Thursday, October 15, 2015

Eagle Mountain and Northeastern Minnesota Waterfalls

The Minnesota shoreline on Lake Superior between Duluth and the Canadian border at Grand Portage covers 150 miles and is known as the North Shore. We recently visited a number of waterfalls along the North Shore and hiked to the top of Eagle Mountain, the tallest mountain in Minnesota, about 20 miles inland from the North Shore. 

Gooseberry Falls State Park

43 miles northeast of Duluth is a series of three waterfalls on the Gooseberry River. The Upper Falls, just north of Highway 61, has a 30 foot drop. The water then glides under the Highway 61 bridge and goes over the Middle Falls and then the Lower Falls. The hike to visit the falls is minimal and the three waterfalls in close proximity to each other provide a spectacular viewing opportunity for very little effort. 
Upper Falls 
From Upper Falls, looking down the Gooseberry River past the bridge to the Middle Falls.
Middle Falls. The Highway bridge is visible to the upper left. 
A side view of Middle Falls.
Lower Falls
Below the three falls, the Gooseberry River empties into Lake Superior. Fall was showing off its plumage.
Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

We made a brief visit to the Split Rock Lighthouse. It was quite beautiful as a sentinel over Lake Superior, the largest fresh water lake in the world.
Split Rock Lighthouse as viewed from Highway 61.
Tettegouche State Park

High Falls in Tettegouche State Park, is 60 miles northeast of Duluth and involves more effort to get to than the Gooseberry Falls. From the campground, it is about a half-mile hike in to the top of the falls, then a little bit more distance to cross the Baptism River on a bouncy footbridge and hike down to near the base of the falls. The 60 foot drop makes these the second tallest falls in Minnesota. The reward is fewer people and an opportunity to get up close to some great fall colors. This was my favorite waterfall because of its height and the opportunity to see it from every direction. 
Red and yellow leaves combined for a spectacular display.
Yellow leaves of aspen stand out against the green pines.
Leaves turning various colors.
Bright red leaves with some yellow and green in the background.
The churning water from a side view at the top of the falls.
A look down the Baptism River below the falls.
Judy on the foot bridge over the Baptism River above the falls.
The bridge itself was an adventure - it was quite bouncy.
A view of the top of the falls from the other side of the river.
A view up-river from the falls.
View from below the falls.

Grand Portage State Park

At the very end of the North Shore Drive, just on the south side of the Canadian border, is Grand Portage State Park with the tallest waterfall in Minnesota, 120 foot High Falls, twice the height of High Falls in Tettegouche State Park, the next tallest waterfall (shouldn't they be a little more creative with waterfall names than High Falls?). High Falls is on the Pigeon River which is the U.S./Canadian border. One side of the river/falls is in Canada and the other side is in the U.S. High Falls is a one-half mile walk each way, on a beautiful handicapped accessible trail. We could hear the roar of the falls well before we saw it - the sound was concussive and loud.
The Pigeon River well below High Falls.
A red squirrel along the trail.
High Falls
The massive impact of the falling water.
Looking downstream from the falls on the Pigeon River.
View of High Falls from further back. 
Fall colors above the falls.

Judy in front of the falls.
Eagle Mountain

Eagle Mountain is the tallest mountain in Minnesota with an elevation of 2,301 feet. To get there we followed a series of roads about 20 miles west of Grand Marais, which is on the North Shore Drive. The roads were paved much of the way, then turned to dirt. Along the drive I spotted a river otter cavorting in a field among a bunch of fallen logs. I stopped the car, took my camera into the field and couldn't find the otter, but I did get a photo of a snowshoe rabbit. Both the river otter and snowshoe rabbit were firsts for me.
Snowshoe hare. Note the white ears and white feet.
When we arrived at the Eagle Mountain trailhead we had some gray jays feasting on a dead bird in the dirt parking lot.
Gray jay
It started to sprinkle very lightly as we started our 3.5 mile hike (7.0 mile roundtrip) and about 20 minutes in started to drizzle fairly constantly. Judy, who was leading, saw a gray wolf straddling the trail about 30 yards in front of us. She motioned for me to look and I saw the wolf as it turned and started to lope ahead and then veered into the trees. Its beautiful silver and gray coat and bushy tail will be forever imprinted in my mind. This was definitely a first for me. I'd read some information about the state parks along the North Shore Drives and several mentioned they had wolves. I never dreamed we'd see one. A special, special experience. A short time later we crossed over into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness as we crossed over a bog on boards placed along the ground for that purpose.
A boggy area. It looks like this may be part of Whale Creek.
The bogs were the only time we really could see any distance. Otherwise visibility was severely limited by the heavy tree growth. Eventually we reached Whale Lake and a knob directly ahead appeared to be Eagle Mountain. But I recalled a summitpost comment for Eagle Mountain which indicated that the photo posted there was incorrect.
Whale Lake and a knob on the other side.
After following the trail near the shore of Whale Lake, a sign pointed to the trail heading to the left up the side of the mountain. It was not extremely steep, but much steeper than anything we'd encountered so far. We gained about 600 feet of elevation. The trail was quite rocky and we had to be careful of foot placement, making sure that we did not slip on slick rocks.
We eventually reached an open spot on the trail which provided a panoramic view of the Wilderness Area and several lakes below. Lots of yellow leaves from aspens or birches. I couldn't help but think of that wild country that supported the wolves, one of which we'd seen. I read subsequently that the wolves in northern Minnesota were the last bastion for wolves in the U.S. before their populations started to recover and spread into other states.
Panoramic view from Eagle Mountain. Several lakes and lots of yellow leaves below.
Judy commented that the summit looked straight uphill from us and it appeared that way to me as well. But I thought I'd read there was a trail and continued forward for some time down a much lesser trail before giving up and going back to the panoramic view. Then we headed straight up the hill, found several rock cairns and the trail and within five minutes were standing near a rock with a bronze plaque. The summit is remarkably unimpressive.
From the panoramic spot - looking uphill.
Judy on top of Eagle Mountain - wet, but triumphant.
The USGS marker on the rock above the plaque.
The plaque.
We found a nice tree that provided cover from the rain and broke out some smoked fish we'd purchased at Russ Kendall's Smokehouse in Knife River and some funky tasting aged goat/cow milk cheese we purchased at a farmer's market in St. Paul. We couldn't eat it all and left the balance for our wolf-friend. I'm sure the smell will draw him to it.
Enjoying smoked whitefish, salmon, herring and some cheese.
We encountered one other hiker on our way in and several groups of hikers on our way out. I was impressed with the number of hikers willing to brave the rain.

I came away astounded at the beauty of northern Minnesota along the North Shore Drive and in the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness, particularly in the fall with the changing colors, and immensely grateful that this area has been preserved for wolves and other wild animals as well as humans like us.  


  1. There is an amazing amount of water flowing in those rivers and in the many lakes we saw along our summit hike. For us parched Californians, the water is magical. And yes, that iinclude even the water falling from the sky. I'm sure I'll be telling and retelling the story of our summit climb IN THE RAIN for years to come.

  2. One of these years Pete & I will have to get ourselves "up north" -- past Duluth! Thank you for inspiring us.

  3. I love waterfalls, and these are beautiful. Some pretty great autumn leaves, too!