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Happy Trails: Caribou Falls Trails is an easy-access stunner

There's a secluded waterfall at the end. 'Nuff said.

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The Caribou Falls Trail near Silver Bay is an accessible mile-long, out-and-back hike that traces the Caribou River, overlooks a gorge and brings you straight to this waterfall. On July 12, 2021, hikers, canines and swimmers of all ages made the trip to his spot that's an hour and a half outside Duluth. (Melinda Lavine / mlavine@duluthnews.com)
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Before settling in the Northland, I heard about the waterfalls — plural.

And, at the time, the prospect of seeing one up close felt nearer fantasy than reality.

Since then, of course, I’ve been to Gooseberry, but I hadn’t seen or heard of Caribou Falls.

On Monday, I drove an hour and some change up the shore, just past Little Marais and parked in the Caribou Falls State Wayside lot at 7232 Minnesota Highway 61.

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A couple makes their way through the Caribou Falls Trail in Silver Bay on July 12, 2021. Here you'll find a wooded, easy-access hike to a waterfall with views of a gorge, Lake Superior and more. Park at Caribou Falls State Wayside lot at 7232 Minnesota Highway 61, just past Little Marais. (Melinda Lavine / mlavine@duluthnews.com)

There, I ran into the Fonseca family from Andover, Minnesota, fresh off of Sugar Loaf Bluff and in for a second jaunt. “The family that hikes together,” amiright?

Justin Fonseca, a University of Minnesota Duluth student, said he heard the Caribou Falls Trail is “a hidden gem.” Not too busy and well worth the short hike.

Joanne, Todd, Ryan and Justin Fonseca all spoke of how hiking appeals to the senses: the blues and greens of nature, the sound of rushing water, the views of cliffs and mountains.

“It’s pretty flat where we’re from, so it’s nice to come here, hike upward and see Lake Superior sprawl around you,” Justin added.

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(Gary Meader / gmeader@duluthnews.com)

As for the Thompson family, this trail is old hat. They visit Lutsen together every year, and most of them had been on this trail before.

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“It’s relaxing; it’s beautiful. You get a little water massage when you swim out,” Dylan Thompson said of the falls.

His tip: “Expect to swim.”

Noted.

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A butterfly lands on a leaf along the Caribou Falls Trail in Silver Bay on Monday, July 12, 2021. During a hike that day, several butterflies of different colors flew along the path. (Melinda Lavine / mlavine@duluthnews.com)

I hit the trail solo, noticing the humming Caribou River on my left and a far-off pulsing from the falls. I spotted leashed doggies, wet-haired kiddos and their keepers; some coupled hikers; and a group of middle-aged men walking single file.

It’s a narrower trail with several off-shoots to make way or check out the river or woods.

Pine, birch and spruce lined the track, and I crossed paths with more butterflies than I’ve seen all summer. It was a hot one, and I was thankful for my borrowed brimmed hat and the many wooded spots to snag some shade.

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It’s a out-and-back trail to the falls that runs a half-mile one way, and it’s well-maintained. I saw zero litter but plenty of signs to pick up after yourself.

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A steep wooden stairway leads you off the Caribou Falls Trail to a secluded waterfall on July 12, 2021. There are plenty of landings where you can rest if you need it. (Melinda Lavine / mlavine@duluthnews.com)

Soon, I descended a steep wooden stairway as the waterfall roared ahead, spilling a steady stream from high peaks.

The majesty and wonder of the falls was overwhelming. My mouth agape and my knees weak, I walked down, down the stairs slowly, grasping both handrails.

Compared to Gooseberry Falls, this space is secluded and a little more accessible for wannabe lone swimmers. The seclusion felt sacred and welcomed.

After some time losing time to the sound of the falls, I got my cardio in on the way up, where there are plenty of landings where you can rest if you need it.

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A "Hazardous. Keep children in hand" sign acts as a warning for parents and solo adult hikers near a cliff along the Caribou Falls Trail in Silver Bay on Monday, July 12, 2021. (Melinda Lavine / mlavine@duluthnews.com)

Not ready to turn back, I ventured up the trail to find some steeper, less rocky terrain. I reached a platform overlooking the Caribou River gorge and Lake Superior, and I further realized my, let’s say, respect for heights.

There’s access to the Superior Hiking Trail, but I only went as far as a little clearing with benches made of fallen logs and a dug-out fire pit.

I imagined circling there with loved ones, noticed the change of terrain around me, before eventually heading back.

I zig-zagged down the steep hill, taking my time to stay upright. Back on flatter land, I came up behind an older couple, each with walking sticks in hand, and I made one more mental note for next time.

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A sign greets visitors to the Caribou Falls Trail on the State Wayside lot at 7232 Minnesota Highway 61 on Monday, July 12, 2021. (Melinda Lavine / mlavine@duluthnews.com)

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Tree roots and deep-set stones pepper the Caribou Falls Trail in Silver Bay on Monday, July 12, 2021 . Hike past the wooden stairs to the waterfall to smoother land on a steep incline. (Melinda Lavine / mlavine@duluthnews.com)

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A hiker ahead of his party rounds a corner on the Caribou Falls Trail near Silver Bay on Monday, July 12, 2021. Spruce, birch and pine line the trail that has an entry point to the Superior Hiking Trail. It’s a narrower trail in many spots, with several off-shoots to make way or check out the river or woods. (Melinda Lavine / mlavine@duluthnews.com)

At 6 p.m. July 22, 2021, an incorrect map of the Caribou Falls Trail was removed.

Have a favorite trail you want us to check out? Drop us an email at outdoors@duluthnews.com with the subject line “Happy Trails.”

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Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

Melinda Lavine is an award-winning, multidisciplinary journalist with 16 years professional experience. She joined the Duluth News Tribune in 2014, and today, she writes about the heartbeat of our community: the people.

Melinda grew up in central North Dakota, a first-generation American and the daughter of a military dad.

She earned bachelors degrees in English and Communications from the University of North Dakota in 2006, and started her career at the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald that summer. She helped launch the Herald's features section, as the editor, before moving north to do the same at the DNT.

Contact her: 218-723-5346, mlavine@duluthnews.com.
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