The brisk spring breeze hit our faces as my husband and I hopped across the ancient lava flow edging Lake Superior, which was easy to spot through barely budding trees. It was a quiet midweek morning at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, except for a loud, intermittent "BwrrrRRr!"

"It's like freshwater tidepooling," I joked as we checked each little pool of lake water trapped in the nooks and crannies of the shoreline. We finally spotted the tiny frog making the racket.

Bob and I have spent a lifetime visiting the North Shore in the lush summer for paddling, in the fall for vibrant hikes and in winter for skiing. But until last year we had somehow missed spring, with its soundscape of warblers, spring peepers and the peak thunder of waterfalls.

Along the trails at nearby Gooseberry Falls State Park, a redstart hopped between bare shrubs where clumps of fall leaves had gotten caught in upper branches during flooding the week before. Grasses remained flattened from the river's overflow. Our trail flanked the Gooseberry River as it roared and pounded over rock ledges on its way to Superior. In calmer spots, white foam swirled in mesmerizing patterns atop root beer-brown water.

The next day we ventured up the shore to Tettegouche State Park, where we watched a rock climber skillfully set up and slip over the edge of Palisade Head, which rises about 300 feet above the Great Lake. The view nicely frames Shovel Point, the park's best-known landmark and another popular spot for climbers.

We had planned a hike to see Tettegouche's High Falls, a 63-foot drop on the Baptism River, the highest waterfall completely within Minnesota's borders. Unfortunately, flooding swamped parts of the trail during early May 2022's combination of warm rain and the quick melt of 2 to 3 feet of snow. The river surged toward Lake Superior at 8,000 cubic feet per second, said Kurt Mead, interpretive naturalist at the park. By comparison, it was flowing at only 3.4 cubic feet per second during the summer 2021 drought.

"Nobody I've talked to has ever seen the Baptism that high," he said of last spring. "It was high enough that our classic old swing bridge above the High Falls got destroyed."

Staff hopes the bridge will be replaced this summer. The trail to High Falls also takes visitors to Cascade Falls and Two-Step Falls.

We followed park ranger advice to check out the upstream Illgen Falls, a short hike if you park along Hwy. 1 on Tettegouche's northeastern boundary.

Bracing ourselves against cedar tree trunks along the steep banks, we listened to the river's roar and felt its thrum in our chests as it tumbled over a 40-foot drop.

We marveled at how we've missed this place in the past, but that's the pull of this rugged region: No matter how many times we visit, there are always new places to explore as weather and seasons repaint the scenery and remix its soundtrack.

Where to go

Entrances to Gooseberry Falls, Split Rock Lighthouse and Tettegouche state parks lie within an 18-mile drive on Hwy. 61 north of Two Harbors. Gooseberry has the largest series of falls, and ledges of ancient lava along the shore. Split Rock includes exhibits and tours of the iconic 1905 lighthouse, and hikes that overlook Lake Superior or go inland to small falls along the Split Rock River.

Tettegouche State Park covers 9,346 acres, including Mount Baldy. Some areas may be roped off for peregrine falcons that return to nest in the spring. Bloodroot, spring beauty, bunchberry, trillium and other spring wildflowers can be seen at all three parks (

Beaver Bay Agate Shop, a family-owned fixture since 1946, showcases local agates and thomsonite, with museum-worthy displays of rocks, minerals and fossils from around the world (218-226-4847;

Look for your own agates at the mouth of the Beaver River, or try Pebble Beach at Split Rock. Iona's Beach Scientific and Natural Area, just south of Split Rock, features pink cobblestones, while Silver Bay's Black Beach is another scenic stop.

More North Shore waterfalls

Beyond Gooseberry, Split Rock and Tettegouche, if you keep driving up Minnesota's North Shore and crossing its many rivers through boreal forest, there are more waterfalls to enjoy.

Cross River wayside, Schroeder: Two miles south of Temperance River State Park, this wide waterfall is the easiest one to reach with wayside parking right along Hwy. 61.

Temperance River State Park, Tofte: The river carves out a gorge of deep passages where water slices through rock and scours out smooth potholes.

Cascade River State Park, Lutsen: An easy hike takes visitors to a series of five small waterfalls as the Cascade winds its way to Lake Superior.

Judge C.R. Magney State Park, Grand Marais: Devil's Kettle Falls features an unusual double drop (and optical illusion): one half of the Brule River plunges 50 feet into a pool and then rushes toward Lake Superior, while the other half drops into a deep hole, seemingly swallowed up by the Earth.

Grand Portage State Park: Minnesota's highest waterfall straddles the Canadian border, where the High Falls of the Pigeon River plunges 120 feet. If you pack a passport, it's less than an hour's drive from there to see Ontario's 131-foot Kakabeka Falls, nicknamed "Niagara of the North."

Where to eat

Rustic Inn Cafe in Castle Danger reels people in with its historic ambience and sweet array of pies, such as North Shore berry crumb and lemon angel with a meringue crust. But its meals, including wild rice meatloaf, a Reuben or Rachel on wild rice bread, and walleye piccata will keep you coming back (218-834-2488;

Tracks N Racks Grill in Beaver Bay cooks up casual bar food, including appetizers, Heggie's pizzas and a variety of burgers, sandwiches and wraps (218-220-6825;

Where to sleep

Scandinavian influence and a picturesque rocky thumb extending into Lake Superior add character to Cove Point Lodge's rooms and cottages near Beaver Bay (844-243-6443; They'll open the North Shore Camping Co. in mid-May, with beds in canvas tents tucked into the woods.

In Beaver Bay, Red Raven North offers eight rooms for lodging and should have its bike store open for long weekends. Owners hope to open its cafe by midsummer (218-830-0955;

Old-school and nicely perched near the shore, the seasonal Gooseberry Park Cottages and Motel is typically full, but midweek before Memorial Day or after Labor Day offers the best shot at a reservation (218-834-3751;

St. Cloud-based Lisa Meyers McClintick has written travel features for the Star Tribune since 2001.

Correction: Earlier versions of this story misstated the location of Tettegouche State Park in relation to Silver Bay.