Hiking and other things to do at Cascade River State Park
Cascade River State Park in Northern Minnesota is recognizable for its large number of cars parked on the side of Highway 61 just outside of Grand Marias. But what most motorists don’t realize is the number of fun things hidden behind the waterfalls. Cascade River State Park has such a treasure to explore. My goal wasn’t the waterfalls like most, mine was to Hike Cascade River State Park.
Our adventure to Cascade River State Park started with a stop at Grand Marais. I love getting to hang out in this small town. First up, starting our day off with a little Java Moose.
We tried getting good coffee shop coffee closer to our campground in Temperance River State Park but ended up getting a Hershey syrup-flavored drink. If you ever want good coffee along the north shore, do it right at Java Moose.
We bribed the kids with an early morning treat of World Best Donuts only to find that their weekday hours changed.
As a word of caution, before promising kids, anything, make sure they are open! It worked out for the best as we ordered some quick takeout from Blue Waters Café breakfast. It was yummy and fueled us up properly for the hike that lay ahead.
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History of Scade River State Park
The park’s land was originally acquired by the state in the 1930s by the MN State Highway Department. A Civilian Conservation Corps camp was established to help eliminate the roadway scars left during the highway 61 development.
The now historic rock retaining wall structures and a bridge were created by this group of individuals. They also build recreation facilities in the area.
Even though it wasn’t an official state park, it was always thought of as such. Since the highway department didn’t operate State Parks, it did not move past highway features with a few trails.
The rest of the development, including the campground and roadways, were added when legislation made it an official state park 1957.
The park sits along Lake Superior and within the Sawtooth Mountains. Most notable at the park is the Cascade River that flows through and drops 900ft in the last three miles to Lake Superior. The forest is covered in a boreal hardwood-conifer forest with aspen, birch, fir, spruce, and cedar.
Visitors report seeing black bears, moose, pine martens, wolves, and many other animals at the park.
Things to do at Cascade River State Park
Cascade River State Park Hiking Club
Miles: 3.5 miles
Difficulty: Difficult – Hills
Total Miles Hiked: 113.3 miles
Stopping in first to the Ranger’s Station to get our passport stamped, we were able to get some great insider information.
Instead of park lot on the side of the road like the sea of visitors, if you have an annual State Park pass, you can park at the trail center.
There are about a dozen spots available and gets you a little closer to the Hiking Club Trail. The first part of the trail is known as the Cascades.
The cascades are a series of 5 different waterfalls. They stretch from the highway 61 Cascade River State Wayside parking area to the footbridge by the hiking club trail.
This trail also is part of the Superior Hiking Trail. If you get the chance to explore the area further, I highly recommend it.
The falls have multiple vantage points, including standing right over one of the waterfalls. There is a trail that leads on both sides of the road but the best features are seen on the south side of the Cascade River.
Stopping at Cascade Falls is like stopping at Gooseberry Falls. The crowds are spread out everywhere. The only differences are people aren’t standing in the water. Once you venture further out, the crowds diminish completely.
If you have mobility issues, please note that it’s not as friendly as Gooseberry. There are stairs and other elevation changes you’ll have to navigate.
What is nice, you can park on the road, and do the complete Cascade River Lower loop around the most popular part of the trail without paying for anything.
Take the rest of the trail along the river’s edge. Make sure to stop at a few of the overlooks as they are all stunning. It won’t be long before you’ve left all the tourists behind.
The trails dip into a small ravine before you make your trek up the 275 feet to Lookout Mountain. The hike dips in and out of shaded and open sunny spots.
Take breaks as needed and soak up the trail. Before you know it, you’ll be standing at the top looking down on the Cascade River Valley, the Sawtooth Mountain Range, and Lake Superior.
Along the way, we saw young children climbing and older individuals. It really was something that everyone can do, if they put their mind to it. We also saw multiple backpacking groups making their way up the trail. The trail loops back around the side of the mountain and back original trail.
One of the difficulties I had along the way was a lack of trail marker signs. If you follow the path to ‘Lookout Mountain’ you’ll find your way just fine. You can also download the map on Avenza before you leave. The State Park was out of paper maps.
Get your Cascade River State Park map from Avenza before you leave. It’s completely free and doesn’t require internet to use. Plus you always know right where you are at any time with your phones GPS.
Camping at Cascade River State Park
You know me, I couldn’t help but take a peek at the camping satiation at Cascade River State Park. The sites looked semi-private. They have a mix of electric and non-electric facilities.
What is interesting is that they have a few different spots you can reserve on top of their mountains. One at Lookout Mountain, and one at Moose Mountain. Both are backpack-in sites with Adirondack-style facilities.
Want to explore without camping in the park? Not a problem, there are plenty of places to stay on the north shore. Check them out! Where to stay on the North Shore in Minnesota | Amazing Locations
Cascade River Mouth
The Cascade River plunges 120 feet through a deep, twisting gorge in its final quarter-mile stretch to Lake Superior. This creates a spectacular series of cascades.
At the mouth of the river is the historic rock walls built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. In the 1930s the Cascade River State Park was the site of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp.
Retaining walls at the wayside rest area facility, as well as trails and a picnic area within the park were all built by these men.
Lake Superior Shoreline Picnic
The park’s unique picnic area has seven spots each with a picnic table and fire ring or grill. Five spots are along the rocky shore and two are amongst cedar trees.
Cascade River State Park sits in the Sawtooth Mountain Range, a range of low, serrated ridges along the northern shore. They rise sharply along the lake and at angles between 8 and 20 degrees, dropping off steeply on the north sides. They resemble the teeth of a saw.
People come from all over Minnesota to Ski these hills. Most of the hiking trail transition into ski trails and range from easy to difficult. Seven miles south of Cascade River State Park is Lutsen Mountain ski resort.
Common Questions about Cascade River State Park?
How Far is Cascade River State park from Grand Marais?
Grand Marais is 3.8 miles north of Cascade River State Park.
Grand Marias is a great town to explore with stunning views, great dining, and more. Make sure to check out all the 12 Exciting Things To Do in Grand Marais MN
Are dogs allowed at Cascade River State Park?
Dogs are allowed in all Minnesota State Parks. Dogs must be on a 6-foot leash at all times and never left alone in campers.
Where is Cascade River State Park?
The official address is West, 3481 Minnesota 61, Lutsen, MN 55612. They are open daily from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. You can get to the park year round, except while hunts are in progress. Limited camping is available in winter.
How much does it cost to visit?
All Minnesota State Parks are free with an annual permit. You can buy them in person or online for $35. If you are planning to visit for the day, expect to pay around $7. Throughout the year, there are a few free days and other discounts you can check out too.
Camping costs anywhere from $25-35 a night.
Pro Tip: Visit any State Park during one of their free days. Check out Minnesota State Park Pass Hacks, Tips, and Free Days to find all the days
Would I go back to Cascade River State Park?
I’d go back to this Minnesota State Park. The campground looked lively. It would be a great base camp for northbound adventures, including Grand Marais.
The only complaint I had about the park was the number of people there. Even arriving in the 9 am hour, their falls were busy and parking was limited. Having a site there would guarantee a parking spot.
All in all, I enjoyed myself and would love to go back and see the view from Moose Mountain. It was truly a beautiful park with great hiking trails.
The park is four miles north of Lutsen Mountain of those that like to Ski take the gondola to the top! In winter the trails convert to Hike/Ski trails. I think they work well more for snowshoeing than cross-country skiing.