is a smoothly maintained and accessible trail that offers barrier free access for wheelchairs and walkers. The Overlook Loop heads uphill to a sweet overlook of the Grand Marais Harbor (the “bluff” part of Sweetheart’s Bluff). The Tower Spur Trail traverses the ridgeline to the remains of a dismantled fire tower. Hiking all three will take about an hour.
Starting out you can take the Overlook Loop or the Lake Loop. I took the Overlook Loop which heads up a gentle hill. The assent quickly turns into a tight switchback up the side of the bluff. This is a slightly steep, and quick trail to the top. The switchback eases the gradient of the trail and there are stair-like rocks that help you along. In the early November snow I could tell by the tracks that this is a popular hike for dogs and their humans. And bunnies.
Sweetheart’s Bluff Overlook
It’s not too far to the Sweetheart’s Bluff overlook at the top of the bluff. The bald knob of ancient volcanic rock signals the approach. At the top, you can see a miniature version of Artist’s Point and the Lighthouse before the huge expanse of Lake Superior across the horizon. Cool! This is the perfect spot to settle in with your sweetheart to enjoy the view and take some pictures.
Tower Spur Trail
After you’re finished admiring the view from the bluff you can continue on to the Tower Spur Trail or make your decent on part two of the Overlook Loop. The trail marker for the Tower Trail leads you through a stand of super skinny fir trees and then the trail gets a little lost. At the time of my hike, there were down trees blocking the trail, and it was hard to see the path with the snow. Not as many paw prints on this section of the trail. But I figured it out after some easy navigation.
Walking along the ridge you can see another baby-sized mountain through the trees to the north, just a short distance away. The slight rumble of vehicles can be heard from Highway 61 in the valley. A quick hike takes you to an old, dismantled and frankly lackluster Forest Service fire tower.
Descending down the Overlook Loop
Coming out of the Tower Trail, you’re now heading down part two of the Overlook Loop. This short and sweet(heart) little mountain was born from glaciers that cut through this ancient volcanic rock. If you’re familiar with the ledgerock that’s found along Lake Superior, this hill is like a mountain of ledgerock. The stair-step rock formations allow you to, well, stair-step your way up and down. At the picnic shelter, there is another overlook of the harbor, which is almost a good as the one at the top.
On the way down you’ll find a couple of nice spots to rest, have a snack, and enjoy a different view of the harbor. Sweetheart’s Bluff offers two brand-new timber frame picnic shelters that invite you to chill for a while. At the time of my visit, they were unfinished. But when complete they will be pretty swanky with roofs and decks. These are day-use areas available on a first-come-first-served basis.
Lake Loop Trail
The Lake Loop Trail is an easy stroll and is categorized as “barrier-free” for wheelchairs and walkers. The path is wide and has a surface of granite sand which is a very fine rock that’s smooth and gives good traction. The short walk takes you through the woods to Lake Superior. There are several areas where you can cross over to the large cobblestones of a lovely Lake Superior cove.
How to Get There
To get to the Sweetheart’s Bluff Nature Area go to the Grand Marais Recreation Area, aka the campground. Go all the way to the west (left). Past the softball field at the end of the road is the Sweethearts Bluff Nature Area. It is sectioned off by a gate for vehicles, but there is a walking trail to get beyond the gate. Be sure not to park in the parking spots intended for campsites.
Before you get to the hiking trail, there is a large grassy area with a hill. In the winter this is the town’s sledding hill. In the September it is the location of the popular Radio Waves Music Festival.
All of the trails are well marked and signage is accurate. It’s a great little hike!