Pros: Waterfalls. Hiking trails. Views of Lake Superior. Unique geology. Excellent campground.
Cons: Sometimes cold, even in summer.
The western shoreline of Lake Superior has many rocky beaches and rolling hills, which are laced with rushing rivers, waterfalls, dense forests, and unusual geological formations. All of these beautiful sights seem to come together at Gooseberry Falls State Park, which is one of my favorite places to visit in Minnesota. I have visited this park three times in the last five years, most recently in August 2005 for a 3-day camping trip.
Gooseberry Falls State Park covers 1,675 acres of densely wooded land along the Lake Superior shoreline in northeastern Minnesota. The main features of the park are a series of waterfalls on the Gooseberry River, and the rugged Lake Superior shoreline. The native Indian inhabitants called Lake Superior Gitchi Gummi which mean big waters. It is one of the largest lakes in the world.
The Visitors Center was built in the 1990s, and features a gift shop, a Park Ranger Station, a small museum, restrooms, and snack machines. Look for the stuffed Timber Wolf on display! Several waterfalls in the Gooseberry River are less than ? mile away and most of the trails are very easy to walk on; most in this area are handicap accessible too.
The Visitors Center and the nearby trails and waterfalls (but not the campground) are free to visitors. This is also a good jumping off point for the hiking trails going deep into the park or The Superior Hiking Trail, which runs along the backbone of the Lake Superior shoreline up to the Canadian border.
The Gooseberry River runs over basalt rock as it rushes into Lake Superior. The rock has worn away unevenly, which has created a series of waterfalls. On my most recent trip the river was running low, so we could cross the river (walking on rocks) and get pretty close-up to some of the falls. Some people even go underneath them (probably not a good idea) and wade in the river.
There are several viewing platforms for the less adventurous. It is often crowded here with throngs of people taking photographs though. I recommend spending 1-2 hours looking at the falls and the surrounding scenery.
This park has 18 miles of trails that follow the Gooseberry River, the Lake Superior shoreline, and meander along the wooded hills overlooking the lake. One mile of the trail near the falls are handicap accessible too. Some of the trails are easy walks through the woods, while others are rocky and have some steep dropoffs.
The Gitchi Gummi Trail is moderate in difficulty and runs to a point that juts out into Lake Superior. There are some stunning views of the lake and the steep cliffs. Also, the Superior Hiking Trail is accessible from the Gooseberry River trail. This is a great hiking trail suitable for more experienced hikers.
Gooseberry Falls has a 70-site drive-in campground, two group camps, and a kayak site. I stayed in the drive-in campground in August 2005 and the group camp in 2002. We reserved campsites in advance on both trips.
The drive-in campground is densely wooded and most sites have 15-20 between them. Most sites are shaded and have dense brush or trees all around them. A few sites are close to the lake, but you are subject to cold wind off the lake (if its blowing) and less privacy. There are two modern restrooms with showers, two handicap accessible sites, and a few pit toilets scattered about. In general the bathrooms are very clean. Overall the drive-in campground is one of the best I have visited in Minnesota!
The unusual picnic area is set on an ancient volcanic flow right along Lake Superior. The tables are all out in the open and the ground is covered with dense rock. The rock is worn smooth and easy to walk on, but you have to be careful, since the rock runs right up to the edge of the lake then drops off.
Agate Beach is at the mouth of the Gooseberry River covered with colorful small rocks. This is a great place to do some rock hunting, or you can sit on a ledge and soak up the sun. Its not a good idea to swim in Lake Superior since the water temperature rarely tops 50 degrees (F) even on the hottest days.
The Civilian Conservation Corp constructed several buildings in the park in the 1930s. Some are no longer used by remain as an interesting historical remembrance of that era.
A few photographs of the park can be seen here:
Gooseberry Falls State Park is a terrific place to visit. If offers beautiful views of Lake Superior, waterfalls, and a myriad of outdoor activities. Just visiting the waterfalls is free, but access to the rest of the park requires a park pass. The entrance fee is $7 day and is also sold as a 12-month pass for $25 at all Minnesota State Parks.
I recommend reserving campsites at least 2 months in advance. Sites can be reserved for a small fee by calling 1-866-85PARKS. Fees are $15 for the drive-in sites and about $50 for the group camp.
The park is about 1 hour northeast of Duluth, MN and about 4 hours from Minneapolis/St Paul. The weather is often fickle and unpredictable here. On my most recent trip here it was sunny and in the 70s in the day and about 50 at night. Several years ago we got caught in a torrential thunderstorm, which are not uncommon in the summer. Plan for anything.
Two Harbors, MN is about 13 miles southwest of the park on Highway 61, which runs along the Lake Superior shoreline. Gas, groceries, restaurants, a few motels and even a Dairy Queen can be found here.
The Split Rock Lighthouse State park is about 10 miles further north along the shore and is very easy to find.
Gooseberry Falls State Park
3206 Highway 61
Two Harbors, MN 55616
Campground Reservations: 1-866-85PARKS
Other reviews that may interest you:
Tettegouche State Park
Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
Temperance River State Park
Book: The Duluth, Missable, and Iron Range Railroad
© trailhound. 2005.