Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Hike across swinging bridge at Jay Cooke

Rapids of the St. Louis River in Jay Cooke State Park.

Rock at Jay Cooke S.P. nearly 2 billion years old

Day hikers can cross a swinging bridge above a raging river running over nearly 2 billion-year old rock on the East Ridge Trail at Minnesota’s Jay Cooke State Park.

The 1.5-mile round trip trail is one of about 50 miles of hiking paths through the park just southeast of Cloquet. To reach the park, from Interstate 35 take the exit for Minn. Hwy. 210, driving east through Carlton. The park is about five miles from the freeway. Turn right/south at the River Inn Visitor Center and use the lot nearest the river.

The trail leaves from the parking area’s southeast end. This actually is a stem for the looping East Ridge Trail, which is on the river’s south side. The stem heads through a picnic area before reaching the St. Louis River.

Swinging bridge
A new $1.1 million swinging bridge opened in November 2013. To the delight of most kids (and adults), the 219-foot pedestrian bridge bounces and sways. It replaces the 1953 bridge damaged during 2012’s flooding.

Beneath the bridge is the raging St. Louis River, which rushes over exposed bedrock formed about 1.9 billion years ago when a vast sea covered this area of North America. Over the eons as the mud and sand compacted into shale and greywacke, heat and pressure converted the buried stone into slate. Then, about 1.1 billion years ago, molten rock worked its way through fissures and covered much of the ground, leaving black basalt in its wake.

Once across the bridge, go left/east. You’re now officially on the East Ridge Trail, with this segment paralleling the river’s edge. Raging floodwater from melting glaciers some 10,000 years ago formed the river’s current course.

At Junction 29, go right/southeast. The rest of the trail heads through a hardwood forest whose green in summer rivals that of Oz’s Emerald City. The leaves turn an impressive array of yellows, reds and oranges as autumn sets in.

Upon reaching Junction 30, go right. The trail meanders about quite a lot along this segment but essentially heads west.

Variety of wildlife
Watch for a number of animals as walking through the woods. White-tailed deer will be easy to spot, but also look for signs of black bear, timber wolf and coyote.

At Junction 31, head right/north. The trail at this point has looped back toward the river.

More than 180 species of birds make their home in the park, so keep an eye to the sky when the trail opens up. Among the most fascinating birds in the park are the great blue heron, the marsh hawk, and the pileated woodpecker.

Upon reaching Junction 28, go right. The trail is now in its homestretch. At Junction 32, turn left and walk along the river shore; the trail soon arrives at the swinging bridge. Cross and follow the stem trail back to the parking lot.

Read more about day hiking Northeast Minnesota in my Headin’ to the Cabin: Day Hiking Trails of Northeast Minnesota guidebook.