Friday, April 8, 2016

Palisade Head rises 300' above Great Lake

View of Palisade Head on Minnesota North Shore, courtesy of Wikipedia.
Topo map of Palisade Head.
Hikers can walk atop an ancient 300-foot cliff overlooking Lake Superior at Minnesota’s Palisade Head.

The head offers about 4000 feet of frontage above the lake. It is located within Tettegouche State Park but is not contiguous with the main park area.

To reach the trailhead, from Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, travel north on Minn. Hwy. 61 through Silver Bay. Near milepost 57, turn right/east onto a steep, narrow road that climbs to Palisade Head’s top. A parking lot is near the cliff edge next to a large radio tower.

There are no designated paths, but white spruce, aspen, mountain ash, paper birch, and oak trees grows sparsely atop the hard, erosion-resistant rock, so you can walk between among them. You’ll be rewarded with fantastic views of the world’s largest freshwater lake. Shovel Point, which is made of the same rock as the head, can be seen about two miles distant to the northeast. Split Rock Lighthouse is to the southwest. On the clearest days, Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands and the Bayfield Peninsula can be seen to south across the lake.

The rock beneath your feet is called rhyolite. The entire palisade head is the hardened remains of a massive lava flow from about 1.1 billion years ago; the flow stretches about three miles long and two miles wide. Not only is walking across such old rock a rarity but so are rhyolite lava flows in general – only three have been recorded worldwide since 1900.

The great vistas almost certainly will include a variety of raptors. Peregrine falcons nest on the head while bald eagles nest nearby. Each fall, thousands of hawks from a variety of species migrate along this shoreline.

As walking along the head, also keep an eye out for wild blueberry bushes. The berries usually come out in late July through mid-August.

Except at the parking lot, there are no railings, so watch for the edges that fall straight into the lake. This is not a great place to let young or careless children roam free.

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