Chasing waterfalls? What to know before you goMay 15, 2022 10:12AM ● By Laura Durenberger
Photo: Laura Durenberger-Grunow
By Laura Durenberger-Grunow - Boreal Community Media Exclusive - May 15, 2022
As I’m getting out of my car at a wayside across Highway 61 from Cross River Heritage Center, I can already hear the roar of rushing water.
A short walk of fewer than 50 feet across a flat, paved sidewalk, and I’m standing right in front of a mighty and magnificent waterfall.
Spring in Cook County usually results in some stunning waterfalls across the area. And this year is no exception. In fact, it’s what some are even calling a “stellar or historic” year for seeking the falls. According to Visit Cook County, heavy snowfall (depending on where you are in the county 135 inches or more), a significant thaw cycle, multiple rainfall events, and predictions for above-average flooding are all signs of above-average waterfall viewing.
But all of that rain and rapid snowmelt can come at a cost.
Photo: Minnesota State Parks and Trails
Currently, the North Shore region is experiencing major flooding, which can lead to potentially dangerous conditions in a short amount of time.
Robbie Hass of the Cook County Highway Department had this to share with anyone exploring the area:
“I would encourage people to be mindful and respect the sheer amount of power that rivers have when they're flowing like this. Be aware that the type of flooding we're experiencing up here can change rapidly. Roads that were fine within a matter of hours become impassable. It doesn't take much rain to reach the tipping point as we're also still dealing with snowmelt runoff.”
Below are some important pieces of information and resources to be aware of if you’re planning a visit to the North Shore, to ensure a safe and fun experience.
Photo: Laura Durenberger-Grunow
Park and trail closures
The high rivers have caused a number of Minnesota State Parks and Trails to close or have limited access. The DNR recommends visitors to any state parks or trails check with park staff about current conditions. You can also see state park and trail conditions on the DNR website.
Here is a list of State Park and Trails that are currently affected by the closures:
Cascade River State Park
George H. Crosby Manitou State Park
Gitchi-Gami State Trail
Gooseberry Falls State Park
Judge C.R. Magney State Park
North Shore state trails
Superior Hiking Trail
Temperance River State Park
Tettegouche State Park
But what if you have reservations within a listed state park? The DNR is contacting visitors with state park reservations that will be affected by campground closures. If you haven’t heard from them, you can reach out to the DNR information center here.
The DNR also stresses that it’s important to remember that these hazardous conditions along the North Shore are not limited to state parks and trails.
Photo by Laura Durenberger-Grunow
Multiple road washouts and closures across the area
In addition to parks and trails, numerous road closures are being reported across the county (you can find weather-related updated road conditions through Boreal, or through MDOT) due to runoff and flooding.
Hass shares that if water is flowing over a road please don't try and cross, because it's difficult to judge how deep it is and how much of the road has softened up or eroded away.
And remember, these situations can change rapidly. A road that was passable earlier in the day may not be a few hours later.
Photo: Laura Durenberger-Grunow
Waterfall Safety Tips
There are many things you can do to keep you and your family safe while chasing waterfalls. It’s important to remember that this list is not exhaustive, as conditions can change very quickly.
Be cautious where you step
Vick recommends that visitors wear sturdy footwear, and be sure to watch their step. “The ground around and up to the waterfall may be slippery, especially if there are rocks or tree roots.”
Additionally, swollen river banks and moving water can cause the ground to destabilize, so it’s important to stay on designated trails and follow any closure or detour signs.
Resist the perfect Instagram photo
Your safety, and the preservation of our beloved state parks and trails, are more important than that “perfect” social media photo. Vick says it’s important to stay on designated trails and walkways.
Not only can going off-trail be hazardous, but it can also damage the environment. “Many of these special environments are protected and contain rare species of vegetation”, she said. Stepping off-trail can crush these important ecosystems.
Areas surrounding waterfalls can quickly become damp or wet. Photo: Laura Durenberger-Grunow
It’s probably evident by now that these rivers and waterfalls are powerful, and the water doesn’t stay contained to a specific area.
Vick shares that the spray coming off the falls can quickly cause clothing and shoes to get damp. She recommends wearing rain gear, or at the very least bringing a change of clothes.
Temperatures in the area can still be on the cooler side, and the last thing Vick wants is for people to get hypothermia because they got wet and weren’t prepared.
Waterfall season, along with other North Shore and state events (fishing opener, anyone?) can bring a lot of people to the area.
Vick shared a few tips with me that can help you navigate the crowds to keep you and others safe, as well as protect our ecosystems.
Travel at non-peak times
Vick shares that coming midweek will be the best time to avoid lots of crowds. However, knowing that that timeframe isn’t available for everyone, she recommends avoiding the 10 am - 4 pm hours.
Wait a few minutes
If you arrive at a location and it’s really busy, wait a few minutes. Chances are people are heading back to their cars and you can avoid a big crowd in one location.
Basic trail etiquette can go a long way in making your experience and the experience of others a good one. Be mindful of other people on the trail. Step off at a safe location if people are trying to pass. Give people space at a lookout.
If you’re planning on making a trip up north, it’s important to plan ahead, and check up-to-date information resources to make sure you can reach your destination. And be prepared to change plans if an area is closed. Additionally, the DNR shares that it’s important to follow any locally-posted closures and related signage you may come across.
Waterfalls of Cook County Video Playlist