Monday, June 24, 2013

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park: Day Hill (Blog Hike #312)

Trails: Two Harbors, Day Hill, and Gitchi-Gami Trails
Hike Location: Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
Geographic Location: northeast of Two HarborsMN (47.19879, -91.37590)
Length: 2.2 miles
Difficulty: 5/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: July 2010; trailhead pic taken July 2017
Overview: A loop hike to Day Hill, an overlook 200 feet above Lake Superior.
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: From Two Harbors, take SR 61 north 20 miles to the signed state park entrance on the right.  Turn right to enter the park.  Where the road forks, turn right to head for the Trail Center.  Note: continuing straight here would lead you to Split Rock Lighthouse the historic site.  Drive 0.5 miles to the Trail Center parking area on the left.  Park in the large blacktop Trail Center parking area.

The hike: The story of Split Rock Lighthouse starts in 1905, when a massive November storm sunk 6 Lake Superior ships within 12 miles of the Split Rock River.  As a result, the United States Government decided to build a lighthouse at the mouth of Split Rock River.  Construction was difficult because no roads led to the area at that time: all materials had to be boated in along the lake and hauled up the cliff to the construction site.  The tramway used to haul the materials can still be seen as part of the historic site today.
In summer of 1910, the lighthouse began warning ships of the rocky shore, a task it would undertake for the next 59 years.  In 1969, the lighthouse was closed because improvements in navigation technology made it obsolete.  7 years later, the Minnesota Historical Society began operating the site after it was deeded to the state by the federal government.
Thanks to the efforts of the Historical Society, visitors today can view the lighthouse, keepers’ house, and fog horn as they appeared in 1923 when the first road came through the North Shore.  The lighthouse Visitor Center features a film which gives more details about the lighthouse and its surrounding buildings.  A short loop trail at the lighthouse leads visitors down to lake level where, in addition to visiting the old dock, fabulous views of the lighthouse can be had.
Split Rock Lighthouse
             After you tour the lighthouse, be sure to visit the adjacent 2200 acre Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, the location of this hike.  Facilities at the park include lakeside picnicking and camping, some cart-in campsites, and 14.5 miles of trails.  Many routes are possible, but the route described here takes you to the two most popular hiking destinations in the park: Day Hill, an overlook 200 feet above Lake Superior, and Pebble Beach, a Lake Superior beach with many small pebbles.
Main trailhead
             Begin at the rear of the parking area near the entrance road where a paved trail heads past a picnic table and into the woods.  In less than 0.1 miles the paved trail forks.  The left fork would take you to the lighthouse itself, but our route turns right, heading for Day Hill.  The paved trail parallels the lake shore to your left as it passes some picnic areas located directly on the shoreline.  Would this be a great place to have lunch or what?
The paved trail soon turns to gravel.  After passing another parking area, the trail curves left as it treads above Pebble Beach and Little Two Harbors, which are in clear view to the left.  The small rocky islet beyond the harbor is Ellsworth Island, but there is no way to reach it except by canoe.  In addition to the beach, you also get a postcard view of the lighthouse sitting on a cliff roughly 1 mile away.
Pebble Beach and Ellsworth Island
             Curving right to leave the beach, the trail passes the first two of 20 cart-in campsites.  Reservations are required to camp here, and on my visit, all 20 had been reserved.  Reserve early if you want to camp along the lake here.
At 0.5 miles, you reach another trail intersection near the last parking lot on the park road.  Side trails exit right to the parking lot and more camp sites, but the Day Hill Trail angles left to stay near the lakeshore.  Only 0.1 mile later, the trail forks to form the loop portion of the Day Hill Trail.  You could go either direction, but the shortest route to the hill’s summit goes to the right, and that will be our route.
The climb to Day Hill begins in earnest now, as the two-track trail climbs moderately away from the lake.  0.9 miles into the hike, the Day Hill Trail intersects the paved Gitchi-Gami bike path.  We will eventually turn right on the bike path for our return route, but for now take the single-track path that heads uphill toward the summit of Day Hill.
The Mathprofhiker's backpack beside chimney
            The trail up Day Hill is short but contains a couple of steep sections, so take your time on the ascent.  You will know you have reached the top when you see a bare rock cap with a chimney built on it.  I will not give away the whole story of the chimney, but it is what remains of an unfinished house.  The 180-degree view from here is spectacular: Lake Superior unfolds endlessly in front of you, several rock formations can be seen in the seaside cliffs, and forested hills roll off to the interior.  When I was on this hill, I could see rain clouds off to the west, so I needed to get going if I was to avoid getting wet.
Split Rock Lighthouse, as seen from Day Hill
View southwest from Day Hill
            The spur trail ends at the summit, so you are forced to retrace your steps back downhill to the bike path.  Turn right on the bike path to head back for the trailhead.  Bike paths rarely make for great hiking, and this one is no exception.  The bike path is wide, fairly straight, and follows right beside noisy SR 61 for much of the distance.  On the bright side, the path is lined with wildflowers, and you will even find some raspberries and blueberries ripe for the picking in season.  Besides, you have to get back to the trailhead somehow, and this beats retracing your steps.
At 2.2 miles, the bike path descends and makes an S-curve away from SR 61.  Just after crossing the main park road, the bike trail forks.  The trail going left leads 0.5 miles to the lighthouse, but this description turns right to head back for the trail center.  In only a couple hundred feet, you arrive back at the trail center parking area, thus completing the hike.

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