The Lower Archer Falls trail is one of those rare gorge hikes that will usually find you totally by yourself, immersed in a beautiful, quiet mature forest. This hidden gem not only offers solitude, but adventure as well.
The trail is challenging at times, but easily followed for the two and a half miles until it intersects with the very popular Archer Mt. trail system.
The route starts off of Hwy 14, at MP 29.9. Park in the St. Cloud parking area on the south side of the Hwy and walk directly north, across the RR tracks and the Hwy and straight into the woods where you will find a trail. The trail enters a mature forest that’s grown up on the site of an early homesteader’s land. Their grape vines and even a few ornamental shrubs still flourish, a half century or more since anyone’s lived in the area. Here’s a view of some of the grapes, hanging from the forest trees as much as 30 feet above the ground. This photo taken in Sept, 2022.
4/10 mile up the trail, here’s the view of Lower Archer Falls in “normal” water flow:
Here are my friends Guy and Chiyoko approaching the falls: A perfect spot on a hot day!
Here it is in flood:
And in Winter:
There are five bridges in the first 4/10 mile of the route, the second of which posed the biggest problem to construct and now (temporarily) poses the would-be hiker a little bit of a challenge.
Here’s the bridge in winter (Feb. 12, 2021)
Here’s my friend Guy showing how to cross: Using the handrail fastened to the small, upstream-side log and walking on the larger log.
Using not-quite-perfect maple for a span like this isn’t ideal, but it was available close by, and Scott (the Scott in Scott’s Point) figured it would last ten years or so before needing replacement.
No one expected failure so soon, but there it is. The smaller log failed, dropping most of the handrail down and making the crossing difficult.
When some of the guys went out to work in January, the log broke again, right in the middle, making the crossing even worse.
Here’s Scott, getting it done:
Scott removed the remains of the handrail first:
We cut off one end of the broken log and repositioned it nearly level with the stream and held in place by the next broken section:
Now we could cross with relative ease though care still needs be taken.
Now to deal with the problem of replacing the broken log.
At the second switchback beyond the bridge is an 80′ fallen cedar. 53′ of it appears to be sound wood, at least sound enough to use for a replacement for the broken log. Here it is, as found:
Tom, Seamus and Jim went out earlier this week and cut off the part above where the cedar split into two leaders and delimbed the whole thing.
Nice work, guys! Here’s what it looked like when Scott and I showed up Friday morning as we got ready for the first pull.
Scott set up five separate pulls (maybe six, I lost count) and we eventually, inch-by-inch, got the log down and half turned around.
In this photo, I’d cut the top off the log leaving about 34′ remaining. We need at least 30′ to span the creek, but a few more feet may be helpful, depending on where exactly it’s placed.
Turning the log around;
The log was resting on the dirt in the middle, and you can see a bit of rot in this photo. It doesn’t go more than an inch, so we think it will be fine.
After five and a half hours of non-stop work, here is how we left it: I estimate this thing weighs about 2,000 lbs, so we were careful with each move.
Scott wants to pull the left-hand end over the top of the good log and slide it across and drop it into place on the west side. We will wait for a dry day – Should be fun!!
Update, Jan 19th:
A huge 5 1/2 foot diameter old-growth fir had fallen in the storm of Dec. 27th and Scott thought we could use it for the bridge. So far, we de-limbed it, cut it to the correct length then moved it to the side and then rolled it down the hill.
Photos, starting with what it looked like when found, cut and moved: This log weighed about 3,000 lbs. at first so we had to take great care in moving it!
We planed off 6 to 8 inches of one side of the log and cut off 30 inches of the big end to make it lighter. Then we rigged up a pulling system and got one end placed on the west end of the bridge. Scott, being an avid downhill skier with a season’s pass at Meadows finally suffered a big fall, breaking his left knee. It will be the second week of May until he’s ready to resume so all work but a few preliminaries are on hold until then.
A few pics of the progress:
The cedar log in place:
Preparing the fir log:
As of August 2023, the big fir is partly in place as is a railing so it’s safe and easy to cross – with care. Once the fir log is in place and rotated so the flat side is up, we will move the remaining maple log and the task will be finished. Our hope is that the bridge will long outlast us.
The trail continues past the waterfall but has not been cleared this summer so may be difficult to follow in places.
To be continued.