North Shore Waterfall Tour – Weekend Itinerary

Highlights:

  • Rushing rapids and waterfalls
    along the North Shore of Lake Superior
  • Jay Cooke State Park
  • Tettegouche State Park
  • Gooseberry Falls State Park

Great for:

  • Families, friends
  • Photographers

 

River fog within Jay Cooke State Park State.

Fog and mist shroud the cascading river landscape in Jay Cooke State Park State.

Overview

Spend a spring weekend exploring the melting rivers of the North Shore of three Minnesota State Parks.

North Shore safety tips:

  • Spring trails can be muddy. Wear waterproof shoes or bring extra socks.
  • The rocks that form the rapids and waterfalls can be slippery when wet or icy. Wear sturdy shoes with good treads. Check at the visitor center for current trail conditions.
  • Lake Superior makes its own weather so come prepared for variety. Hats, mittens and sweaters may be needed for the cooler nights.
  • North Shore terrain can be hilly. Plan 1 hour to hike each 2 miles of intermediate trail.

Day One: Morning

12 p.m.  Arrive at Jay Cooke State Park and stay overnight.

Note: Stay one night at Jay Cooke and one night at Gooseberry Falls, or two nights at Jay Cooke State Park.

Reservations for Jay Cooke State Park

The park offers several opportunities for overnight stays. Within the campground there are heated camper cabins, electric and non-electric campsites or walk-in sites. There are also backpack campsites that are a 2-3 mile hike in. Make a reservation!

Jay Cooke State Park State features a historic swinging bridge.

A swinging bridge spans the St. Louis River in Jay Cooke State Park.

Park at the River Inn Visitor Area

  • Park Headquarters – check in for camping, information and gift store
  • River Inn Interpretive Center – shelter, bathrooms and displays
  • Accessible parking, sidewalks, buildings and restrooms
  • Swinging Bridge is within view

Bring a picnic

  • Eat either inside the heated picnic shelter or choose a table outside along the river.
  • Option – Get out on the trail and eat along the way.

Viewing the rapids

The St. Louis River cascades over ancient slanted rocks to create dramatic rapids and small waterfalls. These rapids can be viewed several ways around the park.

Angular river rock formations in Jay Cooke State Park.Coffee colored water cascading down rock formations in Jay Cooke State Park.

St Louis River rapids.

Turbulent cascades churn coffee-colored water. 

Short stop options:  

  • Head short one block down to the historic Swinging Bridge to join the generations of visitors that have journeyed across its bouncy span.  There are many views of the rapids right from the bridge. The sidewalk and bridge are accessible. 15 minutes.
  • After crossing the Swinging Bridge check out the rocks and rapids in the bridge area. The trail is a bit uneven. 15 minutes.
  • Hike on the north side of the river along the easy CCC trail to get impressive views of the river. Choose from either ½ mile of trail just along the river or continue in a loop through the forest back to the visitor area, 1. 8 miles round trip. 30 – 60 minutes.
  • Thomson Dam/River Gorge area – Drive 2 miles to the outskirts of the park on Highway 210 and park at the Kayak Center – public lot.  30 – 60 minutes total exploration time.
    • View the water flowing through the Thomson Dam.
    • Walk across the highway along the river gorge to the Willard Munger Trail trestle bridge. The trail is uneven and rocky.
  • Oldenburg Point – Drive one mile to the Oldenburg Point picnic grounds for panoramic views of the park and river valley. Parking and outhouses available.  30 minutes.
    • Walk the paved path to one of two overlooks. 1/2 mile round trip
    • Option – Visit Oldenburg Point after dinner to watch the sunset over the river valley from the overlooks.

Longer stop option:

  • Hike the Carlton Trail along the river. Fantastic views of the rocks and rapids. You will also hike past the Thomson gorge area by the Willard Munger State Trail trestle bridge before looping back on the north side of the river on the Thomson & CCC Trails. 5 miles round trip. Intermediate trail with uneven surfaces, rocks and some muddy areas. Plan up to 4 hours depending on how often you stop.

Other things to do:

  • Attend a naturalist program to learn more about the park.
  • View the displays about the park inside the River Inn Interpretive Center.
  • In May, ask about the best trails to view spring flowers or migrating birds.
  • The Park Headquarters has many different free things to offer. Check out a kid's activity pack, a birding kit, fishing pole or a GPS unit.
  • Willard Munger State Trail – a paved trail connection starts in the visitor center area and heads up to the state trail where you can choose to head towards Duluth or Hinckley. Bicycles available to rent at area shops or bring your own.

Come back again:

  • Over 50 miles of hiking trails including portions of the Superior Hiking Trail and the North Country Trail.
  • Fall colors peak near the end of September and early October.
  • Visit in winter for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Day Two: Morning

Travel to Tettegouche State Park (approximately 2 hrs).

Route Suggestion:

  • I-35 North through Duluth
  • Choose Scenic Highway 61 for a beautiful drive along Lake Superior to Two Harbors. Although the Highway 61 Expressway is faster, you will not see views of the lake.
  • Highway 61 from Two Harbors to Tettegouche State Park.
  • Stop in Duluth or Two Harbors if you need to pick up food for a picnic/snack.

Day Two: Late Morning

Arrive at Tettegouche State Park.

View of the High Falls in Tettegouche State Park.

Tettegouche State Park features many spectacular views of the falls.

Short stop options:

The Cascades Trail (1.5 miles)

  • Hilly
  • Uneven Trail Surfaces
  • Hike to the Cascades waterfalls, a one and half mile round-trip hike along the trail on the west side of the river. This is our only trail that closely follows the river. From the Visitor Center, cross the historic park bridge on foot and take a hard left to find the trail below the bridge. Follow that upstream.

Shovel Point Trail (1.2 miles)

  • Hilly
  • Uneven Trail Surfaces
  • Boardwalks and Stairs
  • Leaving the Visitor Center through the lakeside doors, take the shoreline trail to the left. This charming trail weaves between cliff tops and the nearshore forest. There are exactly 300 stair steps on this trail. The various stairs and boardwalks have been installed to protect the fragile cliff top soils and plants. Say hello to the rock climbers at the cliff top of Shovel Point!

Longer stop option:

High Falls (3 miles)

  • Uneven Trail Surfaces
  • Boardwalks and Stairs
  • A hike to the High Falls of the Baptism River allows you to stroll into the North Woods, gently climbing as you go. Leave the Visitor Center through the lakeside doors, following the shoreline trail to the right, down to the mouth of the Baptism River. Skip a few rocks. Hunt for crayfish in the shallows. Linger. Take the trail up the riverside, over the park road and under Highway 61. The High Falls are 1.5 miles inland. Stairways will bring you down to Two Step falls, on your way up and another set of stairs will get you to the base of the High Falls. There is no loop to hike, so return the way you came. It's all downhill from here!

The High Falls of Tettegouche State Park offer a spectacular backdrop for a wild rose/

Other things to do:

  • Naturalist programs
  • Interpretive displays
  • Check-out birding kits, family Discovery Kits, or a field guide.
  • Find Tettegouche’s geocache with your own GPS or borrow one from the park. 

Come back again:

  • Tettegouche has four sets of dramatic waterfalls. Check them all off your list!
  • Explore the 23 miles of hiking trails through some of the most-rugged topography in Minnesota
  • Visit historic Tettegouche Camp on the shores of Mic Mac Lake. Canoes are available for rent at Mic Mac Lake. Arrange for this at the Visitor Center or call the park staff from the phone at the Tettegouche Camp shower building.
  • Fish in any of our six inland lakes or in the Baptism River
  • Ski our groomed ski trails or rent snowshoes and hike wherever you want
  • Pick berries

Don't Miss: Palisade Head stop on way to Gooseberry Falls State Park – Look for the Palisade Head parking lot and road about 1.5 miles southwest of Tettegouche State Park.

Day Two: Late Afternoon

Travel to Gooseberry Falls State Park, overnight stay (30 minute travel time) Learn more about Gooseberry Falls State Park

Reservations for Gooseberry Falls State Park

Checking into your campsite

  • You can check-in to your site whenever the last visitor has vacated it. Previous visitors have until 4 pm to check out. Stop at the Contact Station to check-in. Contact station has limited spring hours.
  • Set up your campsite and make dinner or check into your lodging and enjoy one of the local restaurants.

Day Two: Evening Options

  • Find the Gitchi Gami State Trail by the Campground Shelter and explore on the Picnic Flow (allow 15-30 minutes), one of the North Shore's best examples of a well-exposed, hardened lava flow.
  • Hike to where the Gooseberry River and Lake Superior meet. Admire the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built Lake View Shelter, pump house and picnic tables along river and shoreline. Skip rocks at the pebble beach.
  • Take a short evening hike to gaze at the moon and stars. The best views of the night sky can be found along Picnic Flow and Lake View Shelter area.

Gooseberry Falls State Park State features a series of falls to enjoy.

Expanses of rocky ledges frame the plunging Gooseberry River as it races over falls toward Lake Superior within Gooseberry State Park. 

Day Three: Viewing the Waterfalls

Gooseberry River travels three miles through the park, over five waterfalls and many rapids in which the water drops 240 feet down to Lake Superior.

Day Three: Morning

  • Drive or Hike to the Joseph A. Alexander Visitor Center
  • Visitor Center and Trail Center – gift shop and interpretive displays
  • Access to the Upper, Middle and Lower Waterfalls
  • Accessible parking, sidewalks, buildings and restrooms

Short stop options:

  • Visitor Center and Falls Area - Don't forget your camera!
  • Take a short accessible trail to the Upper and Middle Falls or stairs to the Lower Falls.
  • Visit the "Castle in the Park" stone wall and enjoy the view of Lake Superior from the top, then hike to the Upper Falls via the catwalk and trail. Check out the viewing platform, CCC camp sign and bench overlooking the falls and bridge.
  • Hike the Falls Loop Trail (1 mile loop) to see the Upper, Middle and Lower Falls. Start at the catwalk to get a view of the Upper Falls. Don't forget to turn around and catch a view of Lake Superior. Hike under the bridge and follow the stairs enjoying different views of the Middle and Lower Falls from the overlooks. The trail crosses the Gooseberry River and follows it upstream to the Middle Falls viewing platform.

Longer stop options:

Fifth Falls Trail (2-mile loop)

  • Hilly
  • Gravel
  • Boardwalks
  • Travel this rugged path up the river to the Fifth Falls and back. Stop to watch the river go by, look for caves, or view CCC features along the way.

River View Trail (2.5-mile loop)

  • Hilly
  • Gravel
  • Boardwalks
  • Walk up to the falls from the campground, Start at the falls and travel downstream to the river mouth and Picnic Flow Area along the lake.
Visitors enjoy a view of Gooseberry Falls.
 

The Gooseberry River offer a visitor many views of the falls to choose from.

Come back again:

  • Gitchi-Gami State Trail (8-15 miles one-way) Paved. Shared with bicycles. Access this paved bike trail from the Picnic Flow Trailhead and travel as far as Split Rock Lighthouse State Park (8 miles one-way) or the town of Beaver Bay (15 miles one-way).
  • Check out the Birding Kit and hike the River View trail in search of spring warblers and migrating birds
  • Fish for salmon (fall) or trout (spring) in the Gooseberry River (Trout Stamp needed).
  • Gitchi Gummi Hiking Trail (2-mile loop) Hilly Gravel Boardwalks Experience incredible views of the Gooseberry River Valley and Lake Superior.

Relax:

Stop in the Joseph Alexander Visitor Center to gift shop, bird watch or enjoy the view of Lake Superior and Gooseberry River. The Department of Transportation rest area is open from 8am to 9pm daily. Wander through the building to view exhibits and watch a short movie about the park in the theater.

Day Three: Noon – Depart for Home