By Jim Umhoefer, Trails Reporter
Cook County. 9 miles southwest of Grand Marais on Highway 61. Highway map index: Q-7.
The 2,800-acre park and surrounding forests are home to timber wolves and black bears, in addition to moose, but Cascade River is best known for its winter deer herd. Deer gather in the Jonvik deer year, the largest in Minnesota, to find protection from wind and cold and to browse in the North Shore forests of aspen, birch and white cedar. Hiking along the 18-mile trail system, you'll pass through upland forests of spruce, fir and maples. You can get a bird's-eye view of the myriad shades of green that sweep over the surrounding land from the overlooks.
The busiest park trails straddle the Cascade River canyon, leading up to the many waterfalls that tumble toward Lake Superior. The paths are the handiwork of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) of the 1930s. A park sign describes the Cascade River as flowing "though a twisting, rocky gorge in a series of rapids that descends 225 feet in a distance of one mile." The mist that sprays the gorge walls fosters moist colonies of mosses and lichens. Great cedar and fir trees rise like pillars from the rock formations above the river.
The North Shore area has an almost endless variety of wildflower habitats (bogs, marshes, coniferous forest, deciduous woods, rocky ledges). In the park, springtime wildflowers include bird's-eye primrose and starflowers. Others, like moccasin flowers orchids and touch-me-nots, also show off their brightly colored blossoms, a product of long days and cool nights. You might enjoy the self-guided wildflower tour of Oberg Mountain, about 15 miles southwest of the park on Highway 61 in the Superior National Forest. Early June is usually the peak of bloom on Oberg Mountain.
Some park trails climb into the Sawtooth Mountains, entering the Superior National Forest. By arrangement with the U.S. Forest Service, these trails lead up to Adirondacks (three-sided shelters) on top of Lookout Mountain, Moose Mountain and another bluff-top overlook. Take a picnic lunch with you; each shelter has a table, fire ring and pit toilet. Along some of the trails, you'll be treated to broad vistas of Lake Superior. Other paths afford views of the inland bluffs.
Backpackers can hike up to the Adirondacks and use them as walk-in campsites. One of the five-backpack campsites in the park and the surrounding forest is along the shore of Lake Superior on the park's north end. The main campground has 40 semi-modern campsites and an enclosed shelter. Cascade River also maintains two year-round group camps (25 people each), which can be reserved through the park office.
The fishing action at Cascade River State Park revolves around stream angling or shore casting. The nearest boat landings for deepwater fishing are in Grand Marais and Tofte. Anglers like to try for pink (humpback) and chinook salmon, or lake trout in the fall. Stream steelhead fishing can be good in spring and fall. Brook trout and resident rainbows are taken above the first falls in the Cascade River. Besides the Cascade, nine other steams empty into Lake Superior in the park.
The Superior Hiking Trail, a footpath that follows the ridgeline of the North Shore of Lake Superior, cuts through Cascade River State Park. When completed, the trail will stretch from Duluth to the Canadian border (about 250 miles).
Besides hiking, mountain biking awaits adventuresome visitors near the park. With over 2,000 miles of county and national forest backwoods roads, mountain biking attracts more enthusiasts each year to the North Shore. You can rent mountain bikes locally in Lutsen and Grand Marais. Stop at the Tofte Ranger Station to pick up area maps and get information. It's easier than you think to get lost in the forest up here; experienced bikers carry accurate maps, compass, tool kit, tire patch kit, water, food and rain gear. Always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return.
Sea Kayaking is another unusual way to experience the wild beauty of the North Shore. No matter how familiar you are with the North Shore by land, you'll gain a new perspective from the water. Kayaks are not difficult to handle on Lake Superior. If you'd like to give it a try, stop at Lutsen Resort for information about full and half-day kayak tours during the summer and the fall color season.
Good fishing, boating, and canoeing abound in the lakes and streams of northeastern Minnesota. Nearby main road accesses into the Superior National Forest and Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) are the Caribou, Sawbill and Gunflint trails. Many U.S. Forest Service roads branch off these routes. If you're visiting up here in autumn, take a drive through the Sawtooth Mountains to photograph the intense reds, yellows and oranges of the hardwood forests. Drive to nearby Lutsen Mountain to enjoy the scenery on the gondola ride or the alpine slide.
Other attractions await you in Grand Marais, northeast of Cascade River on Highway 61. This attractive lakeshore community features the Grand Marais Art Colony and hosts the annual five-day Fishermen's Picnic during the first week in August.
It's easy to keep warm during the winter around Cascade River State Park. The park's 17 miles of cross-country ski trails are designed for all abilities and link with neighboring Cascade Lodge's trail system and others in the area. Adirondacks are available for ski or walk-in camping, but check with the park manager before starting out. You can get water for camping or day use in the park office. Cross-country skiers can rent equipment at Cascade Lodge. Lutsen Mountain also has cross-country ski trails as well as downhill skiing.
The two miles of snowmobile trails in the park provide access to more extensive routes in the Superior National Forest. They also connect with the North Shore State Trail and various Grant-in Aid trails. The Cook County Ridge Riders and the Lutsen Trailbreakers snowmobile clubs sponsor snowmobile rides, social gatherings and area grooming projects.
Snowshoeing and hiking are the best ways to see the wintry lower Cascade River gorge. The gorge's beauty is particularly striking when the tenacious ice stills the falls in a severe winter.
The Sawtooth Mountains are blessed with miles of scenic, thrilling, ski-touring trails for all skill levels. The North Shore Mountain Ski Trail is a cooperative project of Cascade River and Temperance River state parks, the DNR, the Lutsen-Tofte Tourism Association, Superior National Forest and private landowners. This group connected existing trails and added new loops to form a 215-kilometer (135-mile) network that offers both quiet paths and difficult routes. Private lodges along the way cooperate to offer a ski-through program, allowing skiers to ski from one establishment to the other while lodge employees transfer the luggage. A similar program has been developed along the Gunflint Trail.