Gooseberry Falls in Winter

Gooseberry Falls in winter is another world. With the waterfall mostly frozen and few tourists afoot, you can see the land as it must have looked to the first inhabitants.

I visited Gooseberry Falls on a Tuesday in February. I didn’t check the weather, but it must have been close to zero and was definitely windy. There were only about 15 cars on Gooseberry Falls’ parking lot. Most of these appeared to belong to cross-country skiers.

Walking the main trail to the visitor center was quick and easy on the cleared path.

I walked down the trail toward the lower falls. I only saw one couple on my way down. In the next hour and a half, I only saw another person one time and it was a group walking far away on an opposite ridge.

Though the path was decent, the stairs were treacherous, but doable if you are careful. Having forgotten my gloves, the railing was cold. You’ll notice I survived, which is proof that you too can enjoy the outdoors during a Minnesota winter.

Gooseberry's Lower Falls in Winter
Gooseberry’s Lower Falls in Winter

I reached the lower falls and stood on the ridge of rocks above the river valley. This was the first time I saw a sign warning not to walk on river ice. I noted you should not rely on a sign to let you know where the river was and wasn’t. The same goes for minefields.

The falls were a tall upright block of ice and snow. In one part a stream of water managed to cut through the cracks. I got a little closer to the falls. The ice reminded me of white frozen frosting. A pool of water formed at the bottom of the fall and cracked its way through the ice.

I went on and found a sign with an arrow pointing that read “lakeshore.” I headed that direction humming the old song “Lakeshore Drive.” The path followed the lowlands of the river for a while and then climbed. I started to wonder if I got on the wrong path to go to the lake until I saw a map.

The path up the ridge was steep but not difficult, and on the top, there was a bench. The land directly in front of me fell steeply toward the river level. The river looked like a white flat paved road curving away into the distance around a slight bump of brushes and powder snow below a tall wall of hard rock. The ridge I was on followed the river inland and curved with it. Far down, the ridge curved toward me. The visitor center stood above the valley. I texted someone a picture of the scene and moved on.

Ice covered cliffs at Gooseberry Falls
Ice covered cliffs at Gooseberry Falls

The river widened as it reached the lake level. An ice dam blocked the Lake Superior waves from traveling up the river valley. Across the river, the jagged rocky cliff turned and ran parallel with the lake.

Finally, I reached a bench by the lake.

I looked over the lake through the cool clear air and saw only a curved watery horizon.

Now, I was singing a song by the Who:

I’ll sing my song to the wide open spaces

I’ll sing my heart out to the infinite sea

The waves were big and splashed over ice-covered dome-like structures. To the right was an area where the waves suddenly hit a shallow rock shelf and spread out till they gently met the icy pebbly shore.

I realized I had to be someplace. Otherwise, I would have sat much longer.

I took a different path back to the car. I climbed the hill next to a cabin and soon found a road going past many more empty cabins. This was a much quicker way back. I walked along a mostly plowed road and did not see a single person or car. It was isolated and beautiful, a perfect portrait of the north shore in winter.