“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. John Muir
Growing up, I was surrounded by nature. Our home in the suburbs of Minneapolis was on a wooded one acre lot, and we lived only a block away from one of the largest lakes in the Twin Cities. I spent my childhood playing in the woods, riding my bike around the lake or chasing my siblings in the large grassy marshland across the street. In the fall, the biggest chore was raking the thousands of red, orange, and sunflower yellow fallen leaves off our yard and never-ending driveway. In the winter we played in the snow, building giant snow forts at the top of our driveway where all the snow piled up from the plow. I was always outside no matter what the weather, and I strongly believe that my childhood instilled my great love today for nature and being outdoors.
My husband and I have also tried to instill a passion and curiosity of nature in our children. We love to spend time as a family outdoors exploring. Lucky for us, Minnesota is home to well over 15,000 lakes and has over 70 State Parks, 25 State Trails, The Boundary Waters Canoe and Wilderness Area, and tons of regional and urban parks. Those seeking nature are not far from it, even in the city. Just outside my door is the Chain of Lakes, a collection of four urban lakes that are all connected by running, walking and bike paths. They are accessible year-round and even plowed in the winter so I can run through the coldest days of January. I’ve seen bald eagles, wild turkey, deer, egrets, great blue herons, owls, loons, migratory birds and ducks, fox, possums and muskrats all within the confines of the city. It is a pretty remarkable place however it is still a city.
When we want to escape for a weekend, we head north. There are tons of options however we prefer to go to the North Shore of Lake Superior. I have been going “up north” (as we Minnesotans call it) with my family before I could walk and I’ve continued this tradition with my own family as well.
Over the years we have visited tons of parks along the North Shore however we had never made it as far as Grand Portage State Park on the northeast border of Minnesota. I had heard that the park is quite spectacular and is home to Minnesota’s highest waterfall. During a recent visit to the North Shore, we decided to check out the park and see for ourselves what we were missing. We were not the least bit disappointed. It was stunning.
Grand Portage State Park is located roughly 36 miles north of Grand Marais next to the U.S./Canadian border. It is a stunning drive along Highway 61 affording sweeping views of Lake Superior and the rugged coastline. We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day. The sky was baby blue and filled with powder-puff clouds. The sun was radiant and the wind coming over Lake Superior was gentle and calm.
After we passed Grand Marais, we made a brief stop at the Susie Islands Overlook. The overlook is perched 400 feet above Lake Superior where you can see the Susie Islands, an archipelago of thirteen islands off the North Shore in Lake Superior. The closest island, Susie Island, is located about a half mile off shore.
Susie Island was named after the daughter of the Falconer family who had lived on the island and mined copper ore in the early 1900’s. Today, Susie Island is protected under The Nature Conservancy and is home to the Francis Lee Jaques Memorial Preserve. I bet it is a beautiful place given its rugged remoteness.
We continued down the road for a few more miles until we reached our turn into Grand Portage State Park. It is literally right next to the U.S. Customs Border Patrol so you can’t miss it. The park has two options for seeing the waterfalls. You can hike the 5-mile round trip to Middle Falls along a rugged trail or you can simply take the shorter half-mile hike along a paved path to the High Falls. Since we had already done a hike with the kids in the morning and just had a very filling lunch, we opted to simply take the shorter hike to see the grand dame, the High Falls.
Grand Portage State Park lies within the Grand Portage Indian Reservation which is one of six bands of Chippewa that make up the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. The area got its name from an ancient nine-mile trail or “portage” created by the American Indians that helped them bypass the perilous waterfall to reach Lake Superior. The trail became locally known as “The Grand Portage”.
As soon as we reached the High Falls, I could see why the American Indians needed to create the grand portage. Torrents of rushing water plunges down the High Falls into the Pigeon River below creating a gloriously wild and dangerous waterfall.
There were a few interesting placards up near the falls the supplied the following tidbits of information:
- The Pigeon River is the international boundary of the U.S. and Canada.
- On average approximately 3200 gallons of water per second goes over the waterfalls.
- The waterfalls do not freeze in the winter. A sheet of ice 10-20 feet in thickness will cap the waterfalls but beneath this blanket of ice the water is always running. Inside the information center there is actually an amazing video capturing the High Falls as it nearly freezes in the winter.
- The High Falls are around 100-130 feet high, as high as a 10-13 story building.
There is a great lookout area high above the falls where I took this photo of my daughter Sophia. I love this photo as she watches in awe and wonder.
As I watched Sophia I couldn’t help but smile thinking back of myself when I was ten years old. Nature is quite extraordinary and it is good to love nature at a young age. We cannot protect and conserve that which we don’t love. Here’s to a future generation of conservationists! We will need them.
If you go:
Grand Portage State Park is located about 26 miles north of Grand Marais on State Highway 61. The park entrances is on the west side of the highway right before you reach the Customs Station at the Canadian border.