Thursday, September 17, 2015

Trail traverses highest bluff rising out of Lake Superior on Minnesota North Shore

Silver Creek Cliff Overlook.
Topo map of Silver Creek Cliff Wayside Trail.
Day hikers can enjoy views of a massive volcanic cliff and of Lake Superior on the Silver Creek Cliff Wayside Trail along Minnesota’s North Shore.

A segment of the Gitchi-Gumi State Trail, the hike runs about 0.6-miles round trip. It’s paved and wide the entire way with a gradual slope upward for the first half of the walk.

To reach the trailhead, from Two Harbors travel north on Minn. Hwy. 61. After passing through the Silver Creek Tunnel, turn right into the Silver Creek Cliff Wayside. The trail heads southwest from the wayside’s parking lot.

To the trail’s right/west is Silver Creek Cliff, which at 398 feet is the highest bluff rising out of Lake Superior. It’s an awesome sight. Dark rock called diabase formed when lava flowed through this area about 1.1 billion years ago. As new lava layered itself over the older and lower flows, the trapped magma cooled slowly, forming five-sided columns. The cliff’s flows sit at a 20 degree angle, typical of the rock formations surrounding Lake Superior.

A century ago when roads first appeared in the area, they simply avoided this cliff by veering inland. By 1925, though, part of the cliff was cut away, and the road ran atop a sheer drop-off. With accidents due to deer that liked to stand in the middle of the road and rainstorms that often washed out the highway, forcing its reconstruction, a 1400-foot tunnel finally was blasted through the volcanic rock. The old road since has been converted to a biking and walking trail.

As the trail passes the tunnel entrance and climbs above it, the noise from Hwy. 61 quiets, and the impressive vista of blue Lake Superior dominate. The trail’s peak is the Silver Cliff Overlook.

The hike can be extended by continuing down the cliff to Old Hwy. 61/Silver Creek Road. This adds 0.4 miles round-trip (and an uphill climb) to the hike.

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