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Happy Trails: Fantasia offers steep challenge, panoramic views

This Superior Hiking Trail spur showcases Lake Superior and Johnson Lake.

View of Johnson Lake from the end of the Fantasia spur trail
The Fantasia spur trail, north of Tettegouche State Park in Lake County, includes views of Lake Superior and Johnson Lake (pictured).
Katie Rohman / Duluth News Tribune
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SILVER BAY — I found Fantasia on a campground bulletin board. More specifically, a crude map with a blue line labeled “Superior Hiking Trail.”

Happy Trails logo.jpg
Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

It was a Friday afternoon in early June when I was camping south of Finland in Lake County. I arrived early in the day and was looking for something to do until my husband arrived. That’s when I saw the bulletin board map.

Rather than walk over a mile on Minnesota Highway 1 to the SHT trailhead, I drove. There’s an excellent chance anyone looking for the trailhead will miss it. It’s obscured by trees and there’s no signage easily visible from the road. If you’re coming from Minnesota Highway 61, it’s 0.7 miles north, on the left side.

The gravel parking lot was packed when I arrived. There’s a SHT sign that says "Fantasia overlook." I decided based on the quirky name that I was headed there.

Superior Hiking Trail sign showing distances to various sites
A Superior Hiking Trail sign shows the distance to several destinations from the Minnesota Highway 1 trailhead.
Katie Rohman / Duluth News Tribune

From the trailhead, hikers can either go southwest toward Tettegouche State Park and Silver Bay or northeast toward Little Marais. The over-300-mile SHT is broken down into dozens of trail sections. The Fantasia spur trail is part of the 6.8-mile section from Highway 1 to Lake County Road 6; I only hiked from the trailhead to the Fantasia overlook and back. It's about 1 mile to the spur and a half-mile to the overlook.

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Wooden planks lead travelers over dense, wet forest on the Superior Hiking Trail
Wooden planks lead travelers over dense, wet forest on the Superior Hiking Trail in Lake County.
Katie Rohman / Duluth News Tribune

The hike begins with a loop from the trailhead back to Highway 1. You’ll cross the highway and see a SHT sign in the ditch, where you wade through long grass before entering a shady maple forest. Wooden planks help hikers traverse wet areas as the elevation slowly climbs. Sky-blue painted markings on trees assure SHT hikers they’re on the right track. It was quiet, warm and mostly bug-free when I was hiking the forested area. I passed just one pair of hikers during my over two-hour trek.

Fantasia spur sign and trail
The Fantasia spur trail features views of Lake Superior and Johnson Lake.
Katie Rohman / Duluth News Tribune

After about 1 mile, you must look almost behind you to your left to see a Fantasia spur trail sign nailed to a tree. There’s also a bench there for those of you (like me) who will be nearly out of breath.

My research into the unusual name of the spur trail came up empty, but it most likely was inspired by Walt Disney’s 1940 animated film of the same name or refers to “a free usually instrumental composition not in strict form,” according to Merriam-Webster. The Superior Hiking Trail Association told me it doesn’t have a documented history of Fantasia.

Fantasia spur trail is rocky and muddy, with views of forest
The Superior Hiking Trail's Fantasia spur trail is rocky, steep and muddy in some areas.
Katie Rohman / Duluth News Tribune

From that fork in the trail, Fantasia is an immediate climb up a ridge along a narrow dirt trail, where mud, rocks and roots pose trip hazards. But the view! You’ll soon have a spectacular panoramic vantage point of Lake Superior and the forest. But wait, there’s more!

View of Lake Superior from the Fantasia spur trail
Lake Superior can be seen from part of the Fantasia spur trail.
Katie Rohman / Duluth News Tribune

Just when you think you must be near the end of the spur trail, it turns right and veers down into the cooler, shady forest. (I did not bring a map or GPS watch and didn’t use my phone, so this won’t likely be as surprising to those of you who do.) Soon, there’s a short climb up to the Johnson Lake overlook.

Wooden planks of Superior Hiking Trail and muddy shoes
Expect to get muddy, sweaty and wowed by the Fantasia spur trail.
Katie Rohman / Duluth News Tribune

That day, gusting wind made for a literally breathtaking experience. A raptor of some kind soared on the wind and I could see the lake’s waves move with each gust. There are several boulders where you can sit and enjoy the view from the top of the cliff. Reviews on the All Trails app rave about the view of the fall colors in September.

I loved this hike so much, I went back the next day. Fantasia is one of the most difficult 3 miles I’ve hiked in a while, but I keep most hikes to Minnesota. If you regularly tackle difficult trails with steep elevation, you’ll do just fine. Fantasia also has some of the most fantastic views I’ve seen, ever, and I was not prepared for it. It was like a three-part hike of varying trail conditions, scenery, elevation and even climate, and it was worth every step.

For more information about the Fantasia spur trail and the SHT, go to superiorhiking.org/trail-section/silver-bay-to-caribou-river-wayside .

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Katie Rohman has served as the managing editor of the Duluth News Tribune since 2019. She started with Duluth Media Group in 2017 as regional editor of the Superior Telegram, Pine Journal, Lake County News-Chronicle, Eastern Observer and Western Weekly. She has worked in newspapers around the Midwest since 2004.
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