Monday, November 16, 2015

Lake views, Arctic plant awaits day hikers

Superior Hiking Trail segment in yellow. Map courtesy of Minnesota DNR.
Dazzling vistas of Lake Superior and massive tufts of Arctic lichen await day hikers on a segment of the Superior Hiking Trail north of Gooseberry Falls State Park.

After leaving Gooseberry Falls , Minnesota’s Superior Hiking Trail meanders for six miles across a ridge overlooking Lake Superior on its way to Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. This route could be treated as a point-to-point trail; another approach that is more convenient to day hikers is to split it into two sections by starting at Blueberry Hill Road.

Go east
To reach this access point, from Gooseberry Falls State Park, drive north on Minn. Hwy. 61. Turn left/northwest onto Blueberry Hill Road, whose dirt surface as it climbs into the forested hills quickly will have you feeling like you've truly entered a remote wilderness.

Watch closely for a break in the woods where the Superior Hiking Trail crosses the road. Park off the side of the road.

Going west toward Gooseberry Falls is peaceful but not particularly spectacular as the trail runs through birch groves at the ridge’s base. Gooseberry River is 2.8 miles away from the road.

Heading east, however, offers several great vistas. The somewhat challenging path starts with an steep but short climb to the top of Bread Loaf Ridge. Spectacular views of Lake Superior and the forest below abound for about a mile.

Lichen, rocks and roses
There’s also a lot of rare sites to see in the forest itself.

You’ll likely notice a lot of reindeer moss, a lichen that usually is found in the polar regions. On the ridge, they form hemispherical tufts about the size of a bushel basket; when that large, the moss probably is about a century old.

There’s also a lot of weathered rock. These outcroppings mark the top of a series of lava flows that 1.1 billion years ago covered this section of the continent. Exposure to wind, rain, freezing and glaciers over the eons have exposed this ancient, underlying basalt at several spots on the forest floor.

You also won’t be able to help but smell the wild roses when they bloom in June through July. The sweet-scented five-petaled pink flower with its yellow center stands starkly against kelly green leaves.

At 1.6 miles from trailhead, the Superior Hiking Trail descends into the Split Rock River Valley. This marks a good spot to turn back for a 3.2-mile round trip.

Should you continue on, the trail makes a steep climb back up the other side of the valley then an easy descent through a birch grove before reaching a waterfall on a branch of the Split Rock River. The waterfall is 2.7 miles (one-way) from Blueberry Hill Road but can be more easily reached by taking the Superior Hiking Trail from the Split Rock River Wayside.

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