Thursday, April 30, 2015

Silver Creek Trail follows river, stream

Yellow lady's slippers in Jay Cooke State Park.
Photo courtesy of Minnesota DNR. 

Walk in Jay Cooke
S.P. crosses
swinging bridge

Day hikers can walk alongside a scenic river and stream in a pleasant woodlands on northern Minnesota’s Silver Creek Trail.

The 3.25-miles round trip trail in Jay Cooke State Park follows the St. Louis River and its tributary, Silver Creek. The route described here combines a segment of the East Ridge Trail with the Silver Creek Trail to make a loop.

To reach the park from Duluth, Minn., head south on Interstate 35. Exit onto Minn. Hwy. 210 and drive east through Carlton. The park is about five miles from the freeway. Turn right/south at the River Inn Visitor Center and park in the lot nearest the river.

The trail leaves from the parking area’s southeast end. This actually is a stem for the loop and heads through a picnic area before reaching the St. Louis River.

Swinging bridge and ancient rock
Crossing the river requires walking over a new $1.1 million swinging bridge, which 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 flooding in 2012.

As crossing the swinging bridge, outcrops of ancient Thomson Slate can be seen on the St. Louis River. During the Precambrian era when this part of world was under a shallow tropical sea, the growing weight of sediment compressed into shale and then slate. Over time, the rock layers folded and tilted, leaving the odd and sharp angles seen here.

Rippled among the slate are dikes of molten rock that now form “dikes.” While the slate was underground, magma worked its way into fissures and then hardened. One such dike runs from the bridge’s north end southwest across the river, ending east of an island.

Once across the bridge, go left/east onto the East Ridge Trail. At Trail Intersection 30, head left/east. This part of the trail follows the river, which leaves behind the turbulent rapids of the narrow dales and quiets as broadening.

After the river and trail turns south, you’ll come to where Silver Creek flows into the former. The trail then parallels Silver Creek. A shelter overlooking the creek sits atop 50 feet of red clay left behind when Glacial Lake Duluth covered this area at the end of the last ice age some 11,000 years ago.

Deer and wildflowers
At Trail Intersection 37, a spur leads to Silver Creek’s shore. From the trail intersection, go right/northwest; you’re now technically on the Silver Creek Trail.

The open understory of the surrounding woodland is not due to flooding but whitetail deer. Protected within the park limits, the deer population has grown unchecked and eat any new saplings they find. As the park’s deer have become accustomed to people, you’re likely to spot one or more along the trail.

One wildflower you’ll probably see despite the deer is the yellow lady’s slipper, which bloom about mid-June. They’re most common near the end of the trail as it heads back toward the river once Silver Creek swerves west.

At Trail Intersection 53, go right/north. This takes you back onto the Ridge Trails. To reach the swinging bridge and come full circle, go straight/north at Trail Intersection 31, then right/northeast at Trail Intersection 28, and finally left/north at Trail Intersection 32. At the bridge, retrace your steps back to the parking lot.

Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.