Minnesota's Backyard: Enjoy the North Shore trails without the crowds at George H. Crosby Manitou State Park
Located not far from the more popular parks along Lake Superior, George H. Crosby Manitou State Park is home to wilderness, challenging terrain and real solitude on the wooded trails that reach cascades and waterfalls along the Manitou River.
FINLAND, Minn. — A dozen miles or so down a dusty but well-maintained gravel road, you will find a world of contrasts.
The turn-off is in Finland, which is in America. The parking lot will be packed, but you will rarely see another hiker out on the myriad trails. And George H. Crosby Manitou State Park offers all of the wonders of the North Shore, but it is not actually located on Lake Superior.
Away from the crowds that can sometimes be a factor at lakeside state parks like Gooseberry Falls, Split Rock Lighthouse and Tettegouche, Manitou is inland, but not dramatically so. It is bisected by the Superior Hiking Trail , meaning that some of the rare other adventurers you see on the trails are just passing through, literally.
Created as a state park in 1955 when its namesake — who had made his fortune in mining — donated the land, Manitou is also named for the wild and stunning river that winds through the park on the way to the lake. The trail options are many, and even a one-mile out-and-back hike to see some of the river’s remote cascades can be a fun challenge, with stretches of hiking that look more like rockfalls than trails. On a July visit to the park, a new pair of boots seemed perfect for the harder hiking, but I returned home with a sprained ankle that was still a bother six weeks later. Still, the trail options and views keep visitors coming back.
“From the trailhead you can take multiple different trails and different loops. There’s a lot of ground to cover out there in a beautiful old growth forest that is very interesting,” said Katie Foshay, a park manager on the North Shore. “The rustic part of the park is a great deal of the appeal. You feel like you’re almost in the wilderness with the old growth forest and then the landscape of the Sawtooth Mountains really adds to the adventure.”
And, she admitted, the size and remoteness of the park make it a challenge to maintain. For example, on the Middle Trail hike, you pass by a shelter that has a collapsed roof and looks more like a woodpile in its current state.
Still, in this part of Minnesota where there are myriad more developed parks with Disneyesque crowds on summer weekends, Manitou is the place to go to find a real escape and true solitude among towering forests of fir, cedar, spruce and hardwoods. And for paddlers who like to chase fish, the non-motorized Benson Lake in the park offers a small taste of the Boundary Waters, and the occasional hungry trout.
While many of the prominent communities along the North Shore were settled long before a road was carved out of the wilderness to link them in 1929. And then there is the unique case of Silver Bay , which has 1,800 residents and was incorporated in 1954, just a year before Manitou became a state park. Founded as a place to house the hundreds of people working in the taconite processing plant nearby, Silver Bay shows all the hallmarks of a planned suburb from the 1950s, except that it’s more than three hours from the nearest metro area. But if you’re looking for lunch and the essentials on the North Shore, it is one small town that has it all.
This article is part of the " Minnesota's Backyard " series which returns for the summer of 2022.