Meeting the Kings in their High Places

Elevated locations have always been strategically important. From the high ground, kings and princes could command the countryside.

The high country in and around Lutsen is important for other reasons. High slopes are essential for downhill skiing and they provide spectacular views over long distances. In the fall, being on ridges and overlooks allows for good views of nature’s kings of the air – the raptors. These magnificent birds of prey are heading south using the air above the north shore as a highway.

“Most places up and down the shore, we get a lot of bird migration,” said naturalist Kurt Mead at Tettegouche State Park. “So, the hawks and the eagles, raptors, and falcons, they are already [around September 9th] starting to pile up here. We are starting to see more of them perched along the roadways and such.”

Tettegouche State Park is about 35 minutes from Caribou Highlands and a great place to view migrating raptors. But, it is not the only place. Raptors must pass many other points along the way to places like Tettegouche and the most famous viewing location, Duluth’s Hawk Ridge.

The reason for this migration path along the lake is simple; these birds don’t like water. Well, at least they don’t want to fly over waters as wide as Lake Superior. The birds head south and run into the lake, like a big cold blue wall. Then, they keep heading south, but not due south anymore, until the lake ends at Duluth. Along the shore, they prefer the higher spots. There is also a simple reason for this.

These birds believe in working smart instead of just working hard. They are masters of aerodynamics and use nature’s currents to their advantage, preferring to glide and not flap when possible.

“They like these high cliffs and if the wind direction is the right way you get sort of a pillow of air reflected up and they can kind of coast on those,” said Kurt. “I’ve seen as many as 30 eagles fly past a spot at one time.”

In Tettegouche State Park, Kurt recommends two places that are particularly good for seeing our friends in high places.

“Mount Trudee and Mount Baldy are the high points,” said Kurt. “They both have interesting forests you walk through to get there. So, these are great fall leaf color walks to overlooks where you might see raptors. I would highly recommend both those spots.”

While Hawk Ridge is great, these places offer a different sort of bird experience. These are less crowded alternatives to Duluth’s famous viewing location, and are close by if you are staying at Caribou Highlands.

But you don’t have to go to these spots if you don’t want to. Any high point along the north shore will do, and some are close to the resort. You could take the Summit Express Gondola and see raptors on the way up or at the chalet at the top. But remember, you are guests in their domain, these high places in the air where they are the masters and they move about with ease.