State Parks in the Minnesota summer buzz with activity from visitors seeking natural wonders. The magic of these parks doesn’t stop with the snowfall. The snow gives way to a new adventure and a quiet park to be explored. With crowds dispersed for the season, Jay Cooke can be appreciated more fully for it’s wintery beauty.
Quick Review: 9/10 Jay Cooke is not lacking in whimsical winter views. Well packed trails and clear signage is obvious evidence of the hard work the park rangers put in at Jay Cooke.
The majority of the parks trails kick off at the parks main draw, the swinging bridge. The bridge allows winter travelers to cross the aggressive St. Louis river that roars beneath the ice below. The incomplete ice gives glimpses of the strong current of root beer colored waters that flow to Lake Superior.
Snow Covered Falls
During the spring and summer the flow over the rocks is thunderous and intimidating. Some points of the year, depending on rain fall and time of year, the waterflow slows. In the winter months the ice takes hold on much of the falls, leaving sparse sections of water to be seen through the snow and ice. Snow accumulates over the icy rocks giving a calmer atmosphere around the river. Take time to appreciate the calm that winter brings.
The trails at Jay Cooke are well maintained and well marked. I was thoroughly impressed with how well the park rangers here keep up with trail maintenance. Not only are the trails marked for direction but also for usage type. No mistaking which method of travel is to be used on a given trail at this park.
Snowshoe/Hike: While Jay Cooke has no lack of trails in it’s territory, there is but four trails designated for hiking and snowshoeing. The trails still cover a vast nine miles of winter hiking. Two trails embark from the visitor’s center leading either around the campground or across the swinging bridge, then west along the St. Louis River. The other two trails require a drive to another parking area, one of which connects to the Superior Hiking trail.
**If hiking with small children, the paths are not suitable for strollers and can be too narrow or steep for many carriers. We needed to carry our 3 year old over some of the rougher areas, not a hinderance though.
Ski: This State Park is a cross country skier’s paradise. There are a total of 32 miles of ski trails in the park with a variety of levels. Closer to the visitors center there are easier trails. As one ventures farther away, the trails become increasingly difficult.
Fat-tire Biking: This is one of the few parks that allow for fat-tire biking. There are about 5 miles of trails designated for bikes, a section of which is shared with skiers.
Jay Cooke can accommodate a variety of different camping styles, everything from backpack “roughing it” to rustic cabins. During the winter, the camper cabins remain available for reservations as well as 12 campsites in the campground. The 12 sites and the cabin areas are plowed for the season. The showers and bathrooms are closed but there is one frost proof spigot for water and a vault style toilet nearby.
We stayed in one of the five available cabins during our stay at Jay Cooke. I highly recommend an overnight adventure in one of these cozy cabins. During the winter, the campground feels much more secluded and void of crowds. Our weekend getaway at the Jay Cooke Camper Cabins was a wonderful winter experience for us and our kids.
River Inn Visitors Center
The River Inn Visitor’s Center doubles as a nature center and warming house. From outside, the smoke coming from the chimney is quite inviting after a day of snowshoeing or skiing. Get toasty warm by the fireplace in the main area of the building or check out the informative nature displays. There are even some sensory displays for the kids.
Park Office & Store
Park passes and camp check-in can be obtained at the Park Office at the entrance of the park. Available inside is a variety of souvenirs, snacks, maps, camp items, firewood and starters. It’s worth a visit, especially if you’ve forgotten a piece of essential camping gear.
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