With your first glimpse of Gooseberry Falls you’ll quickly understand why this is Minnesota ’s most popular state park (218/834-3855). (So popular, you should plan to arrive very early on summer weekends if you want to find parking.)
The swift Gooseberry River shoots around a narrow bend, drops over Upper Falls into a rocky gorge, blankets the 100-foot-wide rock wall forming Middle Falls, and plunges over the split Lower Falls before calmly marching on to Lake Superior.
Though nearly 600,000 people gaze upon these scenes each year—the whole 90-foot drop sits just a short stroll down a wheelchair-accessible trail—a relatively small number of them venture through the rest of the 1,675-acre park.
A pair of excellent hiking trails follows the river down to Lake Superior. The River View Trail starts below the falls and climbs up a ridge with a superb view of Lower and Middle Falls before hitting lovely Agate Beach.
The Gitchi-Gami Trail (www.gitchigamitrail.com ) follows the much higher ridge across the river looking down upon the river’s mouth from above; it’s rather noisy when circling back by the highway so consider retracing your steps instead of completing the two-mile loop. Both trails have a few climbs, but steps make them pretty easy overall.
Heading upstream, the two-mile Fifth Falls Trail (part of the North Shore–length Superior Hiking Trail) hugs the river as it climbs to its namesake cascade and returns on the opposite shore. Another 12 miles of trail, most of them open to mountain bikes, wind through the park’s hills.
Come winter most of the trails are groomed for cross-country skiing, while the Gitchi-Gami and Fifth Falls trails are available for winter hiking. The campground has 70 well-spaced nonelectric sites, and there is also a kayak site on Lake Superior.