Thursday, January 12, 2017

Trail passes wild river, 400-year-old trees

A section of the West Manitou River Trail.
Photo courtesy of Minnesota DNR.
Day hikers can enjoy rustic North Shore landscapes on a scenic loop at Minnesota’s George H. Crosby Manitou State Park.

The 3.3-mile Middle-West Manitou-Misquah-Yellow Birch Loop combines four trails as it winds through the highlands overlooking Lake Superior. Along the loop, day hikers can experience a river rumbling over ancient rock and an old growth forest boasting centuries-old trees.

George H. Crosby Manitou State Park is perfect for hikers and campers who prefer a primitive nature setting. The park has no developed facilities, in accordance with the wishes of its namesake, a famous Minnesota mining executive who was an avid outdoorsman.

To reach the park, from Silver Bay travel north on Minn. Hwy. 61, turning left/northwest onto Minn. Hwy 1. In Finland, go right/northeast onto County Road 7 (aka Cramer Road). Take a right/east into the park, using the lot where the road loops back on itself.

Superior Hiking Trail
The first leg of the loop, the Middle Trail, starts on the lot’s north side. This portion of the trail also is part of the Superior Hiking Trail.

In keeping with the park’s primitive nature, the gently rolling dirt trail is narrow and crosses several small stones and tree roots. A boardwalk runs over a wet, boggy area, then the trail climbs a rocky slope.

After 0.3 miles, a side trail heads to an overlook. The view is worth the few extra steps. Past the overlook, the side trail rejoins the main route; at that junction, go right/north onto the Middle Trail.

Among the interesting sights following the overlook is a birch tree growing atop a boulder with roots clinging to the rock as breaking into the ground. The trail next passes an open log shelter that is a great spot for a break.

At 0.9 miles, the Middle reaches the West Manitou River Trail. Go left/northwest onto the latter.

River views
An overlook is 0.15 miles from the intersection. The rock knoll offers great view of the river valley below. The vista is stunning in autumn, when the changing leaves paint the forest in a rainbow of harvest colors. From there, descend several wooden steps to the Manitou River’s cascades.

After taking in the rapids, turn back, following the trail southwest along the river, which can be seen through several tree breaks. The Manitou River rushes over basalt set down in lava flows some 1.1 billion years ago. The water is the color of frothy root beer due to the dead leaves, grasses and other organic material that drain into the waterway; the hard rocky river bottom causes the water to tumble and aerate. Manitou means “spirit” in Ojibwe.

In 0.6 miles, after passing several spurs to campsites, the Superior Hiking Trail splits to the left/north where it crosses the river. Instead, go right/south onto the Misquah Trail and away from the Manitou.

This section of the loop heads through an old growth forest for a half-mile with a couple of overlooks just off the trail.

Ancient birch
After passing a spur to campground site 7, the trail curves west. In 0.4 miles from the spur, you’ll reach the Yellow Birch and Cedar Ridge trails. Go right/northwest onto the Yellow Birch.

This portion of the loop also runs through an old growth forest. Some of the birch trees here are around 400 years old, starting as saplings when the Pilgrims first arrived in America. Because of the thick forest, the trail here is rugged.

Wildlife frequently can be spotted along this part of the loop. Be forewarned that black bears are among the park’s denizens; should you see a bear, simply make loud noises to scare it off. Being noisy while you hike usually is sufficient to keep bears deep in the woods.

At 0.3 miles, the trail passes a connector to Bensen Lake. Stay on the main route. Then, in another 0.3 miles, you’ll reach the road to your parking lot. Follow it right/north to your vehicle.

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