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Minnesota's Backyard: The best of the highlands and shore can be found at Tettegouche State Park

It's a far cry and a long plane ride from California, but at Tettegouche State Park, visitors to the North Shore can find both the water and as close as we get to the mountains in Minnesota.

Tettegouche State Park
One of the highest points on the shore of Lake Superior, and a popular spot with rock climbers, is Palisade Head which can be seen from Shovel Point inside Tettegouche State Park.
Deborah Rose / Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
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SILVER BAY, Minn. — Some folks prefer the seaside. Others prefer the mountains. That is one reason, perhaps, why California is by far our most populous state, since visitors can find the best of both worlds.

Minnesota's backyard logo

That “appeal to everyone” vibe also might explain why Tettegouche State Park remains one of the most popular places to visit along the North Shore of Lake Superior. The beaches along the lakeshore are stunning, and the views of iconic Shovel Point are some of the most photographed in the state, and up the hill from the lake, the waterfalls of the Baptism River and the sharp terrain changes make for some of the most scenic and challenging hiking in the region.

Thanks to the power of nature, the challenge of getting to the High Falls — which is the tallest waterfall completely within the boundaries of the state — got a little tougher in the spring. Per park officials, there was still several feet of snow in the forests within the park when a spring storm dropped five inches of rain on the area. The ensuing torrent of runoff caused the baptism and other streams headed to the lake to overspill their banks and the resulting erosion took out the swinging bridge that normally gives hikers easy access to both sides of the falls.

According to Katie Foshay, a park manager on the North Shore, the bridge will not likely be replaced until 2023 or later. Both sides of the falls are still accessible to hikers, but reaching the east side now requires a longer hike of roughly three miles round trip.

On a warm July weekend day when we visited, the parking lot and visitor center looked like something akin to northern Minnesota’s version of Disneyland, with cars and visitors everywhere. Foshay advised that Tettegouche is one of the most visited attractions in the area, but even on a busy day, one can find solitude on the myriad miles of trails.


Tettegouche State Park
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“If you get away from the shore, or the hotspots of where everyone goes, you’re not going to see anyone on the back trails,” she said. “Everyone focuses on the highlights like Gooseberry Falls, the lighthouse at Split Rock, Shovel Point, Pebble Beach, and the High Falls. If you move beyond there, there is nobody on the trails. You can still go out and recreate on a weekend, you just have to pick your trails a little more carefully.”

Her other bit of advice was to take some time, spend a night or two (there is a full service campground on site) and take it all in.

We have nearly 10,000 acres to explore,” Foshay said. “You can’t see and do it all in one day.”

And with some of the nation’s best natural scenery east of California, why would you want to?

Notable nearby

Commercial fishing and the tasty aquatic wonders that come from Lake Superior have been a part of life on the North Shore since long before Highway 61 was constructed and places like Two Harbors and Grand Marais were accessible only by water. The classic snack around these parts is smoked fish, served with saltines, which is not only incredibly delicious but a healthy source of anti-inflammatories, as cold water fish like lake trout and salmon are known for their dietary benefits. One of the most popular stops to stock up on treasures from the lake’s cold waters is Russ Kendall’s Smokehouse , not far from the water in Knife River, where they have been expertly curing ciscoes, trout, whitefish, salmon and other delicacies for generations.

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.
At 500 square miles, Minnesota is home to the largest peat bog in the lower 48 states, and a mile-long boardwalk at Big Bog State Recreation Area allows visitors to explore this unique and vital ecosystem.
New in 2022, campers have another option on the North Shore with the opening of Shipwreck Creek Campground inside Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. The new facility had been discussed since 1980, but finally opened this year and is all but fully booked for the entire summer.
This region of Minnesota that has been home to people since 400 B.C. did not officially become a state park until 1957, but today there are 2,600 acres of Mississippi River bluff land preserved, featuring one of the most stunning picnic table views found anywhere.
Long before there were lumber camps in Minnesota's north woods, lumberjacks were downing what was thought to be a limitless supply of white pine along the St. Croix River. At William O'Brien State Park, visitors can hike, bike and paddle in the place where the industry began, nearly 200 years ago.
The border between Minnesota and Wisconsin here was formed by a combination of molten lava and melting glaciers over the past billion years. The St. Croix River Valley's hugely popular public access site features hikes along the bluffs and down to the river, and ways to see these stunning rock cliffs from water level.
Founded more than a century ago and expended during the Great Depression, this gem in western Minnesota features hiking, biking, boating, beaching and abundant wildlife, along with a quartet of camping options.
Our summer tour of Minnesota's public spaces continues in a southeastern Minnesota oasis that can take visitors up onto the bluffs, into the trout streams deep underneath the ground and back in time, as Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park offers a little bit of something to appeal to a wide range of interests.
The first indication that you have left Iowa and entered the Land of 10,000 Lakes is a "Welcome to Minnesota" sign on I-35. The second, unmistakable indication is crossing Albert Lea lake, which is the centerpiece of our first Minnesota's Backyard destination of 2022.
The 20th destination on our 20-site tour of Minnesota's state parks brings us to the heart of the Twin Cities, where you will find an oasis of wilderness in the urban heart of the state. Fort Snelling State Park is neither as quiet or secluded as other parks in Minnesota, but for Twin Citians it offers history and hiking where the state's major rivers meet.

This article is part of the " Minnesota's Backyard " series which returns for the summer of 2022.

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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