Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Trail offers snapshot of Split Rock’s features

Gitchi-Gami State Trail bridge over Split Rock River, courtesy of Wikipedia.
Map of DOT Wayside to Park Road segment.
Map of Split Rock Lightstation to Park Road segment.
Map of Split Rock Lightstation to Gold Rock Point segment.
Click on maps for larger images.

Gitchi-Gami runs 3.8 miles through Minnesota park

Day hikers can get a good sense of what Minnesota’s Split Rock Lighthouse State Park is all about via the Gitchi-Gami State Trail, the only route that runs from one end of the park to the other.

Though primarily a bicycle trail, the paved Gitchi-Gami can be walked as well. When completed, the trail will run 88-miles from Two Harbors to Grand Marais. One of its longest finished sections runs from Gooseberry Falls State Park to Beaver Bay, which takes it straight through Split Rock.

The trail rambles about 3.8 miles across the park. If split up, three trail segments make for great day hikes.

DOT Wayside to Park Road segment
This 2.6-mile (one-way) section cuts across Split Rock’s southern half.

To reach the trailhead, from Two Harbors take Minn. Hwy. 61 about 21 miles north. At Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, park at the DOT wayside overlooking Split Rock River.

From the wayside, pick up the stem trail on the lot's west side, taking it under the highway to the trail, which runs between the highway and Lake Superior. There’s a small sand bar beyond the stem and the main trail’s intersection. A logging camp existed here in 1899-1906.

Go left/northeast on the main trail and cross the Split Rock River's mouth with Lake Superior. In short order, you’ll reach the junction with the Corundum Mine Trail. That trail explores the remnants of a mining operation from the early 1900s.

At 0.3 miles from the trailhead, the Gitchi-Gami junctions with the Merrill Logging Trail. The Merrill Logging Trail was built on an old railroad grade that brought white pine from the Arrowhead to Lake Superior.

In 0.9 miles from the trailhead, you’ll come across the junction with a connector trail that heads to the Corundum Mine Trail. At 1.2 miles is the junction with the other end of Corundum Mine Trail.

The Gitchi-Gami next crosses Rock Creek, which flows out of the highlands into Lake Superior.

On the other side of bridge is a connector leading to the Day Hill Trail. At 1.4 miles, you’ll come to yet another connector to that trail. Day Hill is a large block of erosion-resistant anorthosite that is more than a billion years old.

At 1.5 miles, the Gitchi-Gami reaches a three-way intersection with the Day Hill Trail. Go left/north and hike the backside of Day Hill and its base as you come back alongside Hwy. 61.

Along the way, you’ll a pass wayside for Hwy. 61. From the wayside, you’ll get an outstanding view of Split Rock Lighthouse, which was constructed on 1910.

At 2.6 miles, the Gitchi-Gami reaches the park road. Though you’ve hardly covered the length of the trail in Split Rock, this marks a good spot to turn back for a 5.2-mile round trip.

Split Rock Lightstation to Park Road segment
This 0.6-miles one-way hike (1.2-miles round trip) runs through the park’s center portion.

To reach the trailhead, enter Split Rock as if going to the lightstation and park in its lots. From the southwest lot, pick up the access trail. When the trail splits, go left/south-west.

The trail follows the park road then swerves away from it to near the Little Two Harbors Trail. The Little Two Harbors offers great views of Lake Superior and leads to a beach.

Next the Gitchi-Gami crosses a creek. When it arrives at the park road, you’ve reached the spot where the previous segment ended. This marks a good spot to turn back.

Split Rock Lightstation to Gold Rock Point segment
This 0.9-mile one-way (1.8-mile round trip) heads into park’s northern section.

Enter the park as if going to the Split Rock Lightstation and park in its lots. As in the previous segment, from the southwest lot, pick up the access trail. When the trail splits, however, go right/north-east and cross the park road.

The trail closely parallels the park road then Hwy. 61 for 0.8 miles, where it arrives at a parking lot. From the lot, a 0.1-mile spur trail heads to a bay west of Gold Rock Point.

After taking in the lake views, retrace yours steps back to the lot. Alternately, you can continue north/east from parking lot to park boundary, which is in 0.7 miles; that addition, which crosses two creeks, makes for a 3.2-mile round trip hike.

Final note: Though the trail runs through wooded areas its entire length in Split Rock, it is wide, so you’ll want to wear a sunhat and don sunscreen.

Learn about nearby hiking trails in Day Hiking Trails of Split Rock Lighthouse State Park.