The Cascade River picnic area offers a hidden bit of beauty and solitude along Lake Superior on Minnesota’s North Shore.
Woods and water at the Cascade River picnic area
There are so many things to see and do along the North Shore that it’s easy to rush from one to the next without stopping to seek out less well-known (and less crowded) treasures along the way.
That’s my excuse for years of driving past the unobtrusive sign that marks the Cascade River picnic area off Highway 61 in Cascade River State Park. Besides, the reason to visit this park is to see the waterfalls on the other side of the road!
Fortunately, one day we decided to stop and see what we were missing.
Into the woods at the Cascade River picnic area
From the parking pull-out, we followed a path into the woods.
It gets dark almost as soon as we enter the woods. The dense stand of trees provides shade for a smattering of picnic tables and obscures of our view of the sky and lake.
Still, it’s easy to sense the barely concealed presence of Lake Superior. It’s easier yet to see the effect of the lake on this forest. The scars of the lake’s infamous storms are all around in the form of fallen trees, twisted trunks, and eroded roots.
The forest abruptly gives way to lichen-encrusted boulders that frame the great lake.
A few birch break free of their pine and cedar brethren in an attempt to reach the water’s edge. Their effort results in wildly contorted wisps of white above the dark rock.
Along the rocky beach
On this bit of Lake Superior’s shore, the dark rock sits just above the water.
In the stillness of a hot summer morning, it’s almost impossible to imagine the lake enraged, these rocks overwhelmed by thrashing waves.
It is simply a perfect spot to sit and contemplate the grandeur of the world around us.
Plan a visit to the Cascade River picnic area
Cascade River State Park is located just south of Grand Marais, Minnesota, on Lake Superior’s North Shore.
This area is a hiker’s paradise, with connections to both the Superior Hiking Trail and the North Shore State Trail. However, it is also a great spot for less ambitious visitors, as there are also short, easy trails to the waterfall and along the lake.
The Cascade River picnic area is one of the few facilities on the lake side of Cascade River State Park. (The waterfalls are on the inland side of the highway.) It has a small parking area, a half-dozen shady picnic spots, and a 1.5 mile hiking trail along the shore. In winter that hiking trail becomes a groomed ski trail.
The park and picnic area are open daily between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m.
A Minnesota state park vehicle permit is required to park at the Cascade River picnic area or any other park facility.