Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Enjoy wildflowers on streamside trail

Topo map of Nelsens Creek Trail. Trailhead is in lower left near "719."

Minnesota route
follows creek
flowing into
Lake Superior


Day hikers can enjoy a variety of wildflowers as walking alongside a pleasant stream flowing into Lake Superior at Minnesota’s Gooseberry Falls State Park.

The Nelsens Creek Trail is not the official name of the route described here but merely a name assigned for convenience’s sake, as the 3.6-mile round-trip consists of segments of other trails, including cross-country ski routes.

Gooseberry Falls sits along Minn. Hwy 61 northeast of Two Harbors. To reach the trailhead, upon entering Gooseberry, park in the first set of lots for the visitor center. Head past the center, but rather than take the trail to Middle and Lower Falls, go left toward Upper Falls. Cross the Gooseberry River via the suspended walkway.

An asphalt pathway then passes the park’s original visitor center. The material used to build the center is representative of the North Shore’s geology. The black gabbro rock came from a quarry at Beaver Bay to the north, the red granite from a quarry in Duluth to the south, and the clay and sand for the mortar from Flood Bay near Two Harbors. The roof consists of cedar shakes.

Array of colors
The path in short order joins the Superior Hiking Trail. Go straight/northeast onto the SHT.

It’s an uphill walk from here. Fortunately, the trail is wide and grassy – and also quite beautiful. The path skirts a hill composed of 1.1-billion year-old volcanic rock as heading through a forest of paper birch. During spring and summer, a variety of wildflowers bloom on this section, including Canadian mayflowers, dewberry, Mertensia, trilliums, and wood anemones.

In about a quarter mile from the old visitor center, the trail separates from the SHT upon reaching Nelsens Creek. Go left/northwest alongside the stream.

As the trail passes along the wetter and cooler stream, the wildflowers here change as well. While wood anemones are a constant, there now also are blue flag iris, coltsfoot, goldenrod, marsh marigolds, violets (both yellow and purple), and white asters. The dominant birch tree also begins to give way to spruce and aspen.

The trail soon veers northeast and crosses the creek via a footbridge. It continues uphill along the stream’s east side. Look for wild rose bushes and strawberries.

Signs of ancient lake
Upon reaching an intersecting ski trail, continue straight/north next to the creek. Note how the dominant tree species change with aspen and spruce displacing cedar and poplar as you gain in elevation. Nelsens Creek begins at about 900 feet elevation, dropping almost 300 feet before flowing into Lake Superior.

At about 860 feet elevation, the trail veers west and crosses the creek again. Consider walking just a little beyond the footbridge; in about a tenth of a mile, the trail surface turns to red clay and pebbles, remnants of what once was Glacial Lake Duluth, the precursor to Lake Superior that around 9000 BC filled the entire valley below this point with cold meltwater.

Once you’ve spotted the red clay, feel free to turn back and retrace your steps to the parking lot.

Be aware that much of the trail is grassy; parts of it can be wet and even muddy in spring or after a rain, so be sure to wear good hiking boots. Also, different sources, including official park documents, provide alternate spellings for the creek, such as Nelsons, Nelson’s and Nelsen’s. The spelling used in this book is what appears on U.S. Geological Survey maps.

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