Welcome to the Jay Cooke State Park virtual tour! In this journey you'll get low at the St. Louis River gorge, see up high from Oldenburg Point, and get a look down the Willard Munger State Trail. We hope it prompts you to visit the park in person sometime soon.
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Willard Munger State Trail
With more than 50 miles of recreation trails in the park, a visitor could explore the park for days without following the same trail twice. The Willard Munger State Trail runs through Jay Cooke State Park, providing a paved surface for biking, in-line skating, and walking. The 70-mile Hinckley - Duluth segment of the trail is now completely paved.
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One of the first things you notice when hiking the trails are the unusual rock formations. Nowhere else in the state is this type of rock exposed in such a large area. The Thomson formation is made up of slate and greywacke. Long ago, underground movements caused this formation to bulge and break, tilting the rock at 45-degree angles. Glaciers then deposited thick layers of red clay on top of the formation which would later be washed away by the river to expose the bedrock underneath. Wherever the red clay topsoil has not been eroded, it is almost entirely covered with brush and dense forests.
The rock formations, flowing river, dense forest, and abundant wildlife makes Jay Cooke State Park one of the premier natural attractions throughout the entire Midwest.
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You are standing in front of the River Inn Interpretive Center. This building is where people attend naturalist programs, learn more about the park by viewing the interpretive exhibits, picnic and warm up. The building was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps from company 2711 between 1939 and 1942. Most of the raw materials used to construct the buildings were from local sources. The local gabbro stone was quarried from a site in Gary, Minnesota, approximately 12 miles from the park. It is believed that the buildings supporting beams and rafters were built from local white pine trees. Originally the River Inn was constructed with a kitchen, dining room, enclosed picnic shelter, and restrooms. In the early 1980s the kitchen and dining room area were converted into exhibits and naturalist offices today.
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Most famous of all the landmarks in the park is the Swinging Bridge. The bridge was designed by Oscar Newstrom and built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The bridge is a 200-foot-long suspension bridge with a 126-foot span over the Saint Louis River, it is supported by four massive pylons consisting of reinforced concrete piers faced with native stone laid in a rustic design. The suspension cables are anchored in a solid rock ledge on the south side and in concrete anchorage on the north. Stone piers on either side of the bridge support walkways leading to the suspended section.
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Upper River Gorge
Located on the upper end of the park near Thomson Dam, this gorge was carved into the bedrock by thousands of years of erosion
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Jay Cooke State Park Entrance Sign
The entrance sign welcomes visitors to Jay Cooke State Park.
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Calm waters invite paddlers and fishermen to spend a day on the water.
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Walking the Bridge
Excited visitors hustle across the famous Swinging Bridge, eager to start hiking the trails.
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Originally built in 1924, the Swinging Bridge has been replaced many times. The bridge visitors cross today is the fifth version that's been built. The newest bridge was rebuilt to reflect the Rustic Design architecture of the 1934 Civilian Conservation Corps bridge. The river below is swift and choppy. The Swinging Bridge: historic photos and timeline.
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The River Inn Interpretive Center
The The River Inn Interpretive Center, built in 1941 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, is constructed mostly of dark, local gabbro.
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Bathroom Building - Oldenburg Point
This log-and-stone structure was built in 1936 by the Civilian Conservation Corps and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The bathrooms are open seasonally.
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Picnic Pavilion — Oldenburg Point
This stone picnic shelter, a short walk from the St. Louis River, includes a fireplace and electricity. Grills are available outside.
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Grand Portage Trail
Grand Portage Trail was used by voyageurs to maneuver around the rocks and rapids of the St. Louis River. The view from the trail on this autumn day includes the reflection of clouds and fall color in a serene stretch of clear, blue water.
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Oldenburg Point is located just down river from the main park headquarters and offers spectacular vistas of the Saint Louis River Valley. Here you can not only enjoy the view, but have your picnic lunch in the pavilion while you read the various memorial plaques and history of the park.
Once the leaves have changed colors in autumn, the same overlook showcases a yellow and gold version of the river valley.
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The Oldenburg Memorial, a large granite boulder on a base of basalt stone, is a tribute to the memory of Henry Oldenburg from the people of Carlton County. The plaque mounted to the boulder recognizes Oldenburg as one of the people who made Jay Cooke State Park possible.
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Although some of the writing has eroded over time, names and dates are still legible on the headstones in Pioneer Cemetery. This one dates back to 1887.
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Trees and shrubs bursting with oranges, greens, and yellows surround the swirling St. Louis River.
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Cola-colored water foams as it pours over ledges, sending up spray and drenching nearby rocks.
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Here and there, water spills over crooked rows of rocks jutting across this shallow stretch of the river.
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Jay Cooke State Park has many locations where visitors can hike down to the water's edge.
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Picturesque Jay Cooke State Park offers countless photo opportunities. Here's a shot of a man snapping a picture of a woman sitting on a rocky slope, with water cascading through a scenic bend in the river behind her.
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Visit the Interpretive Center at the River Inn to pick up a trail map and other information when you arrive, and check out the interpretive displays to find out more about the park.
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Jay Cooke State Park offers year-round interpretive programs that provide learning fun for all ages. Many of them begin here at the River Inn, where there is a fireplace at one end and plenty of seating at picnic tables and benches.
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Jay Cooke State Park has five camper cabins available for rent year-round. These rustic, one-room cabins have a screened-in porch, electricity, and heat
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Camping opportunities at Jay Cooke State Park include drive-in sites for tents and RVs, plus a choice of walk-in and backpack sites. When the sun goes down, the campground is full of scenes like this, with families roasting marshmallows over a campfire.
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A campfire can be enjoyed any time of day. Cook your breakfast, lunch, or dinner over the fire, or just sit around it with your family and friends, telling tall tales. Firewood is available at the park office.
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Jay Cooke State Park is a popular winter recreation destination with something for everyone. Choose from 32 miles of cross-country ski trails, 10 miles of snowshoe and hiking trails or 12 miles of snowmobile trails. Gather around the fireplace afterwards in the warming shelter.
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Visitors to Jay Cooke State Park will find plenty of adventure, from hiking across the Swinging Bridge to finding a geocache. The park loans out GPS units and instructs beginners how to use them to find hidden treasures in the woods.
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All Minnesota state parks offer free admission on the second Saturday in June. It's a great opportunity to check out a new park, have a picnic, and make family memories.
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There is much to discover along the trails at Jay Cooke State Park. Pausing at a scenic overlook, this family appears to have spotted something interesting in the water below.
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In addition to eight miles of paved bike trails like this one, Jay Cooke State Park also has 9 miles of mountain bike trails.
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Here, a beaver has started chewing away at the trunk of a tree. Beavers are just one of 46 animal species at Jay Cooke State Park. The park is also home to 185 bird species and 16 species of reptiles and amphibians.
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During the winter, the St. Louis River does not completely freeze over, but ice and snow cover large sections of it.