Cascade River State Park

The cascades of Cascade State Park 

The Drive: Located at the crux of three continental biomes, Minnesota is among the most naturally diverse states in the country. You can find everything from dense pine forest to treeless prairies to rich river valleys, but one thing the North Star State is not known for are its mountains. The road from Temperance River to Cascade River enters into Minnesota's only mountain range, a series of rises that could barely be considered hills next to true mountains. They may be small, but the Sawtooth Mountains, so named for the distinctive pattern of their peaks, provide some welcome elevation to an otherwise fairly flat state. They also provide some of the best hiking, camping, and waterfalls in the region, as any hiker on the Superior Hiking Trail can attest to. Although you can see the mountains from the North Shore Drive, a quick trip inland to see some of the backcountry is definitely worth the drive.

The lichen encrusted Lake Superior shore outside of Cascade State Park. 

The Park: Halfway between Schroeder and Grand Marais, Cascade is usually little more than a pit stop on a longer trip. Since the main cascades are just a quarter mile from the highway, there is usually little incentive to further explore the 5300 acre park. However, those who take the time to wander around are rewarded by one of the most beautiful parks on the North Shore, if not the entire state. The park encompasses two rivers, a large stretch of the Superior Hiking Trail, Lookout Mountain, and access to trails the penetrate deeper into the Sawtooth range. Cascade River and Cascade Creek are aptly named since both streams are made up of a series of falls descending nearly a thousand feet on their path to Lake Superior. The trails follow the rivers and meander around Lookout Mountains giving picturesque views of the water and surrounding forests. Like many parks in Minnesota, Cascade doesn't have some grand attraction, but provides a quiet beauty that takes time to appreciate. Take the time, it's worth it.

View from the overlook. Autumn colors just past their peak at Cascade River State Park 

The Hike: The Hiking Club hike follows the Lookout Mountain Trail. Start at the main trailhead on Hwy 61 (there is a parking lot) and follow the trail to the main cascades. This is as far as the majority of people go. You, however, are going to snap a few pictures of the falls and continue on up the trail. You'll follow the river for another half mile or so before breaking off the main trail and heading up to the mountain. I was here in the autumn and the mixture of green cedars and yellow aspen and ferns made the entire hike feel a little like an REI advertisement, but the hike would be great all summer long and probably a little dangerous in the winter. The first half of this trail is well marked and leads you up to the peak (there is some backpacking campsites near the peak if you're interested), but the second half is less well marked and we ended up coming out at Cascade Lodge, a resort and restaurant, instead of the park. If this happens, don't worry. Just go get a drink at the restaurant and walk the quarter mile down the road back to your parking spot. If you do manage to follow the trial back, good job, but you missed out on some good Minnesota culture.

Cumulative Miles Hiked: 47

Cumulative Miles Driven: 1872

Arbitrary Rating: 4/5

Biome: Laurentian Mixed Forest