MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

How to be a trail blazer

This fall, enjoy forest color while helping out on your favorite hikes.

Volunteers on the Superior Hiking Trail.

© Beth Gauper

Kirk Rodysill of Rochester, Minn., and Kent Johnson of Hudson, Wis., return from checking conditions on their adopted section of the Superior Hiking Trail near Two Harbors.

Have you ever wondered who keeps your favorite hiking trails open?

It's not Mother Nature. She's the one downing trees, washing out bridges and making brush grow over the path.

By helping maintain and build trail, you can do good, make friends, see the fall colors and get a free or cheap weekend. Many companies even pay their employees to volunteer for a day or two. It's win-win for everyone.

Workers don't need special skills and are welcome year-round, but here are some of the chances to help out this fall.

Ice Age National Scenic Trail across Wisconsin: Help extend and maintain this 1,000-mile trail on Mobile Skills Crew projects. Food, tools and campsites are provided.

On Oct. 20-23, work on the Rib Lake segment around Rustic Road 1 and Timm's Hill, Wisconsin's highest point, or on the Merrimac segment near Devil's Lake State Park and Parfrey's Glen, Wisconsin's first state natural area. Both areas are very beautiful in autumn.

Border Route Trail in northeast Minnesota: The 65-mile Border Route Trail, which roughly follows Minnesota's border with Canada, partly through the Boundary Waters, is holding trail-clearing trips Oct. 6-9 and 13-16, with transportation provided from the Twin Cities.

Cost for the Oct. 6-9 trip is $60 and includes bunkhouse lodgings and meals. Cost for the Oct. 13-16 trip is $45 and includes cabin lodgings at Heston's Lodge and meals.

Superior Hiking Trail in northeast Minnesota: The association of volunteers holds many trail-maintenance projects throughout the year, and many members "adopt'' a section of trail, regularly checking it for downed trees and campsite conditions.

Volunteers are needed Oct. 11-12 to help rebuild the bridge over the Split Rock River.

There will be many more work days. To find out about them, join a volunteer signup list or like the Superior Hiking Trail Association Facebook page.

Ski trails in Minnesota: The Twin Cities-based North Stars Ski Touring Club helped blaze many of the state's best ski trails. It holds several trips every fall to clear them for winter, and it reimburses participants for gas money.

Volunteers clear a boulder off a ski trail.

© Greg Fangel

North Stars members Harold Jenson and Eric Ramstad pull a boulder out of the Hogback Loop of the Sugarbush ski trails near Tofte on Minnesota's North Shore.

Lodging and meals are provided by the host resorts or organizations. Typically, workers put in six to eight hours on Saturdays and four hours on Sunday.

On Oct. 6-9, members will clear North Arm trails near Ely and stay at Camp du Nord; on Oct. 21-23, they'll clear the Banadad Trail in the BWCAW, hosted by Boundary Country Trekking; and Oct. 28-30, they'll clear trails along the North Shore, staying at resorts in the Tofte, Lutsen and Cascade River areas.

Many other outdoors clubs do service projects. For clubs near you, see Join the club.

North Country Trail across Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan: This trail from North Dakota to New York is built and maintained by volunteer chapters, who plan work weeks that include camping and food.

The Western Michigan chapter will work in Newaygo County, between Muskegon and Ludington, Oct. 8 and 22. In northwest Wisconsin, the Brule-St. Croix chapter, based in Solon Springs, will work on trail Oct. 31-Nov. 4.

Lodge weekends

If you'd like a slightly more luxurious weekend, help out at a lodge in return for a free or discounted stay.

In northeast Minnesota, the Gunflint Lodge offers Helping Hands Packages in spring and fall. This fall, guests are invited to stay Oct. 28-30 and Nov. 11-13, working five hours on Saturday in return for a $149 per person package that includes two dinners in the lodge.

The first people to sign up get the best cabins, which all have kitchens and/or saunas and wood-burning fireplaces.

Last updated on November 4, 2016