Minnesota Waterfalls: The North Shore
Traveling north along Hwy 61 on Minnesota's North Shore you won’t have to drive long before you pass one of the state’s spectacular parks – and the largest concentration of waterfalls in the state. From gently cascading falls to the state’s tallest, bring your camera and be sure to stop for these great scenes.
High Falls: Grand Portage State Park
The state’s tallest falls on the Pigeon River straddles the board with Canada in Grand Portage, MN. The quiet park is worth the drive for the easy hike and views of the 120-ft falls. The falls once created an obstacle for early voyageurs who traversed the area in search of furs for trade. With help from Ojibwe living in the area, they crossed by land on the nearby Gichi-onigaming trail, or “Great Carrying Place.” For nearly 2,000 years Ojibwe used the 8.5 mile trail before it became a busy fur trading highway. The High Falls wasn’t the only obstacle for early traders – the river’s lower 20 miles contains a series of waterfalls.
Today, take a short half-mile hike to a boardwalk leading to three viewing areas overlooking the high falls. For a longer adventure, hike a challenging 3.5 mile round trip to the park’s Middle Falls. These falls first drop 10 feet, then another 20 feet along the river. Along the hike, while park maps promote several overlooks, it appears overlooks are less spectacular than they may once have been, with some blocked by trees that have now grown up in front of the overlook.
Before leaving, be sure to take a short walk from the park office to a historic marker less than half a mile away. The spot marks an early survey of the border between the United States and Canada.
Devil’s Kettle: The Mystery at Judge C.R. Magney State Park
Further along the MN North Shore, a beautiful waterfall flows in Judge C.R. Magney State Park. But just where the water falls to remains an unsolved mystery.
About a mile and a half upstream along the Brule River, the river splits in two and drops a dramatic 50 feet at the Devil’s Kettle. Along the right side of the falls, the water continues on to Lake Superior. To the left, water falls into a pothole, and where it goes is still unknown.
According to some locals, the water disappears forever. Researchers over the years have attempted to find out exactly where it goes by coloring the water with dyes, and dropping objects like tree branches and ping pong balls into the water, all to no avail. According to geologist John Green in his book about North Shore geology, other theories have been disproven: there is no evidence of an underground fault in the area, and certainly not one large enough to drain half of the Brule River; underground caves are rarely found except in limestone, which is not found on the North Shore; the type of stone in the area, rhyolite, does not form lava tubes and no lava tubes have been found in the basalt of the area; and there are no reports of objects from the water – like those ping pong balls – ever showing up anywhere on the North Shore.
So far, local legend stands. Until the mystery is solved, the disappearing waterfall continues to delight those visiting the unique state park just a few minutes from Grand Marais, MN.
Falls of the Cascade River: Cascade River State Park
Just a short half-mile hike from the park office, cross a short footbridge to view the Cascade River falls. In its final three miles before reaching Lake Superior, the river drops from 900 feet in elevation to 120 feet through a gorge, dropping along several falls. Overlooks on both sides of the river offer different views. On the western side of the river, across the footbridge, rock ledges offer a spot to sit awhile and enjoy the falls, while the eastern side of the river offers several views along the path down to the lake.
While you’re there, take a 3.5 mile round trip hike to Lookout Mountain, 600 feet above Lake Superior. Well worth the hike, Lookout Mountain offers spectacular views of Lake Superior and the surrounding forest. Visit in the fall to see the brilliant orange, yellow and red leaves.
Temperance River Gorge and Cross River Falls: Temperance River State Park
Over thousands of years, the rushing Temperance River cut deep potholes into the soft lava stone at Temperance River State Park. Today, the river’s waterfalls continue to cut their way through the park toward Lake Superior. Park along Hwy 61 for a short hike north of the highway to two falls, including the Hidden Falls, a difficult to see waterfall cut deep into the gorge.
Operated as part of the park, the nearby Cross River wayside’s waterfall is just north of Hwy 61 and can be viewed from an overpass bridge. The river is named after a stone cross nearby at the mouth of the river. The cross marks the spot where, in 1843, missionary Father Frederic Baraga erected a wooden cross after he safely crossed the lake during a storm.
While you’re there, hike to Carlton Peak, the highest point on the North Shore. At 900 feet above the lake, the peak offers panoramic views of the forest and lake, as well as 27 rock climbing routes. A longer route through the park is just over three miles, while a shorter route from a parking area near Britton Peak is over a mile and a half (take Cty 2/Sawbill Trail about two miles to a parking area).
Four Falls of the Baptism River: Tettegouche State Park
Once a fishing camp for wealthy Duluth businessmen, Tettegouche State Park now offers a wide range of recreation opportunities and views of four waterfalls. At 100 feet, the High Falls is especially impressive. Take a longer three mile round trip hike to the falls and pass by the Two Step Falls. Or, a shorter one mile hike will also take you to High Falls.
The park also offers a unique stay near the fourth waterfall, the 45-foot Illgen Falls. At the eastern edge of the park, the private cabin has two bedrooms, a gas fireplace and a full kitchen, with sounds of the rushing waterfall nearby. You may be able to catch glimpses of the falls through the trees from the cabin’s large deck.
Gooseberry Falls: Gooseberry Falls State Park
If you can handle the crowds around Gooseberry’s highly accessible falls, this park offers great views and the chance to dip your toes in the water. The quieter, but smaller, Fifth Falls is a short hike of about a mile from the three other main falls. Or, hike south along the river to the lake shore. The shoreline’s rocky views are worth the hike and offer a place to relax and picnic in warmer months.
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