Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Trail heads along beach south of lighthouse

Pebble Beach. Photo courtesy of MN DNR.
Map of trail, courtesy of MN DNR.

Little Two Harbors route
rambles through state park


Great views of a famous lighthouse and of Lake Superior from a pebble beach await on the Little Two Harbors Trail along Minnesota’s North Shore.

The 3.2-mile round trip trail ranks among the most popular at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. To reach the trailhead, from Two Harbors take Minn. Hwy 61 north to the state park. Use the entry road and parking lots for the light station visitor center. Rather than go to the center, though, follow the trail heading southwest from the lot.

Initially, the trail offers access to a few of the light station’s historic sites. The first junction is for a path that loops back to light station while the second junction is with a trail heading to the lake. At both intersections, continue straight/west.

Pebble Beach
In short order, the trail curves southwest. It heads downhill over a wide trail with round cobbles on it; it is a terrace formed some 9000-10,000 years ago when Glacial Lake Duluth covered this area and was some 30-40 feet higher than Lake Superior is now.

When a footbridge crosses an intermittent creek, pause to look over the sides as the angular, step-like rocks of the rock outcrop. This is a distinctive type of basalt lava flow called Tortured Basalt because of the way the rock breaks off, which is due to weathering along the fractures crisscrossing it. The rock is best seen in late summer and autumn when water levels are low.

Asters bloom along the trail here during the same period. Most are white and purple. Bush honeysuckle and an impressive grove of birch trees also are present, as well as spruce trees.

As the trail arrives at the lake, it reaches Pebble Beach on Little Two Harbors. The protected cove is the perfect spot to take a safe swim in Lake Superior or to enjoy lunch; picnic tables are beyond the treeline along the beach. Three trail junctions across along the beach lead to the picnic area and a parking lot.

Trail's namesake
Be sure to take a gander north along the shoreline and you’ll be treated to a great view of the Split Rock Lighthouse. The century-old lighthouse sits atop Stony Point.

At the beach’s southwest end is the trail’s namesake, Little Two Harbors, where a small fishing village existed about a century ago. Ellingson Island sits just offshore, and the lighthouse still is visible.

After passing a portage route to the lake – the cove is popular with kayakers – the trail curves south. There’s a carry-in campsite in this area as well.

The junction with Day Hill Trail marks the end of the Little Two Harbors Trail. This is a good spot to turn back.

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