Lookout Mountain – Best North Shore Hikes
Lookout Mountain is one of the Best Hikes on the North Shore
Lookout Mountain at Cascade River State Park. The adventure begins at the mouth of the Cascade River. This is a popular North Shore hiking trail because of its convenience, relative ease, and amazing waterfalls. From here you can access the Superior Hiking Trail, a variety of spur trails, cross-country ski trails, snowmobile trails, and more.
How to Get There
Park at the wayside rest on HWY61 through Cascade River State Park. One of the North Shore’s eight State Parks, this one is located about 10 miles west of Grand Marais, Minnesota. From the parking lot across from Lake Superior, take the main trail uphill and parallel to the river.
Lower, Middle, and Upper Falls
Within the first ¼ mile, you’ll hike by the lower, middle, and upper falls of the Cascade River. There’s also a series of cascades and scenic overlooks of the river gorge. Two bridges across the river make a couple nice loops up and down each side of the gorge. My favorite spot is a place where you can climb through the spruce trees to explore the edge of the river. Dare to stand right where the water drops into a deep gorge. It’s amazing to be so close!
Lookout Mountain Spur Trail
You can hike along the Cascade River for miles, but today we are hiking to Lookout Mountain, within Cascade River State Park. From the upper falls overlook, there is a spur trail labeled Lookout Mountain to the Superior Hiking Trail. As we traversed uphill and away from the spruce forest at the river’s edge, the water stayed within earshot. It wasn’t until we reached the Superior Hiking Trail that we broke away in a west, northwest direction, and deeper into upland fur and fern country.
Bridge over Cascade Cree
It wasn’t long before the spruce and cedar trees started showing up again, which is a sure sign of water. Meanwhile, my hiking partner was my tween-aged son, who predictably wasn’t as excited about the hike as I was. Everything is “stupid”…right? (He was mad because he wasn’t playing Fortnite, lol.)
As we approach Cascade Creek I can’t help but say, “Oooh, I love a good creek!” “This creek is stooooopid!,” echoed the boy. I really wanted to take off my shoes and (hit him with them) wade into the creek, but we had to press on.
The footbridge crossing over Cascade Creek is just as lovely as the creek itself.
Hiking up the Switchback
From here, we inevitably continue uphill to reach our prize: the view from Lookout Mountain. The incline is kind of long with switchbacks to ease the strain. But it’s not too bad overall, especially (if you’re out of shape like me) with a little break here and there
On the hill, we stopped at an intersection with a map that told us we were getting there. Look in front of you and see the hill continuing to go up. Look behind you for a view of Lake Superior through the birch and aspen trees of this hill country. Now I know we’re getting close!
Since the temperature was soaring into the low 70’s…
… I was sweating profusely for the first time since I can remember. I looked forward to getting to the lookout and taking off my clothes to cool off, but then I remembered I was with my son and that would be weird. We were almost there…
The View from the Summit of Lookout Mountain
The scene at the top of Lookout Mountain is amazing! There are two small benches that look out over the phenomenal view. Look to the right and see Lake Superior’s shining blue for as far as you can see. Look to the left and see the rolling hills of the Superior National Forest. Wow!
As if nature planned it this way, there is a huge flat rock at the edge of the cliff. It calls you to sit. How can you not? From here you get a deeper view of the scene in front of you, and you can look down at the treetops below.
Making friends along the way
At the lookout, we met John and Tracy from Fargo. They were sweating profusely too, and also out of shape (they said it). They got on the trail right out back of their cabin at Cascade Lodge (how convenient!). While talking to them and looking at maps we were deciding whether we should go down the trail they took to Cascade Lodge, or backtrack the way we came. We chose to backtrack. Spoiler alert: going down is faster than going up.
Hiking along Cascade Creek
Once we got to flatter territory I followed the boy down a trail labeled Cascade Lodge (not the same trail I mentioned above). This trail was a pleasant surprise because it traversed Cascade Creek. And you know I love a good creek! There is a small trail right beside the shallow rocky stream, but you could make your way down the water if you wanted to. I bet this creek rock-and-rolls during the spring thaw! (Mental note, come back in April/May).
The Secret Waterfall
Guess what comes up next? One of the reasons this is one of the best hikes on the North Shore. A secret waterfall! It’s in a perfect little cove surrounded by cedar trees and it’s so magical looking. Although I’m sure it’s not a secret since it’s just up the hill from Cascade Lodge. As I waded through some of the deeper holes (ankle deep) to get closer, I reached an island of rocks that gave me a good vantage point for some pics. This was my favorite part of the hike!
Finishing out the hike around Cascade River State Park
Crossing the Cascade Creek made us wade and carefully leap-frog onto the higher piles of rocks. Be careful because there is another short waterfall below you. Don’t cross if there is fast moving water! Now in the low(er) lands the trail took us along a small power line, wound us through a mixed forest, tall grasses, and returned us to the upper falls of Cascade River. This is where we originally took the Lookout Mountain trail up and away from the river.
Cascade River to Lookout Mountain was a satisfying hike with rewards of several waterfalls, a wonderful river, spectacular mountaintop vista, a lovely creek, and small footbridge. You will love this loop for a good 1.5 – 2-hour afternoon hike.
Tips for Hiking to Lookout Mountain
- Remember this trail is by Lake Superior at Cascade River State Park (Minnesota). There are usually temperature and condition variations according to how far you are from the lake. In the spring and fall it could be raining at the beginning of the trail which is by Lake Superior, but snowing up the hill. In the summer it can be nice and cool (or cold) by the lake, but it gets hotter up the hill. Plan accordingly with layers and water.
- This is about a 2-hour hike.
- Cascade River State Park has an extensive trail system which intersects with outside trail systems such as the Superior Hiking Trail and the Bally Creek trail system. Download a map here.
- Nearby Cascade Lodge has a lakeside restaurant and pub which is a great place to celebrate after this semi-challenging, super cool hike!