Friday, September 25, 2015

Great sights await on Superior Hiking Trail segments in Gooseberry Falls State Park

A catwalk bridge heads over Gooseberry River on its way
to the Superior Hiking Trail. Photo courtesy of MN DNR.
Map of Superior Hiking Trail in Gooseberry Falls State Park,
courtesy of Minnesota DNR.

One direction leads to waterfall, rugged river shore; other way to lake vista

A waterfall, rugged river country, and great vistas of Lake Superior await day hikers on two segments of the Superior Hiking Trail in Minnesota’s Gooseberry Falls State Park.

The highly acclaimed SHT runs 310 miles from near Jay Cooke State Park along the North Shore to the Canadian border. In Gooseberry Falls State Park, it stays north of Minn. Hwy. 61, connecting the corner of the park’s backcountry while dipping close to the main area where the waterfalls are clustered.

There’s no parking lot off the Superior Hiking Trail in Gooseberry Falls State Park, so you’ll need to take a spur trail from the visitor center to reach it. To reach it, from Hwy. 61, turn south east into the rest area/visitor center parking for the state park.

Take the paved trail heading north to the visitor center then from there watch for the signs pointing you to the Gateway Plaza. Cross under Hwy. 61 and take the footbridge over the Gooseberry River below Upper Falls. At the first trail junction, turn left/north.

In 0.34 miles, you’ll find yourself the intersection with the SHT alongside the Gooseberry River just above Upper Falls. As the waterway splits the park in half, this puts you at about the center of the SHT’s run through the park.

West segment
Going left/north takes you up the Gooseberry River through the park’s northwest corner. Among the highlights are a waterfalls and rugged river country in a 4.2-mile round trip.

The first section of the trail shares duty with a part of the park’s Fifth Falls Trail, reaching that waterfall in 1.1 miles from the parking lot. Though only a 15-foot drop, Fifth Falls offers dramatic scenery and – unlike the popular waterfalls downriver – solitude.

Take the footbridge across the Gooseberry River above Fifth Falls. The trail then climbs away from the river shore. At the next trail junction, head right/northwest.

The trail continues to parallel the river but now is on its southwest side. In this segment, you’ll notice a large 10-foot high fence that keeps whitetail deer away from the young trees on the other side. Deer love the sapling’s shoots and would kill them from overgrazing.

Next, the trail heads downhill. The route becomes wide and grassy here.

The river meanders in this section. The gravel bars are excellent spots to search for agates. In spring and autumn, watch for migrating birds who stop off along here for a meal or to rest.

Where Skunk Creek joins the Gooseberry River, there’s a shelter. This is about 2.1 miles from the trailhead and marks a good spot to turn back.

If you continue on, the trail then veers southwest as it follows the river and ultimately exits the park. From there, the trail heads for about seven miles to Lake County Road 103.

East segment
Alternately, at the junction above Upper Falls, you can go right/southeast, which takes you up the Gooseberry River through the park’s northwest corner. Among the highlights are fantastic views of Lake Superior and the crossing of a backwoods creek in a 1.4-mile round trip hike.

The trail heads uphill through a birch and pine forest into the bluffs. This segment of the trail curves behind a knoll that blocks any views of Lake Superior, though.

The first waypoint is Nelsens Creek, which is 0.7 miles from the parking lot. The stream flows out of the highlands to the northwest into Lake Superior.

Take the footbridge over the creek. A small trail that runs directly east of the bridge leads to a great vista of the lake in 0.35 miles (one-way). That vista also marks a good spot to turn back.

The main trail does continue on into the forests above Lake Superior. Upon reaching the state park boundary, the trail heads 7.5 miles to Split Rock Lighthouse.


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