Thursday, May 8, 2014

Trail heads to high waterfall in Northwoods

Kawishiwi Falls. Photo courtesy of Jon 'ShakataGaNai' Davis
Day hikers can see a 70-foot waterfall on the Kawishiwi Falls Trail in the Minnesota Northwoods.

The 1.6-mile round trip sits just a few miles east of Ely in the vast Superior National Forest. Many of the national forest’s interesting features require overnight backpacking to see, but the Kawishiwi Falls is a pleasant exception.

Portage trail
To reach the trail, from Ely take Fernberg Road/County Hwy. 18 for about five miles. Watch for signs that have you turn left with a parking lot for the trailhead.

The 0.25-mile stem of this fairly flat lollipop trail heads west then curves northwest. At the Y intersection, go right onto the loop.

In about 0.4 miles from the trailhead, you’ll reach a portage trail connecting Fall Lake to the north with Garden Lake to the south. Between the two lakes is the narrow South Kawishiwi River, which flows south from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

Across the lake is a small hydroelectric station. A pair of underground pipes diverts water from Garden Lake – which actually is a man-made reservoir created by a dam constructed in 1923 – to turbine generators. The station can produce up to four megawatts of electricity.

Kwaishiwi Falls
As the trail curves south, the waterfalls comes into view. It tumbles over black rock left here by volcanoes more than a billion years ago.

Because of the falls, for centuries Native Americans and later fur traders had to portage when traveling this section of the Kawishiwi. The long drop wasn’t all that forced them to carry their boats overland, though. Beaver dams can be found farther upstream. In fact, the river gets its name from the Ojibwe word for “river full of beaver or muskrat houses.”

Cliffs near the falls can be steep, so keep an eye on children.

From the falls, the trail curves back to the stem trail; follow that back to the parking lot. To extend the day hike, you can walk the portage as well. It runs 0.4 miles between the lakes.

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