By Jim Umhoefer
Lake County. 4.5 miles northeast of Silver Bay on Highway 61. Highway map index: 0-8.
Plummeting 80 feet over a rocky ledge, sheer High Falls in Tettegouche State Park is Minnesota's highest waterfall (120-foot Pigeon Falls, in Grand Portage State Park, is shared with Ontario). Tettegouche showcases the best of North Shore scenery: rocky palisades along Lake Superior, steep inland bluffs and cliffs, a productive fishing river and isolated forest lakes.
The highlight of Tettegouche is an extensive, challenging trail system that twists and rolls with the terrain. There are two trailheads in the park. One is near the park entrance at the Baptism River Highway Rest Area. The other is at the end of the road that leads to the campground.
The park office and rest area are in an all-season facility that also features interpretive displays. The nearby picnic area and hiking trails take advantage of Lake Superior shoreline vistas. The Tettegouche Lake Trail provides frequent views of the expansive lake. A self-guided interpretive trail leads to the precipitous cliffs of Shovel Point, the most prominent feature of the park's mile-plus stretch of shoreline. Looking downshore from Shovel Point, you'll see Palisade Head, another prominent formation. The park manages this area for day use, including hiking, rock climbing and rappelling.
High Falls is about a 1-mile hike through the forest from the Highway 61 parking lot. It's a shorter jaunt from the second trailhead parking lot. You can also hike to Two Steps Falls (on the Baptism River) and farther upriver to High Falls from two campground trail spurs.
The suspension bridge across the Baptism River above High Falls is part of the Superior Hiking Trail, which traverses the park.
The hiking trails in the eastern part of the park climb through a birch/aspen forest. Farther inland, the terrain changes to high-forested ridges overlooking secluded lakes and streams that are typical of northeastern Minnesota's Sawtooth Mountains. The lakes (Mic Mac, Tettegouche, Nipisiquit and Nicado) all require a 3 to 4-mile hike from the trailhead parking lot. The forest is a mixture of sugar maple and basswood on the bluff tops, with scattered stands of white pine and oak.
More than a dozen side spurs lead up to ridge top overlooks or down into valleys. One trail climbs to the top of Mount Baldy (1,000 feet above Lake Superior), where you can see the Apostle Islands of Wisconsin on a clear day. The Sawtooth Mountains are so brilliant in autumn that the U.S. Forest Service has designated a handful of roads in the Superior National Forest for a special Fall Color Tour. These roads climb into the Sawtooths from Schroeder, Tofte and Lutsen (northeast of the park on Highway 61).
If you hike around Mic Mac Lake, you'll come upon Tettegouche Camp, a former logging camp. After the red and white pine were logged off, the Alger-Smith Company sold the camp and surrounding acreage in 1910 to the "Tettegouche Club," a group of businessmen from Duluth who used the area as a fishing camp and retreat.
Three rustic cabins in Tettegouche Camp will be renovated and available for rent singly or as a group by the mid-1990s, according to long-range plans. The cabins will be open during winter for cross-country skiers (sanitation facilities and water will be available). The camp lodge will be renovated for a trail center. You can contact the park office for details about the cabins and how to reserve them when they are finished.
You can fish for northerns, walleys and panfish on the park's inland lakes, but access is only by foot. Motors are not allowed, and boats and canoes and ice shanties must be taken out of the park at the end of each day. Fishing in the Baptism River can be good for Chinook salmon (especially in October) and for brown, brook, rainbow and steelhead trout. The closest boat landing for Lake Superior deep-sea fishing is in Silver Bay. The boat access to Lax Lake, which touches the southwest corner of the park, is on County 4, north of Beaver Bay.
Tettegouche's 34-site semi-modern campground is frequently full during the summer (reservations are recommended). You can also camp at many public and private campgrounds in the area surrounding the park. Finland State Forest and Superior National Forest have primitive campgrounds.
Visitors may also be able to backpack camp in a major new 4,000-acre addition to the 4,700-acre Tettegouche State Park. Though plans for development of this large parcel of land to the south and east of the old park boundaries are not firm yet, chances are that it will remain as pristine as possible.
When the new trail center is completed, it will be open for winter visitors. This will also be the trailhead for snowmobiles, cross-country skiers and hikers. The park's 7 miles of snowmobile trails connect to other paths in the Finland State Forest and Superior National Forest. Snowmobilers also have access to additional trails, such as the North Shore State Trail, Tolands Red Dot Trail and the Sawtooth Trail.
Tettegouche State Park grooms 12 miles of cross-county ski loops designed for intermediate and advanced skiers. Some of these trails lead to overlooks of the inland lakes and Lake Superior. It's possible to ski or hike to the interior park lakes to ice fish. Snowshoeing, hiking and winter camping are other ways to experience the park during the winter.