Up North: #ForestFavorites in a Minnesota Summer

My colleague and friend Jack Dura of acrossnorthdakota.com just got back from a road trip to Minnesota’s North Shore and his photos were so good, I just couldn’t wait to show them to you. Here’s Jack!

– Alicia

All words and images not in italics Jack Dura’s.

As the sun sank away in the west, shadows overtook the tall pines. Lanterns and campfires flickered like orange dots in the darkness, and silence swept in with the night.

Just another summer night in northern Minnesota.

The North Star State, recently ranked the No. 8 state for summer road trips by WalletHub, has no shortage of trees or destinations. Here’s a brief listing of some #forestfavorites for up north.

High Falls on Pigeon River

At the northeastern tip of Minnesota is the state’s tallest waterfall, shared with Canada on the Pigeon River. The High Falls in Grand Portage State Park are about 120 feet high, accessed from a half-mile walk through woods to two overlooks of the scenic, dramatic falls.

Fictional Dr. John Watson wrote an apt description of the Reichenbach Falls in “The Final Problem” that fits the High Falls nicely: “The torrent, swollen by the melting snow, plunges into a tremendous abyss, from which the spray rolls up like the smoke from a burning house. The shaft into which the river hurls itself is an immense chasm, lined by glistening, coal-black rock, and narrowing into a creaming, boiling pit of incalculable depth, which brims over and shoots the stream onward over its jagged lip.”

Access is free from the visitor center located as the last turnoff on Minnesota Highway 61 before the Canadian border.

Itasca wildflowers

Itasca State Park is about as Minnesotan as you can get with its many trees and relaxing lakes. The Mississippi River headwaters are the main attraction year-round, but autumn foliage and summer wildflowers have just windows of opportunity.

If you’re lucky, you’ll spy some lady’s slipper orchids, like the lovely yellow variety or the state flower, the showy lady’s slipper. Keep your eyes peeled; visitors to the park’s Peace Pipe Vista walked right past a patch of yellow lady’s slippers growing by the trail’s staircase.

Wild prairie roses brim throughout the park, as do bunchberry and common daisies. As with any wander into nature, be conscious of ticks, poison ivy and other irritants lurking in the brush.

Tettegouche camping

Tettegouche State Park, halfway up the North Shore, may offer some of the best hiking and waterfalls, but the park’s camping is just as good, if not better.

Pitch your tent in the Baptism River Campground. Wake up under the golden lighted pine trees as the sun shines from Lake Superior. Hear the faint roar of the Baptism River’s High Falls in the distance.

You’re well away from the highway at two miles in from the shore. Palisade Head is down the road and Illgen Falls on the Baptism River is up ahead. Crystal Beach is a hidden gem (if you can find it).

Firewood is $6 a bundle while campsites range in price, up to $31 a night for a drive-in electric site. Some bear lockers are available, though that problem is easily avoided by properly and appropriately storing food.

Devil’s Kettle Falls

If you can only stop for one spot on the Minnesota North Shore, make it Devil’s Kettle Falls in Judge C.R. Magney State Park. This mysterious waterfall has perplexed hikers and hydrologists for years with its twin cascades—one roars over the edge to the pool below while the other rushes into an enormous pothole, never seen again.

Turns out the water is going somewhere downstream after a hydrologist’s study of the Brule River’s discharge around the falls. However, the mystery remains: Where does Devil’s Kettle go?

The hike is a mile uphill both ways, including over 150 steps down a staircase into the wooded river valley. The lookout platform is small but the view spectacular. Don’t miss the Devil’s Kettle.

Smoky Hills State Forest

This one is a well-kept secret: Smoky Hills State Forest is a getaway for solitude with wooded scenery and close wildlife. Hear ruffed grouse drum and common loons call. Maples and aspens quake in the winds up above the still forest floor. The world is quiet here.

Autumn is a blaze of color in these lonely woods where traffic is relegated to sandy trails in places and rocks for paths in others. (Bring a reliable vehicle). Lose yourself in the forest but again, be aware of hangers-on in the brush.

Bonus: Naniboujou Lodge

Here’s one more for ya: This destination is up there on the North Shore, but if you’re hungry for a bite in the Grand Portage area, try the Naniboujou Lodge. The historic inn and restaurant offer a stunning domed dining room featuring vibrantly painted images from Cree culture. Try the Brule burger and walk the grounds along Lake Superior.

What about you?
Which of these spots have you visited?
Which ones are on your must-see list?
What are your favorite spots in Minnesota?
What are your #forestfavorites? They don’t have to be in Minnesota!

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