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Waterfall season is upon us: Where to find the best waterfalls along the North Shore to fit your itinerary

Apr 14, 2023 11:11AM ● By Content Editor

Fall River Falls. Photo: Laura Durenberger-Grunow

By Laura Durenberger-Grunow - Boreal Community Media Exclusive - June 1, 2022

If you’re traveling along the north shore and hoping to feel the spray of water and hear the sound of roaring rapids, you’re in luck. 2022 has been a stellar year for getting to experience both those things and more.

Those of us who live in or frequently visit the area know what a treat waterfall season is because there are just so many opportunities to see one, and it doesn’t ever get old.

However, with so many options, it can quickly become overwhelming to know which one to pick - especially if you’re trying to fit the experience into your itinerary. 

To help with this, I spoke with Visit Cook County, researched resources through the MN DNR, and took from my own experiences as a long-term-visitor-turned-resident to create this guide to help you narrow down options,  and find the best fit for you.  

Cross River Waterfall. Photo: Laura Durenberger-Grunow 

Best waterfall for a quick stop, or for those with mobility issues

If you only have time for a quick stop, or are looking for an option with minimal distance to travel, the Cross River Wayside (across from the Cross River Heritage Center) in Schroeder, Minnesota is an excellent option. 

Waterfall highlights and things to know:

  • Minimal distance (under 100 feet from the parking) to falls with extremely minimal elevation changes
  • Paved sidewalk
  • Lots of parking available 
  • Bathroom on site
  • Right off of Highway 61

*Note: please do not try to stop along the highway to look at the falls. Use the on-site parking lot for safety. 

Gooseberry Falls State Park. Photo: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Most well-known waterfall 

Gooseberry Falls State Park in Two Harbors, Minnesota is arguably one of the most well-known waterfalls along the north shore. In fact, the park is called the “gateway” to the North Shore by some, because it is the first of many state parks along Highway 61 after Duluth. 

Waterfall highlights and things to know:

  • Accessible trail down to the falls 
  • Multiple opportunities for hiking beyond the main falls
  • Park is accessible right off of highway 61
  • The park can get very busy
  • There is ample parking but it can fill during the busy summer months
  • Parking area also serves as a state rest area with a bathroom and visitor center 

Learn more about how Gooseberry State Park became a destination park here

High Falls in Grand Portage State Park. Photo: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Best waterfall for overall “wow-factor” or for those with mobility issues

If you’re looking for a truly “wow” experience, or just want to see one of the highest waterfalls along the Minnesota/Canada border, High Falls at Grand Portage State Park in Grand Portage, Minnesota is for you. Grand Portage State Park is a unique park because it is the only state park located within an Indian Reservation on land owned by the Tribe.

Waterfall highlights and things to know:

  • ½ mile paved path to the boardwalk with minimal elevation changes (1-mile roundtrip with a total time of about 30-40 minutes)
  • High Falls is Minnesota’s highest waterfall at 120 feet, not specifically within the state of Minnesota borders. Technically, it is part of the Pigeon River, which is part of the international boundary with Canada.
  • There is an option to continue on a more challenging hike is available through the Middle Falls trail
  • Access to Grand Portage State Park is free (no MN State Park pass needed)

Devil's Kettle Falls. Photo: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 

Best waterfall to impress your friends with your Minnesota history and geology knowledge

If you’re interested in Minnesota history and geology, Devil’s Kettle at Judge C.R. Magney State Park in Grand Marais, Minnesota is a perfect fit. One part of the waterfall “disappears” into a hole that stumped scientists for many years (the mystery has since been solved). 

Waterfall highlights and things to know:

  • All trails are either dirt or grass (some with stairs) and may not be accessible for those with mobility issues 

  • The Devil’s Kettle Falls hike in particular can be rocky and strenuous with big elevation changes

  • The trails can be a great spot to see blooming wildflowers 

If you're lucky, you may see blooming wildflowers on your way to see any of the waterfalls. Photo: Laura Durenberger-Grunow

Photo: Laura Durenberger-Grunow

Tettegouche State Park. Photo: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Best place to see multiple falls in one spot

If you’re looking to get the most waterfall “bang” out of your waterfall “buck”, Tettegouche State Park, in Silver Bay, Minnesota has FOUR waterfalls within state park limits!

Waterfall highlights and things to know:

  • Easy to access right off of Highway 61
  • Large parking lot (with many smaller lots throughout the park) 
  • Visitor center also serves as a rest stop with bathrooms 
  • Has the highest falls (appropriately named High Falls) within state borders at 63 feet
  • The park offers an electric vehicle charging station 
  • Many of the trails within the park are multi-use year-round

Fall River Waterfall. Photo: Laura Durenberger-Grunow

Best waterfall to bike too 

Hoping to check out the Gitchi Gami bike trail or simply avoid car traffic? The Fall River Waterfall off the Gitchi Gami bike/walk trail in Grand Marais, Minnesota is a beautiful option! Located 2.5 miles west of downtown Grand Marais, or 2.6 miles east of the Cut Face Wayside off Highway 61, this paved bike trail provides front and center views of the falls. 

Waterfall highlights and things to know:

  • Not as busy as some of the other falls
  • Path does contain some elevation change throughout the trail 
  • Trail contains pull off spots to view the falls and Lake Superior
  • Parking lot available at Cut Face Wayside or downtown Grand Marais
  • Grab a bite to eat before or after in Grand Marais

There are many views of Lake Superior along the Gitchi Gami Trail. Photo: Laura Durenberger-Grunow

Cascade River State Park. Photo: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 

Best waterfall if you’re looking for a challenging hike

If you’re hoping to combine a challenging hike with your waterfall viewing, Cascade River State Park in Lutsen, Minnesota has many opportunities to do so. Once you move past the potential crowd off Highway 61, you can enjoy a less busy waterfall experience, as well as gorgeous views throughout the park!

Waterfall highlights and things to know:
  • Hike part of the Superior Hiking Trail
  • Multiple parking areas available 
  • Main parking lot off of Highway 61 can be busy during the summer months 
  • Trails offer other spectacular views of the park and Lake Superior 

Best waterfall for when you don’t have time to stop anywhere

Hoping to catch a glimpse of a waterfall but don’t have time to stop? All along Highway 61 you’ll find “popup” waterfalls, as Kjersti Vick from Visit Cook County calls them (and deems them some of her favorite falls). There isn’t one specific area where you’ll find these (and it likely changes every year). But that doesn’t make them any less beautiful than some of the other falls and can help scratch that waterfall chasing itch. 

Resources for more waterfall information

Here are some more waterfall resources to help you plan your trip:

What to know about visiting the falls

Once you've decided which falls to visit, t
here are things that are important to keep in mind to keep you, the environment, and others safe. It’s important to remember that this list is not exhaustive, as conditions can change very quickly. Mighty waterfalls can sometimes mean flooding. Be sure to check your destination to see if there are any road, park, or trail closures that may affect your visit ahead of time. 

Be cautious where you step

Vick recommends that visitors wear sturdy footwear, and be sure to watch their step. “The ground around and up to the waterfall may be slippery, especially if there are rocks or tree roots.” 

Additionally, swollen river banks and moving water can cause the ground to destabilize, so it’s important to stay on designated trails and follow any closure or detour signs. 

Resist the perfect Instagram photo

Your safety, and the preservation of our beloved state parks and trails, are more important than that “perfect” social media photo. Vick says it’s important to stay on designated trails and walkways. 

Not only can going off-trail be hazardous, but it can also damage the environment. “Many of these special environments are protected and contain rare species of vegetation”, she said. Stepping off-trail can crush these important ecosystems. 

Areas surrounding waterfalls can quickly become damp or wet. Photo: Laura Durenberger-Grunow

Dress appropriately

It’s probably evident by now that these rivers and waterfalls are powerful, and the water doesn’t stay contained to a specific area. 

Vick shares that the spray coming off the falls can quickly cause clothing and shoes to get damp. She recommends wearing rain gear, or at the very least bring a change of clothes. 

Temperatures in the area can still be on the cooler side, and the last thing Vick wants is for people to get hypothermia because they got wet and weren’t prepared. 

Navigating Crowds

As mentioned for many of the falls mentioned in this list, waterfall season, along with other North Shore and state events throughout the year can bring a lot of people to the area. 

Vick shared a few tips with me that can help you navigate the crowds to keep you and others safe, as well as protect our ecosystems. 

Travel at non-peak times

Vick shares that coming midweek will be the best time to avoid lots of crowds. However, knowing that that timeframe isn’t available for everyone, she recommends avoiding the 10 am - 4 pm hours. 

Wait a few minutes

If you arrive at a location and it’s really busy, wait a few minutes. Chances are people are heading back to their cars and you can avoid a big crowd in one location. 

Trail etiquette 

Basic trail etiquette can go a long way in making your experience and the experience of others a good one. Be mindful of other people on the trail. Step off at a safe location if people are trying to pass. Give people space at a lookout.

If you’re planning on making a trip up north, it’s important to plan ahead, and check up-to-date information resources to make sure you can reach your destination. And be prepared to change plans if an area is closed. Additionally, the DNR shares that it’s important to follow any locally-posted closures and related signage you may come across. 

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