George Crosby Manitou State Park – The Ultimate Guide

View of Manitou River in Manitou State Park, MN

George H Crosby Manitou State Park is a remote north-country wilderness park located not far from Tettegouche State Park. It sits on the Superior Hiking Trail and offers a true remote-hiking and camping experience.

The park is most well known for the Manitou River Cascade, a beautiful waterfall that cuts through a volcanic canyon. It can range from a raging waterfall in the spring to a slow trickle in late summer when water levels are lower.

George H. Crosby Manitou State Park’s highlights include:

  • Backcountry Camping
  • Rugged Hiking
  • Trout Fishing
  • Scenic Views
  • Waterfalls
  • Wildlife
  • Old-growth Forests

The guide below will give you everything you need to enjoy the park, regardless of whether you have an hour to spend or a long weekend. 

George H Crosby Manitou State Park – Amenities

Family making camp at Manitou State Park when they forgot to bring their tent

Manitou State Park is one of the Minnesota State Parks with the least common amenities. The park does not have a traditional visitor center with open hours and requires that visitors pack out their own garbage.

There is no firewood for sale on site, so all firewood must be gathered from the surrounding wilderness. 

The park entrance is just a long, winding road that takes you first to the parking area and Superior Hiking Trail trailhead, and later to the picnic area at Benson Lake.

The park does not have running water or flush toilets. Vault toilets are available at the parking area and each campsite has a field latrine.

Drinking water must either be a) carried in b) filtered from Benson Lake or the Manitou River or c) pumped using the hand pump located just after the entrance kiosk. 

George H Crosby Manitou State Park – Getting There

Walking to the park entrance at Manitou State Park in Minnesota with snow on the ground

George Crosby Manitou State Park is located about four miles inland from the north shore of Lake Superior, as the crow flies.  

When coming from Duluth, take Highway 61 north until the intersection with Cook County Road 1 in Illgen City. Turn left on County Road 1 and continue for 6.2 miles until you get to Finland, Minnesota.

Turn right on Cramer Road and continue for another 7.6 miles. Cramer Road is a dirt road that parallels the north shore of Lake Superior. Finally, turn right onto Benson Lake Road, which is the only road in the park. 

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George H. Crosby Manitou State Park – Camping

Backcountry campsite at George Crosby Manitou State Park in northern Minnesota

George Crosby Manitou State Park offers some of the best backpack campsites on Minnesota’s North Shore.

There are 22 backpacking sites, with hikes ranging from 1/4 mile to 4 1/2 miles (each way). The park does not offer car-camping or cart-in sties. Camping is available year-round, however the main parking area is not plowed in the winter. 

Each campsite has a fire pit and a field latrine. The campsites are very similar to what you would see in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. These campsites do not come with a bear box

Camping is broken into two areas. The first is around Benson Lake. These sites have short 0.2-0.5 mile hikes from the parking lot. They are the most accessible sites in the park and as a result often the busiest. Site numbers are 18, 19, 20, 21, and 22.

The rest of the campsites like on sections of the Superior Hiking Trail and along the Manitou River. Hikes to sites 1, 2, 3,and 4 and 1.0 to 1.5 miles each way. They all sit on the banks of the Manitou River and offer easy access to many of the park’s most notable features, like the Manitou River waterfalls. 

The rest of the campsites are located further down the Manitou River, with much longer hikes!

Read More: 40 Amazing North Shore Campgrounds on Lake Superior

George H. Crosby Manitou State Park – Hiking

Hiking in the snow and over fallen trees on our way to camp at Manitou State Park in MN

Hiking is really Manitou State Park’s claim to fame. There are over 24 miles of trails that wind their way through the highlands of Lake Superior and along the Manitou River, including a couple of miles of the Superior Hiking Trail. The terrain is rugged, and the trails can be difficult. 

Popular Trails include:

  • Middle Trail – Leads from the parking area to Manitou River Cascades
  • Humpback Trail – Leads from the parking area to Manitou River Cascades  (can be combined with Middle Trail to make a loop)
  • Mishnah Trail – Leads to one of the best lookouts on the shores of Lake Superior
  • Benson Lake Trail – Circles Benson Lake and is the easiest trail in the park
  • Manitou River Trail – Follows the Manitou River. All campsites apart from those at Benson Lake are off of this trail

You can read more about hiking at George Crosby Manitou State Park in our guest post on North Shore Explorer MN’s blog.

Read More: 60+ Best Hiking Trails on Minnesota’s North Shore

George H Crosby Manitou State Park – Trout Fishing

The park is home to two unique trout fisheries.

The first is Benson Lake, which is stocked with splake by the DNR, is an excellent spot to learn to trout fish. From what we’ve heard, fall is the best time. Just make sure you have your trout stamp!

The Manitou River, and nearby Baptism River, are known to have small populations of brook trout. The fish are generally small, but can be a blast to catch on light tackle. Spring and early Fall are the best times, as trout need water temperatures below 70 degrees F. 

Read More: Minnesota Fishing Trips – Best MN Guides and Charters

George H Crosby Manitou State Park – Scenic Views

Scenic viewpoint at George Crosby Manitou State Park in MN.

Although the park is tucked into old-growth forests, there are a number of lookouts that provide stunning views of the shores of Lake Superior and the canyons of the Manitou River. The best is next to Campsite 6 on Misquah Trail. The lookout has a nice chair and stunning views towards Lake Superior.

There are three other overlooks at the park:

The first is on Middle Trail as you hike towards the waterfalls. It provides a nice view of the Manitou River as it winds through the northern hardwoods in the park.

The second is where the Middle Trail and Manitou River Trail intersect. It is next to the waterfalls and provides stunning views of the water cascading over the falls. 

The third is on Matt Willis Trail, which receives fewer visitors. It provides spectacular views of the area around Little Marais River

Read More: Why We Love Canoe-in Sites at Bear Head Lake State Park

George H. Crosby Manitou State Park – Waterfalls

Waterfalls at George H. Crosby Manitou State Park in Northern Minnesota

The cascades on the Manitou River are one of the park’s highlights.

The waterfalls consist of three separate stages through a narrow volcanic gorge. The falls require an approximately 2-mile hike, round trip, from the parking lot. We had the fortune of visiting them during early spring, when the snow melt was flowing through the north country.

There are a number of great waterfalls in the area, including Temperance River Gorge at Temperance River State Park, Gooseberry Falls at Gooseberry State Park, Illgen Falls, and Cross River Falls. 

Read More: 25 Beautiful Waterfalls in Duluth, Minnesota

George H. Crosby Manitou State Park – Wildlife

The Park sits in Minnesota’s Arrowhead region, not far from the southern edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It is likely you’ll come across animals such as the red squirrel, bald eagle, white-tailed deer and snowshoe hare. If you are lucky you may see a black bear, moose, or American Mink. 

In addition, all the common northern birds will be on display, so bring your binoculars!

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George H. Crosby Manitou State Park – Old-Growth Forest

The park consists of 166 acres of northern hardwoods and 196 acres of upland white cedar, the combination of which makes up an old-growth forest. There are also yellow birch trees as old as 400 years old, white cedars at 300 years old, and sugar maples at 200 years old. 

Much of northern Minnesota has been repeatedly logged over the past centuries. It is rare to see such a large tract of land that hasn’t been logged in the past 100 years. That alone is worth a visit!

Read More: 27 Best Places to Visit in Winter in Minnesota

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