A Mini-Minnesota Vacation: Cascade River State Park

The main falls on the Cascade River.

For mini-vacation #2, Russ and I meandered with our thirteen-foot Scamp trailer to Cascade River State Park on the North Shore of Lake Superior. (Interested in mini-vacation #1? Read about Lake Vermilion State Park.)

I must admit, one reason we chose Cascade River was because it had camping reservations available during the time we wanted. Another reason is that, despite innumerable trips along the North Shore, neither of us had spent any time there. It was a good excuse to see some new sights.

We decided to add a little glamour to this outing, just for fun. Before we left Duluth, we made dinner reservations at The Strand restaurant at Lutsen Resort, which is just a 15-minute drive from the campground, and for a wine tasting at the North Shore Winery, also at Lutsen.

Because it’s late in the camping season, the shower building wasn’t open at the campground, so we decided to go the restaurant our first night (of two). We weren’t sure how presentable we’d look later!

Before I go into the long description of our stay, I’ll offer some Cascade River Campground pros and cons for those of you in a hurry.

PROS

  • Although the campground is located near a highway, it was quiet at night.
  • A short hike takes you to the river’s scenic falls and to Lake Superior. Plus, there are many options for other hikes.
  • Near the many civilized attractions of the North Shore at Lutsen and Grand Marais.
  • We saw a bear!

CONS

  • The sites offer little privacy. The lack of vegetation between them made us feel like we were living in an outdoor fishbowl sometimes.
  • You can hear the highway during the day.
  • The squirrels and chipmunks are habituated to people – watch your food!
  • We saw a bear, which made going to the outhouse in the middle of the night a sketchy affair.

You can’t check into your site until 4 p.m., so we only had enough time to plug in our camper and take a quick hike along the river and shore before we needed to leave for dinner at Lutsen. The waterfall cascades that the park is named for are just a short walk directly from the campground, and Lake Superior is not far downstream, so we were able to see a lot in just an hour. We had time to plunk ourselves down on a rock along Lake Superior and shake off the worries of the city.

Soon, it was time to hike back to our site and drive to Lutsen. This is the first restaurant we’ve eaten inside since COVID. We felt that by now, most restaurants should have their safety act together regarding the virus, especially a place like Lutsen, which sees a lot of tourists. We decided the food was worth whatever slight risk it might entail.

The image from our table at The Strand Restaurant.

I’m not sure how we managed, but we scored a table right by a window overlooking the lake. While we ate, we watched the sun set in muted pinks and purples – a perfect accompaniment to our food. For starters, Russ had the North Shore salad, which features blueberries, candied pecans, and a blueberry vinaigrette dressing. I had a cup of the Red Lake wild rice chowder.

My tastebuds were in heaven! I’ve eaten many chowders in my day, but this ranks among the top. I could tell it was made with real cream, hand-harvested wild rice that was fluffy and tender, and care. The flavors were perfectly balanced, and the soup wasn’t too salty.  I would have just been happy with the soup, but there was more!

For entrees, Russ ordered the night’s special, which was a rack of lamb. I ordered the sea scallops. Russ was very happy with his, and I was, too. My scallops were seared to perfection and accompanied by an asparagus puree and root vegetables. As I dined on the parsnips, I was transported back to my childhood when I used to help my father harvest parsnips from our backyard garden. And then a bite of scallop zinged me over to the seaside, but I didn’t mind!

We decided to go for the gusto and ordered dessert. Russ had the apple pie ala mode. I had the flourless orange chocolate cake. Once again, a win, although my cake was not shaped like any piece of cake I’ve ever seen before. It was rather like a tall blob. But it was a good blob. I ate it all. Well, Russ had to help with the last few bites because I was stuffed.

On our sated drive back to the campground, our headlights shined on a black bear crossing the road near the entrance. We had already noticed signs everywhere in the campground about bears, and this proved them right. Thankfully, the bear was headed away from the campground.

Despite being near the highway, the campground was quiet at night. It was also cold. Both nights were near freezing and we were glad we brought extra blankets.

The next day we hiked to Lookout Mountain, which was about a 2.6-mile round trip. The cold nights hastened the fall colors, which were especially spectacular to see from the mountain overlook. We also took in more waterfalls along the river.

Then it was time for Thursday-night date night at the North Shore winery. From 6-8 pm you can listen to music and try flights of their red or white wines and hard ciders. It surprised us that the event was all outdoors. That’s not mentioned anywhere on their website or when you call them for a reservation. It was a bit nippy spending a couple of hours outdoors on a September evening, but thankfully, we happened to be dressed for the occasion.

I tasted a white flight and Russ a red. None of the whites did much for me, but Russ liked some of the reds, enough to buy a bottle of their oak-aged petite syrah for home. The winery also offered munchies with the wine, like salami bites, cheese, and truffles. I was impressed by the flight of truffles from the Gunflint Mercantile in Grand Marais. The flight consisted of blueberry, espresso, triple chocolate, maple, and dark chocolate raspberry.

The maple was my fave – creamy and not overpoweringly sweet. I liked it enough to order a dozen once we returned home. I was especially delighted when they eventually arrived to discover they were about twice as large as the ones we had at the winery. So good!

The white flight of wines from North Shore Winery, plus a flight of truffles.

On our final day we had plans to bike on the Gitchi-Gami State Trail but were thwarted by the cold. On a whim, we decided to visit another place we never have had the opportunity to explore before: Temperance River State Park. But I will save that for another post.

9 thoughts on “A Mini-Minnesota Vacation: Cascade River State Park

  1. What a beautiful place for a getaway! I like that you combined a little glamor along with the camping and bears. Your post was a great travel piece with reviews of the camp ground, restaurant and winery. Five stars for your post!

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