Lake County

Split Rock and Gooseberry in winter

Split Rock Lighthouse is said to be one of the most photographed spots in Minnesota, as well as one of the most photographed lighthouses in the U.S.

The lighthouse on the cliff from a spot to the south, with lots of trees on the rocks

Split Rock is a Minnesota State Park as well as a Minnesota Historical Society historic site.

The back side of the lighthouse, on the walk in from the parking lot

Two years ago, we decided to take a day trip to the North Shore. I had applied for a position with MNHS and with that organization on my mind, I wanted to see one of the historic sites that’s not in the Twin Cities – and it was a good excuse to add two stamps to our state parks passport. (And to visit Betty’s Pies on the way.)

Construction of Split Rock began in 1907 after several deadly shipwrecks on Lake Superior, including a late November 1905 storm that killed dozens and damaged or destroyed more than 20 ships. This map shows 29 wrecks.

Sign detailing the Gales of November and the wreck of the Madeira

The lighthouse itself is closed during the winter, so we didn’t get to climb up to the beacon, but we were able to get up-close outside…

Dark blue sky behind the beacon viewed from below

…and to see a beautiful, sunny view of Lake Superior.

The snowy shoreline south of the lighthouse

We left the lighthouse and started off on a very cold hike through the park.

Bare popple trees along a snowy foot path

Being January, the rocks were frozen and snow-covered, although the lake wasn’t iced over.

Rocks covered in snow covered in ice

And then we were treated to a gorgeous view of the lighthouse and the lake.

The lighthouse on the cliff, with the calm lake to the right

I was enchanted by this island to the south, with a pastel sky in the background as the sun went down.

A small island with lots of pine trees, close to the snow-covered shore

Now, switching back to the first park of the day, Gooseberry Falls, which was completely frozen over.

Looking up at the icy falls from immediately below, on the iced-over river

A view from the top of the falls, looking down:

Foreground disappears and the background is far below

The Highway 61 bridge over the Gooseberry River:

Steel arch bridge over a snow-covered river

Ice climbers:

Two people watching a climber who has just started

We didn’t stay long at this park, pretty as it was, because we wanted to leave plenty of time for Split Rock. Since then we stopped here once again but only as an afterthought and only for a quick hike out to see the unfrozen falls. Soon, we need to plan a real visit and explore the rest of this popular park.

Date visited: January 25, 2014

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On the way to Grand Marais

The first weekend in October we took a road trip to Grand Marais. It’s just over four hours by car, though that assumes no stops (which is never a safe assumption with me in the car). Here are some of the things we saw on the drive.

We were delayed briefly in road construction on 35 near Hinckley, so we enjoyed the colorful trees.

trees starting to change color - mostly green but some yellow and orange

Lunch in Duluth, with a quick glimpse at the lift bridge as we sped past.

lift bridge between the arena and the aquarium

On the north end of Duluth, we got our first clear look at Lake Superior.

the lake out to the horizon, with the highway guardrail in the foreground

We took the Highway 61 expressway to Two Harbors rather than the scenic drive along the shore. Of course we had to take one brief turn off the highway to see Pierre the Voyageur. He used to be at the Voyageur Motel in Two Harbors, but now he’s a greeter just before you reach the town. He looks like he has no pants, although his new owners have said he’s wearing tights. (I didn’t get close enough to verify.)

statue of a man holding a canoe paddle

A sign of autumn: pumpkins for sale in Two Harbors.

signs for sweet corn and pumpkins under a white tent

The tunnel that’s a familiar milestone to everyone heading north on Highway 61.

cars driving into and out of Silver Creek Cliff tunnel

My in-motion photo of the brief glimpse of Split Rock Lighthouse from 61 was so blurry that I deleted it. We then made a spontaneous stop at Gooseberry State Park for a short hike out to the falls. The rest area at Gooseberry is one of the few locations in Minnesota state parks where a parking permit is not necessary (though we have one anyway). It was late afternoon on Friday and the parking lot was packed; cars were even circling to grab a space when others were leaving. I bet it was even busier the next day.

the top of middle falls on the left side

Finally entering Cook County!

Highway 61 with a Cook County sign

We’d been advised that a tram ride at Lutsen Mountains is always fun but essentially required in autumn – and we were lucky enough to hit a peak weekend for fall color. We were there in late afternoon with the sun just starting to set behind the mountain…

tram near the top of Lutsen Mountains

…but looking the other direction, a gorgeous autumn view!

hundreds of trees, mostly orange and yellow with some green pines

The charming trams, whose days are numbered…

three cars that look like red apples

…because a new tram system is about to be launched.

new tram mechanism at the top of the mountain

A view of Lake Superior in the distance on the way back down the mountain.

a sliver of the lake in the distance, with lots of pines in the foreground

Our tram’s shadow in the orange trees.

The second day we were in Grand Marais, we ventured north to Naniboujou Lodge for a late lunch. I had a ridiculously delicious turkey club sandwich with cranberry and mustard, which seems like a strange combination but worked. I also had their famous french onion soup and burned my mouth because I couldn’t wait until it cooled.

side view of the building, with lots of windows in the cedar shake siding

Everyone takes pictures of the ceiling inside the lodge’s restaurant, and it’s easy to see why.

a hanging light fixture underneath a multicolor, patterned ceiling

Of course we also visited the state park (Magney) that’s across the street from the lodge. More about that will be in a future post. (So will Grand Marais itself.)

We stopped at a public beach in Colvill on the way back to Grand Marais. I was mesmerized by the Lake Superior’s giant waves all weekend.

On the way back to the Cities on Sunday afternoon, we made a quick detour in Silver Bay to see Rocky Taconite.

statue that looks like two large taconite balls with arms and legs

A short stop in Two Harbors to see the grand Lake County courthouse. We had stumbled across it on a cloudy day in August and wanted to see it again on a nicer day.

four columns on a Beaux Arts building with a dome

Even a rest stop is beautiful in autumn. We pulled over at this one just outside Knife River because a sign advertised a historical marker, which noted that the four-lane divided part of Highway 61 is called the Arthur V. Rohweder Memorial Highway.

red maples at the Knife River rest stop

It was at this point that Bill decided to take over the driving responsibility. I think he had had enough “detours” – though we had already planned to stop in Knife River anyway for the Great Lakes Candy Company. We picked up caramels, chocolate-covered toffee, and sponge candy.

Only in Minnesota: a sign advertising a fishcake supper.

sandwich board sign along the highway

We took the scenic half of highway 61 after Knife River. There are many pulloff areas for viewing Lake Superior. Just north of Duluth, we saw a barge.

Our last stop of the trip was at the Thomson Hill Information Center, a rest stop on the south end of Duluth, where we saw the barge heading toward the lift bridge.

lift bridge in the distance, colorful trees in the foreground

More from the North Shore

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Camping at Tettegouche State Park

It had been years since I’d been camping, so when a friend told me she booked a campsite at Tettegouche State Park, I jumped at the chance to tag along with her and a third friend. This beautiful park borders Lake Superior and also includes the highest waterfall in Minnesota.

Baptism River just before High Falls

The park is outside Silver Bay, which is a little more than an hour north of Duluth. We didn’t realize that this rest stop at the park’s entrance also contains the Tettegouche visitors center, so we drove right by and had to come back. It’s a brand-new building that opened just a few weeks prior to our visit, so hopefully they will add signs soon that make it clear.

combined visitors center and rest stop

We reserved campsite 25, a walk-in site, so we had to carry our gear down a short shared path. Site 25 just happened to be the exact spot where two of us stayed with another friend 13 years ago! I climbed up onto the giant rock at the site to re-enact a picture from 2001.

Campsites 24-25 signs, and two pictures of a woman sitting on a rock

We arrived in late afternoon so first we set up our tents and unpacked our gear…

two tents

…and then made dinner over the campfire. We also had hot breakfasts – including grilled toast – each morning.

sweet corn and packets of potatoes and onions on the campfire

The first morning we hiked to High Falls, which was close enough to our campsite that we could hear the water during the quiet nights.

High Falls from the top, with the Baptism River flowing away

We approached the falls from one side, then walked along the trail further up the Baptism River to a bridge to cross to the other side.

walking bridge crossing the Baptism River just before High Falls

Up close on the other side.

High Falls from the right side

It was late morning when we reached the picturesque bottom of the falls and there were lots of other visitors, so I was lucky to get this shot without people – though you may notice a swimming dog at the left. There were also some human swimmers.

High Falls from the bottom

I can’t resist admiring wildflowers, and it seemed like I stopped every 10 feet along the trail through the woods to take another photo. This is one-flowered pyrola, which faces the ground so I had to get on my knees to see its face. Just one of dozens of wildflowers blooming at Tettegouche that weekend.

Two one-flowered pyrola flowers from above (one with four petals, one with five); one flower from below

We also saw some wildlife, including this pack of at least four garter snakes.

at least four snakes in the grass

We relaxed the rest of the day after our long hike – and of course finished with another campfire. It was too dark to get good pictures of roasting marshmallows, but no camping trip is complete without s’mores. In addition to the traditional Hersheys-and-marshmallow, we also tried some other variations, including marshmallow Peep with Nutella or Reese’s peanut butter cup.

campfire

The next morning we took a foggy walk along Lake Superior to Shovel Point.

cliffs along Lake Superior, partially obscured by fog 

I didn’t notice whether there was a sign that advised visitors of the number of stairs on this trail – which was probably a good thing!

lots and lots and lots of stairs to Shovel Point

Lake Superior’s “natural air conditioning” was in effect, which was lucky for us given the workout on the stairs. Even with the fog, the view was worth the effort – though I couldn’t tell where the lake ended and the fog began!

looking out at the lake at Shovel Point, with the lake meeting the fog

On our way back, the fog started to lift. fog along the Lake Superior shoreline from Shovel Point

We had a clear view of the former natural sea arch, which unfortunately collapsed in 2010.

what remains of a natural sea arch on Lake Superior: a sea pillar close to a rocky cliff

Great weekend of hiking and sightseeing at this gorgeous state park.

Tettegouche State Park

Visited: July 18-20, 2014

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