Monday, June 24, 2013

Cascade River State Park: Cascade River Trail (Blog Hike #318)

Trail: Cascade River Trail
Hike Location: Cascade River State Park
Geographic Location: southwest of Grand MaraisMN
Length: 0.5 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: July 2010
Overview: A short hike past two impressive waterfalls.

Directions to the trailhead: From Grand Marais, take SR 61 south 9 miles to the park entrance on the right.  From Tofte, take SR 61 north 21 miles to the park entrance on the left.  Enter the park, pay the entrance fee at the park office, and continue on the main gravel park road to the first intersection.  Turn right at this intersection.  Proceed along the park road until you reach the parking lot where the road becomes one-way (with the traffic coming against you).  Park in this lot.

The hike: Not as famous nor as congested as the state parks closer to Duluth, Cascade River State Park protects 2865 acres along its namesake river and Lake Superior.  Just as at Gooseberry Falls, the 1930’s CCC left its mark here.  You will see their handiwork in the stone steps and overlooks while hiking along the Cascade River.
            With 18 miles of hiking trails, many fine routes are possible through the park’s trail system.  2.3 miles of easy trails take you along Lake Superior starting from the SR 61 parking area at the Cascade River.  A difficult 3.8 mile hike will take you to the summit of Lookout Mountain and fantastic views of the river and lake.  For a long hike along the river, try a loop along the Superior Hiking Trail, which follows the river for nearly 6 miles, taking you up the west bank and down the east bank.  At only 0.5 miles, the hike described here is the shortest route at the park that still takes you to the major cascades along the river.
            Start at the far end of the parking area where a short set of wooden steps lead uphill.  The trail goes up and over a small ridge and, at only 0.1 miles, reaches the east bank of the Cascade River.  The Superior Hiking Trail goes left and right here, but for now continue straight to cross the river on a wood and iron footbridge.  As you cross the river, look upstream to see a crashing waterfall.  The park map calls this area “The Cascades.”  An observation area on the other side of the bridge gives a closer angle of this waterfall from a better angle.
The Cascades
            The trail going straight ahead leads to Lookout Mountain, but this loop heads downstream on the west bank of the river, following the west arm of the Superior Hiking Trail.  The river now flows noisily in the sheer-walled gorge just to your left.  Some wooden railings on the rim help prevent falling accidents.  The forest is dominated by white cedar trees with a few maple, aspen, and other broadleaf trees thrown in.
Cascade River gorge, looking downstream
            After descending some wooden steps, you reach the overlook for Cascade Falls, the main waterfall in the Cascade River gorge.  Cascade Falls, a spout-type waterfall is about 20 feet high.  The waterfall is surrounded by sheer rock cliffs, and the small plunge pool appears to be an old pothole which has since been expanded by the eroding water.  This waterfall looks different than many on the North Shore, so spend some time taking in the scene before moving on.
Cascade Falls
            Past the waterfall, the trail continues descending on more wooden steps to arrive at the shoulder of SR 61.  A parking area across the road is located right on the Lake Superior shore and hence gives great views of the lake.  To continue the hike, cross the SR 61 bridge over the Cascade River and turn left to reenter the forest on another dirt path.  This is the east arm of the Superior Hiking Trail.
Lake Superior from SR 61 parking area
            Now heading uphill, all of the cascades and waterfalls you saw before now appear again in the river on your left.  Some more wooden steps are used to aid the climb, but the ascent never becomes too steep for too long.  At 0.4 miles, you intersect the trail you originally came in on to close the loop.  A right turn and short walk back over the ridge will return you to the parking area and complete the hike.

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