Middle Falls Loop

Grand Portage State Park, Minnesota

Trip Date: Monday, July 3rd, 2017
Last Updated: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★★★☆(4/5)
Overall Difficulty Moderate
Navigation Difficulty     Easy
Distance 4.5 miles roundtrip
Time 3 hours
Terrain Hilly
Best Seasons Spring, Summer, Fall
Family Friendly No
Dog Friendly Yes
Accessible No

Highlights

Hike Walkthrough

First piece of advice: do this hike before visiting the High Falls or you will be severely disappointed. This hike's difficulty took me by surprise, and finally reaching the waterfall felt sweet knowing that I had earned it. However, if I had visited the High Falls first, I doubt I would have felt the same way.

This is not a family friendly hike; several people that I passed in the beginning did not make it all the way to the falls. Dogs are allowed on leash. This trail can be terribly muddy and overgrown, so be prepared by wearing pants and leaving an extra pair of shoes in the car.

The hike starts by following the paved High Falls trail for half a mile. There will be a trail junction, with a pit toilet and the unpaved Middle Falls Trail continuing on your left. A sign at the start of the trail cautions hikers about the distance and difficulty of this trail (I initially shrugged this off as a warning aimed at the average unprepared patron hoping for another easy trail to a waterfall). I soon found out I had underestimated the trail and was in for a real adventure!

It had been raining excessively on the North Shore in the past week, so the trails were thoroughly drenched -- picture puddles of the gooiest muck, globs dripping off your shoes. Some areas even had an inch of standing water (see image below). At first, I attempted to avoid puddles and walking in deep mud to save my shoes and feet, but soon realized this was futile. If you don't care about how your shoes look and have another pair of shoes in the car, I recommend you forget trying to avoid the mud and walk through everything carefree.

That's not a muddy creek, that's the trail

That's not a muddy creek, that's the trail
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After a grimy, but relatively flat and easy walk through the forest, the trail started to steeply ascend a hill. This took me by surprise, since I was really expecting a trail that simply followed the river to the next waterfall. Then, lo and behold, you will see a sign pointing to a spur trail to an overlook with views of Lake Superior -- I bet you weren't expecting that on this hike.
View of Lake Superior from the overlook

View of Lake Superior from the overlook
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Once you return to the trail and start a steep descent, I bet you'll think you're done with hill climbing. Nope. You have another set of up and down, and it will be steep, slippery, and muddy. Take your time here unless you want to learn that mudslides are not just a chocolatey dessert. Eventually the trail will flatten out and there will be a few sections of boardwalks (at which I wondered if they could carry that wood this far into the forest, why didn't they do that for the rest of the swamp they call a trail?). The trail was especially overgrown near the end, with a distinct path so thin that it would be impossible to avoid touching the plants. Push through, and soon you will reap your reward of the falls!

At the falls, there is a nice bench with a view where you can rest and have lunch or a snack. Then the trail continues and you can stand by the top of the falls. At this point, the trail continues in a loop and meets back with the main trail -- when I did this hike, I didn't have a map and didn't realize it was a loop, and took the longer way by retracing my steps (don't be like me).

Upon finishing, check out the High Falls (and don't mind the hordes of tourists staring at you looking and smelling like a swamp monster). What an adventure! Walking uphill both ways through the mud and thickets of undergrowth while being eaten by bugs, just like grandpa on his way to school back in the day.

Directions

From Duluth, Minnesota take Minnesota Highway 61 north towards the Canadian Border. Look for the sign for Grand Portage State Park just before the border crossing, then turn left into the parking lot.

Google Maps Directions

Parking, Fees, and Facilities

Unlike other Minnesota State Parks, there is no vehicle fee! This park functions as a highway rest area, so there is a picnic area, travel information center, and flush toilets near the large, paved lot.

External Links

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