There is something magical about the idea of rushing water brought to a complete standstill. Frozen waterfalls sound like something out of a fairytale, unique to places like Alaska or Norway. Under the radar and off the beaten path, one of the best locations for chasing frozen waterfalls is tucked away in Northern Minnesota.
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Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior is a beautiful area, where cliffs tower over the lake, and rivers cascade down from the highlands. There are countless waterfalls along Minnesota’s North Shore, and in the cold Northern Minnesota winters these falls freeze, transforming into a winter wonderland.
Tucked away in Tettegouche State Park near Silver Bay Minnesota, High Falls is an easy 2-mile hike in the summer that becomes icy and more difficult in the winter. Cross the swinging bridge above the falls before descending to the falls base, then look up at the 70 ft wall of ice.
While you’re in the area, check out some of the other falls in Tettegouche State Park, including Cascade Falls, Two-Step Falls, and Ilgen Falls. Two-Step Falls can be accessed from the same trail as High Falls. To reach Cascade Falls, you will need to start from the main ranger station, and to reach Ilgen Falls, you will need to park near the Ilgen Falls Cabin, and hike in from there. See a map of Tettegouche State Park here.
One of the lesser-known falls in on the North Shore, Caribou Falls is located between Little Marais and Schroeder, with parking at the Caribou Falls State Wayside. At just over a mile round trip, this is a fairly beginner level trail that can become very slippery as you approach the falls in winter months.
Caribou Falls is one of the largest and most impressive falls in Minnesota, but is mostly under the radar. Hike down the stairs to the base of the falls to view the wall of ice, then continue along the Superior Hiking Trail to add a few miles and enjoy views of smaller sets of falls and the canyon carved out by the Caribou River. Click here to view state waysides in Minnesota.
Temperance River Falls
Temperance River State Park is home to the most impressive canyon and falls systems in the Midwest, reminiscent of canyons in the Canadian Rockies.
Head first along the Temperance River Walkway toward Lake Superior to see Temperance River Falls. Then, cross the highway and hike along the Hidden Falls East trailhead for views of the Temperance River Gorge and almost views of Hidden Falls. From here, hike along the riverside, and cross over the bridge of the Gitchi Gami State Trail for views into the gorge. Continue along the trial on either side of the river for views of more waterfalls and whitewater.
Click here to view a map of Temperance River State Park.
Nestled in Cascade River State Park are a series of waterfalls with in quick succession of each other. Hike first to Cascade Falls and enjoy the icicles hanging off the sides of the gorge. Continue up to the Cascades to see five small waterfalls.
Cascade River State Park has incredible cross country skiing, with trails ranging in difficulty from beginner to advanced, as well as several good paths for snowshoeing.
Click here to view a map of Cascade River State Park.
Devil’s Kettle Falls
Judge CR Magney State Park located between Grand Marais and Grand Portage has two beautiful waterfalls that are just as magical frozen in the winter as they are rushing in the spring.
Devil’s Kettle Falls is the subject of local folklore— the Brule River splits into two cascades. One of the falls stays in sight, but the other disappears into the rock, its outflow point unknown. A number of theories have been suggested, but a recent article published in MPR News indicates that this mysterious section of the waterfall rejoins the rest of the Brule River from underground.
Devil’s Kettle Falls are easier to appreciate when the falls aren’t frozen, but their less infamous sister Upper Falls, also in the state park, is especially beautiful iced over. Because of the amount of spray produced by these falls, there’s plenty of ice to play on and photograph.
For a map of Judge CR Magney State Park, click here.
Gooseberry Falls State Park near Two Harbors, Minnesota is one of the most visited sets of falls on the North Shore, and includes several handicap-accessible viewing points. For a map of Gooseberry Falls State Park, click here.
When hiking in the winter, it’s important to remember a few things.
- Trails will likely be slippery, so bring ice spikes or yaktrax.
- Don’t venture out on river ice unless you know for sure it is thick ice over shallow water! A swim in cold temperatures could be potentially deadly.
- Avoid the bases of waterfalls, where ice is likely to be thin and water likely to be deep.
- Layer smart! Wool base layers like those at Smartwool will keep you toasty without overheating.
- Bring extra layers. You can always opt not to wear the extra sweater you bring, but you can’t create layers you forgot.
- Pack snacks and water! Staying hydrated is staying healthy, and snacks can help you warm up in an emergency.
- Always, always, tell someone where you’re going and for how long. It’s cold out there, and winter hiking is inevitably more risky than other seasons. It is much better to be safe than sorry.
Looking for the best hikes, paddles, and hidden gems in the Upper Midwest?
Check out my book, Hidden Gems of the Northern Great Lakes: A Trail and Paddling Guide. Let me help you find not only the best adventures for your skill and comfort level, but also semi-secret photography spots, countless waterfalls in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Northern Wisconsin, intrepid canoe routes near Traverse City, Michigan, hidden sea caves, and some of the best campsites the region has to offer.