Jay Cooke State Park (780 Hwy. 210, 218/384-4610, $20 non-electric, $24 electric) sprawls over nearly 9,000 acres, but most visitors are only interested in perusing the rugged St. Louis River and the deep gorge it has cut through the mangled bedrock.
The best place to take in the gorge’s splendid beauty is the Swinging Bridge (behind the River Inn Visitor Center) that spans it, but you don’t even need to get out of your car to enjoy the spectacular scenery since Highway 210, the Rushing Rapids Parkway, hugs the torrential river for much of its route through the park.
Experienced kayakers can tackle the challenging rapids: Adequate water flow is all but guaranteed all season long.
The park’s superb trail system extends 50 miles through all parts of the park. Naturally the trails along the river are the most popular, however, most park visitors don’t get beyond the Swinging Bridge and the campground, so you won’t encounter a crowd even on these.
The Carlton Trail begins at the Swinging Bridge and hugs the south bank up to the north end of the park. It’s an easy three miles in and out, or you could take the Willard Munger Bridge across the river and follow the Thomson Trail back through the forest.
The three-mile Silver Creek Trail heads west from the Swinging Bridge and after about a mile turns in from the river and returns through the wooded hills. For some real solitude and a good chance of an animal encounter, strike out on the rolling, seldom-used loops branching off the Silver Creek Trail, like the Bear Chase Trail, Lost Lake Trail, and Spruce Trail.
You can walk in history along the scenic Grand Portage Trail, a steep, narrow route north of the river that voyageurs used to bypass the rapids during the fur trade 300 years ago—head back along the river to complete a three-mile loop. Also north of the river, at Oldenburg Point, an easy paved path offers great valley views, and a long set of steps drops down to the river. The Ogantz Trail, a moderately hilly loop, is also scenic.
The Willard Munger State Trail, a paved 63-mile route between Hinckley  and Duluth , skirts the northern edge of Jay Cooke State Park, and about eight miles of trail branching off of it are open to horses and mountain bikes, including a spur to the campground. Thirty-two miles of trail are groomed for cross-country skiing, and most offer a good challenge. You can rent snowshoes at the park office to explore the rest of the park or, if you choose, stick to the ten miles of packed winter-hiking trails.
Jay Cooke State Park’s campground has 79 (21 electric) widely spaced and mostly shady car-camping sites, plus three walk-ins for added seclusion and a heated camper cabin. The best camping is at the four backpacking sites south of the river.