Magnetic Rock

Superior National Forest, Minnesota

Trip Date: Friday, June 29th, 2018
Last Updated: Thursday, August 2nd, 2018
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★★★★(5/5)
Overall Difficulty Moderate
Navigation Difficulty     Medium
Distance 3 miles roundtrip
Time 2 hours
Terrain A few hills
Best Seasons All
Family Friendly No
Dog Friendly Yes
Accessible No


Hike Summary

I had my doubts about this hike before hitting the trail -- three miles of walking just to see some stupid rock? None of the descriptions I read made it sound particularly cool, yet I still chose to do the hike. I'm glad I did it though, since this was one of my favorite hikes of the handful I did along the Gunflint Trail.

Back in 2007, the Ham Lake fire burned through this area, as you'll probably notice by the stark change in tree cover on the drive here. While the fire eliminated the shady trees on this trail, it also opened long, unobstructed vistas of the beautiful Boundary Waters with lush, green, rolling hills, interesting rock formations, and of course lakes. Looking back at the pictures I took, this hike was the most consistently scenic. At most points on the trail, you can turn your head and see an amazing sight. This scenery is the real star of the hike, as cool as a magnetic monolith might be. My qualms about this hike disappeared shortly into the hike as I saw the scene pictured below.

The beauty of the untamed wilderness

The beauty of the untamed wilderness

The trail starts by descending a little to a wetland area (pictured above), and then climbing to the top of a rocky hill. There are several excellent viewpoints once you reach the top, like the two pictured below (the first picture might be my favorite from my entire trip). At the top, the trail crosses several areas of bare rock and you'll have to navigate by looking for cairns of stacked rocks. Be careful not to step off the trail on the sections over bare rock since the mosses, lichens, and grasses that grow in this environment are especially fragile. The trail follows this rocky ridge for a while, and you'll switch between having to navigate across bare rock and bushwhacking through overgrown forest several times before reaching the end of the trail at Magnetic Rock.
This is one of my favorite views from the trip

This is one of my favorite views from the trip

The lack of trees really helps you see the interesting topography here

The lack of trees really helps you see the interesting topography here

Earlier in the day before heading up the Gunflint Trail, I had stopped for lunch in Grand Marais where it was foggy with temperatures in the 50s, reminding me of Seattle. By the time I reached the trailhead for Magnetic Rock, it was in the low 80s with hazy but clear skies -- that's Minnesota for you. The main reason I bring this up is that this was a hot hike for me despite the relatively pleasant temperatures. The impact of the Ham Lake fire from over 10 years ago is especially apparent here, with stands of dead trees towering over the recovering green landscape -- see the picture below. There is almost no shade on this hike, and the expanses of bare rock the trail crosses radiate heat like a city sidewalk. Upon reaching the Magnetic Rock, I immediately removed my shoes and socks to air out and rolled up my pants. I also soaked my shirt (let's be real, it was already soaked with sweat) and a bandana for my head with some water to help cool down.
The impact of the 2007 Ham Lake fire is still visible here

The impact of the 2007 Ham Lake fire is still visible here

At the end of the trail you will see the 60 foot Magnetic Rock pictured below. If you brought a compass, you can see the effect yourself as you walk around the rock and watch the needle move. It's a rather strange sight to see this giant slab sticking straight up, especially since there aren't any other rocks like it around here. Sure it's not as cool as hiking to a waterfall, but having a destination makes doing this out-and-back hike easier psychologically.
This rock was clearly the inspiration for the opening scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey

This rock was clearly the inspiration for the opening scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey

Take a while to cool off in the shade created by this beastly rock, then head back the way you came. If you're like me, you'll remember all of the places where you had difficulty navigating and feel stupid when you realize everything was much better marked than you thought. I hope you enjoy this excellent hike through some beautiful country. Be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Instagram and Twitter after your trip, and let me know what you think in the comments section below!

Important Information

This is a wilderness trail: it's not well maintained, it's overgrown, and routefinding isn't as easy as looking for the wide dirt path cut through vegetation. Wear pants to protect your legs from the plants you will be plowing through (it's so overgrown in places that I often lifted up my arms). Additionally, this trail can be unbearably hot in the summer. Although the thermometer in my car said it was in the low 80s, the lack of shade thanks to the ravages of fire combined with the bare slabs of rock conducting heat made this otherwise short hike rather difficult. I rarely ever finish my 3 liter Camelbak, but I ran out of water near the end of this hike. Bring extra water and wear a hat. Even more importantly, understand the signs of heat related illness and know your own limits.

Dogs are allowed, and regulations don't explicitly state whether or not a leash is required, just that your dog remain "under control". The rugged nature of this wilderness trail means this isn't a family friendly hike; if you have kids, keep driving further down the road to the Chik Wauk Nature Center where there are plenty of easy trails and an educational museum. You can hike here all year, but winter conditions may make navigating the trail difficult. When I went at the end of June, mosquitoes weren't a major issue for me after using bug spray, but my head was constantly bombarded by buzzing flies. Not only is a hat also useful for shade, it also keeps the flies from annoying you (I also tied a bandana over my ears).


From Grand Marais, drive up the Gunflint Trail (Cook County Highway 12) for about 46 miles. Watch for a brown sign indicating the trailhead for Magnetic Rock, and there will be a dirt pullout with a map kiosk on the right side of the highway where you can park.

Google Maps Directions

Parking, Fees, and Facilities

Parking is free! There are no facilities near the lot.

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