Saturday, October 3, 2015

CCC structures, lake vista awaits on loop

Cliff vista overlooking Lake Superior, mouth of
Gooseberry River, and Agate Beach.
Photo courtesy of Minnesota DNR.
Map of Gitchi Gummi Trail, courtesy Minnesota DNR.

Gitchi Gummi Trail heads
to quieter portion of popular
Minnesota state park


Historic buildings and views of Lake Superior from 100-foot cliffs await day hikers on the Gitchi Gummi Trail in Minnesota’s Gooseberry Falls State Park.

The trail marks a good route for getting away from the crowds at this popular park. The 2-miles round trip lollipop trail is mostly level, too.

Don't confuse this route, though, with the Gitchi-Gami Trail, which is a bicycle path that can be hiked. The Gitchi Gummi is strictly a walking trail. It’s name comes from Longfellow’s poem “Song of Hiawatha,” which notes the shoreline of “Gitchi Gummi” (pronounced goo-me).

To reach the trailhead, from Two Harbors, drive north on Minn. Hwy. 61. Use the parking lot for the waterfalls. From there, hike to the visitor center, which is a good place to stop for picking up water and taking a bathroom break before heading out.

Past the center, when the trail comes to a T-intersection, go left/north rather than to Middle and Lower Falls. You’ll still get a great view of Middle Falls along the walk.

Next, the trail heads over Gooseberry River via a platform attached to the bottom of the Hwy. 61 bridge. Once across the bridge, go right/southeast. In this area, you’ll pass the junction for the Gitchi-Gami Trail; watch for signs pointing to the Gitchi Gummi Snowshoe Trail.

Historic structures
Heading away from the bridge, the trail is wide. You’ll notice small chunks of basalt mixed in the gravel surface. This is weathered volcanic rock that has been here for 1.1 billion years.

Growing out of this are a variety of trees common to the North Shore – spruce, paper birch, young aspen, and a few white pine. A number of wildflowers – blue bead lily, bunchberry, Canadian mayflower, dewberry, starflower, and wood anemones – bloom here each spring.

In 0.4 miles from the trailhead, you’ll reach the actual loop. The Civilian Conservation Corps erected the stone walls here that mark the loop’s start. During the Great Depression, the CCC built most of the trails and buildings seen in the park today. At the loop’s start, continue straight/east so that you walk the trail counterclockwise.

As approaching Lake Superior, you’ll notice larger chunks of basalt along the trail. This part of the route is on a south-facing slope, which in spring and fall receives more sunshine than those facing the other three compass directions, meaning more freeze-thaw cycles. This process, known as frost wedging, causes exposed rock to break off more quickly, resulting in chunks known as kibbles and bits.

Good views of the Gooseberry River and its estuary can be found in this section of the trail. Red and white pines dominate.

100-foot cliffs
Part of the trail here also consists of planks over a grassy area that can grow swampy. Birch, spruce and pines favor this wetter section; in mid-summer, blooming wild roses along the trail fills the air with a sweet fragrance.

Full views of the lake come into sight at 0.8 miles in, as you reach a stone shelter, also built by the CCC. There also are good vistas of the sand gravel bar at the river’s mouth with Agate Beach on the opposite shoreline. A small spur leads to a wood outhouse, which allegedly is the only CCC-built outhouse that still stands.

Taking the stone steps leads to overlooks atop 100-foot cliffs that line the lake here. Don’t get too close to the edge or take what appears to be descending paths that really are eroded portions of the cliff; instead, stick to the safe viewing platforms. Mountain ash is common here, through birch appears with greater frequency as the trail turns northeast.

Head downhill to a planked bridge and cross a creek. Marsh marigolds bloom in the wet area during spring. The trail turns north there; note how birch trees grow in size.

Nelsens Creek
As the trail veers away from the lake, you’ll come alongside Nelsens Creek. A small cascades on it provides a wonderfully peaceful murmur.

You’ll also notice massive stumps. Most of these are of white pines that were logged off here more than a century ago.

Along the way, the loop passes eight-foot high fences, which are enclosures meant to keep whitetail deer from eating tree saplings. Among the protected trees are balsam poplar, hemlock, mountain maples, paper birch and white pine.

Upon reaching a wooden shelter surrounded by birch and spruce, you’ve almost completed the loop.

At the next trail junction, go right/northwest and retrace your steps back to the visitor center and parking lot.

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