Hibbing, Minn., holds a rare geological force of nature: the meeting of two continental divides. The Triple Divide or Hill of Three Waters occurs where the St. Lawrence Divide bumps up against the Laurentian Divide, two subtle rises in the landscape that could be mistaken as ordinary hills. But the convergence creates something extraordinary.
Depending upon the exact spot it falls, a drop of rain there could flow in one of three directions, a fact that gives rise to its names. The country has only two or four other such points (the exact number is still debated by scientists).
Continental divides are ridges or high points that separate watersheds and river systems. The one in Hibbing sends water to the Nelson River watershed, which flows to Hudson Bay; the Mississippi River watershed, which spills into the Gulf of Mexico; and St. Lawrence River watershed, which eventually feeds to the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Though monumental in helping form the landscape, Minnesota’s Triple Divide isn’t mountainous. The exact spot sits on a highland plain that is currently owned by Hibbing Taconite. It is protected, but mining operations carry on around it. Still, there are ways to experience this rarity.
To actually see the geological gem, head to the Hull Rust Mahoning Mine View in Hibbing. A visitors center and walkway leads to a marker that points to the Triple Divide.
The view also takes in a vast open-pit mine site, the remains of 40 different mines, that resembles a red-rock canyon. Since the late 19th century, those mines have produced more than 800 million tons of iron ore and helped build the country’s railroads, bridges and skyscrapers. The Mine View is seasonal and run by volunteers, so check before you go (hib bingmineview.org).
For year-round access — and an opportunity to traverse the Laurentian Divide — head 30 miles east to the Laurentian Divide Recreation Area, just north of Virginia. The area is the trailhead for hiking and mountain biking trails that arc across the divide in the Superior National Forest. The recreation area’s 15 miles of hiking trails are turned over to cross-country skiing in the winter, and the Lookout Mountain Bike Trails have more than 5 miles of single-track trail. For a map and more information, go to the national forest site at tinyurl.com/yyhrqprl.