Rushing Rapids Parkway Scenic Byway Phototour

October 11, 2016 at 12:50 pm | Posted in Highway Phototours | Leave a comment
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Located just south of Duluth, the Rushing Rapids Parkway is an ideal trip from the Twin Cities. It’s close enough that you can get there and back in a day easy, and there are plenty of services around, making it  logistically a lot simpler than exploring some of the more remote byways. And unlike the ho-hum scenery on some of the closer byways, it’s scenic enough to merit a trip.


The Signs

The markers along the byway are typical of the newer designs for Minnesota’s scenic byway markers: A colorful, stylistic representation of a major feature or typical scenery found along the road. In this case it is a depiction of the river, colored brown because of the acids from the trees, and the swinging bridge crossing the gorge. The sign itself is made from a very glossy material; to photograph it  I had to use a polarizing filter to eliminate reflections from nearby trees.

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Town of Carlton

The Byway begins in the town of Carlton. In the early days of motoring the town was an important crossroads; where the roads from Moorhead and Minneapolis converged on the way to Duluth and the North Shore. After the dawn of the interstates, the town endured some hard times before the growth of tourism to the nearby park and whitewater raft tours. Although the buildings and the watertower in this picture could be straight out of the fifties, note that the streets have recently been rebuilt.

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The Dam

As long as there’s been human habition, there’s been attempts to harness, and in some cases exploit the natural resources. In the early years, the St. Louis River Water Power Company built this dam to generate electricity. Ironically this was the factor that led to the preservation of much of the surrounding area. The company bought up most of the surrounding land, and then donated it to state in 1915 for a park. The park was named Jay Cooke after the easterner involved in financing the dam and an adjacent railroad, and who suggested the donation.


St Louis River Bridge

Where the byway crosses the river there is this old iron bridge, no doubt original to the road. There is a pedestrian walkway right underneath the bridge, giving roadgeeks a chance to see the substructure of a bridge close-up, as well as exploring the surrounding beautiful scenery. The road was built in the 1920s to provide access to the park, and despite it’s trunk highway status was always more of a parkway as opposed to a major thoroughfare; highway 61 a few miles to the north handling that role.

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Rushing Rapids

There aren’t that many locations where you can see the rapids from the parkway, due to the trees and the difference in elevation. Notice the water through the trees on the right. The road is narrow and curvy with no shoulders, but there are periodic wide gravel spots as you can see on the left., obviously meant for brief stops or turning around.

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Jay Cooke State Park

The main visitor’s area of Jay Cooke State Park is of course an essential stop when touring the byway. The St. Louis River bisects the park. Most of the visitor facilites are on the north side, while the south side is wild and undeveloped. Connecting the two sides is the suspension bridge, depicted on the signs.

The original bridge was built in the 1920s, then replaced in the 1930s when the CCC was stationed in the park. In the early 1950s a flood destroyed everything but the towers. The bridge was soon rebuilt, and later concrete caps were added to stabilize the towers. When walking across, see if you can resist the temptation to stomp on it and make the bridge bounce up and down. Most people can’t…

Most people just get out of their car, walk across the bridge, and maybe take a few pictures of the rapids. For those that want to see more of the park, there is the Grand Portage trail followed by early explorers portaging around the rapids, some backpacking campsites, a pioneer cemetary, and a portion of the Munger Trail- a paved bicycle trail that will eventually connect Duluth to the Twin Cities.

2016 Update: In 2012 the swing bridge was destroyed by floods once again. It reopened in 2013, restored to it’s original appearance without the concrete caps on the piers and with cedar hand rails. The road to the east was also destroyed and is still being rebuilt.


Autumn in the North

Although I had hoped to take this trip during the peak of the fall color season, I was off by a few weeks as you can see. Besides the maples and sumac, not much else has turned. Still, seeing a few color highlites in a sea of green had a charm of it’s own.

The character of autumn varies greatly in different parts of Minnesota. In the southern  parts you get a literal kalaidasope of colors, with crimsom maples, fiery sumac, and all sorts of yellows and browns. In the north it’s mostly the yellows of the birch and underbrush combined with the green backdrop of the evergreens. Although this area is geologically part of the north, it is just barely, so you see a few maples and other southern trees here and there.

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Byways End

The byway and MN 210 come to an end at this unusual intersection with MN23. Three scenic byways converge here; MN 23 is the Veterans Evergreen Memorial Drive, and Skyline Parkway begins just a few miles ahead.

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