Winter at Gooseberry Falls

“Can we go to Gooseberry? How about Gooseberry? Gooseberry? I think Gooseberry sounds good. Lets do Gooseberry!”

These are the things that came out of my 10 year old daughter’s, Sandy’s, mouth this morning when I asked where she’d like to go on our annual winter trip. I tried suggesting places we haven’t been to yet, but she was so adamant about Gooseberry. She even suggested it while her girl scout troop was planning their upcoming spring trip. She’s obsessed! I guess we’ll do Gooseberry… Again. No complaints here!

For sure this is a park that you can visit during any season for really any length of time. It is one of our family’s most frequented parks. We stop during summer on our way up to or on the way back from the BWCA. Winter here is absolutely stunning and worth a trip of it’s own. It is one of my all time favorite winter parks. I will share with you the wonders of this truly unique winter oasis.

Quick Review: 8/10 I know I said that this is one of our favorite parks, but I am still docking it 2 points. One point for the crowds and one point for lack of seclusion. Yes, this park has a lot to offer in the way of sights and beauty, but you’ll likely have company in many spaces in the park. Even when you choose to camp at this park, it’s quite crowded at the campground.

Crowds… or lack there of

I’ll let you in a little secret here; I don’t like crowds. Well, maybe that’s not a secret… Or uncommon. Do you enjoy weaving through packs of people when you’re “enjoying” nature? Me neither, that’s not enjoying it at all. Gooseberry is a VERY popular state park in Minnesota. But most folks don’t venture out into the cold winter months to do their exploring. This is where we winter lovers rejoice.

Numerous Hikes

Winter at Gooseberry means wide open groomed trails mostly to yourself. You can walk a reasonable distance without seeing another visitor once away from the main falls. Although most of the winter visitors are at the main falls area, there are fewer of them. Some trails are designated for skiing, snowmobiling, and skate skiing. This does not mean they forgot about those who just want to take a stroll in their boots.

There is a short trail that leads from the visitor center to the falls, this is paved and cleared. The ungroomed trails can be used with snowshoes or boots. Really we are just asked to respect the groomed trails for skiers, which is understandable. I explain further on the designated snowshoe/boot trails below. On our last winter trip to Gooseberry we brought our snowshoes along, but ended up leaving them in the car. The temperature was dropping and our daughter was already rather tired. We did manage to explore the main falls area and hike down to the shore of Lake Superior before the cold did her in for the day.

Amazing Views

Seeing the usually raging waterfalls now encrusted in crystalized ice and snow is enough to make my heart skip a beat. The winter struggle of nature is something that can stir instincts inside oneself and make you think and dig deeper. Don’t rush through this park, even in the cooler temperatures. It has so much to offer if you stop, look, and listen. When you’re about to reach the peak of a hill or are coming around a bend on a trail, approach slowly and pay attention, you don’t want to miss anything.

Photography

For wildlife photographers, this place is a real treat! Photography is not one of my talents, but man the number of opportunities available at this park are unlimited! Frozen shorelines, ice crusted falls, trickling streams emerging from their icy confinement, silent wildlife peering through the trees. So. Many. Shots.

The real beauty of Gooseberry in the winter for a photographer is the lack of crowds. Getting here early in the summer means fewer people, getting here early in the winter means no people. Snapping a shot of these falls without people cluttering up your photo can take a lot of patience and work during the summer months. It’s a whole lot easier in winter’s bitter chill and so worth it for those priceless frozen photos.

Visitor Center

After your chilly excursion, warm up by the fireplace in the spacious Gooseberry Visitor Center. There are restrooms, places to rest, snacks and items to purchase in the gift shop. These things may have changed since COVID. When we stopped last summer, the visitors center was open only for restroom use. Hopefully, the situation has relaxed a bit for snacks and souvenirs to become available again. Fingers crossed!

Dog Friendly Activity

Dogs may not be allowed in the Visitor Center but they are welcome in the park on leash. Xena loved being there with us. We do our best to take her along on the adventures when we can. I’m sure your pooch gets just as excited when they realize that they are going, too! We have a red backpack that I call the “Adventure Bag.” Anytime I grab that bag, Xena knows there is an adventure afoot.

**Tip** Please remember to clean up after your pets and keep them on leash so we can all continue to enjoy bringing our furry friends along for the journey.

Variety of Activities

While I really enjoy snowshoeing and skiing, during our trips to Gooseberry we have only boot hiked. Why have I not experience every activity availible at this park? I don’t know, I feel like I’m really missing out! Pick your favorite adventure, grab your gear and get going!

Snowshoeing: Snowshoeing at Gooseberry is welcome on ungroomed trails and off trail. The Fifth Falls Trail, the Gitchi Gummi Trail, and the trail to the shore of Lake Superior are all available for snowshoe enthusiasts; these are ungroomed trails. If you did not bring snowshoes, you can boot hike these trails as well.

**Tip** If you are exploring the area around the upper, middle, and lower falls, I recommend that you take your snowshoes off. There are areas of ice, pavement and stairs. The teeth of your snowshoes will surely be bent in your attempt to snowshoe on these areas.

Skiing: Cross country skiing trails are groomed and consist of 12 miles ranging between easy and moderate. There is also about a mile of skate-ski trail.

Snowmobiling: With the 20 miles of trails at Gooseberry, just 2 of them are available for snowmobiling. This trail connects to the North Shore State Trail. But if you are snowmobiling in, it’s worth the stop and walk to the falls. The winter falls is such an amazing sight to take in.

Fat Tire Bikes: These are not allowed on Gooseberry trails. It is, however, allowed at Split Rock just up the road. If you are into this sport, it might be worth the extra few minutes drive to Split Rock.

Trail Maps: There is a very clear map indicating where certain activities are allowed. You can pick them up at the visitors center or you can print one ahead of time from the DNR website. I like to have a game plan prior to arriving, it saves time and energy when you arrive at the park for your adventures. And having little ones along mean you have only a certain amount of time before they are done. For more on adventure with little ones read my 8 Tips for Day Hike Success with Little Adventurers post.

Other Parks

We have about a three and a half hour drive for us to get to Gooseberry from our central Minnesota home. With such a drive to one of our favorite destinations, we like to make it worth the trip. One of the great perks about Gooseberry is that there are so many other parks in the area. This is especially nice if you enjoy winter sports that are not allowed or are limited in Gooseberry, such as fat tire biking and snowmobiling. Some close parks include:

  • Split Rock Lighthouse
  • Tettegouche
  • Temperance River
  • George Crosby Manitou

Lodging

Camping: Camping is available year round at Gooseberry but there are fewer options during the winter months. Only 3 sites remain open for the winter that are walk/ski in. The campground roads are not plowed. The showers and some flushable toilets close for the season. There are still vault toilets available in multiple locations.

Alternative Lodging: If winter camping does not interest you, there are plenty of cabins, hotels, motels, and bed & breakfasts in the Two Harbors area. When we make a winter trip to the North Shore, our go-to place to stay is the Inn on Gitchi Gummi. It’s right on the Scenic Route 61, north of Duluth. You’ll still have a 30 minute trek in the morning to get to Gooseberry but it’s worth that little bit for the fantastic service and hearty homemade breakfast.

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