Weekly Waterfalls

Since April of this year, during the pandemic, I’ve been getting outside and hiking to waterfalls near the Twin Cities. I’ve been posting them on Facebook each week under the hashtag #WeeklyWaterfalls and people have been asking a lot of questions about which ones are best and where they are. Since I’ve visited almost 20 of them already, I thought it would be good to organize them here. All but 1 are within 90 minutes of the Twin Cities. We’ll also be heading to the North Shore in August to hit a bunch along Lake Superior.

EXCEPTIONAL: St Anthony Falls, Minneapolis; Willow River Falls, Hudson WI, Gooseberry Falls, Silver Creek MN

GREAT: Minnehaha Falls, Minneapolis; Minneopa Falls, Mankato; Fairy Falls, Stillwater

VERY GOOD: Cascade Falls, Osceola WI; Vermillion Falls, Hastings, MN; Minnemishinona Falls, Mankato;

GOOD: Cannon River, Cannon Falls, MN; Big Falls Park, Eau Claire WI; Hidden Falls, Nerstrand; Glen Park, River Falls WI; Caron Falls, Faribault MN, Ames Mill, Northfield MN; Robinson’s Creek Falls, Scandia MN.

OK: Marine Mill Falls, Marine-On-St Croix; Hidden Falls, St Paul, Shadow Falls, St Paul; River Falls WI Dams, Lake Normandale, Bloomington MN

EXCEPTIONAL ———————-

St. Anthony Falls – Minneapolis MN

This is the hardest working of all Minnesota waterfalls, although the collapsing natural limestone falls were capped with a concrete overflow in the 1970s. Still a spectacular sight, for a century it powered massive flour mills (Pillsbury & General Mills) on both sides of the Mississippi, making Minneapolis ‘Flour City’. The falls were joined by the Great Northern Stone Arch Bridge in 1883. MAP

Willow River Falls – Hudson WI

Just a short 15 mile drive from the Twin Cities. Willow River Falls is one of the areas best kept secrets. A spectacular, multi-drop, 45’ waterfall – over 100’ wide – was restored when a hydroelectric dam was removed in 1992. Willow River is great for families – kids & adults are both in the water all summer long. Park with a WI State Parks pass or pay the day rate and hike down a steep hill about a half mile to the gorge. MAP

Gooseberry Falls – Silver Creek, MN North Shore

Not one waterfall, but a series of three outstanding drops comprise the Granddaddy of all Minnesota waterfalls, on the scenic North Shore. A short 12 mile drive from Two Harbors and right off Bob Dylan’s Highway 61, Gooseberry is one of the most-visited parks in the state. The fun of a visit to Gooseberry is climbing around the rocks and shallow water between the three falls. MAP

GREAT ———————-

Minnehaha Falls – Minneapolis MN

Minnehaha Falls is named for the star of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1855 epic poem ‘The Song of Hiawatha’, a tragic indian maiden whose name means ‘laughing water’ or waterfall. This historic waterfall has been visited by US Presidents and dignitaries since it became a park in 1885. At the top of the falls stands a statue of Hiawatha carrying Minnehaha across the creek. MAP

Minneopa Falls – Mankato MN

This is known as Southern Minnesota’s nicest and largest falls. It is just south of Mankato in Minneopa State Park. In addition to the fantastic falls – that you can climb above & below – the park has a herd of bison that are genetically ‘pure’. MAP

Fairy Falls – Stillwater MN

Fairy Falls is a small park north of Stillwater MN with a discrete entrance off its namesake road. Since it is a very steep park with very little parking, I found it better to park in one of the two parking spaces right at the dead end of Boom Road and look for the unofficial path at the end of Boom Road toward Silver Creek. Once a few feet into the woods, you can follow the footpath up Silver Creek to Fairy Falls itself, which has an amazing 40’ drop. MAP

VERY GOOD ———————-

Cascade Falls – Osceola WI

These 25’ falls seem to flow well regardless of how much rain has fallen recently. Park downtown Osceola and descend about 135 steps to the falls basin, which has a few picnic tables. Kids can climb around the falls and the short trial that leads out to the St Croix River. MAP

Vermillion Falls – Hastings MN

You won’t find an easier waterfall to get to on this list than Vermillion Falls in Hastings MN. A giant modern mill overshadows this 35’+ drop that is just steps from the free parking area. Continue east on the paved walking path and you’ll cross a lovely bridge decked with ‘love locks’. Even further are the Vermillion River rapids and remains of the 19th century Alexander Ramsey Mill. MAP

Minnesmishinona Falls – Mankato MN

These steep falls are just 15 minutes away from the much grander Minneopa Falls, but worth a quick side trip. Parking is just off the road and the 42’ falls are viewed up-close from a nice walking bridge. MAP

GOOD ———————-

Cannon River Falls – Cannon Falls MN

I’m not sure what the dividing line between ‘waterfall’ and ‘rapids’ is, but this one is getting close. Right off Main Street in Cannon Falls, this spot has a nice park for a picnic and nearby brewery & winery. MAP

Big Falls Park – Eau Claire WI

These double-sided waterfalls on the Eau Claire River don’t have huge drops, but have an interesting history. A UW-Eau Claire geology professor that I met here said they were formed from the remains of a mountain range 2 billion years ago. Parking is $5 for this county park. The walk is just a few hundred yards to the river. Bring your suit if you want to swim or get closer to the falls. There is a sandy beach / big sand bar that extends out into the water. MAP

Hidden Falls – Nerstrand MN

This charming, broad, waterfall is in Big Woods State Park near Nerstrand MN. It’s about a 1 hour drive from the Twin Cities. A MN State Park pass is needed to park, or you can get a day pass on-site. The hike to the waterfall is about 1/2 mile each way down a steep grade. MAP

Glen Park – River Falls WI

These cascades flow below the bluffs of Glen Park in River Falls, very close to the power plant. This small waterfall is a former mill falls, but it was freed about 100 years ago. The falls are spanned by a high, swing bridge you can easily access from the east side of the park. MAP

Caron & Wellstone Falls – Faribault MN

Little Caron Park is 8 miles, 1 gravel road, and 1 million mosquitoes from downtown Faribault. A couple cute little falls here in the woods. This is just a couple minutes west of Big Woods State Park and Hidden Falls. MAP

Ames Mill Falls – Northfield MN

These shots of Ames Mill – home of Malt-O-Meal Cereal – were taken 90 years apart (2020 & 1930). The original mill on this Cannon River waterfall was started by John North in 1856. MAP

Robinson’s Creek Falls, Scandia MN

Robinson’s Creek is another close-by waterfall isn’t well-known. This #WeeklyWaterfall requires a little bushwhacking to get to, but you can get right up underneath the 20’+ gush. Park on Quint Road. MAP

OK ———————-

Marine Mill Falls, Marine-On-St Croix

Fed by a creek that flows through the Brookside Tavern and under Main Street, these small falls have an important place in MN history. They once powered the state’s first commercial lumber mill (1839). MAP

River Falls Dams – River Falls WI

Hidden Falls – St. Paul MN

One of St Paul’s first parks, Hidden Falls and it’s small waterfall play the red-haired step-child to rival Minneapolis’ much larger and poetic Minnehaha Falls across the river. Still, Hidden Falls has a wonderful location at water-level with the Mississippi River. The small, multilevel waterfall here is best seen after a rain storm – look for it on the far north end of the park behind the picnic pavilions. MAP

Shadow Falls – St. Paul MN

Normandale Park – Bloomington MN

Few of the Twin Cities’ suburbs have waterfalls, but this little gem sits just off of I-494 on the east side of Normandale Park. Easily reached on a paved walking path from the bandshell on Lake Normandale’s north side. The path that circles around the lake is 2.1 miles. MAP