Manido Gizhigans, Spirit Little Cedar Tree, the Witch Tree

The Witch Tree, Manido Gizhigans, Spirit Little Cedar Tree in Grand Portage, MN

Manido Gizhigans, which is translated into English as Spirit Little Cedar Tree or commonly known as the Witch Tree, is a white cedar tree seemly growing out of a rock. It’s located on Lake Superior near Grand Portage. It is over 300 years old. Paddlers should leave a pinch of tobacco as an offering to help protect them on long journeys on Lake Superior.

One of the stories of the Witch Tree that I’ve read suggests the tree was a woman who had a vision and found her way to Hat Point to serve as a lookout for a change (white man) that was coming via Superior. That story struck a cord with me, because when I look at the tree it seems to be serving as a lookout. (From Northern Lites: A Fireside Reading Companion (Mysteries & Horror).)

Ilena in a reproduction of the 1959 Kenneth Taylor kayak near The Narrow. Pigeon Point, MN.

Ilena in a reproduction of the 1959 Kenneth Taylor kayak near The Narrow. Pigeon Point, MN.

Several times, I’ve paddled out to the Witch Tree on my way to the Susie Islands. The Susies are 13 rocky islands mainly owned by the Grand Portage Reservation, but also by the Nature Conservancy. On the Nature Conservancy’s island, there’s rumored to be an interesting old mine. Paddling past the islands is one of the most exciting trips on the MN north shore. A one-way 15-mile paddle will take experts from the Fort at Grand Portage around Hat Point through the Susies and around Pigeon Point to a take just the US side of the US/Canadian border. A hard but short portage at “The Narrows” allows Pigeon Point to be skipped.

Wikipedia’s short entry on the tree:

The Witch Tree as it is commonly known, also called Manido Giizhigance, or Little Cedar Spirit Tree by the Ojibwa Indian tribe is an ancient Thuja occidentalis growing on the shore of Lake Superior in Cook County, Minnesota. The earliest written records of the tree by Europeans in the Americas are by French explorer Sieur de la Verendrye in 1731, who commented on the tree as a mature tree at that time, making it at least 300 years old today.[1] The tree is held sacred by the Ojibwe, who traditionally leave offerings of tobacco to ensure a safe journey on Lake Superior. Due to its sacred nature and vandalism problems in the past, the tree is considered off limits to visitors unless accompanied by a local Ojibwe band member.

The tree is small for a mature conifer, as it is growing out of bare rock on the shoreline. Its gnarled, stunted, and twisting branches have been the subject of many photographs.

Additional Resources

Map

View Larger Map

PLEASE NOTE: Access to the Spirit Tree is restricted. The Grand Portage Reservation has closed the trail to public usage to help protect the tree. Access is only permitted by taking a guided tour with a naturalist from the Grand Portage Lodge.


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6 Comments

  1. Posted September 11, 2010 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    Nice write-up, Bryan. We were fortunate enough to be guided by a member of the Grand Portage Band down the trail a couple of years ago. Getting there on foot is a magical, Lord of the Rings-like descent down a darkening ravine filled with old growth and lichen, very in tune with the reverence associated with the site. Very memorable.

  2. Posted September 12, 2010 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    Thanks. I’ve never hiked to the tree–I’ve only paddled there.

  3. Posted July 19, 2011 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    I would like to kayak by the witch tree, but am not sure where to launch the kayak or which way to find it. Could you let me know how to find it and also how long is the paddle to the tree.

    Thanks
    Geri

  4. Posted July 20, 2011 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    Hi, Geri, my Susie Island Kayaking Trip Report has a map and details about the paddle. The trip is exposed to Lake Superior and Hat Point gets rough on wavy days. If you want a kayaking guide for a guided kayak trip to the witch tree let me know.

  5. Isaiah Bryson
    Posted February 1, 2012 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    I would really love to see the witch tree, but I do not know how I would be able to do so. Would I just have to go to the visitors center and ask for a guide? Any info would be greatly appreciated!

One Trackback

  • By Susie Island Kayaking Trip Report on October 4, 2010 at 9:46 am

    […] do this trip often and have written about it before as a trip report and about the Spirit Tree. One of the best times of year to do it is the fall, because the red and yellow trees brighten up […]