Waterfalls are Breathtaking in Any Season
I love waterfalls and if I can find a hike that includes one, I’m all for it. Whether it’s a hot summer day and the water is powerfully gushing, or it’s frozen solid with no movement at all in winter, I think waterfalls are incredible and a great way to enjoy the outdoors.
Pro tip: If you want to see a frozen waterfall, it will depend entirely on the weather, but your best chances of seeing a waterfall come to a standstill will be January and February.
Read on for the eight best waterfalls to view in and around the Twin Cities.
1. Minneopa Falls
Minneopa Falls is a huge waterfall inside Minneopa State Park. You’ll need a Minnesota State Park pass to enter the grounds, and once inside you’ll walk just five minutes to this powerful double waterfall. It was pretty remarkable to see a forceful water source grind to halt when I was there during the middle of February. When it’s not frozen, the lower falls drop 40 feet and the upper falls drop 7 feet. If you wish, continue on through the park for more hiking. Then, when you’re done drive over to the other side of the park and check out the bison herd! For a ton of ideas on how to spend a day in Mankato, check out my post here.
2. Nerstrand Big Woods State Park
The Nerstrand Big Woods State Park is home to Hidden Falls. This park is about one hour from Minneapolis and a short drive from Northfield and Faribault. This is a state park so there is a state park entrance fee of $7/day or $35/year. Once inside the park, the waterfall is a short walk and only takes a few minutes to get to it.
After enjoying the view of the waterfall, I suggest you continue on the dirt path that winds around this heavily wood peaceful, quiet trail. I find that the waterfall tends to be a crowded area, but once you move beyond it people spread out and the path is wide, so it’s easy to lose the crowd and spend time alone with nature.
3. Vermillion Falls
About 30 minutes from the Twin Cities, this hiking spot has free parking and the waterfall is just a short walk into the park. Keep walking further along the path, which runs alongside the Vermillion River, and you’ll come across a walking bridge. The Vermillion Gorge Bridge is covered in locks with names and initials scribbled on them. Be sure to bring one so you can add it to the fence.
The trail splits and comes back together and is generally unmarked. But if you follow the crowd for about five minutes past the bridge, you’ll come across the remains of a building covered in graffiti. The ruins are the remains of a flour mill that burned down in 1894. It is so artistically beautiful and unexpected.
4. St. Anthony Falls
St. Anthony Falls is in northeast Minneapolis. You’ll get an incredible view of the falls if you walk over the Stone Arch Bridge. This waterfall used to be the only natural major waterfall on the Upper Mississippi River until it partially collapsed in 1869 and was replaced by a concrete overflow spillway. It’s a beautiful waterfall, and this part of Minneapolis offers some of the best views of the downtown skyline. I love it so much, we took our engagement photos on the Stone Arch Bridge.
5. Minnehaha Falls
Minnehaha Falls is awesome because it’s in Minneapolis, so you don’t have to go far at all! It’s a great place to walk around in any season. Check out the massive, gushing falls in summer. The autumn colors along the Mississippi River are stunning in September and October or visit in the winter when the falls are frozen solid. You can even climb behind the frozen waterfall, which creates an ice cave in winter’s coldest months.
6. Shadow Falls Park
Shadow Falls is a little hidden gem in St. Paul tucked into Shadow Falls Park on Summit Avenue. There is a tiny parking lot, which was full when I visited. You shouldn’t have too much difficulty finding free street parking though. From the historical marker, head down a small set of steps towards the Mississippi River. The path is not clearly marked and it is very steep at times. Don’t go in the winter when there is ice unless you have yak tracks.
7. Boom Site Falls
This spot is located in Stillwater, about 40 minutes from the Twin Cities. It’s a historical marker and if you Google St. Croix Boom Site, you will find the free parking lot. From there, you’ll see a long staircase. Head down those stairs and towards the St. Croix River. If you turn to your right, you’ll encounter a cave, which you can enter and explore. If you turn to your left and walk for about 20 minutes, you’ll encounter the waterfall. The rocks are wobbly and unstable at certain parts. It’s also a very narrow path. I wouldn’t suggest this trail for young children or older folks. I also think this would be very difficult with any kind of slick conditions like rain or ice. If the St. Croix River is frozen, however, you can walk along the flat frozen river, which would be much easier!
8. Willow River State Park
Bonus! This waterfall is in Wisconsin, but it’s only a 40-minute drive from Minneapolis, so it makes the list! Willow River State Park is a Wisconsin State Park, so you will pay a fee to enter. Willow Falls is an enormous 200-foot deep gorge. Walk along the trail away from the falls and you’ll encounter Little Falls Lake, a shallow reservoir on the Willow River. During the summer, this spot gets quite crowded and you’ll see people swimming and kayaking here!
Always Be Safe and Prepared
Checking out waterfalls in any season is awesome. The summer allows you to dip your feet in the water or swim, autumn has gorgeous fall colors, winter stuns with frozen waterfalls, and spring can bring intense gushing water from all the melting snow. I think any season you chose to chase waterfalls will be worth it!
Pro tip: If you search for waterfalls in the winter, be very careful and bring good boots and yak tracks. As you can see from my photo above, which was taken at Minneopa State Park in February, trails and stairs are often not fully cleared in the winter, making some of these trails slippery and dangerous.