Monday, October 22, 2012

Jay Cooke re-opens after June flood

After the flood
Jay Cooke State Park is one of the great recreational assets of the North Shore area. I feature it in every book I've written. It's got great ski trails, a terrific campground, and miles of diverse hiking.

But since the June flood, the park has been completely closed. All of the major roads leading into the park were severely damaged. Even the iconic Swinging Bridge over the St. Louis River was half-destroyed. As the salty old Mainer would say, "You can't get they-uh from hee-uh."

Today, the park reopened to the public, but just in part. Of the three main roads that led to the park, just one is open. And the Swinging Bridge won't be open again for at least another year. 

Getting there
To reach the main park facility, including the campground and visitor center, you have to come through the little town of Thompson. Take Exit 242 off Interstate 35 and turn south on Carlton County Highway 1. This leads you about three miles through Thompson and to State Highway 210. Turn left on 210, and it's about two miles into the park. 

From the visitor center area, you can hike on the wide, mowed ski trails of the campground area or just stroll along the river bank. Say hi to the park staff, who have been working really hard to get the place reopened.

Secret inside information coming
Watch this space as ski season approaches. I know two "secret" back ways onto the park's excellent network of ski trails, including the long stretches of trail across the closed Swinging Bridge.

Friday, October 5, 2012

It's dry on the shore!

North Shore fall colors this year have be been amazing, "best ever". Might be due to the drought. While the fall show has been impressive, there are other impacts of the drought a little less appetizing. Like high fire danger. And low waterfalls, like the trickle that is Gooseberry's Middle Falls.

Hiking trails are dry, so few problems now with mud or insects. Personally,I'd rather have the rain.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Great fall walking on West Skyline Parkway

Some of the best fall colors in the North Shore area right now are along Duluth's western Skyline Parkway. Thanks to June's floods, a whole long stretch of that scenic byway is closed to automobiles, making it PERFECT for a stroll through a colorful northern hardwood forest.

If you drive Interstate 35 to Exit 249 (Boundary Avenue and Spirit Mountain), follow the signs for Skyline Drive toward Spirit Mountain and continue past Spirit for a total of 2.2 miles from Interstate 35. At that point, the road simply stops at a barricade. Here you can park your car and start walking. 

Skyline Parkway bridge out
In just a few yards, you can see exactly why the road is closed. Right before the landmark dragon bridge you'll find a maze of gullies and channels where the floodwaters crossed the boulevard and wiped out the roadway. 

Press on through this eroded area and you'll be back on a wide, very walkable gravel road you can follow all the way to the scenic overlook at Bardons Peak. The road is closed at the far end too, so there should be no cars on this stretch.

skyline maple duluth
The sugar maple trees are red and orange, the birch trees are all yellow. Other trees like ironwood and sumac have amazing deep red colors. 

SHT blaze Duluth
If you'd like a little variety in your outing, you can try a short and dramatic stretch of the Superior Hiking Trail. About 200 yards on the left past the dragon bridge, there's a big trailhead parking lot for the Superior Hiking Trail. It's empty now because no cars can get here. If you get on the Superior Hiking Trail at the trailhead, you can take it west for just about a half mile, through lovely woods where glowing maples mix with tall white pine. There's a cool crossing of Snively Creek and a great overlook of western Duluth neighborhoods. The Superior Hiking Trail returns to Skyline Parkway, and you can get back on the wide and easy road again.