Monday, June 24, 2013

Jay Cooke State Park: White Pine, Ogantz, and CCC Trails (Blog Hike #321)

Trails: White Pine, Picnic, Ogantz, and CCC Trails
Hike Location: Jay Cooke State Park
Geographic Location: southeast of CloquetMN (46.65477, -92.37141)
Length: 5.2 miles (but see the comments at the end of this post)
Difficulty: 4/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: August 2010; trailhead pic taken July 2017
Overview: A fairly flat hike with terrific river views.

Directions to the trailhead: South of Duluth, take I-35 to SR 210 (exit 235).  Exit and go east on SR 210.  Pass through the town of Carlton and follow SR 210 to the River Inn state park visitor center 3 miles east of Carlton.  Turn right to reach the Visitor Center.  Park in the large, paved Visitor Center parking lot.  The hike starts on the north side of the parking lot across from the Visitor Center.

The hike: Established in 1915, Jay Cooke State Park was open to visitors long before most states had even thought of a state park system.  The park came into being when the St. Louis Power Company donated 2350 acres of land to the state.  An additional purchase in 1945 and smaller purchases since then bring the park to its present size.
            Despite being less than 20 miles from Duluth, this park can offer a fair amount of solitude even on warm-weather weekends.  Truth be told, I somewhat accidentally stumbled into this park on such a Sunday afternoon.  A tall-ships festival in downtown Duluth made the city’s streets impossible to navigate and the boat tours I was hoping to take impossible to reserve.  Thus, I came here hoping to get away from the crowds, and my strategy worked perfectly.
            With over 50 miles of hiking trails, the possible routes at Jay Cooke State Park are nearly endless.  The most popular trail is the Silver Creek Trail, which leads to its namesake creek and is described elsewhere in this blog.  Accessing the Silver Creek Trail requires crossing the park’s swinging bridge, the most congested area of the park.  On my visit, I was seeking solitude, and so I chose to hike away from the bridge on the route described here.  Turns out, this route both kept me away from the crowds and provided me with excellent views of the scenic St. Louis River.
Trailhead near Visitor Center
            From the front of the Visitor Center, walk across the parking lot and pick up the trail as it enters the woods.  This hike follows a figure-eight route, starting on the south side of the west lobe.  Almost immediately, you cross SR 210 and arrive at trail intersection #1.  Trail intersections at Jay Cooke State Park are marked with white numerals on blue plastic diamonds.  The CCC Trail heads uphill and to the left, but our hike starts on the White Pine Trail, which continues straight.
            The wide, grassy White Pine Trail heads across what appears to be a dike.  At 0.3 miles, the trail curves left to leave the dike and begin a moderate climb.  Near the top of the hill, you will pass a wooden trail shelter with a sleeping bench and picnic table.  During the leafless months, the St. Louis River valley can be seen to the south out the front of the shelter, but my view was highly blocked by trees during the summer.
Summer view from picnic shelter
            Past the shelter, the trail climbs a little more to reach the highest point of the hike and then begins descending to pass through a small valley.  This section of trail will be wet after a rain or early in the hiking season.  Oddly enough, despite the trail’s name, most of the forest here is deciduous forest dominated by maple and birch; only a few small pine trees manage to sneak in.
            1 mile into the hike, you arrive at trail intersection #2, which is located at the pinch of the figure-eight.  Angling left would continue along the White Pine Trail around the western lobe, and we will go that way eventually.  For now, angle right and head for the eastern lobe.  The trail crosses SR 210 to enter a picnic area parking lot.  Stay on the right side of the parking lot and pick up the Picnic Trail, which is paved with asphalt.
            Exit the picnic area and angle right, still on paved trail, to arrive at the first St. Louis River overlook.  This overlook comes as a real shocker: what thus far has been a quiet but somewhat boring forest hike now opens up to a fantastic view of the powerful, cascading river some 100 feet below.  I could not count all of the cascades in the river due to sheer number, but they make a fantastic sight and sound when river levels are high enough.  There are more river overlooks ahead, but this one is the best among those near the picnic area, so take your time to digest the view and sound.
St. Louis River, as seen from picnic area overlook
            Continuing past the overlook, you soon pass a stone monument erected in 1930 to Henry Oldenburg.  Mr. Oldenburg played a large role in this park’s founding, plus we are heading to the point that bears his name.  Thus, this is a fitting place for the monument.  Staying on the paved trail soon leads to another river overlook, this one looking downstream at more river cascades.
Monument to Henry Oldenburg
            A steep side trail leads from the overlook down to the river, but this hike remains on the paved Picnic Trail and soon arrives at trail intersection #11.  Turn right here to leave the paved trail and begin the wide dirt/grass Ogantz Trail, heading to Oldenburg Point.   The trail heads gradually downhill through more maple-birch forest with a few white pines.
            1.8 miles into the hike, you reach the spur trail to the Oldenburg Point overlook, which heads up a steep set of stairs to the right.  After only 200 feet, you arrive at the overlook.  In my opinion, this is the least impressive river overlook of the three in this area, but since this one is away from the paved Picnic Trail, you will most likely have it to yourself.  Also, since there is no hill on the opposite side of the river here, you can see further south from this point than from the overlooks closer to the picnic area.
View from Oldenburg Point
            Retrace your steps to the main trail and turn right to continue the Ogantz Trail.  The trail descends a little more before leveling out on the side of the steep hillside.  This area was also rather wet on my visit.  At 2.1 miles, the trail curves left and begins a long, moderate ascent back to the picnic area.
            2.7 miles into the hike, you reach trail intersection #12 where the Ogantz Trail ends at the paved Picnic Trail.  Continue straight on the paved trail and quickly arrive at trail intersection #10 at the picnic area parking lot.  You have now closed the eastern lobe of the figure-eight, so you need to retrace your steps back out to SR 210, cross the road, and pick up the trail you walked before to get back to trail intersection #2.  Turn right to continue on the White Pine Trail.
Trail intersection #2
            After a short gradual climb, you reach trail intersection #3, a three-way trail intersection.  The Greely Creek Trail exits to the right and heads for the Hemlock Ravine Scientific and Natural Area.  Our hike turns left and begins heading west on the CCC Trail, continuing around the western lobe of the figure-eight.
            The next 1.3 miles of the hike follow the wide, grassy, nearly arrow-straight CCC Trail.  What this segment lacks in scenery it makes up for in ease.  Along the way, you will pass trail intersection #4, where you could turn left and short-cut this hike if so desired.  You will also pass the park’s campground, which comes close to the trail on the left, and you will cross the paved Forbay Trail at trail intersection #6.  Turning left on the Forbay Trail will also lead you directly back to the Visitor Center.
            At 4 miles, you reach trail intersection #7, the CCC Trail’s intersection with the Thomson Trail.  The Thomson Trail heads straight and right and leads to the historic Thomson Pioneer Cemetery, but our hike turns left to remain on the CCC Trail.  A gradual descent leads you to your fourth and final crossing of SR 210 at trail intersection #9.
            Across the road, the scenery changes dramatically as the trail starts following right along the north bank of the St. Louis River.  What you saw earlier from high above you now get to see close up.  At this point, the river cascades are small and emit a quiet bubbling sound.  As you proceed downstream, the cascades get bigger and louder, culminating with a large U-shaped waterfall within the river.  Water spills at many angles and through many small spouts into a large, rocky, 20-foot deep chasm in the river bed.  This is an unusual waterfall, so take some time and see if you can count the number of points at which water spills into the chasm.
St. Louis River, up close
            You pass the unusual waterfall just before entering the picnic area on the west side of the Visitor Center.  At 5.1 miles, you enter the grassy picnic area.  Pass through the picnic area to arrive at the Visitor Center parking lot and complete the hike.

1 comment:

  1. Update: part of the Ogantz Trail was destroyed by a catastrophic flood in 2012. Thus, of the two lobes in the figure-8 route described here, you can now only hike the western lobe. The distance of such a loop is just over 3 miles.

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