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George H. Crosby Manitou State Park

By Jim Umhoefer
Trails are arduous and camping is for backpackers only at George H. Crosby Manitou State Park. Minnesota’s most primitive park flanks the untamed Manitou River in one of the deepest gorges on the North Shore.
George H. Crosby Manitou State Park is located 8 miles northeast of Finland just off the North Shore Scenic Drive in Minnesota’s Lake County.

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George H. Crosby Manitou State Park is located 8 miles northeast of Finland just off the North Shore Scenic Drive in Minnesota’s Lake County.

George H. Crosby Manitou State Park is located 8 miles northeast of Finland just off the North Shore Scenic Drive in Minnesota’s Lake County.

 

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Trails
The 24 miles of foot trails at Crosby-Manitou pass through hilly, rocky terrain covered by forests of maple, birch and evergreens. The paths are steep in many places and the loops are designed for long walks by experienced hikers. The hiking is difficult in spots, but the trail around Benson Lake is the shortest, easiest path in the park.
The busiest trail follows the Manitou River, linking most of the backpack sites. Look for thick-trunked white cedars on this route. Within the park, the river falls 100 feet in a series of cascades. Take the Humpback Trail toward campsite No. 2 for the best view of the waterfalls. Between Highway 61 and Lake Superior, the Manitou River cuts through a steep gorge before dropping into the lake. There is not public access to the lower river. A few side spurs lead up to hilltops where you can see the energetic river as it tumbles down to Lake Superior. About 5 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail, a 300-mile footpath from Duluth to the Canadian border, passes through the park.
Camping
Of the park’s 21 backpack sites, 16 are stretched along the length of the Manitou River, while the rest are spaced around Benson Lake. Not all of the sites are on the water; two at Benson Lake are a short distance into the forest, and several are uphill from the Manitou River. One of the latter has a hilltop view of Lake Superior and the Wisconsin shore on clear days. Campers work harder at these sites, however, having to tote water from the river or lake. Drinking water is available only at the park office, so campers must boil or treat the water they draw from Benson Lake or the river.
The sites are popular among backpackers. The only sounds are wind and water and the occasional howl of a timber wolf. Most of the sites are separated enough that you probably won’t notice other campers. The nights can get cold at Crosby Manitou when cool breezes off Lake Superior whistle up the river valley.
Fishing/Boating
If you like to fish, there are Brook Trout and Splake in the lake, and Brown, Rainbow and Brook Trout in the Manitou River. No motors are permitted on the lake. There is not direct access to Lake Superior in the park, but boat landings are located in Silver Bay and Schroeder.
Area History
The uplands of the North Shore were partially formed by thick layers of lava that poured from ancient volcanoes. These flows are visible today in the rock outcrops that line the waterfall gorges along the Lake Superior coast. Arctic glaciers later crept over the land, gouging and dislodging the rock. As the last glacier melted, it formed an ancestor of Lake Superior. The Manitou River flows through a valley that glacier melt water helped to form.
When the Indians lived here, woodland caribou were plentiful, but the animals later disappeared as heavy logging destroyed their habitat.
Ironically, logging and fires have resulted in an abundance of wildlife in the park. The new growth that has sprouted since the logging era provides excellent food and shelter for deer herds. As the number of deer increased, so did the population of their main predator, the timber wolf. Hikers occasionally find deer kills in the park.
Winter
Snowshoeing is allowed throughout the park. If you’re lucky you might experience the hushed beauty of a North Shore snowfall from a valley overlook. This is a feast of the senses: a tingling as big flakes bombard your face, a white wall of wind-driven snow, wet snow spattering against tree trunks and, after a snowfall, the piney scent of the North Woods and the icy blue of Lake Superior against the white-gray-green winter forest. This is a good time to scout for wildlife or identify their tracks. Deer, for example, gather in a winter yard along the lower Manitou River.
Spirit Mountain
Mesabi Trail
Visit Duluth in the winter
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