Phil Bencomo / Lake Superior Magazine
Spring at Gooseberry Falls, May 4, 2013.
If you want to visit the waterfalls on Minnesota’s North Shore as they break free of ice in the powerful gushing roar of spring, it’s best to keep tabs on changing conditions.
“We’ll get a lot of phone calls: ‘Is the river open yet?’” says Park Manager Audrey Butts, describing people eager to see the spring rush.
The ice breakup typically runs from mid-March into April and lasts about a month. It’s a great time for photos at Gooseberry Falls State Park, where the Upper, Middle and Lower falls of the Gooseberry River provide dramatic views and vantage points. Photographers might try the Upper Falls beyond the bridge. Or look for floating “icebergs” at the Middle Falls. “You’ll see it all moving downstream,” Audrey says.
At Grand Portage State Park, on the border with Canada, the breakup on the majestic 120-foot High Falls on the Pigeon River varies from year to year. Typically the river is partially open by late March or early April, says Travis Novitsky, who works at the park. “High Falls is usually flowing nicely by the first week in April, and the high spring water can sometimes last into early June, depending on how much rain we get throughout the spring. Generally late April, early May gives the best promise of seeing High Falls with a nice full flow of water.”
Photographing the High Falls can be tricky. Mist billows out when the water is high, Travis says, and the observation decks are often soaking wet in the spring. He advises carrying a soft rag or towel to keep your camera dry and to wipe off the lens.
At Tettegouche State Park, rivers and streams typically start to flow in April, but there can be a month of fluctuation, says Jason Peterson, assistant park manager. “Conditions on trails around our waterfalls can be challenging,” he says of the ice-packed stairways and mud. He advises sturdy boots, ice cleats and trekking poles.
Beautiful falls include the 60-foot High Falls in Tettegouche and Two-Step Falls on the Baptism River just downstream from High Falls. View both from the 1.5-mile loop hike from the trailhead. “As with most waterfall hikes, you will be challenged by a lot of stairs … which can be icy in the early spring,” says Jason. One of his favorites is the 35-foot Caribou Falls on the Caribou River, a nice 0.7-mile hike from Caribou Falls State Wayside off Highway 61, which leads to an elaborate stairway and the base of the falls.