Thundering waterfalls -- and old stone buildings -- draw people to Gooseberry Falls State Park.
Its five waterfalls might be the most photographed in the state. So many people thronged the old stone-and-log visitor center that the state had to build a bigger one (and move the highway to make way) in 1996. The new center is bright and modern but has lovely stone-and-log echoes of the past. Gooseberry Falls State Park, along Hwy. 61, is one of the state's most beloved treasures.
As the first state park up the North Shore from Duluth, Gooseberry gets a lot of visitors who long for a walk in the woods but don't want to drive to parks farther north. About 600,000 people a year come to hike the 18 miles of trail, pitch a tent under the stars, or feel the spray of those magnificent waterfalls.
I warn you: The parking lot is gigantic. The visitor center is busy. You might think, briefly, that you're at the mall. But persevere; the trails will quickly take you away from the crowds and into the forest. Some are paved and handicapped-accessible; farther on they become woodland paths. You might see deer, bunch berries and grosbeaks. The air will smell of pine. The Gooseberry River will roar on its way to Lake Superior somewhere in the distance.
Some of the loveliest gems of the park, though, are human-made: Stone buildings, stairways and bridges that date to the 1930s and 1940s. Lady Slipper Lodge and the Lakeview Shelter are built of granite quarried in Duluth and East Beaver Bay; the work was supervised by Italian stone masons. They can be rented for $50 each ($35 in the winter, when the bathrooms are closed), and you can book up to a year in advance. Oh, what a place for a party, out among the birch and cedar trees! Bears could show up. Moose. The squirrels will invite their friends.