Spring arrives boldly in Jay Cooke State Park, just south of Duluth. Come late March or early April, the St. Louis River jumps from a sluggish 350 cubic feet per second to a rush of 20,000, as it plunges through the 8,938-acre park on its way to Lake Superior.
"A lot of people come up specifically to see the spring breakup," says park naturalist Kristine Hiller about the spectacle created by the river's seasonal torrent.
The gorge below the Thompson Dam and the Swinging Bridge offers magnificent views of the river. So does a hike along the Carlton Trail. Expert kayakers arrive with the high water to paddle challenging rapids within the park.
Jay Cooke's five camper cabins are popular year-round, but anyone willing to pitch a tent will likely find their choice of campsites during winter and early spring, says Hiller.
The park was established in 1915 after heirs to Jay Cooke (a banker from Philadelphia) donated the land to the state. It is home to abundant wildlife, including white-tailed deer, black bears, and timber wolves. May is prime time for seeing many of the 190 bird species that live in or visit the park.
"We have 26 out of the 42 warblers in the state," says Hiller. "Some are passing through, but 20 of them nest here." The arrival of warblers roughly coincides with the peak blooming of spring wildflowers, says Hiller. Along the park's 50 miles of hiking trails, 8 miles of paved bike trails, and 13 miles of mountain-bike trails, blooming highlights include trillium, spring beauties, trout lilies, hepatica, wild ginger, and wood anemone.
While you can enjoy Jay Cooke State Park's rugged landscape anytime, the sights and sounds of Lake Superior's largest tributary shrugging off winter's icy grip are a great way to welcome spring. Says Hiller, "It just feels energizing."