As spectator sports slow, recreation sports rise

John Gilbert

When it’s summertime in the Northland, sports takes a decisive turn toward participation endeavors, and they can range widely from tossing a lure into a lake, water-skiing, kayaking, biking, and the simplest of all - hiking.

   With the abundance of walk trails, thousands of Duluth residents as well as countless tourists can walk either leisurely or for aerobic exercise along the Lakewalk, or anywhere up the North Shore. Our favorite is several places up the North Shore. We’ve hiked up to the top of Oberg Mountain, where the view of real Northern Minnesota woods is both accessible and spectacular. We also tend to just pull off Hwy. 61 in various places and walk inland along any of various rivers.

   One of the wealth of destinations is Gooseberry Park, just up the Shore from Two Harbors, and, on weekends, pretty well filled with tourists and travelers. The Hwy. 61 bridge over the Upper Falls region shows the long drop to the river, but the best way to see it is to drive into the park, where parking is free, and then hit the trails.

   On the way, you can check out the large hall and shop, complete with a stuffed wolf in a glass case, and souvenirs of all manner. Then you walk up the trail and find it splits into various pathways, heading for the Upper Falls, Middle Falls, or Lower Falls. My advice? Hit them all.

    Descending the stairs to the lowest level puts you into a position to watch tourists marvel at the trees growing out of the rocky riverside, while you can look up at the waterfall crashing down from the Middle Falls. Hike down toward Lake Superior, and then you have to make a decision. You can continue on to the Lake itself, which is a bit of a haul but enjoyable all the way. Or you can cross the river on a foot bridge and pause to look up at a couple different levels of waterfalls as they tumble toward you and then to the Big Lake.

    Once across, you have a couple more choices to make. We walked up the naturally crafted stairs -- about a hundred of them -- and got up on the ridge atop the East shore of the river. From there you can walk along and catch an entirely different perspective of the rushing water and the falls, which resemble a mini-Niagara at one point. Continue on and you can climb further and get up to Highway 61, although the preferred pathway goes under the highway and connects to another foot-bridge that brings you back to the West side of the river.

    From there it’s an easy walk down another trail to get back to the juncture from where you started. It seems like a long and tiring trek, but the rushing water crashing into the quiet pools below, and the loudness of Mother Nature at work keeps you from even thinking about being exhausted. With our late-arriving summer, it’s also the perfect contrast to the 80s over the hill in Duluth, or the 90s of the Twin Cities.

   Among the extra incentives of hiking Gooseberry Park is that if you work up enough of an appetite, you can solve it by stopping at the Rustic Inn in Castle Danger, where the food is always good. Try chef Dave Sullivan’s creative work on freshly imported Alaskan halibut, or his barbecued ribs. For certain, save room for the best pie on the North Shore, with a great variety of fresh berries. Last time, we shared a serving of caramel apple pecan pie, in a dish, to better house the double ala mode. If we didn’t share it, we couldn’t have finished it.

   There are other great places to eat along the North Shore, but a meal like that is just more incentive to enjoy hiking anywhere in that region. Maybe next time we’ll take our bicycles.