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!
- Drive along MN-61. Between Tofte (further south) and Lutsen (further north), you’ll find the Ray Berglund Wayside.
- 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)
Length of Hike: 1 mile round-trip (this may be shorter now, or unnecessary in high flow)
Another portion of Stair Step Falls
Where in the World is Stair Step Falls?
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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)
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?
The lower portion of Witch’s Leap (May 2011)
Even though Witch’s Leap is not the largest or tallest waterfall, it might go down as the most creatively named waterfall in the Blue Mountains National Park. I don’t usually provide much history behind a name, but this one is intriguing enough. Apparently, to early explorers, it looked like there was a witch’s face in lower portion of the falls. I’m not sure I notice it.
If I have the positioning correct, there are two visible portions of Witch’s Leap, but they can’t be viewed at the same location. I don’t remember the exact location I viewed the upper portion of the waterfall, but it was along the cliff walk near Katoomba Falls. If you decide to hike down to the base (or the base of one of the drops!) of Katoomba Falls, you’ll see the lower portion of Witch’s Leap. You walk directly past it on your way to that viewpoint. There isn’t much water flowing over the falls, though it would likely increase after a heavy rain. Other waterfalls in the park were flowing more even though it hadn’t rained in the day or two before.
- Head to Katoomba. You can actually walk to the falls from Katoomba, though it is easier to purchase an Explorer Bus pass that gets you to the falls. The falls are found at stops 10, 11, or 12.
- Find the trail on the left (west) side of Katoomba Falls. Along the way down this trail, you’ll pass the lower portion of Witch’s Leap
Accessibility: 10/10 (easy, from the cliff trail), 6/10 (moderate, to get to the lower portion)
Height: 20′ (lower portion)
Hike: 0.4 miles round-trip
The upper portion of Witch’s Leap
Where in the World is Witch’s Leap?
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!)
- From Grand Marais, continue just over 9 miles northeast along MN-61 to the Kadunce River State Wayside.
- If headed northeast, the wayside will be on your right. You will then need to cross MN-61 to reach the trail.
- 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!)
Length of Hike: 0.6 miles round-trip
Kadunce River Falls in May 2010
Where in the World is Kadunce River Falls?
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.
- From MN-61 along the North Shore, you’ll be looking for Judge C.R. Magney State Park.
- 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.
- 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)
Length of Hike: 2.2 miles round-trip
Upper Falls in May 2010
Where in the World is Upper Falls?
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.
- Heading southwest from Grand Marais, drive for 2 miles on MN-61. You’re looking for mile-marker 107.
- 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.
- 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)
Length of Hike: 0.2 miles round-trip
Where in the World is Fall River Falls?
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.
- 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.
- 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)
Length of Hike: roadside
The upper portion of Cross River Falls
Where in the World is Cross River Falls?