Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Trail runs along top, base of Lake Pepin bluff

Yan Teopa Rock, a natural limestone arch in Minnesota, courtesy Wikipedia.
Map, Bluff Side Trail, courtesy Minnesota DNR.

Trail passes rare
Yan Teopa Rock
in Minnesota

Hikers can traverse the top and the base of a bluff looming 430 feet above Lake Pepin at Minnesota’s Frontenac State Park.

The 2.6-mile Bluff Side Loop Trail offers impressive views as it heads up and down the steep bluff with a series of wooden stairs and switchbacks. Fall is a particularly good time to visit with the bird migration through the area at its peak and the leaves resplendent in an array of harvest colors.

To reach the trailhead, from Red Wing, take U.S. Hwys. 61/63 south. At Frontenac Station, turn left/north onto County Road 2. Once past the park entrance, go left/northwest on County Road 28. Follow the road to its end, where it loops back upon itself and forms a parking lot. Leave your vehicle there. Pick up the trail at the lot’s southeast corner.

Ancient limestone
On the trail, go north, following it alongside the parking lot. You’re atop Gerrard's Bluff (sometimes referred to as Point-No-Point) overlooking Lake Pepin. A couple of picnic spots along the way offer vistas of the lake below with the visible Wisconsin shoreline about two miles away.

After passing the parking lot, the trail splits. Go right/north. This heads to an overlook. The town across the way is Maiden Rock, Wis.

In 0.4 miles, the trail reaches a junction. Go right/north to stay near the cliff edge.

The bluff is made of limestone laid down about 500 million years ago as organic sediment settled at the bottom of a shallow sea. Even after eons of erosion, the bluff stretches three miles long.

After another 0.3 miles of walking, the trail reaches another junction. Continue straight/west so you remain close to the cliff edge.

Yan Teopa Rock
During the last ice age, Glacial River Warren drained Glacial Lake Agassiz, carving out what is now the Minnesota and the Mississippi river valleys. During peak flows, Gerrard's Bluff was an island in the Mississippi River.

In 0.2 miles, the trail reaches two more overlooks. These are good spots during autumn for birdwatching. An impressive 260 bird species have been seen in Frontenac State Park, as they are attracted to the locally diverse habitats of prairie, floodplain forest, hardwood forests and bluffland. Keep an eye out for both bald and golden eagles, hawks, various waterfowl including ruddy turnstones and sanderlings.

The trail passes a couple of access trails leading to the campground during the next 0.2 miles. Upon coming to the T-intersection, go right/south.

In short order, you’ll come to Yan Teopa Rock. From a wooden overlook, you can look down upon a the natural limestone arch, a rare sight in the Midwest. The formation’s name comes from what Dakota called it and aptly means “rock with opening.”

Lake Pepin shore
Next, switchbacks run for about 0.2 miles as the trail heads down the bluffside to the lakeshore. Along the way, watch how the trees change with the elevation. The top of the bluff is a mix of aspen, basswood, elm, maple and oak. Cottonwood, maple and willow dominate the bluff’s bottom.

Over the next mile, the trail runs along the lakeshore with Gerrard's Bluff above you. Warblers are abundant here.

A few access trails lead right up to the water and its stony shore. Lake Pepin, at 22 miles long at a slightly more than a couple of miles wide, is the largest broadening of the Mississippi River on its entire course. Sediment from the Chippewa River south of near Pepin, Wis., creates a dam the backs up the Mississippi to form the lake.

When the trail curves south, it begins climbing bluff again over 0.2 miles. Near the top, the trail splits; go right/north. Just below the bluff top is an overlook.

Once cresting the bluff top, you’ll arrive at another trail that is your start point at the parking lot.

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