Monday, June 6, 2022

Waterfalls of the North Shore

Renowned for its natural beauty and scenic waterfalls, the shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota is known as the North Shore. It is one of our favorite destinations.

The north country benefited from heavy snow cover this past winter. Welcome relief for last year's drought, the snow persisted until late into a mostly absent spring. When warmer temperatures finally arrived, the snow melt was fast and furious, and spring storms added heavy rain to the mix. The numerous streams that originate in the forest were quickly filled to flood stage as they carried the water over ancient rock, culminating in spectacular waterfalls at the edge of Lake Superior. Many streams overflowed their banks and carried away trees and historic bridges that stood in the way. After a drought year when many of the streams were nearly dry, it was a sight to see. CBS Local News coverage of North Shore river flooding

We decided to take a trip north and check it out for ourselves. We waited a couple of weeks after the peak since the flooding had closed most of the parks and trails that we wanted to visit. There would still be plenty of water flowing.

There was lots to do before we could go camping. The camper was still tucked away in the garage from the winter and needed to be loaded on the truck. The camper battery needed replacing after 10 years of faithful service and the propane tanks needed refilling. We did all that and conducted the normal spring search for misplaced gear. We loaded up and left home on a Monday.

Note: you can click on the pictures for a larger version.


Location of Poplar River Campground

Our destination was a rustic USFS campground along the Poplar River north of Tofte. We stopped at the Tofte Ranger station for last minute intelligence about closed roads and what not. We picked up a new forest map as ours was many years old. We arrived at the campground around 4 PM to find it empty. We picked the nicest campsite on the bank above the river and set up camp. The river was flowing full and the rapids provided a nice backgound sound.

View of the Poplar River from camp

Rapids below camp

Another view of rapids



We set up camp and made dinner. After dinner we relaxed and planned the next day. A nice campfire was welcome on the chilly evening. We stayed out until after dark. Chilled and sleepy, after dousing the fire we hopped in the camper and fell asleep to the pleasant sound of the river.

Cooking dinner
Getting water from the trailer
A nice evening campfire
We woke to a brisk 34°F in the camper. I'm glad we can reach the furnace thermostat from the bed. In no time the camper was warmed to 60° and we could emerge from our cozy covers in comfort. Breakfast was to be a special treat.

Vintage Coleman camp oven

Cinnamon rolls!

My friend Bob had given us a vintage Coleman camp oven handed down to him from his parents many years ago. It had never been used and was in the original box complete with instructions. We deciphered the diagrams of how to unfold it and set it up on our camp stove. In no time we had fresh Pillsbury cinnamon rolls- a first for camping for us! Yes we ate them all.

A clean camp

We cleaned up camp and set off for the day's adventures, leaving a chair and the tablecloth to indicate our planned return to passersby. I locked the trailer with some cables and removed the coupler to discourage opportunistic bad behavior. 
Our first stop was the Cascade River.

Cascade River

Cascade River
It was mesmerizing to watch the water. The sound was deafening. I took several videos to try to capture the experience.
Note: after the videos play, YouTube will suggest a random video to play next. Please ignore their suggestions. I have no control over this and I haven't figured out how to disable it. 
If you would like to replay the video, simply click the replay symbol.

Click to watch video on YouTube

We spent a couple hours scrambling over the rocks finding new vantage points and enjoying the power of the water.

Cascade River

Cascade River
We decided to drive to Tettegouche State Park for lunch. From the DNR website:

Established in 1979 to preserve an outstanding example of the North Shore Highlands Biocultural Region, the 9,346 acres of Tettegouche State Park contain a unique combination of natural features: rugged, semi-mountainous terrain, one mile of Lake Superior shoreline, six inland lakes, cascading rivers and waterfalls, and an undisturbed northern hardwood forest.

Nature lovers adore this park! Hiking trails along the Baptism River provide views of many falls and cascades including High Falls, the spectacular 60-foot waterfall. In addition, a section of the Superior Hiking Trail runs through the park.
Our plan was to have lunch and then hike to the High Falls of the Baptism River. These falls are the highest within Minnesota and we had never seen them in person. The usual trail from the park campground was closed by the flood, which also wiped out a swinging bridge over the river used to access a view of the falls. We chose an alternate route which used a spur of the Superior Hiking Trail to reach the river below the falls and then from there, a trail along the river to reach the falls. The hike turned out to be more challenging than we anticipated with some very steep up and down sections over rough, rocky terrain. There were some nice long views from high ridges. We persevered and eventually reached our destination. The falls were pretty spectacular. I failed to take photos during the toughest stretches of the hike but got a few good ones of the falls.
Hike to the High Falls of the Baptism River

View to Lake Superior from the Superior Hiking Trail

The High Falls of the Baptism River

The High Falls of the Baptism River

The High Falls of the Baptism River

View from the Superior Hiking Trail

View from the Superior Hiking Trail

We were pretty tired after the hike back to the truck. I got a text from Mark, a friend with a cabin nearby inviting us to their place for happy hour. Nothing could have sounded better! We had a nice visit with snacks and drinks sitting in the wilderness overlooking a lake. Good friends and good times.

The next morning, Mark sent me a live picture of a visitor checking out our happy hour site from the evening before. I posted it here as a video to capture the motion.

Wolves are common in Minnesota but they are not usually checking out people's patios! We were sitting in those very chairs the night before. This young one was probably looking for some of the tasty snacks we had consumed.
Driving back to camp we ran into a bit of an obstacle- a tree had fallen across the road.

A tree across the road

Our saw was back at camp. Fortunately, I was able to pull the tree sufficiently aside for Kathy to drive the truck past and we made it back to camp without further trouble. I will carry the saw with us from now on.

Poplar River near camp
We had a light dinner and went to bed, pleasantly tired from the day. In the morning, the furnace got another workout and we had a nice breakfast of eggs and sausage wrapped in tortillas. A snowshoe hare, halfway through with its seasonal color change joined us for a time. With rain threatening, we packed up camp and headed towards home. We planned to stop at a couple more waterfalls on the way.
Driving the Honeymoon Trail in the Superior National Forest
First up was the Temperance River. Flowing through a narrow basalt canyon, the water has sculpted smooth curves and potholes into the rock as it roars through.

Temperance River

Temperance River

Click to watch video on YouTube


Our next stop was Gooseberry Falls State Park. From the DNR website:

Gooseberry Falls is the gateway to the North Shore. It is known for its spectacular waterfalls, river gorge, Lake Superior shoreline, Civilian Conservation Corps log and stone structures, and north woods wildlife. Listen to the thunderous roar of the Upper, Middle and Lower Falls of the Gooseberry River as it plummets through a rocky gorge. Watch for waves, ships, or the moon rise on Lake Superior from an ancient lava flow known as the Picnic Flow.

Hike or ski to see the Fifth Falls through a forest of evergreens, aspen, and birch, and enjoy camping in modern campsites, picnicking, and relaxing along the Lake Superior shoreline or the Gooseberry River.

I have many memories as a kid of scrambling around these waterfalls as do our kids.

Upper Falls at Gooseberry

Upper Falls at Gooseberry

Middle Falls at Gooseberry

Middle Falls at Gooseberry

Lower Falls at Gooseberry

The rain had increased to the point of making a picnic less than enjoyable so we ate lunch in the truck. After lunch we said our goodbyes to the North Shore and headed for home. Along the way another young wolf casually crossed the highway in front of us.

We are blessed in Minnesota with an abundance of clean water and we are thankful for that. We will return again to the beauty of the North Shore.


  1. What an awesome trip! Loved the young wolf drawn to your camp by the smell of fresh cinnamon rolls. Good to see Gooseberry Falls running its high water. Thanks for sharing your getaway!

  2. Steph, thanks for your comment!