For the past four decades, we have been making excursions to Minnesota. A portion of Crystal’s family, including her mom, live in what I lovingly refer to as the “frozen tundra”. Many family trips landed us in the southern portion of the state. Our most recent visit had us exploring a new section when we traveled to the shores of Lake Superior. One of the “must-see” stops, on our itinerary, was a visit to Gooseberry Falls State Park. Serving as a gateway to the North Shores, this trio of falls has some interesting history.
After spending the night in Duluth, we made our way northeast along a shoreline drive. This portion would usually take about 45 minutes, but we were experiencing it for the first time, so more stops were involved. Gooseberry Falls sits along the shores of Lake Gitchi Gummi, a name originally given to Lake Superior, by the Ojibwa people. This spot is often referred to as the “Gateway to the North Shores”, as it is the first of a series of state parks that border the shoreline. We arrived at the visitors center, which gives an overview of the area. It also includes a small gift shop, where we would find some unique souvenirs to memorialize our visit.
Gooseberry Falls is comprised of a trio of drops that include; Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls. During our visit, we only managed to see the lower two. These were down in water volume due to drought conditions. While some may be disappointed by the lack of water flow, it also brings opportunity. Evidently, long ago the earth’s crust split along this region, which includes a rift under Lake Superior. Large amounts of lava flowed into the open spaces and cooled to form dark-colored basalt. This can be seen in the falls when the water levels are low.
Ice Age Leftovers
Another interesting geological feature is the various caves that dot the area. Many of these were formed during the last ice age and were revealed as the glaciers receded. We spotted a few of these as we explored the surrounding forest. Being so far north, the foliage was primarily made up of aspen, birch, and evergreen trees. A myriad of wildlife creatures abound in this arctic-alpine region, but for the most part, we spotted only the ever-present ravens. The sounds of gulls were often heard, but I believe we would have had to hike closer to the lake’s edge to see them. We were okay with passing on this since we had seen so many gulls during our Lake Michigan visit to Kenosha, Wisconsin.
While I refer to what we did as hiking, the reality is much less strenuous. Gooseberry Falls has paved paths that lead to viewing areas of the falls. While these do have considerable elevation changes, it was not too much for our party to handle. Crystal’s mom did decide to wait at a viewing area, while the two of us went hiking out onto the top of Middle Falls. It seems like a popular thing to do, so we joined the constant crowd of visitors. This activity is fairly easy for able-bodied guests, but be aware that you will have to navigate fissures and wet rocks. In the end, it offered us a different perspective of the falls.
Gateway to the North Shores
Our visit to Gooseberry Falls State Park allowed us a peek into the natural world found at the gateway to the North Shores. Since we weren’t on a scheduled tour, we could enjoy the area at our own pace. There are benches along the paths that offer a restful break from the walk. They have also included seating spots at the viewpoints for the falls and many visitors were happy to find them. With ample free parking, as well as no admission charges, this is truly a free attraction. Be sure to drop by the gift shop to pick out the perfect memory from your visit. The dollars spent there help keep the park running.