By Jim Umhoefer Trails Reporter
Cook County. About 14 miles northeast of Grand Marais on Highway 61. Highway map index: R-6.
As the turbulent Brule River races toward a jutting rock mass on the brink of a waterfall, more than half the stream disappears into a huge pothole. The channel on the east side of the rock drops 50 feet, in two steps, into the gorge below. The Western channel pours into the unknown depths of Devil's Kettle. The Kettle, in Judge C.R. Magney State Park, is still a mystery because no one knows where the water re-enters the river.
The 1.25-mile hiking trail that follows the frothy white water of the Brule upstream to Devil's Kettle passes the Lower and Upper Falls along the way. Two picnic areas straddle the lower Brule, connected by a footbridge that is next to the trailhead parking lot.
You'll hear the thunder of tumbling water through the conifer forest before the trail splits. To the left, the trail leads to Lower Falls. Veer right to continue to Upper Falls, a 15-foot drop. A continuous cloud of mist keeps the gorge walls moist. Morning hikers may see a rainbow through the vapor. About a quarter-mile farther upstream is the Devil's Kettle. You can look into the Kettle from a platform that juts into the river below the falls. On the hike back downriver, Lake Superior beckons like a blue jewel through the trees.
The Brule River, originating in Brule Lake, flows for about 6 miles through the park before spilling peacefully into Lake Superior. Trout anglers often hike upstream above the falls on unmaintained trails to try for brook or rainbow trout. The steelhead trout spawning run in the spring and the salmon run in the fall provide excellent fishing opportunities. The nearest Lake Superior accesses are in Hovland and Grand Marais. In May, the swollen Brule lures expert white-water kayakers to the park. The water is high and dangerous, though, with several portages required. Check with the manager beforehand for current conditions.
The aspen, birch, maple and conifer forests that flank the Brule River provide good cover for timber wolves, moose, black bear, deer and porcupine. Bobcat and lynx also inhabit northeastern Minnesota, but are rarely seen. During summer, be prepared for the mosquitoes: Cover exposed skin and use repellent. Watch out for the bandit chipmunks that blatantly steal from picnic tables and won't take not for an answer.
Each of the 36 rustic sites in the campground is surrounded by trees. The peaceful, wooded setting appeals to a variety of campers. The campground fills often during the summer and into the fall color season, attracting travelers headed to and from Canada.
You might come across some old foundations in the campground. These were part of the Grover Conzet Work Camp of the 1930's, a project that began during the Great Depression. The men who lived here worked on many forest projects.
When the land was designated a park in 1957, it was called Bois Brule State Park. In 1963, the state legislature changed the park's name to Judge C.R. Magney State Park as a memorial to the former state supreme court justice and conservationist who helped establish many of the state parks and waysides along the North Shore. Magney realized that much of the North Shore would be privately developed one day, but visualized the parks as becoming "every man's country estate."
Judge C.R. Magney State Park is relatively quiet during the winter. Cross-country skiers can explore the forest on 5 miles of trails. Hiking and snowshoeing are other ways to experience Magney during the winter (there are no snowmobile trails in the park). Campers should check with the manager when they arrive to find out about getting water. A hike upriver to the waterfalls and Devil's Kettle will be rewarded with the sight of fanciful, surrealistic ice sculptures.