The North Shore Waterfall Season is a short but incredible time of the year when the spring snowmelt suddenly brings once-frozen area waterfalls to life. The North Shore often receives over 100 inches of snow in the winter. As this snow melts in the spring, it finds its way into the rivers and streams traveling to Lake Superior. Along the way, the sudden increase of water flow finds its way over the area’s waterfalls. And when the water melts away from established streams, it often forms its own path to the Big Lake. These seasonal streams flow over the cliffs lining Highway 61 creating small but unique waterfalls visible from the highway that you can only see during Waterfall Season and after heavy rains.
When to Experience the North Shore Waterfall Season
Predicting when the North Shore Waterfall Season will begin and end is similar to trying to predict peak Fall Colors. We can guess, but there are many things, primarily weather-related, that play a role in the Waterfall Season that are hard to predict. In general, Waterfall Season runs from sometime in late March and goes through April. Also similar to Fall Colors, Waterfall Season doesn’t last long. Just 3-4 weeks at most.
So what circumstances lead to the start of Waterfall Season? In general, the area needs to experience temps above freezing both day and night. This allows for the snow to melt without re-freezing. A day or two of heavy rainfall can also help with the start of Waterfall Season. Oftentimes the areas along Lake Superior will experience these weather patterns before inland areas. This might create temporary surges in the rivers, but it’s really the inland snowmelt that brings on the best of the waterfalls.
When looking at the forecast to help plan your Waterfall Season trip, look at the weather in communities not only along Lake Superior but also a big inland. Weather in towns like Finald, Isabella, and Ely can give you far more insight than the weather in Duluth, Grand Marais, or Lutsen. After the third or fourth day of temps in the 40s or 50s inland, you can expect to start seeing the water flowing!
Where to Experience the North Shore Waterfall Season
The best part about the North Shore Waterfall Season is that it can be enjoyed from the comfort of your vehicle driving up and down Highway 61 from Duluth to the Canadian border. As those temporary streams fill up and find their way to the edge of the cliffs alongside Highway 61, our favorite seasonal waterfalls come back to life. These can be easily seen on your drive up (as long as you’re driving up during the day, of course!). Other favorite waterfalls like the Beaver River Falls and Cross River Upper Falls can also be enjoyed as you cross over their highway overpasses. Or, simply park your car in the nearby lots or safely along Highway 61 and take a short walk to the highway overpasses to really take in their beauty.
If you are up to more of an adventure, the North Shore is home to dozens of year-round waterfalls that are truly a sight to see during Waterfall Season. The area’s State Parks are each home to a spectacular waterfall (or two). Check out our list of North Shore Waterfalls and make plans to visit any and all of them. They all put on an amazing show during Waterfall Season.
If You Have to Pick Just One Waterfall to Visit?
Probably the most photographed and awe-inspiring waterfall to visit during waterfall season is the High Falls at Grand Portage State Park. This gorgeous waterfall separates the US from Canada and is truly incredible to see any time of the year. But, especially, during Waterfall Season. As the highest waterfall in the State of Minnesota, it’s most impressive in the spring. Bring your passport or enhanced driver’s license and enjoy the view from both the US and the Canadian sides of the Pigeon River. Even though you are looking at the same waterfall, the view is very different depending on which side you’re on.
It’s the waterfall that is located the furthest north along the North Shore. The drive to it is well worth it. Be aware that your cell phone may think you are in Canada while at the park and charge you roaming. Additionally, the time in Canada is an hour later than in the US. If you rely on your cell phone for the time, don’t be surprised if it’s an hour ahead!
Enjoy, But Be Safe!
The waterfalls in the spring are beautiful. Some are very easy to get to and are accessible to most. Others, well, they aren’t so easy to get to. While the melting snow is creating beautiful waterfalls, it’s also creating slushy and icy trail conditions. State Park trails that are usually accessible may not be able to be cleared and remain ice-free during Waterfall Season. And if ice and slush aren’t a concern, mud may very well be!
We recommend all those heading out to enjoy the waterfalls in the springtime go prepared.
- Wear appropriate footwear that will give you plenty of grip for icy conditions. Also, withstand a lot of mud. Ice cleats or spikes, often called by the brand name YakTrax, are very helpful in giving you a little extra grip on the ice.
- Wear appropriate clothing. Even in the springtime the weather on the North Shore can be unpredictable and change quickly. Wear warm layers that you can remove and add on as needed.
- Respect your distance from the rivers. High, fast springtime rivers can be dangerous. Also, incredibly cold! Not a situation you’d want to swim in or accidentally fall into. Remember, the edges of the rivers will probably be icy.
- Travel with a friend or family member, or make sure someone knows where you are going. As always, better safe than sorry!
Plan Your Trip for North Shore Waterfall Season
Keep an eye on the local weather, as well as Visit Cook County for updates on this year’s waterfall season. You will usually start seeing updates in the last two weeks of March. However, if it’s been an especially cold and snowy winter, you may not see many updates until early April. One good thing about Waterfall Season, as opposed to Fall Colors, is that April is a slower time of the year for tourism on the North Shore. You can book a last-minute getaway without having to plan too far in advance. As you start seeing photos and videos of raging waterfalls on social media, hope on and book your stay! The season is hard to predict but easy to catch.
For a truly unique North Shore Waterfall Season experience, book a vacation rental that has a seasonal stream and/or waterfall you can enjoy from the comfort of your vacation rental property. Wheel Hus Retreat, Cathy’s Cove, Stones Throw Retreat, and Bailey’s on the Lake are a few we highly recommend to enhance your Waterfall Season trip. But, of course, no matter where you stay the waterfalls will be nearby.