I recently realized that I’ve been skiing at Gooseberry Falls State Park (near Two Harbors, Minnesota) longer than any other trail system on the North Shore. I think my first time skiing there was 1985, and my most recent time was a past weekend in 2014. That’s thirty years. It’s not a “real” and complete year of North Shore skiing for me until I’ve been out on the winding, wild trails of Gooseberry.
Here’s why I keep coming back to Gooseberry…and why you might also:
The changing forest
Over 30 years, the forests of Gooseberry Falls State Park have changed in stunning ways. Birch trees that once made up a classic North Shore forest have nearly all died off, leaving open sunny glades studded with thick spruce trees. There have always been wolves, their prints, scat, or prey scattered along the trail.
When our kids were little, Gooseberry was a great place for a day-long outing, with Sally and I swapping childcare duties and skiing. Our young boys would hang out in the visitor center by the fireplace, snacking, visiting the gift shop, toddling in their snowsuits down to the waterfalls.
Gooseberry trails are all double-tracked, meaning two side-by-side trails for classic skiing only. Skate skiing is only allowed on the western “Birch Hill” loop. When it’s good, it’s really good. When it’s bad, well…it’s still the loveliness of Gooseberry’s backcountry.
Gooseberry does have ongoing problems with hikers ruining the groomed ski trails. Typically a group of hikers will accidentally get on the trail at one of the many junctions of hiking and skiing trails. Hiking footprints quickly ruin groomed ski trails.
The ski trails at Gooseberry are neatly divided into three parts. (Download your state park map here.)
1) Campground loop. This is a 3.4 km loop that takes off right from the back of the Visitor Center and follows the Gitchi Gami bike trail all the way downhill to the lakeshore, then gradually climbs up through the campground and along the top of the river bank back to the Visitor Center. It’s rated as easy and, especially by the lake, is very scenic. Compared to the other trails, it is very easy to access. It also has the most damage from hikers.
2) West of the river. In my book Skiing the North Shore, I named this the Birch Hill Loop. It’s 3.4 km but much more challenging, with a long run up the Gooseberry River and then a steep climb to an open hillside with distant views. It’s rated as “more difficult.” I’ve had some great wolf encounters on this trail. You can read about one such encounter on this section here.
3) East of the river. There are 13 km of trail rolling all over these hills and valleys. Back in the day, the main Gooseberry State Park trailhead was in the old stone CCC building that now sits unused here. You could park your car and head right onto these trails and be skiing within seconds. Now it’s a ten-minute slog from the parking lot, past the Visitor Center, up a trail shared with snowmobiles, across the Gooseberry River on a walkway suspended below the Highway 61 bridge, and finally a steep climb up and around to the old trailhead building. Believe me, the slog is worth it. I always take the big counter-clockwise loop up into the open glades, and if I’m feeling adventurous, I’ll take the steep shot down to the river. And don’t forget the winding trail complex on the eastern side, what the park calls the Overlook trails.
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