Bayfield County Staycation

IMG_1734If rocks could smell fear, I’d be in trouble. I was never one blessed with agility, balance or sense of adventure. Yet, I always seem to find myself at river intersections that involve rushing water, a series of unstable rocks unreasonably spaced out before me and at least one expensive piece of camera gear around my neck. And, I’m generally alone with my irrational thoughts contemplating how many ways a simple slip could send me plunging to my death. Today was no exception.

But, today also marked a sense of wonder I haven’t had in a while. Today was a time out. It was an opportunity to wander in the woods and get lost in my thoughts. To remember why I choose to live here. I put on my tourism pants, loaded up my camera gear, filled my traveling coffee mug to the brim and set out on a day-long adventure in northern Bayfield County. I had exactly 8.5 hours from daycare drop-off to pick-up for just me.

My first stop may or may not have involved some doughnut holes from B’s Busy Bakery in Iron River. Listening to the Growth Show and snacking on sugary sweets, I drove the windy and scenic county highway to Port Wing. It was a perfect summer day. Once in Port Wing, I did a quick leg stretcher at Twin Falls. In the past, I’ve generally stayed up top but today I opted for the lower falls trail. Recent rain had the river higher than normal for summer, but certainly not the powerful rage spring often brings. It also meant repeated river crossings, to my final resting spot of a gentle waterfall. It was a great warm-up to the day.

IMG_1735From there, I headed to Herbster beach to enjoy a few more sips of coffee and catch my first real glimpse of the lake. I never tire of seeing or listening to her music. The rippling of waves washing up along Lake Superior stones far surpasses any meditation tape. I leave, ready for a power walk thru the woods.

IMG_1737Next up is a 3-mile hike at Lost Creek Falls. Thanks to the Bayfield County Forestry department, the trail is much improved from my infamous first date with the hubby (you can read more about that here). In fact, it even has a trailhead with parking, signage and a pathway patched with gravel and crafty boardwalks. It is quite impressive. But, the trail is just a prequel to this out-of-the-way waterfall.

I have yet to meet someone on this trail. Of course, a river walk wouldn’t be complete with a series of rock crossings, but I’m feeling extra dangerous today. (It helps that the water is only 5-6 inches deep). This sense of adventure ends with me getting my feet wet but saving my d-slr. Success comes in many shapes and sizes.

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Someone has left an Inukshuk directly in front of the falls. This Inukshuk, which is a signal of one being on the right path, resonates with me today. While much of today is about having fun, one can’t help but contemplate life while immersed in nature. This symbol seems all to appropriate for the questions I’m trying to answer in my head.

Harbor House SweetsI glance at my watch. It is approaching lunch time and decisions must be made. I opt to skip lunch and instead, consume my weight (and then some) in calories at Harbor House Sweets. This is a somewhat new candy and sweet shop in Washburn. I plan for just a few small chocolates and some almond bark but out of the corner of my eye, I cannot help but notice the luscious chocolate cupcakes staring me down. I casually ask about them. As the words, infused with caramel come out of the owner’s mouth, I’m immediately sold. I know mood can affect one’s taste buds and perhaps that had something to do with this experience, but honestly, it was the best cupcake I’ve ever consumed. And, I have consumed quite a few cupcakes in my day. I would have shot an interior shot of this gem but I was driving. By the time I reached Houghton Falls outside of Washburn, the only thing left to photograph was an empty wrapper.

I haven’t been to Houghton Falls for a few years. I must admit, I was a bit taken aback by the intense signage in the parking lot. Lots of lines through things, warnings about surveillance cameras, and even an automatic gate that will lock you in the parking lot if you are there after 8 pm in the summer. If you happen to get stuck, plan on paying a fine. I’m sure all of this is being driven by a few nimrods who can’t respect public land and a community that wasn’t expecting usage of this trail to be quite so high, but still, I’m having a few moments of Gooseberry Falls PTSD and the time I had to take a bus into the park during fall peak season. Pretty sure there were more people in nature that day then in my entire town. That said, my car is the only one in the parking lot on this beautiful day.

Round trip, I’ll only clock about 1.6 miles on this trek. It is a short, yet interesting walk. The massive rock gorges, multiple waterfalls, and ultimate view of the rocky ridges of Lake Superior reminds me slightly of the North Shore, but without the crowds. It is peaceful here. Once at Lake Superior, I take a few moments to take in the views. A single bird floats birdpast me, basking in the sunlight.

I jump in my car and head north to Bayfield. It is the first time I’m seeing crowds of any sorts. Main Street is full so I park on a side street next to Silver Waves Jewelry. I pop in, hoping to purchase a bracelet I had seen at a holiday sale last December. It has already sold. My heart dips a little until I learn she’ll remake a similar one for me. A custom bracelet—seems like the perfect trinket to wear as a reminder of today.

roadclosedNext up, one last power walk above the well-known Sea Caves. My husband mentions a shortcut that may or may not involve parking illegally on a road named after his favorite home improvement store. Accurate directions including, just go to the end, are my guide. Turns out the town road is closed before I get to the end, but given my poor sense of direction, I figure I have to be closer to the caves than if I drive to the trail head. Turns out that my poor sense of direction is still strong. Pretty sure I clocked more miles on that town road than if I had just hiked the trail. But, before long I’m hearing the deep bass of frigid Lake Superior water pushing up against the sandstone caves before succumbing to the wall of stone and heading back out to sea. seacavesStanding above the caves, I can’t help but question when the caves might finally accept defeat and collapse under the power of this majestic beauty. Lucky for me, it isn’t today.

 

I hop back in the Subaru determined to make one final stop before the day is done. As I approach Cornucopia, I see the ship graveyard next to the green shed. I turn right into the parking lot and head into Halvorson Fisheries for some smoked fish. Within minutes, I’m leaving, armed with Lake Superior Trout for dinner, poor man’s lobster and the most beautiful piece of Brown Sugar Smoked Lake Superior Trout. I fill up my water bottle at the artesian well and plop on the sandy beach. I remove my shoes and run my feet through the white washed sand. Sitting hear alone on the beach, I can’t help but fill mom in on all that’s happened to me this past year. In this moment of quiet reflection, I know she’s listening.

IMG_1760Once done refueling on my savory and salt-infused snack, I make my way back to the car feeling more relaxed than I have in ages. I know some people have judges me for living a simpler life. They don’t understand why I’m not more aggressive in my professional life or pursuing life in the big city. The pressure to do more is always there. And I admit, I’m human. At times, I find myself equating my worth with job titles, mortgages and zip codes. But, today I’m reminded of all of the reasons I’ve chosen to live a simpler life. Simpler doesn’t mean less fulfilling, less meaningful, or less important. It isn’t for everyone. But, it certainly suits me. Any lingering doubts are quickly smacked down when I arrive home.

MothersonMy son grabs my hand and pulls me down the trail to throw sticks in our lake. Afterwards, we head up to collect eggs and grill supper. We top off the evening with a game of baseball, biking up and down country road and a single two-handed hug that makes me feel like the richest woman on the planet.

Some people travel the world to find what matters. For me, a simple day in the woods in a place I’m lucky enough to call home is enough.

The Wild Waterfalls of Iron County, Wisconsin – Part III

The tough ones.

I’m using tough in a generic sense. The falls I was able to find weren’t necessarily difficult to access or remote in terms of mileage on foot. However, they either involved fleets of steps, vague directions, or a lack of signage making it a bit of a hit or miss in terms of finding. That said, each of these falls is definitely worth visiting. Each ones presents an impressive view and in many cases an opportunity to enjoy the falls in complete solitude. Despite it being fall peak, these falls were not overly packed. In fact, with the exception of Potato River Falls, I was a lone hiker at each of these falls.

Potato River Falls
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This falls barely makes this list. The primary reason is the falls involves at least 150 steps to and from the parking. The waterfall is a 90-feet drop on Potato River near Gurney. The falls is located within a town park that has rustic picnic campsites. I also found the outhouse to be particularly photogenic among the golden leaves. Once in the park, you have two main options. The first is to head to a nearby observation deck where you can see the river valley. This does not provide great views of the falls, though. From there, you can take a footpath to the dramatic descent down. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne thing worth noting on this staircase, the step sizes vary dramatically depending on the steepness of the grade. In some areas I felt I could skip two steps each time while in other areas, a single step was the height of three. This is something to watch if you are use to uniform stair steps. In terms of finding the park, it is relatively easy. Take Highway 169 South from US 2 through Gurney. Turn west on Potato River Falls Road and drive approximately 1.5 miles. The park is clearly labeled.

Peterson Falls
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPeterson Falls was my first stop of the day. At first glance, I thought this waterfall would be simple to find. To be frank, it ended up being way more complicated than it needed to be due to false directions. Both the Iron County website and Travel Wisconsin provide directions that reference an Ero Nasi Construction sign. I’m not sure at what point in time this sign existed and/or if I’m blind but after multiple drives along Highway 2 outside of Hurley and never noticing this large construction sign, I finally veered off highway 2 in frustration at Stoffel’s Country Store. It was here I noticed a dirt road heading the approximate direction of the falls. At the intersection of 2 and this road, a white TODD sign indicating Peterson Falls. Once you find that road, you drive approximately .3 miles. Directions imply a small turnaround. Highlight the word small. I missed what is the turnaround and ended up driving on what I can only describe as an ATV trail. Keep in mind this is literally 1 mile from a major state highway. Regardless, it definitely felt remote. Once parked, the rest is easy.

A spacious footpath through a dense forest leads you directly to the East Branch Montreal River. From there you follow the path and river upstream to Peterson Falls. It is a 35-feet drop and takes about 5-minutes to walk to. From there, you can continue along the footpath for additional views of the river. I followed the path for approximately 25-minutes before turning back due to a mixture of rain sleet. In addition to a couple of waterfall snapshots, I also enjoyed the side pools of water filled with swirling fall leaves.

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Spring Camp Falls
Since several folks have written about this waterfall, I have to believe the falls does in fact exist. However, despite my best intentions to find this remote waterfall I certainly could not find it. It doesn’t help that the Travel Wisconsin website cuts off its directions mid-sentence. My secondary source from the County was more helpful but I was unable to find East Branch Road. Or, if I did, I didn’t know it was East Branch Road and the rustic path signs never came into my view. After more than an hour of driving up and down gravel roads in this approximate area I gave up. Next time, I may have to use a GPS.

Foster Falls
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the flip side, finding Foster Falls was a walk in the park compared to Spring Camp. The falls is somewhat remote in the sense that you are once again driving on unmarked roads. However, this waterfall has just one dirt road you travel down making it easier to navigate. Also, the road abrubtly ends when it intersects with the Potato River. From there, you just put your car in reverse until you see a dirt road on your right. You travel down this road right into a remote riverside campsite. Once parked, you can hop out and hear the falls. Follow your ears to Foster Falls. The 25-feet falls is the only thing you’ll hear in this country. Not much for traffic, homes, hikers, anglers. I was not only the lone sightseer on this fall Saturday afternoon but the only car on Sullivan Road. To get there, go north from Upson on Highway 122 for 5 miles. Turn left on Sullivan Road (this was not marked when I drove so be sure to use your mile gauge) and proceed 2 miles until the road abruptly runs into a raging river. When you get there, you’ll know you’ve gone far enough.

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Wren Falls
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOf all the waterfalls in Iron County that I visited, this was my favorite. I’m not sure why. Perhaps, it was the drive in. It was particularly picturesque. It was also the most adventuresome portion of my journey. My 10-hour journey took place immediately following a solid 12-hour rainfall. Many of the roads were muddy and at times had standing water that I was never quite sure about. Each time, though, my trusty Subaru plowed through… except this time. During my drive to Wren Falls, I hit a particularly muddy patch of road. Unfortunately, my car halted. I’m confident, with a little acceleration motivation, I would have continued along my journey. However, it was during this time that a lone truck drove around the bend. In it, a man determined to rescue the damsel in distress. As someone who has watched a few too many after school specials, not to mention my remote location, it caused me great angst. Once standing in the muddy waterhole knocking on my car window and gesturing he could help, I decided to accept his help. In addition to being quite nice, he was very effective in getting my Subaru back on dry land. The timing was odd given he was the first and last truck I saw in this portion of my journey, but sometimes that’s how life works. I continued along until I hit the hairpin turn where a center road would take me to the entrance of the trail to the falls.

To my surprise, when I hit this turn, a large sign summoned me to the falls. The only downside – it was a rusted out sheet of metal, filled with bullet holes and spray painted Wren. It didn’t exactly scream pristine waterfall but at least it verified the directions. Once parked, I hopped out my car and made my way to the falls. The falls, which is located on the Forks River, is 12-feet. While this may not sound large, the vantage point from where you can see the falls makes if feel much larger. While there isn’t much in terms of a footpath to walk along the river, the natural rock formations lend themselves to scrambling up and down over ridges providing a number of angles to look at the river. In every case, the view doesn’t disappoint. I ended up spending nearly an hour taking in the sites of this waterfall and wandering through the woods. For those wanting to spend even more time exploring, a primitive campsite positioned just a hop, skip and jump from the falls await. To get there, head 5.5 miles south on US 2 on Highway 169. Take a left turn on Vogues Road. Travel about 3.5 miles until a hairpin turn. From here, take the center road for about 1 mile where the road forks. You can hike up the hill to the primitive campsite and waterfalls from there. (I missed that part of the directions though, and drove which is also a possibility. In all honesty, it is very easy to mix up ATV trails and dirt roads in this country).

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The Wild Waterfalls of Iron County Wisconsin – Part II

The easy ones.

Iron County has no shortage of water. The county boasts 300 crystal clear lakes covering 34,000 acres. To the north, the county line is Lake Superior. This creates the perfect storm of waterfalls—some easier to access than others.

Upson Falls:
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUpson Falls is located within a well-maintained town park. The falls is a mere 18 feet drop along the Potato River but has picturesque river views that you can access via a rugged walking trail. In terms of amenities, there are a couple of shelters, grills, camping spots and a permanent out building with bathroom facilities. To access the park, take Highway 77 into Upson. Turn north at Upson Town Park. This particular waterfall is well signed.

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Gile Falls:
In full disclosure, I did not photograph or see this waterfall due to torrential rain. However, I did find the parking area and view the nearby Gile Flowage. Given its proximity to Upson Falls, I thought this was worth mentioning. This is a beautiful flowage with a modern park, boat launch and amenities. According to the Iron County website, the falls include a 15 foot drop on the West Branch of the Montreal River. To access, take Highway 77 into Montreal. Turn left of Kokogan and then right onto Gile Falls Street.

 

Superior Falls:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASuperior Falls hugs the Wisconsin/Michigan border. It is an impressive waterfall and at least during my viewing, a popular spot for anglers. The waterfall itself is a 90 foot drop of the Montreal River. It is the final drop the river makes before heading into Lake Superior. The falls is located next to an Xcel Energy dam. There is a dirt parking lot. The walk down to the falls is a bit steep and rather than stairs, it is a mix of cement, dirt and gravel along what I imagine service vehicles could drive down. There is a rope you can grab as a hand railing. Once at the bottom, go behind the Xcel dam along a trail and head upstream. Within minutes you’ll be at the falls. If you head the other direction, you can enjoy an expansive and untouched view of Lake Superior and its shoreline. There is not much in terms of picnic benches, rest areas, etc. To access the falls, take Highway 122 north off Highway 2 in the Saxon area. Travel approximately 4.7 miles and then turn left on a gravel road. This falls is marked with an Xcel sign.

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Kimball Falls
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’d be difficult to find an easier waterfall to access. Kimball Falls is located within a town park in Kimball, Wisconsin. The park has paved roads, gorgeous picnics areas, a small playground and restrooms. It is also next to the West Branch Montreal River. The Kimball Falls is small—a mere 10-feet drop. But, the park marks the perfect spot for an afternoon picnic. Little to no hiking is needed to enjoy this waterfall. And, it is just minutes off of Highway 2. To access the falls, turn south on Park Road just 3 miles outside of Hurley. The park is clearly marked. There is a small one land bridge that goes over the river. Those wishing to hike can follow the footpath upstream for additional scenic views of the river. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Read more about my adventure touring Iron County’s northern Waterfalls.

YOLO: The Wild Waterfalls of Northern Iron County, Wisconsin

This isn’t meant to be a political post. Over the course of the past year, news from Iron County has inundated my Facebook feed via a flurry of political, economic and environmental posts. The posts were often triggered by a proposed mine that may or may not ever happen. But buried within the posts were references to countless, unknown waterfalls that I hadn’t seen referenced on a regular basis in travel publications or local news stories.

Waterfalls mesmerize me. I’m naturally drawn to water and there is something cascading waterfalls that calms my soul. When my husband and I completed the Lake Superior Circle Tour, we stopped at every easily accessible waterfall on Lake Superior. We’ve done countless North Shore trips, day hikes and exploring in our neck of the woods to photograph just one more fall. By default, this included at least 2 waterfalls in Iron County. But, after some digging on the Iron County website and reading an article on the Travel Wisconsin website, I learned there were at least a dozen documented falls that were accessible to the public.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn a cool, crisp, and extra wet fall morning I decided to load up my trusty Subaru with my camera, snacks and a worn-out gazetteer to see just how many of these falls I could find. I had 10-hours and a full tank of gas. Given my time constraints and location (I live two counties away), I had to limit myself to northern Iron County. By my initial estimate, I thought I could photograph and explore seven waterfalls. My initial estimate was wrong. I didn’t factor in a torrential downpour, mismarked roads, flooded backroads, incomplete directions (thanks Travel Wisconsin), and at times a lack of common sense on my part.

By day’s end, I managed to discover and enjoy seven of the nine waterfalls and a gorgeous overlook where I enjoyed some serious windburn and a beautiful view of the Penokees. As usual, Mother Nature did not disappoint me. Many of these waterfalls were remote. Fall colors were at their peak with the rain and haze drawing out the vibrant golds and radiant reds against the grey sky. Swirling leaves, rapid waterfalls and solitude provided the perfect backdrop for the photographer in me to pause for a moment and reflect on what an incredible place I live.

The day held one flaw I saw repeated over and over again in the backroads of Iron County. A disconnect between man and nature. As someone who loves hidden gems, I understand the value of locals keeping some things private. I also get many of these backroads aren’t meant to be major thoroughfares for folks to travel. But, would a simple, occasional road name sign be so much to ask? Or better yet, could we limit the bullets to hunting animals (in-season of course) versus signs? As a lone, single women in God’s country, it is not very comforting to find the path to what you hope is a waterfall posted with a graffiti ridden bent metal sign filled with bullet holes. Last time I checked, this isn’t the wild, wild, west in the 1800s. It is disheartening to see remote, pristine campsites posted with a simple request of no cutting trees, next to a series of stumps. But I digress.

I end my day at Superior Waterfalls. Here the Montreal River makes a final 90-foot plummet before finding its way home to Lake Superior. It is an impressive way to end a day full of discoveries and a thunderous reminder that sometimes exploring in your own neck of the woods is as calming and invigorating as any far away place.

Over the course of the next days I’ll share directions and additional photos from this day but in the meantime, here are a few of my favorites: