Thursday, September 6, 2012

Trail heads to Wis.' second highest waterfall

Morgan Falls' bottom.

Morgan Falls tumbles 80 feet
on national forest hike

An 80-foot waterfall and impressive vista with views 20 miles around await cabin-goers south of Ashland, Wis.

The Morgan Falls St. Peter’s Dome Trail in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest actually can be broken into two trails depending on your time and energy. The first 0.6 miles of the trail heads to Morgan Falls (for a 1.2-mile round trip), or you can continue another 1.2 miles to the top of St. Peter’s Dome (for a 3.6 mile round trip). Late spring to early fall is the best time to walk the trial, but it’s also popular in winter for snowshoeing.

To reach the trailhead, take Hwy. 63 about 22 miles north of Cable. Turn east onto County Road E, driving six miles to Ashland-Bayfield Road (aka Forest Road 199). Turn south. It’s 4.2 miles to the parking lot. Watch for the trailhead sign at the parking lot. Either a day pass or an annual forest pass is needed to travel to the trailhead.

Historic sites
The first portion of the trail is fairly flat and graveled and even accessible for people with disabilities. After a half-mile walk through a wooded area, Morgan Falls – Wisconsin’s second highest waterfalls – comes into view. The water zigzags some seen dozen feet down a rock face before splashing into a small pool. It overflows the pool falling another eight feet in different streams down a crooked granite to the bottom in an intimate setting.

Be forewarned: During drought years, the water flow can be a little better than a trickle.

If continuing on to St. Peter's Dome, the trail gets a little more rugged, becoming a dirt path cutting over roots and stones across shallow creeks. The autumn colors are impressive, and in spring wildflowers including the large-flowered trillium, violets and Dutchman’s-breeches dot the undergrowth and trail sides.

Other sites are located on the way. Among them is a circular stone cistern built at an abandoned Civilian Conservation Corps campground constructed during the 1930s. A stone quarry from the mid-20th century (red granite is used to make countertops) also exists; it also is no longer in operation.

Lake Superior from 20 miles away
A number of rare ferns are situated along the trail. Among them are Braun’s hollyfern woodfern and northern maidenhair fern. Hemlock and Canada yew also abound in large patches.

The trail does become steep as ascending St. Peter’s Dome, which sits 1,565 feet above sea level. Atop this ancient formation of red granite, Chequamagon Bay in Lake Superior is visible from 20 miles away on clear and dry days. With binoculars, you also might be able to spot the Michigan Island lighthouse, about 33 miles away, if you look northeast through a gap in the trees.

The vista is a massive red granite dome that began to form some 1.2 billion years ago. Magma crystallized underground, mixing with quartz and feldspar, which give the granite a pink to orange coloring. Weathering over the eons has brought the granite “above” ground.

From the dome top, take the same route back to the trailhead.

Read more about family friendly day hiking trails in my Headin' to the Cabin guidebooks.