Friday, June 20, 2014

Trail leads to waterfalls, Great Lakes beach

River View Trail, Gooseberry Falls State Park
Map of River View Trail

River View Trail
runs 1.8 miles

Three waterfalls and an agate beach await day hikers on the River View Trail at Minnesota’s Gooseberry Falls State Park.

The route, as described here, runs about 1.8 miles total through the heart of what many consider to be among the most beautiful parks on the North Shore, if not the entire state.

Gooseberry Falls sits along Minn. Hwy 61 northeast of Two Harbors. Upon entering the state park, leave your vehicle in the first lot. Take the connector trail northeast to a walkway, on which you’ll go left/north.

A mixed evergreen, aspen, birch forest covers the park. As hiking, don’t be surprised to find enormous stumps – they’re the remains of white pines that once covered the North Shore until logged off more than a century ago. The Nestor Logging Company located its headquarters in 1900 at the Gooseberry’s confluence with Lake Superior, but by 1920 logging came to an end in the region.

Upper, Middle, Lower falls
At the next junction, go right/northeast. When the path splits, continue right. This leads to Gooseberry River and Lower Falls.

A 30-foot drop, Lower Falls is the last of the waterfalls before the river flows into Lake Superior. The Gooseberry rushes over volcanic rock formed 1.1 billion years ago when lava flows covered this part of the earth; today, they are the black rock visible at each of the falls. When glaciers retreated about 10,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age, erosion exposed the hardened volcanic bedrock, creating the waterfalls.

The view of Lower Falls technically places you on the River View Trail. Walk left/northwest; within a few feet, you’ll come to Middle Falls, another 30-foot drop.

Continue northeast under the highway bridge, staying on the trail that hugs the shoreline. You’ll quickly arrive at Upper Falls, the third 30-foot drop on the river.

Common loons and ravens often can be spotted circling the pools beneath the falls while herring gulls nest in colonies along the lakeshore. Each spring and fall, migratory birds using the North Shore flyway arrive here  in great numbers.

Backtrack to the highway, this time crossing the river via the catwalk under the bridge to the other side. Continue heading southeast, again passing Middle Falls. This side of the Gooseberry affords a better view of Lower Falls.

Interestingly, the origin of the river’s name is a bit of a mystery. It is named either for the French explorer Sieur des Groselliers or for Anishinabe Indian word Shab-on-im-i-kan-i-sibi – both of which when translated mean “gooseberries.”

Agate Beach
At the next junction, continue straight, crossing the footbridge onto an island in the river’s middle. Stay on the trail hugging the island’s shoreline then cross the next bridge to the river’s south shore.

Go left/southeast, following the trail along the river to its mouth with Lake Superior. You’ll soon reach Agate Beach, where you can hunt for agates on the rocky shoreline and explore tide pools in which tadpoles often can be found.

Sometimes various species of Lake Superior salmon can be spotted in the river. Black bears, gray wolves, and whitetail deer also call the park home.

Follow the river upstream. About a half-mile from beach, take the connecting trail left/southeast and at the next trail junction go right/southwest for the parking lots.

If camping be sure to reserve sites several months out, as Gooseberry State Park is very popular.

Learn about more day hiking trails at and near Gooseberry Falls State Park in my Day Hiking Trails of Gooseberry Falls State Park guidebook.