Rating Minnesota’s Waterfalls

By Emma

Though I’ve lived in Minnesota my whole life, it wasn’t until very recently that I realized that the north star state boasts a surprising number of waterfalls. From nearby urban explorations such as Minnehaha and Shadow Falls, to the northern reaches of Gooseberry and Devil’s Kettle. We northerners love spitting water from one place on earth into another. There’s always been something nice about having a destination at the end of a long (or in my typical case, short) hike. I’ve had the chance to visit a fair number of them myself, and thought it would be worthwhile to pitch my arbitrary ratings on the worthiness of a select few.

1. Minnehaha Falls

Location: Minneapolis – Minnehaha Regional Park

Rating: 5/10 

Reason: Most folks who live in the twin cities area have been here so often that it’s veered off from the “big grand waterfall” mindset. As far as waterfalls go, I’d say it’s definitely worth at least checking out. If anything just to say that you went. The biggest thing it’s got going for it is the “hike” to get there. It’s a short one at just around two miles, but certainly long enough to escape the surrounding urban landscape.

2. Shadow Falls

Location: St. Paul – Shadow Falls park

Rating: 7/10 – Like it before it’s cool!!!1!1! 

Reason: The obvious winner of urban twin cities waterfalls. Shadow Falls is everything Minnehaha wishes it was and not just because St. Paul is objectively better. It’s got paved trails, overlooks the Mississippi, and great to visit at any time of the year. One of the most overlooked falls in the area, which is surprising considering how close it is to, like, five different college campuses. The park is free to visit and has some fantastic trails leading to the falls. Highly recommended for high school grad pictures.

3. Minnemishinona Falls

Location: Nicollet County – Judson Bottom Road Scenic Overlook

Rating: 6/10

Reason: Very nice, very valid waterfall. Serene, has a nice bridge, easy to get to. Stopped here on a mini road trip once. Especially good for nearby Mankato State students who are just looking for a quick escape. It’s no Shadow Falls, but certainly worth the visit.

Photo Source
  1. Wolf Creek Falls

Location: Pine County – Banning State Park

Rating: 6/10

Reason: Banning State Park is one of my absolute favorite state parks. Fair warning though, the falls are just a baby, but still definitely worth it. They can be accessed through a number of 3-5 mile trail loops, including my favorite, Deadman’s Trail. You get to see a kick-ass waterfall, get some kayaking in, AND you get to say that you hiked something called Deadman’s Trail. If you still haven’t gotten your fall needs filled for the day, Big Springs is also located nearby

5. Vermillion Falls

Location: Hastings – Vermillion Falls Park

Rating: 7/10 

Reason: I went here once when I was in middle school and it was barely a stream. I went again four years later and it had grown into a roaring water inferno. More than likely due to the climate change induced floods that plagued the Midwest earlier this summer, but still a worthy addition.  

6. Gooseberry Falls

Location: Lake County – Gooseberry Falls State Park

Rating: 9/10

Reason: This one’s got a state park named after it, so you know it means business. Arguably the most famous of Minnesota’s falls, and for good reason. Not only are the falls spectacular (especially in the autumn!), it’s got a kick-ass visitor center and is located right along Minnesota’s crowning jewel, the beautiful North Shore. If you’re in the Twin Cities area, I highly recommend making the trek to check it out. Or if you’re like me and don’t want to cough up the gas, take a look at the DNR’s virtual tour

7. Saint Anthony Falls

Location: Minneapolis

Rating: 8/10

Reason: The best option for history nuts. Saint Anthony Falls used to be the ultimate™ tourist destination, but milling in the area led to its eventual downfall as a nature-y escape for rich urban-dwelling Minnesotans. The falls are still magnificent and worth visiting to brush up on your Twin Cities history. According to the NPS, the lock accounts for over 10% height change between Minneapolis and St. Louis. We’re important, guys! Today, the National Park Service offers free tours of the lock and dam. 

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  1. Cascade Falls

Location: Lutsen – Cascade State Park

Rating: 8/10

Reason: Another North Shore falls. Technically there are five falls in Cascade State Park, but they’re all next to each other and make up “the Cascade Falls,” so have no fear. Unpopular opinion, but I recommend visiting in the winter if you get the chance! The frozen falls are absolutely beautiful, and far less busy. Fair warning though, There are stairs. 

9. Devil’s Kettle

Location: Hovland – Judge C. R. Magney State Park

Rating: 10/10

Reason: Oh. My. God. 10/10, highly recommend. Nicknamed “The Waterfall to Nowhere,” Devil’s Kettle is unique in that it’s split in half. One half flows up the edge of the falls at the top and tumbles down, while the other half just sort of…slips into a hole and disappears? Like no one knows really knows where it goes. Ok that’s a lie, we know where it goes, but it’s the ~mystery~. You’ve definitely probably seen this on Pinterest before, if not pinned it on your travel board. The only reason I’m not giving it a higher rating is because there are also a lot of stairs. But it’s worth it. Trust me.

Photo Source

Not going to lie, I definitely went into this article with the mindset that I was going to be unreasonably harsh towards the falls and give them, like, 2 star ratings. I surprised myself by being more than generous. Not only do I have fond memories surrounding them, but they’re really not bad at all, especially considering Minnesota isn’t known for being a hilly region. Most of them are free to enjoy, or can be accessed with the state park year-round permit. Next time you’re in these areas, consider making a stop at one of Minnesota’s beautiful water falls!

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