Thursday, November 12, 2015

Trail links two North Shore waterways

Topo map for Superior Hiking Trail, Crow Creek to Encampment River
Day hikers can stroll through fragrant evergreen forests between two Minnesota North Shore waterways on the Superior Hiking Trail.

The 4.5-mile round trip trail connects Crow Creek and the Encampment River south of Gooseberry Falls State Park.

To reach the trailhead, from Two Harbors, head north on Minn. Hwy. 61 for about 10 miles. Turn left/northwest onto Lake County Hwy. 106/W. Castle Danger Road (The highway becomes Silver Creek Township Road along the way.). In 2.3 miles is the Castle Danger Trailhead parking lot for the Superior Hiking Trail on the right/north. Take the trail heading west from the lot and cross Hwy. 106.

Head downhill through birches then over a talus slope with poison ivy (watch for signs pointing it out). In short order, you’ll arrive at Crow Creek, which sits in a deep, basalt gorge. Pause on the footbridge over the creek and examine the rock gorge, where successive lava flows from a billion years ago can be made out.

The Crow is nicknamed “Prohibition Creek” because sometimes it appears “dry.” It’s not an intermittent stream, though – there’s just so much gravel in the creek bed that late in the summer and during autumn the water flows beneath the rocks.

For the next mile, the trail gains elevation, including a flight up wooden steps, to the top of a bluff, where a mixed maple forest stands. At the top, watch for an outcrop of rock, framed by red pines, overlooking the Crow Valley.

During the next half-mile, the trail winds to and from the bluff’s edge through stands of white and red pine with dwarfed spruces and mossy-covered ground in the understory. Mature red pine typically is 60-80 feet high, but long-lived trees can soar to 10 stories with a diameter of up to 40 inches. White pines grow slightly higher, usually between 80-100 feet with a diameter of 42 inches; the bottom of their trunk often is bare of branches.

The trail next descends through white pines to the Encampment River, offering great views along the way of the river valley inland. Many of the white pines here are around 200 years old, having survived the lumberjack era of the late 1800s.

A century ago, the Encampment River was a point of great controversy as two ideas competed over its use – one called for placing seven hydroelectric dams on it to supply Two Harbors with power while another plan called for making it a state park. Neither plan came to be.

Depending on the amount of rain, you may not be able to take the footbridge over the Encampment River. It sometimes is flooded. This marks a good spot to turn back.

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