Minnesota has 76 state parks. In my first seven months living here, I’ve visited eight. I wrote about a canoe camping trip down the St. Croix River, which ticked off two parks when we launched from Wild River State Park (granted, we didn’t explore it whatsoever, so it can’t really count) and then finished at Taylors Falls where we strolled around Interstate State Park a bit.
This camping trip checked off three more parks: Gooseberry Falls, where we camped and called home base for two nights while exploring nearby Tettegouche State Park and Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. Here’s a brief overview of the hikes we did and not-to-miss waterfalls.
DAY ONE: Gooseberry Falls State Park
Gooseberry Falls is a series of waterfalls straddling the freeway. The campsites are great, semi-private and not far from the lakeshore. The same day we arrived, we explored the many nearby waterfalls and set up the hammock for sunset overlooking Lake Superior. Despite facing east, it was a glorious view, sky full of pinks and purples and oranges and blues. As the sun went down, the mosquito population rose and so did my desire to get back to camp to start grilling, drinking and – as we do in the Midwest – cribbaging.
The hiking/walking trails are a very short distance from the campground. Simply follow the signs and then the river to continue upstream. There are three main falls along the water, and you’ll cross under the freeway. You don’t feel like you’re in the wild, but it doesn’t matter because it’s so beautiful.
DAY TWO: Tettegouche State Park
About 20 minutes north was the park I’d really wanted to camp at, but we were late in making reservations so would have to make do with a day trip. I have no complaints. A day was plenty here, and we fit in two hikes. We first hit up High Falls, a 3-mile in and back hike. When we arrived, the falls were pretty busy with hikers and swimmers. By the time we left, about 30 minutes later, we were the only ones there. High Falls’ claim to fame is being the highest waterfall in the state of Minnesota at 70 feet. Although there’s a 120-foot waterfall that is on the Canadian border, so that one (also called High Falls, at Grand Portage State Park) seems to get more attention.
The second hike was the quick .8-mile each way to Cascade Falls. I think we saw a total of nine people while walking and saw zero while at the actual waterfalls, where we spent another 30 minutes snacking and relaxing – this time no hammocking.
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DAY THREE: Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
We woke up to rain so quickly packed up camp and hit the road. Before heading home, we decided to drive farther north to Grand Marais, a charming small town on the coast of Lake Superior with cute cafes, antique stores, donut shops and ice cream parlors – your quintessential small-town town. We did all the things and after lunch started the four-hour drive home. En route, we stopped at Split Rock Lighthouse. We decided against the guided tour and headed straight down to the rocky coastline, plopped on a rock to take it all in, looking back (and up) at the lighthouse surrounded by dozens of cairns and tourists. We walked back up into the lighthouse and read about its 1910 construction and the timeline history of the surrounding waters, which have swallowed its fair share of boats.