Happy Trails: Waterfall hike hidden at North Shore rest area
The quiet, out-and-back Onion River Trail in Tofte offers solitude and stunning views.
TOFTE — State Highway 61 on the North Shore has so many hidden treasures. I found this one while riding my bike a couple years ago along the highway.
Northeast of Tofte, on your way to Lutsen, is the Ray Berglund State Wayside, named after a St. Paul businessman whose family foundation cared about conservation and often donated to the 54-acre site. Opened in 2014, it’s a basic rest area: a large paved parking lot and a building with vault toilets. Steep wooden stairs lead to a bluff, where three picnic tables overlook the highway and Lake Superior. This is where the Onion River Trail begins.
My husband, Derrick, and I returned to the trail Aug. 20. The quiet, 2.2-mile, out-and-back hike offers solitude and stunning views of Onion River Falls under a canopy of trees.
A chorus of very active grasshoppers greeted us at the start of the gravel trail, which winds through tall grasses, goldenrod, daisies and numerous varieties of colorful berries.
The trail soon turns into a narrow dirt path and follows the root beer-colored Onion River, a 6.1-mile stream that flows under Highway 61 into Lake Superior. The Onion River Falls , also known as Stair Step Falls, is where the shallow river cascades over boulders as it approaches the lake.
Roots, rocks and downed trees pose obstacles for hikers along much of the trail, so wear closed-toed footwear with good tread. We spotted several kinds of mushrooms growing in the mossy forest floor. The trail slightly increases in elevation until the end, where a wooden bridge crosses the river.
The hike to the bridge could easily be done in a half-hour, but give yourself more time to take in the many vistas, where you can peer over sharp bluffs at the rushing water. There are several very steep, rough paths that lead down to the river. There, relax on the boulders or hop to the middle of the river if the water is shallow enough. Some hikers even jumped into the deeper areas of the river that day to cool off.
Hikers on the AllTrails app reported the Onion River Trail is traversable in the winter, with or without snowshoes.
The Onion River Trail is a must-hike if you’re in the Tofte area or want a break while driving up the North Shore. Avoid the crowds of tourists, get some exercise and chill by the roaring river.