Saturday, September 28, 2013

Houghton Falls + Lake Superior

This post is long overdue, although given the busy and stressful week I've had, I think I'm allowed some delayed trail reporting. Earlier this week on Monday, we took a scenic drive up to the shores of Lake Superior near the small town of  Cornucopia in Bayfield County. Along the way, we stopped at Houghton Falls State Natural Area just north of Washburn since my brother-in-law had recommended it as a scenic spot to check out. I love exploring these out-of-the-way, almost unknown spots that mostly just the locals know about.

Once we were on the north side of Washburn, I began watching for signs indicating a "state natural area" however there are no signs on Hwy 13 to lead you to this gem... just watch for Houghton Falls Road and turn east. About a 1/2 mile down the road is a small gravel parking area at the trail head. Make sure you stop somewhere in Washburn to use the restroom because there are no facilities at this trail.

The signpost at the start of the trail indicated that dogs were allowed - YAY! But there was also a small brown sign above the "dogs allowed" sign that I didn't notice until I reviewed my pictures once we were home. It reads, "CAUTION! MINIMALLY IMPROVED TRAIL, STEEP CLIFFS AND DROP OFFS. USE AT YOUR OWN RISK." I guess I was just so excited that dogs were allowed on the trail, I failed to see the warning sign. After being in the car for almost 4 hours, Charlie had a lot of pent-up energy and keeping her on a leash, on a dangerous trail with steep cliffs and drop offs with tantalizing water below was pure torture. If you have a super-mellow dog that just loves to trot along next to you, I can recommend bringing your dog on this trail, however if you have a dog similar to Charlie, you'll have a better time exploring without your dog along.

Nice, easy boardwalk trail.

Intermittent boardwalks and packed gravel start off the trail with easy terrain, but eventually give way to packed dirt with tree roots threatening to trip you and send you careening over the edge of the cliff. Just kidding. But seriously, watch your step.

More challenging tree-root and drop-off trail.
Charlie was yanking and pulling the whole way... the distant shore of Lake Superior calling her name. About halfway into the trail, we arrived at the sandstone gorge and Echo Dells. Even though it was a bright, sunny day, the woods were dark and the caves beneath the sandstone ledge were even darker. Charlie desperately wanted to get to the tiny stream running along the bottom of the gorge and nearly pulled me over the edge of the pine-needle-covered trail. 

I found myself concentrating very hard on keeping my dog reigned in and didn't have a chance to really absorb the scenery. Charlie was bored and ready to keep moving so we hit the trail again toward Lake Superior's shoreline where I hoped she would have a chance to go swimming and burn off some energy.

When we reached the falls, it was more like a trickle. I have a feeling this area would be far more spectacular in the spring when snow melt creates enough water flow for the falls.

Dry falls.

As we got nearer to Lake Superior, the drop off along the side of the trail got steeper and more treacherous and Charlie's exuberance at being able to smell the upcoming opportunity to go swimming began to worry me; I realized there would be no access to the water from this high up.

The view from the cliffs along the shore was beautiful! Sun sparkling on the blue-green water with small, white sailboats dotting the horizon. The water was so clear you could see rocks scattered in the sand beneath the water. Several people were taking in the view from the sandstone cliffs overlooking the lake and one group was even having a photography session for senior class portraits out there! With Charlie's excitability at the opportunity to meet new people combined with the height of the cliffs, I made the decision to stay farther back on the trail and enjoy the view from a safer vantage point. Much to Charlie's dismay.

After having hiked a mile to the shore without an opportunity to go swimming, Charlie was rather sullen, and at times even bratty, on the way back to the parking area. We quickly finished our scenic drive to a sandy beach near the marina in Cornucopia where we could take a leisurely stroll along the beach while Charlie fetched pieces of driftwood in the surf. I think it was well worth the wait!

She had the best time running crazy-circles in the sand, splashing in the waves and finding every fetchable piece of driftwood available. On this first full day of fall, it felt more like a summer day! Charlie was a tired and happy dog on the drive home, saturated with clean lake water and covered head to toe in sand. I'm constantly aware of how lucky I am to have this dog and I'm pretty sure she knows what a lucky dog she is too.