Waterfalls

Not many adventurers on the North Shore stop to check out the raging rush of water known as the Beaver River Falls. Visible from Highway 61 in Beaver Bay, the falls plummet down over the rocks and provide a perfect place for visitors to have a great hike with beautiful scenery. Keep your eyes peeled from the highway to get a view of the huge stack of four drops that run a course of over 350 feet, or stop at the nearby rest area for the opportunity to get up close to the falls.

The falls area of the Beaver River runs parallel to the Superior Hiking Trail just before it cuts off the river and back up to the woods. The hike down from the trail to the river will leave you questioning what you’re about to see, but once you get down you will be rewarded with a beautiful sight. If you’re coming from the rest area parking lot, it’s a short, easy walk that brings you right to the waterfall and allows you to explore both upstream and downstream.

Much like any other waterfall, the Beaver Falls are most impressive when the water is high as it is easier to see all the portions of the falls. Bring your camera and maybe even a lunch to enjoy it with a view.

Parents: make sure your kids are within reach—the falls rush at an incredible rate!

Getting There
The Beaver Falls and rest area are located on Highway 61 on the east end of Beaver Bay.

North Shore hikes are truly one of a kind, and when you pair it with a spectacular 35-foot waterfall you will be sure to remember it for years to come. Travel 60 miles north of Duluth on Highway 61 and the hike begins at the Caribou Falls State Wayside rest stop, just north of Little Marais (or eight miles south of Schroeder). As of fall 2017, the wayside has been redone and features a newly paved parking lot, bathrooms and new section of trail.

The trailhead is marked with a Superior Hiking Trail sign, and it will take you about a half mile into the woods where the Caribou River and gorge will appear. The hiking trail gains some elevation but can be made by hikers of most skill levels. Not much traffic comes through the park, so it can be a very peaceful hike if you go on the right day.

Along the trail is a set of stairs on the left side that leads down to the bottom of the falls, thus giving visitors an unreal vantage point. If the water is low you will be able to explore a larger area at the base of the falls. After witnessing the waterfall, you can continue on the Superior Hiking Trail and see Crystal Creek or you can turn around and head back to the wayside.

If you’re a fisher(wo)man, you may also want to bring your fishing pole. The Caribou River is a designated trout stream and it is home to many species of trout. The best time to catch these trout is in the fall.

Cross River Falls is probably one of the easiest waterfalls to visit along the North Shore of Minnesota and is definitely worth the stop. Just southwest of the Temperance River State Park in Schroeder, these falls are part of a wayside park that is actually larger than the nearby state park. The falls are literally within feet of Highway 61 and can even be seen from the highway. The first set of falls are up along the Superior Hiking Trail, but the big portion of the falls is found at the wayside park.

The handy pedestrian bridges make for a great way to view the falls on both the north and south side. Just like any other waterfall, the best time to view them is in the spring or after a heavy rainfall when the river is rushing at an incredible rate. However, these falls are big enough that they even rush full speed during the summer and fall months, as well.

There’s a special present hidden from your sight when you’re standing on the bridge. If you walk to the other side of the road (toward Lake Superior), you’ll notice a trail that leads down to another portion of the river. From there you’ll be able to see the second drop of the falls at an amazing angle that most spectators often overlook. You may have to do some rock-hopping to get there, but the experience is worth it. You’ll even get a glimpse of Lake Superior through the trees!

Getting There
The Cross River Falls are found right in the town of Schroeder, Minnesota, along Highway 61.

The biggest unsolved mystery on the North Shore

Located on the Brule River flowing through Judge C.R. Magney State Park near Hovland, MN, 20 miles north of Grand Marais, MN, you will find what is arguably the world’s most mysterious waterfall that has been baffling visitors for decades.  One side of the river rumbles onto a stone embankment and down the rocks as waterfalls typically do.  The other side, however, flows into a geological wonder known as the Devil’s Kettle, and… disappears?

Well, perhaps not.  The mystery of the Devil’s Kettle has been stumping visitors and geologists alike for a number of reasons.  For one, the rock that the Devil’s Kettle formed into is Rhyotlie, which is formed from a volcanic eruption.  It’s normal to find small kettles in this kind of rock near waterfalls because of the force of the water and the sand and rocks carried by the river flow.  However, the Devil’s Kettle is special in that this isn’t a small, shallow pothole- the bottom Devil’s Kettle cannot be seen and it’s true exit point remains (mostly) unknown.  So how and why the Devil’s Kettle formed the way it did is one mystery, but the mystery most often discussed when talking about the Devil’s Kettle is where exactly the water goes once it enters the Kettle.

There are a few theories as to where exactly the water the flows into the Devil’s Kettle goes.  In 2016 geologists measured the water at the top of the waterfall and then measured the water a few hundred feet below the waterfall and found that the amount of water was the same, despite about half of it flowing into the Kettle.  Because of this, the most pervasive (and likely) theory to date is that the water flows into the Devil’s Kettle and then flows back out right at or right below the waterfall.

However, there are a few reasons why people have doubts about this theory, even though it makes sense.  Primarily because, to date, the actual location where the water re-joins the river has yet to be determined and many people are of the mindset that the mystery isn’t solved until someone can pinpoint the precise location.  Another reason for the doubting is because of all the things people have thrown into the Devil’s Kettle over the years, only to have these things disappear, never to be seen again.

You see, before 2016 the most popular theory as the fate of the water that flowed into the Devil’s Kettle is that it traveled along some sort of underwater cave system, or met up with an underground river/water system, and emptied out into Lake Superior about a mile and a half away.  Dye, ping pong balls, GPS trackers, and more have been tossed into the kettle and then people would watch the lake, waiting for signs of the items they threw in to appear. These things were never seen again- including below the waterfall or anywhere the Brule River.  This has been explained away by geologists as being the result of the sheer force of the water flowing into and around the Devil’s Kettle basically destroying anything sent into it.  But, again, for many, seeing is believing and all they’ve ever actually seen are these items mysteriously disappearing.

News articles regarding the 2016 findings indicated that researchers were going to return to Brule River in the fall of 2017, when water levels were low, and do another dye test to prove their theory, but it appears this never happened due to the DNR highly recommending that this sort of experiment not be done, perhaps for ecological reasons.  For many, this leaves the mystery of the Devil’s Kettle unsolved, wanting proof of the Kettle’s ultimate exit point before being satisfied with the answer. And until we hear otherwise, we will declare this mystery (mostly) unsolved.

Rumors that locals once threw a car into the Devil’s Kettle sometime in the 1970s are likely just that- rumors. We highly doubt it ever happened.

Illgen Falls may not be the most well-known waterfall on the North Shore, but this waterfall makes the top of our waterfall list because of the great vantage point for viewing the falls. This waterfall is viewed from the top and, if desired, visitors are able to walk right up to the river and falls.  From this viewpoint, you can experience the power of Illgen Falls.  Even during dry periods, you’ll likely find water rushing down the falls.

Glacial Potholes
When visiting the falls, you will notice that they are surrounded by huge, round boulders that follow the plummeting water to the bottom. Explore the top of the falls, if the water level permits, and you will find ancient potholes that were carved by the constantly running waters and the huge tumbling stones.

Illgen Falls is found next to the location where Illgen City once stood. The city came to be when a man by the name of Illgen built a hotel that was said to be the finest hotel from Duluth to Thunder Bay. The hotel resembled the inns of Old Mexico and included a large bar complete with slot machines and expensive alcohol. These things supposedly attracted Chicago’s criminal elite, including Al Capone and company, who stopped by on their way to secret northern lodges.

How to get there
From Silver Bay: Turn left (north) onto Highway 1, about 6.5 miles north of Silver Bay. About 1.6  miles up the road you will see a parking area on the left (west) side of the road. Park in the parking area and follow the trail that leads hikers away from the road and toward the sound of the falls. The area is easily accessed by following the trail past the cabin to the waterfall (it takes less than five minutes to walk from the parking area).

If you’re looking for a unique and beautiful waterfall, but don’t want all of the foot traffic that is found near many popular North Shore waterfalls, Split Rock Falls is the place to go. Found on a section of the Superior Hiking Trail, Split Rock Falls offers a beautiful 20-foot waterfall, a lovely wooden bridge, and a surrounding forest to hike and explore.

The first part of the hike to the waterfall is about half a mile, then the trail leads you down a path to Split Rock Creek and a sturdy wooden bridge. To the left, you’ll find the water crashing over the steep cliff with trees and shrubs giving a little privacy from the sky. To the right is a perfect place to picnic and take in the genuine beauty of the Split Rock Falls. The river moves gently against the bank on the opposite shore, creating the perfect atmosphere for a picnic or place to reflect.

Getting There
On Highway 61 around mile marker 43 (about 18 miles north of Two Harbors), look for the Split Rock River pullout/parking lot. Take the Superior Hiking Trail from the parking lot and hike away from Lake Superior on the trail. As soon as you reach the first branch of the trail (about a half mile in), take a right and follow the stairs to the falls.

March and April on Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior is Waterfall Season! Yes, we have waterfalls here year-round, and lots of them. But you haven’t fully experienced a north shore waterfall until you’ve experienced on in the spring! It seems like waterfalls are everywhere along Minnesota’s North Shore. This includes many that form right off the edges of Highway 61! While you can see many in the summer and falls months, and even enjoy a frozen waterfall in the winter months, many North Shore waterfalls only form in the spring when snowmelt from areas inland make their way to Lake Superior.

For this reason, we recommend you make a trip up in March or April at least once to enjoy this incredible time. The Waterfall Season starts when the temperatures start to increase and are regularly above freezing. The season continues until the inland snow has all melted and the rainy spring season has passed. Usually, the “peak” of the season is late-March to late-April. This gives you plenty of time to plan your ideal North Shore waterfall getaway.

Below you’ll find a list of our favorite North Shore waterfalls, or you can find a printable waterfall checklist here.

Lester River Falls
Superior Street Bridge, Duluth, MN
View the falls from the Superior Street Bridge, or park your car to walk the trail along the river. During the summer months these areas might slow go from a river to a medium-sized creek and slow down. But, in the later-winter/early-spring Waterfall Season, they experience heavy flow, sometimes even looking like they’re coming close to washing over the bridges!

Gooseberry Falls
Gooseberry Falls State Park 3206 Highway 6, Two Harbors, MN
These popular falls are easy to access via a short paved trail in Gooseberry Falls State Park. The park has four sets of waterfalls. The Lower and Middle Falls are the most popular as they are easy to access, including handicap accessibility. The Upper Falls and Fifth Falls are a bit more challenging to reach but well worth the hike up!

Split Rock River Waterfall
Split Rock Lighthouse State Park,  Two Harbors, MN
You’ll need to get out your hiking boots to see the cascades on the Split Rock River. At the state park, take the Split Rock River Loop Trail, one of our favorite North Shore day hikes, to get a close-up view of the river gorge and waterfalls. Learn More >

Beaver Falls
Beaver Bay, MN
The falls are just a short walk from downtown Beaver Bay. Just park at the wayside rest area on the edge of town and walk over, or find a spot safely alongside Highway 61. You can see the cascading waterfalls right from the highway overpass. Learn More >

Baptism River High Falls and Illgen Falls
Tettegouche State Park, 5702 MN-61, Silver Bay, MN
The 60-foot High Falls are downstream from the 40-foot Illgen Falls on the Baptism River. Enter Tettegouche State Park and continue past the Visitor Center. Start the hike to the High Falls at the park trail center. Both sets of falls are absolutely incredible all year round, but we especially love doing this hike in the spring. The trails can get muddy, so prepare for that!

Manitou Falls
George H. Crosby-Manitou State Park, 7616 Lake County Road 7, Finland, MN
George H. Crosby-Manitou State Park will take you off the North Shore’s beaten track. Leave the park’s main parking lot for a rugged hike to the falls. The parking area to this area is not plowed or maintained in the winter months, so you’ll want to wait on this one until later in the season when the snow has melted off the road. But, it’s a much less traveled area. You may find yourself being the only one in the park enjoy the waterfall when there!

Caribou Falls
Highway 61 between Little Marais and Schroeder, MN
This stop is easy to miss! Access the falls via the Superior Hiking Trail from the Caribou River rest stop on Highway 61 (near mile marker 70). Another hidden gem that isn’t nearly as popular as some of the other waterfalls on the list. This is why we love it.

Cross River Falls
Schroeder, MN
You’ll see this waterfall as you drive on Highway 61. Park your car in one of the parking lots and view the falls from the pedestrian bridges. You’ll get a great birds-eye view. This is another easy-access and handicap-accessible waterfall.

Temperance River Falls
7620 West Hwy 6, Schroeder, MN
View the series of falls and river gorges with a short quarter-mile walk from Highway 61. Follow the trail north of the highway to see the Hidden Falls. This is another hike that requires a bit of effort and maybe muddy in the spring, but it’s well worth the hike. Please, use caution when exploring the river, especially in the gorge area. The river here is incredibly dangerous. Please don’t swim in it any time of the year, and be especially cautious in the spring as muddy edges can give away and the rapids in the river are very powerful.

Onion River Stair Step Falls
Ray Berglund State Wayside, between Tofte and Lutsen, MN
This small set of cascades is reached via a walking trail from the wayside rest on Highway 61. Climb the stairs on the north side of the parking lot to access the hiking trail. The hike isn’t too long, and very few people realize there is a waterfall back here, so it’s another lesser-known waterfall on the list.

Cascade Falls
Cascade River State Park Highway 61 between Lutsen and Grand Marais
Park in the lot next to Highway 61 for a short, easy hike to the Cascade Falls. You can do the quick loop and be back at the parking area in 10-15 minutes, or go to the left of the waterfall up the wooden stairs and explore the other waterfalls further back, or see what it’s like looking at the falls from above them.

Brule River Upper Falls, Devils Kettle and Lower Falls
Judge Magney State Park, 4501 W MN-61, Grand Marais, MN
Devil’s Kettle Falls is the most well-known of these three falls. The falls split in two with one side heading downstream and the other into a deep mysterious hole. No one knows where the water in this hole goes. The hike to the falls requires over 200 stairs (going down on the way there… going up on the way back!). However, we find that the hike is worth it to see this natural wonder. In the springtime it can be hard to see where the kettle even is as so much water is pouring into it that it eventually just starts pouring out the sides!

High Falls of the Pigeon River
Grand Portage State Park, 9393 MN-61, Grand Portage, MN
The largest (in weight and in width) waterfall on the list! This waterfall is actually the tallest in Minnesota at 120 feet. It can be viewed from observation decks at the end of a half-mile handicap accessible trail. We also recommend crossing the border into Canada (adults will need a passport or enhances driver’s license) and take the trails leading to the Canadian side of the river. Although you’re looking at the exact same waterfall, the views are completely different on the Canadian side. Those very familiar with the area seem to have a preference of which they prefer, but it seems pretty split between liking the American side best and liking the Canadian side best.  Note that the Canadian side is not handicap accessible.

Rose Falls in the BWCA
Duncan to Rose Lake Portage, Grand Marais, MN
This waterfall requires the most effort, but it is incredible in the winter! You’ll either need to canoe through at least 2 lakes (including three portages to get here) or hike many miles along the border route trail. But the waterfall is incredible and very close to the trail for viewing. In the spring, you’ll probably get some spray from the falls on the trail, it’s that close! Be aware that this area will have more snow later into the season. So, if going in the spring, pay attention to lake conditions and snow conditions to make sure the waterfall is accessible using the route you want to take. Go too early and the lakes may still be frozen! Also note that the falls are within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. You will need a permit for accessing it. Here is a video of our Rose Lake/Rose Falls day trip taken in the summer of 2019.

Watch our 2019 Waterfall Season video:

An Interview with the Authors

Eve and Gary Wallinga are St. Cloud residents who have a healthy obsession with water. This works out well for the artistic couple who love to visit Lake Superior and Minnesota’s North Shore. Showcasing their fascination with the area and its many incredible waterfalls, Eve and Gary published a book on exactly that topic.

The book is titled Waterfalls of Minnesota’s North Shore: A Guide for Sightseers, Hikers, and Romantics. Published by the Northern Wilds Media company based in Grand Marais, the book is a favorite on the shelves of many Cascade Vacation Rental properties.

With all the snow from the winter of 2018-19, there’s bound to be some impressive waterfalls on the North Shore during spring runoff and far into the summer months. In anticipation of a great year for viewing the falls from Gooseberry to Cascade and clear to the Canadian border, our team here at Cascade Vacation Rentals had the opportunity to sit down with Eve Wallinga and talk North Shore waterfalls. Here is our conversation:

Cascade Vacation Rentals (CVR): You literally wrote the book on North Shore waterfalls, so tell us, why are you interested in these natural treasures near Lake Superior?

Eve Wallinga: Minnesota is a lovely state, but a lot of the topography is a little ho-hum, especially in central Minnesota, where we hail from. However, that’s not so with the dramatic scenery of the North Shore. We find the battle between rock and water mesmerizing and thrilling. It’s amazing that after only a couple hours’ drive from the city, you can be sitting beside a thundering waterfall in a rocky river canyon with little, if any, signs of human civilization.

CVR: What might someone staying at a Cascade Vacation Rental property find interesting or useful in your book about waterfalls near the North Shore?

Eve: Most people have no idea how many really magnificent waterfalls exist all up and down the North Shore. Everybody knows about Gooseberry Falls, but most don’t know that Split Rock State Park, for example, has loads of waterfalls. Our book gives detailed directions to hundreds of waterfalls. No matter where you’re staying on the North Shore, a waterfall is near – some only a stone’s throw from your car, some that entail a pleasant stroll or a hardy hike. We want you to know what you’re getting into before you embark, so we tell you distance, trail quality, and how strenuous the hike is. We also rate each waterfall for star quality.

 CVR: There are two editions of Waterfalls of Minnesota’s North Shore: A Guide for Sightseers, Hikers, and Romantics. What is new or different in the second edition?

Eve: To be honest, we wrote the second edition mainly for selfish reasons — so we could have the fun of doing more waterfall exploring. We added waterfalls in Wisconsin and Ontario that could be reached as day-trip excursions from the North Shore. There are awesome waterfalls beyond the arbitrary boundaries of the Minnesota state line or the United States border, yet still can be part of a North Shore adventure. Also, our illustrations are now in color.

CVR: With so much snow this past winter, do you expect the spring of 2019 to be a great year for waterfalls on the North Shore?

Eve: We certainly would expect the rivers and waterfalls to be especially wild and wonderful this spring. Hopefully, the melt won’t damage trails though. Be prepared with extra shoes and newspaper on the floor of your car, in case things get a little muddy.

CVR: What month or even specific weekends might be a good time for someone to come view the many waterfalls on the North Shore?

Eve: One would think there’s an easy answer to that question, but we’ve become quite the waterfall connoisseurs, and our response is that it depends on the waterfall and what appeals most to you. To us, it’s much more than how much water is falling. Spring thaw would definitely be a great time, but we also value lower water summer months because the geology of the river and waterfalls are more visible. It’s a time that allows closer access with more places to sit and soak your feet. And really, when you get farther up the shore, water flow fluctuates less with the season than the rivers closer to Duluth. Late fall makes it easier to see waterfalls along rivers with more deciduous cover, like the Split Rock. But some of our favorite waterfall experiences happen in winter when you can snowshoe right up the river to a frozen waterfall – a wondrous sight you’re not likely to forget. So, in our opinion, there is really no bad time of year to visit waterfalls.

CVR: Do you have a favorite waterfall or set of waterfalls on the North Shore? Why is it your favorite?

Eve: We definitely have favorites. In fact, we have a list of them in our book. It’s hard to pick one favorite because they have different things to offer. We like to be able to get up close to the water, even feeling the spray on our faces. That’s not always possible with the really big waterfalls. The High Falls on the Pigeon are magnificent, but lack that intimacy. Partridge Falls on the Pigeon River is a bit of a rough drive, though we manage it in our little Toyota, if it’s not muddy, but it offers the spectacular and the intimate. That’s definitely one of our favorites. So is Cascade Falls, which is easier to get to. Easier yet is Beaver River Falls.

CVR: What are some safety tips people should keep in mind when looking at waterfalls on the North Shore?

Eve: I have to admit I had worries when writing this book, that we might steer someone on a path to a waterfall they might not otherwise have visited, which would inadvertently lead to their demise. Keep in mind that I am an anxious sort, so you can be sure that we addressed safety concerns in the book and perhaps erred on the cautious side when detailing directions. That said, most tips are rather obvious.  Know where you’re going, we included maps in the book, bring water, bring a jacket, don’t get too close to the edge, avoid steep slopes down to the river – the risk isn’t worth it and it speeds erosion, respect the strength of the river.

CVR: Okay, now the last question we have been holding out for… can you share with us a secret spot to view waterfalls on the North Shore?!

Eve: We do include some lists in our book, including our favorite waterfalls, our favorite waterfall hikes, wheelchair accessible waterfalls, and even secret waterfalls. The thing is, though, that lots of the waterfalls in the book are secret, in that most people – unless you’re a local – don’t know they exist. They aren’t usually well-advertised, and often you can have the place all to yourself. Here’s one hiding in plain sight that many miss: Heading back home on Highway 61 after your vacation on the North Shore, pull into the parking area just after you cross the Beaver River in Beaver Bay and walk back along the highway bridge. Look beneath you to see one of the most magnificent waterfalls on the North Shore. It will definitely be raging this spring!

I’d also add Fall River Falls, which is a couple miles southwest of Grand Marais, just off of 61, with a bit of a steep, slippery descent I like to navigate on my derriere. It’s rare in that it drops about 30 feet down to the beach, so you have both waterfall and surf in one place. This is definitely one to visit when water is high.

If you have explored rivers and lakes along the North Shore you’ve probably noticed that the water is the color of root beer. Why? Well, most people think it’s caused by water containing large amounts of silt. However, the actual reason is that North Shore rivers, especially when the water is low, carry tannins from swamps and decaying vegetation that keeps its color an amber-brown.

One example of this weird phenomenon can be seen in Cascade River State Park. Many spectators have grown to believe the brown water is a result of how fast the water rushes, bringing mud from the bottom of the river with it. With how fast the water rushes down the Cascades, it’s hard to believe that it’s really just sediment being carried along!

Many other bodies of water around the world are also root beer colored. For example, our very own Lake Superior sometimes seems reddish-brown. This happens when strong winds or rains launch red clay particles and other sediments into the water. The sediments don’t cause any harm, although we imagine it does give spectators an uneasy feeling as they’re used to that cool-blue water that the lake is known for.