Monday, February 8, 2016

Trail follows creek up Great Lakes bluffside

Juneberry fruits often are mistaken for blueberries.
Photo courtesy of Minnesota DNR.
Split Rock Creek Trail map, courtesy of Minnesota DNR.

Split Rock Creek Trail runs
2.5 miles in Minnesota park


Day hikers can explore a bluffside overlooking Lake Superior on the Split Rock Creek Trail at Minnesota’s Split Rock Lighthouse State Park.

The 2.5-miles round trip trail parallels Split Rock Creek. It’s one of the park’s less hiked trails and so offers a nice dose of solitude.

To reach the trailhead, from Minn. Hwy. 61 use the park’s main entry road for the historical lighthouse. Follow the road all the way to its end, where there’s a parking lot.

The trail leaves from the lot’s south side, heading to Lake Superior. Pass through the first junction then in 0.1 miles from the lot, at the second junction, go right/northwest on the Day Hill Trail. For the next 0.4 miles, the trail wraps around the hill’s northern base.

Upon reaching the paved Gitchi-Gami trail, go left/southwest for 0.15 miles. At the second intersection, go right/west; you’re now on the Split Rock Creek Trail.

Juneberries
Juneberry bushes grow in abundance for the next 0.1 miles as the trail reaches Hwy. 61. Sometimes called service berries, Saskatoon or shadbush, the fruit looks very similar to blueberries but tastes more like black cherries. The fruit typically ripens in late June to early July.

Carefully cross the busy highway and continue up the slope paralleling Split Rock Creek past birch and alder trees for the next 0.5 miles. The trail climbs more than 100 feet during that stretch.

A wide jeep trail, the Split Rock is wooded the entire way. Most of the stretch consists of spruce and maple with a large number of birch and balsam poplar dead or dying. Beneath the birch, look for flat-topped white, large-leaf, and pinnacled asters. These plants are typical of aging birch forests along Lake Superior.

Plants common in local grassy lawns have to be mowed in sections where they’re taking over the trail. Among them are buttercups, plantain, red and white clover, strawberries. Meanwhile, bracken fern, bush honeysuckle, large-leafed aster, and raspberries line the trail as it ascends.

Diabase and boulders
Geology-wise, the trail crosses an outcrop of diabase, a hard, erosion-resistant rock that has existed here for more than a billion years. A couple of the boulders in the outcrop that stand out consist of dark-colored schist and another of pink monzonite.

As gaining altitude, the trail pass white cedar with high branches. The lower ones all have been browsed by white-tailed deer.

One thing you won’t see too much of is Split Rock Creek, which mostly is separated from the trail by trees. Forming farther up in the highlands, the creek spills into Lake Superior between Split Rock and Corundum points. Some maps do not call Split Rock Creek – the stream actually has no official name – though locals have called it that since the 1920s, and most official Minnesota maps now refer to us as such.

After passing through a grove of large, aged cedars with younger, smaller balsam poplars, you’re closing in on the Superior Hiking Trail. At the SHT, turn back, retracing your steps back to the parking lot.

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