Stair Step Falls, Minnesota

Onion River Minnesota (6)

One portion of Stair Step Falls on the Onion River in August 2015

When my father, nephew, and I visited Stair Step Falls (also referred to as Onion River Falls) in August 2015, there wasn’t a whole lot of water flowing down the river. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun to explore. Starting at the Ray Berglund Wayside along MN-61, I remember climbing uphill toward the Onion River. Once you’ve climbed uphill toward the river, there are a lot of different options to deviate and see different drops.

When I looked at the original picture trying to determine the height of the falls, I said approximately 15′, but I remember now that there are numerous drops. I was trying to find out if anyone else has determined the height of the overall drop along the river, and I’m going to estimate it is at least 100′ from pictures that I’ve seen when there is a lot more water flowing. I do remember climbing and being able to stand on the river bed and look down a ways to the lake shore. At high flow, Stair Step Falls on the Onion River should be very impressive!

Directions:

  1. Drive along MN-61. Between Tofte (further south) and Lutsen (further north), you’ll find the Ray Berglund Wayside.
  2. It will be on the left of the road if headed north. Park here, and head uphill to find the falls. (There may be a new trail built since I’ve last been here, but I’m not sure.)

Accessibility: 6/10 (moderate)
Height: ~100′
Length of Hike: 1 mile round-trip (this may be shorter now, or unnecessary in high flow)

Onion River Minnesota (12)

Another portion of Stair Step Falls

Where in the World is Stair Step Falls?

High Falls of the Pigeon River, Minnesota/Ontario

High Falls of the Pigeon River is an amazing waterfall that is on the border of both the United States and Canada. You can view it from the Minnesota side or the Ontario side of the border. Each of them has great views, and I’ve seen them from both.

On the Minnesota side, you start at Grand Portage State Park. From this park, you follow the Falls Trail to a viewing area that leads you to a spectacular viewpoint. You’re not at the base of the falls, but the trail does lead you in front of the base. It’s an easy hike along a relatively flat trail.

High Falls Minnesota side (9)

The view of High Falls from the Minnesota side

On the Ontario side, it seemed much quieter, almost eerily so. It wasn’t the sunniest of days, but I don’t remember many other people there. I believe you start at the Ontario Travel Information Center and follow the trail that leads to the falls. I don’t remember this one being particularly difficult either. On the Ontario side, you view the falls from “above” instead of directly in front of you. It’s still an awesome view as the falls are so powerful. You also have a good view of some of the logging equipment that was used at the falls in the past.

High Falls Ontario side (21)

The view from Ontario

It’s definitely worth a trip to see High Falls. At 120′, it’s the tallest waterfall in Minnesota. (Horseshoe Falls at Niagara Falls is taller than this, and there may be a few other Ontario waterfalls that are taller.) There are two smaller waterfalls upstream, Lower Middle Falls and Upper Middle Falls, that are much easier to access from the Ontario side.

Directions:

  1. This one is pretty difficult to miss. From Minnesota, head north on MN-61 until you’re just about to reach Customs & Border Patrol. On your left will be Grand Portage State Park. Hike 0.5 miles to the falls from the parking area.
  2. If you’re coming from Ontario, follow ON-61 south. Again, just before the border, pull into the Travel Information Center and follow the trail to the falls.

Accessibility: 9/10 (easy on Minnesota side), 8/10 (easy on Ontario side)
Height: 120′
Length of Hike: 1 mile round-trip (Minnesota), 3.6 miles round-trip (Ontario)

Where in the World is High Falls of the Pigeon River?

Kadunce River Falls, Minnesota

I recently mentioned a waterfall that I couldn’t remember. In the case of Kadunce River Falls, I do remember the waterfall, but what I don’t remember is why I didn’t continue further along the trail. I know I visited the first significant drop along the river, but there are at least three other drops along the river, including one which the authors of the book I used dubbed Heart of the Earth Falls.

It could be that the authors of “Waterfalls of Minnesota’s North Shore”, the Wallingas, mentioned there were steep canyon walls? (It’s a question.) I don’t really remember, but I’m not a fan of big drops, so I might have turned around. I’ve done that before, though usually the drops are much larger in magnitude. Instead, it could be that I was just really tired by that point. I did take this photo later in the day, and had visited MANY waterfalls previous to this one. It may have also been that I had wandered further but hadn’t found what I expected to find. I’m guessing it was some combination of all three, though most likely the tired factor.

Just getting to the base of this waterfall required a lot of effort. I remember being worn out and sweaty after this one waterfall. It’s maybe 70′ to the base, and it’s rather steep, though more manageable than one might expect. There’s a cool and creepy cave right next to the falls. It was a lot of work to see a ~10′ waterfall, but I was determined to have a photo of something. This also gives me a reason to go back and check out more waterfalls along the North Shore. (I really want to go in the fall when the leaves are changing!)

Directions:

  1. From Grand Marais, continue just over 9 miles northeast along MN-61 to the Kadunce River State Wayside.
  2. If headed northeast, the wayside will be on your right. You will then need to cross MN-61 to reach the trail.
  3. The total trail length is about 1 mile one-way to see all of the falls, if I understand correctly. This first waterfall might be about 0.3 miles in…

Accessibility: 2/10 (to get to base, it’s very slippery, though possible…Be careful!)
Height: 10′
Length of Hike: 0.6 miles round-trip

Kadunce River Falls in May 2010

Where in the World is Kadunce River Falls?

Upper Falls, Minnesota

Some waterfall names are just not that creative. Upper Falls is one such example, and the name really hides that fact that it’s a really cool waterfall. To add to the naming issues, the waterfall upstream is known as the Devil’s Kettle, and that just has to be one of the best waterfall names.

Both waterfalls are found on the Brule River in Judge C.R. Magney State Park. It’s a really beautiful, enjoyable hike to the falls. (I have to admit there were very few Minnesota North Shore waterfalls I didn’t enjoy.) The Devil’s Kettle gets more attention because the water disappears into a hole, and nobody seems to be able to figure out where it ends up. I personally think, though, that Upper Falls was more interesting. There were numerous trees blocking the view at the Devil’s Kettle, whereas it was a much more open view at Upper Falls. I visited in early May, and the falls were really flowing very well due to the recent snow melt. It was a spectacular time to visit the parks, as they weren’t at their busiest. In the future, I would like to visit the North Shore again in the fall when the trees are changing colors.

Directions:

  1. From MN-61 along the North Shore, you’ll be looking for Judge C.R. Magney State Park.
  2. Once you find the state park, you’ll turn left (if you’re heading north) into an entrance that winds a short ways to a parking area for the falls.
  3. From there, there’s about a 1 mile hike one-way to the two falls.

Accessibility: 6/10 (moderately steep in a few sections and a lot of stairs near the end)
Height: 30′
Length of Hike: 2.2 miles round-trip

Upper Falls in May 2010

Where in the World is Upper Falls?

Fall River Falls, Minnesota

Fall River Falls in mid-May 2010

Fall River Falls is a very photogenic waterfall that is also easily accessible. It’s not very widely advertised, though, likely due to the fact that it’s not very tall or wide.

And yet, I think it is one of the more impressive waterfalls along MN-61 on the North Shore of Minnesota. The iron-red colors on the rock accentuate the gently-flowing waterfall. There are very colorful shots to be had here. It’s almost the opposite of the waterfalls in Oregon, where the rocks are all green. Here the rocks are red without much hint of green life on the rocks. Stop and take a look at this smaller waterfall. It’s likely you’ll be the only person there, and yet it’s so easy to get to.

Directions:

  1. Heading southwest from Grand Marais, drive for 2 miles on MN-61. You’re looking for mile-marker 107.
  2. Around mile marker 107, you will likely see a gravel pit, and just south of that is the Fall River. You can park at the gravel pit or you can park just north of the river on the east side of the ride.
  3. From there, look for the Fall River, and right near the river, you should see a trail heading toward Lake Superior. Follow this trail for a short distance, and you should find the falls.

Accessibility: 9/10 (easy)
Height: 30′
Length of Hike: 0.2 miles round-trip

Where in the World is Fall River Falls?

Cross River Falls, Minnesota

The lower portion of Cross River Falls in May 2010

Cross River Falls is probably one of the easiest waterfalls to visit along Minnesota’s North Shore, and it is definitely worth a visit. It is literally feet from MN-61, and can actually be seen as you’re driving by.

The upper portion of the falls is the second photo in the post, and this is the portion that can be viewed very easily. I’m betting that the falls look best in spring as the snow is melting, though this falls is large enough that it probably exists throughout the summer. The falls are larger than they appear in the photo. There’s a visual illusion that’s occurring here, making it difficult to truly understand its size just from a picture.

There’s a special present hidden from sight, though. If you look on the opposite side of the road, you’ll notice a trail that leads downhill to another portion of the river. From there, you’ll see a second drop (photo to the right). The second drop is narrower than the first drop, making it look equally as powerful. It does require a little bit of effort to get to the falls, and you will have to likely do some rock-hopping to get the best view of the falls. If you rotate 180 degrees, you’ll get some other great views of the Cross River as it approaches Lake Superior.

Directions:

  1. Cross River Falls is found right in the town of Schroeder, Minnesota.  Schroeder is found directly along MN-61.  This can be accessed by heading north from Duluth for just over 80 miles.
  2. Schroeder is a smaller town, but it is distinct, and hard to miss.  The Cross River is very clearly marked with a sign, and you should be able to see from the falls.  If you miss the falls, it is a very easy turn-around to get back to the falls.  If you are heading north, a parking area is found directly before the falls, along with information signs.

Accessibility: 10/10 (easy to upper view), 6/10 (moderate to lower view)
Height: ~60′
Length of Hike: roadside

The upper portion of Cross River Falls

Where in the World is Cross River Falls?

Middle Falls of the Pigeon River, Minnesota/Ontario

The Pigeon River forms a portion of the border between Minnesota and Ontario. On the Minnesota side, you can visit Grand Portage State Park. The most popular (understandably) waterfall in Grand Portage State Park is the High Falls of the Pigeon River, which are very impressive. They are also easy to visit!

There are a number of other waterfalls on the Pigeon River, though, that don’t get nearly as much attention. If on the Minnesota side, it’s again understandable. One of the falls, Partridge Falls, is not necessarily easy to access because of rough road. Middle Falls, where there seems to be two different portions, can be accessed from the park entrance, though it requires a 2.5 mile hike one-way. This hike is by no means on flat ground, and it is steep at points, though by no means terrible. There is no simple boardwalk to the falls, though! Once you get there, you may be slightly disappointed, since High Falls is so much taller and more impressive. I would say the solitude you will experience at the Middle Falls would be a positive, but it was pretty quiet at the High Falls when I visited in mid-May.

As a side note, if you go to the Ontario side of the river, you will likely have a much easier time visiting these falls. From the Minnesota side, you can actually see the road that hugs the river, leading almost directly to the falls. So if you don’t want a workout, I would suggest that.

Directions (from Minnesota)

  1. Head north on MN-61 from Grand Portage to the entrance of Grand Portage State Park. You’ll see the border gate as you’re turning in.
  2. From the parking area, start along the trail toward High Falls. You should be heading west.
  3. Instead of heading toward High Falls, continue along the Middle Falls Trail. It is at least 1.6 miles one-way. Near the end of the trail, the trail splits (and creates a circle). The left fork in the trail leads you to the falls quicker, and I would even return from that direction. The right fork, adds a longer distance, and didn’t hold any interest for me.

Directions (from Ontario)

  1. On ON-61, find Route 593. Head west on Route 593, where after about 1 mile (maybe even less), you’ll pass a parking area on your LEFT. It’s really the only parking area, so turn in. If you’re unsure, there’s a sign in the parking area to indicate your near the falls.
  2. Walk along the old road upstream to the falls.

Accessibility: 3/10 (moderate/difficult, from Minnesota), 9/10 (easy, from Ontario)
Height: 15′
Hike: 5.0 mile hike round-trip (in Minnesota), 0.5 miles round-trip (in Ontario)

Middle Falls in May 2010 (from the Minnesota side)

Update: Alright, so I had a chance to visit Middle Falls when I was in the Thunder Bay area in late April 2012, and I can tell you, that for the most part, it is much easier to visit the Ontario side of the falls. The only difficulty is a minor one…There is no large sign indicating that you’re passing the parking area for the falls. I ended up passing the parking area, and turned around because I felt I had gone too far. I was correct in my hunch, as the parking area I saw was for the much shorter hike to the falls. On the Minnesota side, it’s a 3+ mile hike one-way…In Ontario, it’s about a 1/4 of a mile.  I also feel the views are somewhat better on the Ontario side.  For a while, I wasn’t even sure I was looking at the same waterfall.

Middle Falls in April 2012 (from the Ontario side)

 

Where in the World is Lower Middle Falls?

Cascade Falls, Minnesota

Cascade Falls in May 2010

The first waterfall that you encounter on the Cascade River is logically called Cascade Falls. Further beyond that are The Cascades. This first falls is a rather short distance from the trailhead, and it is definitely worth it to go and visit both “sets” of falls.

Unlike the Cascades, which is a complex set of…cascades, Cascade Falls is an actual plunge waterfall. I visited the falls in mid-May 2010, and the falls were at their prime then, most likely due to recent snow melt. (It had actually snowed just three days before, though that disappeared pretty quickly, and the temperatures returned to a state of relative comfort.) I imagine these falls are probably less impressive in the depths of the summer, but the hike is still enjoyable. The best view of the falls is found on the left side of the river (as you start).

Directions:

  1. The parking area for The Cascades and Cascade River State Park are found off of MN-61 a few miles south of Grand Marais. The parking area is on the left side of the road if you are driving north.
  2. After finding the parking area for the falls, you can head upstream on either side of the river, but I started on the south side. That seems to provide better views of the falls.

Accessibility: 9/10 (easy)
Height: 25′
Length of Hike: 0.2 miles round-trip

Where in the World is Cascade Falls?

Devil’s Kettle, Minnesota

The Devil’s Kettle in May 2010

The Devil’s Kettle is probably one of the most widely known waterfalls in Minnesota. It gets much of its popularity due to a piece of the waterfall plunging into the unknown. There is a hole in the rock where the water goes, and I guess nobody seems to be able to figure out where the water ends up.

I have to admit that while the concept is cool, the actual execution isn’t nearly as exciting. When you visit the falls, you can’t really tell that the water is disappearing anywhere. It’s just not that apparent. To me, it would almost be cooler if the water reappeared somewhere, anywhere. The waterfall is still enjoyable, I can’t deny that, but you can’t really get that close to get a better view of the Devil’s Kettle. I found the waterfall downstream, Upper Falls, to be much more intimate.

Directions:

  1. From MN-61 along the North Shore, you’ll be looking for Judge C.R. Magney State Park.
  2. Once you find the state park, you’ll turn left (if you’re heading north) into an entrance that winds a short ways to a parking area for the falls.
  3. From there, there’s about a mile hike one-way to the two falls.

Accessibility: 6/10 (moderately steep in a few sections and a lot of stairs near the end)
Height: 25′
Length of Hike: 2 miles round-trip

Where in the World is Devil’s Kettle?

The Cascades, Minnesota

The Cascades in May 2010

The North Shore of Minnesota has a nice variety of waterfall settings. Some of these waterfalls require longer hikes, whereas others are very accessible. Obviously, those that are more accessible are the most frequently visited. Gooseberry Falls, a very nice set of falls, is probably one of the most popular. The falls on the Split Rock River are probably the least traversed. The falls on the Cascade River fit somewhere in the middle.

The Cascades refers to a group of falls that can be viewed from a specific vantage point along the Cascade River. These falls are upstream from Cascade Falls. At least three falls can be seen from the bridge over the river. The first falls is just thirty or forty feet from the bridge, and is very pretty. The second and third falls are pretty evenly spaced, and are a few hundred feet upstream. It may be rather difficult to get a great view of the second and third falls up close, but I really didn’t explore that very much. I wanted to see The Cascades, but didn’t plan on spending a considerable amount of time there. There were other falls I planned on visiting. There are other falls beginning a mile or so upstream, at least that is what is shown on the map.

Directions:

  1. The parking area for The Cascades and Cascade River State Park are found off of MN-61 a few miles south of Grand Marais. The parking area is on the left side of the road if you are driving north.
  2. After finding the parking area for the falls, you can head upstream on either side of the river, but I started on the south side. That seems to provide better views of the falls.

Accessibility: 8/10 (easy/moderate)
Height: 15′
Length of Hike: 0.4 miles round-trip

Where in the World is The Cascades?