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Boreal Community Media

Chasing waterfalls in Minnesota

May 15, 2018 03:44PM ● By Editor


A hiker tilts her head and pauses as the first rustling sound filters through the boreal forest of Minnesota’s far northeastern tip. The trail threads upward through fragrant firs, a few draped with gray wisps of lichen, like tinsel on Christmas trees, and anticipation builds as a river’s babble becomes a distant rumble and then a roar as the view opens to the Pigeon River’s 120-foot plunge.

Like a crescendo up the North Shore, the High Falls on the Pigeon River is the grand finale, showcasing Minnesota’s highest and most dramatic waterfall on the border of the U.S. and Canada. Rivers rush through eight state parks, plus waysides, the Sawtooth Mountains, and Superior National Forest, creating waterfalls of all shapes and ferocity on their way to Lake Superior.

Believe it or not, waterfalls can be found throughout the state—even on the southwestern prairie. Snowmelt and early summer rains showcase waterfalls at their peak flow, while other months combine with wildflowers and autumn leaves for colorful day trips or weekend getaways. Here’s a look at the top 10 waterfall destinations around Minnesota.

The High Falls at Grand Portage Minnesota
High Falls, Grand Portage


High Falls, Grand Portage

Native Americans and early fur traders carved out a 9-mile grand portage—a footpath for carrying canoes and supplies safely—so people could traverse around the Pigeon River’s 120-foot plummet to calmer waters and trade routes upriver.

Six miles from Grand Portage State ParkGrand Portage National Monument’s interactive visitor center and exhibits offer an in-depth look at that pivotal era of history. In the summer, costumed interpreters show what life was like for traders, tribes, and voyageurs through hands-on activities and an August Rendezvous. 

Devil’s Kettle, Grand Marais

The aptly named Devil’s Kettle Falls along the Brule River in Judge C.R. Magney State Parkstumped people for decades. While the eastern half of the Brule River drops 50 feet down volcanic rock and rushes toward Superior, the western half disappears into a deep cauldron of rock, seemingly swallowed up by the earth.

The mysterious nature of the waterfall draws visitors down a 1.1-mile trail parallel to the river with a scenic stop at 25-foot Upper Falls along the way to Devil’s Kettle. The park is also popular with campers and travelers who want to be near the outdoorsy and artsy harbor town of Grand Marais.

Hidden Falls, Schroeder

Just south of Tofte, the aptly named Hidden Falls ranks as the trickiest waterfall to see, but it makes its presence known with a roar as the Temperance River rumbles and gurgles through a steep quarter-mile gorge along Highway 61.

The Temperance River Gorge Trail starts near the Highway 61 parking area where the river’s churning stirs up bubbles and foam. Over the centuries, water carved about a quarter-mile through an ancient lava flow, sometimes trapping gravel that would scour out basalt potholes or cauldrons. Overlooks give visitors a glimpse into cauldrons and a peek at Hidden Falls as it drops about 15 feet and thunders and twists through the gorge. Hikers who continue upriver can cross a footbridge and eventually reach Upper Falls, which tumbles about 10 feet. Hikers following the river southeast under Highway 61 can see the Lower Falls, which also drops about 10 feet as it flows toward the river’s mouth and the rocky beach.

The entire 5,059-acre Temperance River State Park features 52 drive-in campsites near the lake, an inland forest covering a stretch of the Superior Hiking Trail, and paths up to Carlton Peak in Tofte, offering sweeping views from over 1,500-foot elevation.

Just 2 miles south of the park is Cross River Falls, which can be admired from both sides of the highway from the wayside. Following the river from the falls, visitors can see a granite cross standing near the mouth of Cross River. The historical marker was originally wooden and erected by missionary Father Baraga in 1846 in gratitude for surviving a perilous journey across Lake Superior.

The High Falls at Tettegouche State Park
High Falls, Tettegouche State Park


High Falls, Silver Bay

Follow the Baptism River upriver from Tettegouche State Park’s Visitor Center, and you can see (or hear) a few small waterfalls until the grand finale 1.5 miles away: the 60-foot High Falls. Because it’s an inclining hike inland, the crowds are thin at this pretty waterfall, and it’s one of the many draws to this dramatic park.

Other spectacular views can be enjoyed from Shovel Point, where a 1.2-mile roundtrip hike brings you to the edge of a sharp cliff that plunges down to Lake Superior. The area draws serious rock climbers, but for a more leisurely way to see Shovel Point, visitors can also drive up nearby Palisade Head, a distinctive headland south of the park. However, keep in mind that parking can be tight on peak summer days when Lake Superior shimmers calmly and wild blueberries can be picked among the rocks.

The park also includes numerous campsites, inland lakes, remote cabins, and 23 miles of trails, including a 12-mile stretch of the Lake Superior Hiking Trail.

The lower falls at Gooseberry Falls
Gooseberry Falls


Gooseberry Falls, Two Harbors

As the closest North Shore state park to Duluth and home to selfie-worthy waterfalls, Gooseberryranks among Minnesota’s top outdoor destinations.

Accessible trails take visitors to the wide Upper Falls, which tumbles 30 feet, followed by another 30 feet at Middle Falls. Most visitors gather between the two, shooting photos and exploring the rocky gorge and side pools. Hikers can take the stairs down to the Lower Falls, which splits into two falls and drops another 30 feet as the Gooseberry River rushes toward Lake Superior and Agate Beach.

The 1,687-acre park encompasses close to 20 miles of trails, which includes a 2-mile loop to Fifth Falls upriver. Visitors also climb across Picnic Flow, an ancient lava shelf along Lake Superior that is dotted with brilliant orange lichen native to the area.

Plan ahead to snag a spot at the popular 69-site campground. The park also connects to the Superior Hiking Trail and a paved stretch of the Gitchi-Gami State Trail that follows the shore on its way to Split Rock Lighthouse State Park and Beaver Bay.


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