630,269 annual visits
32,384 overnight visits
Naturalist programs and activities are offered weekly from Memorial Day - Labor Day and on a limited basis at other times. Topics include area resources such as plants, animals, geology, Lake Superior, history, recreation, and more. Be sure to stop by the visitor center and outdoor Gateway Plaza to view interpretive displays and signs.
The park has recorded over 225 species of birds that nest or visit the park, 46 species of mammals, and ten species of reptiles and amphibians. Of special interest to visitors are white-tailed deer, black bears, gray wolves, pine martens, migratory Lake Superior salmon and trout, a variety of conifer-dependent birds, ravens, and the herring gulls that establish nesting colonies along the lakeshore. During fall and spring, many migratory birds can be seen because the park is along the North Shore flyway. North Shore birds | North Shore mammals, amphibians & reptiles.
The area known as Gooseberry Falls State Park is intricately tied to human use of Lake Superior. At different times, the Cree, the Dakotah, and the Ojibwe lived along the North Shore. As early as 1670, the Gooseberry River appeared on explorer maps. The river was either named after the French explorer Sieur des Groseilliers or after the Anishinabe Indian name, Shab-on-im-i-kan-i-sibi; when translated, both refer to gooseberries. In the 1870s, commercial and sport fishermen began to use this area.
By the 1890s, logging became the principle use of the land around the Gooseberry River. In 1900, the Nestor Logging Company built its headquarters at the river mouth and a railway was used to carry the pine to the lake for rafting to the sawmills. Because of fires and intensive logging pressures, the pine disappeared by the early 1920s.
With the rise of North Shore tourism in the 1920s, there was a concern that the highly scenic North Shore would be accessible only to the rich. As a result the Legislature authorized preservation of the area around Gooseberry Falls in 1933. The following year, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) began to develop the park. CCC crews built the park's stone and log buildings and the 300-foot long "Castle in the Park" stone retaining wall. They also laid out the original campground, picnic grounds and trails. The area officially became Gooseberry Falls State Park in 1937. The CCC camps closed in 1941, but the park's CCC legacy lives on. Designed with ties to the CCC, a new visitor center/wayside rest and Highway 61 bridge was opened in 1996. CCC camp photo albums: Camp life , Buildings/historic site , Legacy Self-guided Tour checklist & map .
Get more information from the Minnesota Historical Society about Gooseberry Falls State Park historic resources.
Geologists have determined that about 1.1 billion years ago, the Earth's crust began to split apart along a great rift zone now covered by Lake Superior. Huge volumes of lava flowed out onto the surface and cooled to form volcanic bedrock, mainly the dark type known as basalt. Several lava flows can be seen at the Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls and south of the Gooseberry River along the Lake Superior shore. The rifting also caused the flows to tilt gently toward the lake. These basalt lava flows, all along the North Shore, are also the birthplaces of Lake Superior agates.
About two million years ago, the Great Ice Age began as periodic glaciers (up to a mile thick) advanced into the region from the north. As they ground across the area, they changed the landscape dramatically, especially by excavating the whole basin now occupied by Lake Superior. About 10,000 years ago the last glacier melted back, allowing the basin to fill with water and starting the erosional process that creates the river gorges and waterfalls. Today, water, wind, and weather continue to shape the North Shore.
Rocky Lake Superior shoreline, five waterfalls, Gooseberry River and gorge, Agate Beach and the Picnic Flow highlight the park. Trails lead through a fairly diverse vegetative cover of mixed evergreen, aspen and birch forests that provide habitat for a variety of birds, plants and other animals. Because the local climate is moderated by Lake Superior, some disjunct populations of arctic-alpine plants can be found in the park. North Shore wildflowers in the park | North Shore trees & shrubs.
North Shore Fall Color Podcast 7:27 mp3 with Naturalist Retta James-Gasser