Guide to North Shore Rivers & Waterfalls
Come with me for a North Shore Waterfall Tour
The rocky, glacially-carved terrain of Lake Superior makes spectacular North Shore waterfalls! There are over 16 rivers and waterfalls to explore on the North Shore of Lake Superior.
You can take a North Shore waterfall tour any time of year. The most exciting time is during the spring (April-May) when snowmelt from the Superior National Forest fills the rivers to the brim, and the waterfalls are massive. The summer and fall typically have lower water, and there’s a number of rivers that are low and gentle enough to wade through. Winter’s cold freezes the waterfalls on the outside, but you can usually still hear the water running underneath. Plus, it’s cool to snowshoe the frozen rivers in the right conditions!
There are at least 16 North Shore rivers and waterfalls that you can visit – some are better than others. This North Shore waterfall guide will tell you what to expect and how to get there. The mile markers reference MN Highway 61, the North Shore Scenic Drive.
Gooseberry Falls, Gooseberry Falls State Park
Castle Danger MN, Mile Marker 38.9
“The Mack Daddy of North Shore Waterfalls”
Gooseberry Falls is one of the largest and most popular waterfalls on the North Shore. Located within Gooseberry Falls State Park, you can hike to five falls in total.
The main waterfall is a short walk from the visitor center, and it’s worth it! During high water, the flow coming over the cliff is incredible! The water even rises to meet some of the walkways. It’s amazing how close you can get! Take a loop around the falls to see the dramatic panaroma of water flowing over the cascading cliffs. The video below is Gooseberry Falls flowing at peak water levels during the spring snowmelt.
There is a quick loop that traverses down and up both sides of the falls. There are longer loops that go to more falls, the Lake Superior Shore, past historical buildings, and into the woods. Check out one of these routes here – 5 popular North Shore Hikes.
Local tip – during peak season (summer and fall), this area can get extremely busy. Make the most out of your visit by avoiding the busiest times including mid-day and weekends.
How to get to Gooseberry Falls
At Highway 61, mile marker 38.9 in the town of Castle Danger, turn into Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. Park for free at the Visitor Center. To drive into the park to get to the campground, Lake Superior, and other trailheads, a MN State Park permit is required.
Beaver River & Falls
Beaver Bay MN, Mile Marker 51.1
“Cool to explore”
Beaver River, Beaver Bay MNThere are a few ways to explore the Beaver River in Beaver Bay, MN. The easiest way is to park at the Beaver Bay Rest Area and take a quick stroll over the bridge to view the gentle falls of the Beaver River. This North Shore waterfall is cool to explore, but if you don’t have much time, there are better ones to see.
If you’re feeling adventurous, take the steep trail from the Rest Area down to the river itself. Maneuver over the large boulders and ledgerock to explore the river near the Highway 61 bridge. Make your way past several spots where the water tumbles downhill over giant rocks (only do this during low water). You can get real close, so be careful!
To explore the mouth of the Beaver River by Lake Superior, take the trail down to the sandy inlet. The water pools here and creates a sand bar which is fun to explore during low water. This is a great place to go rock hunting!
As a third option, you can take the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) for a walk along the river. It’s an easy trail along the Beaver river with nice views. To get there, drive .8 miles up Lax Lake Road and park in the SHT parking lot.
High Falls, Baptism River, Tettegouche State Park
Silver Bay MN, Mile Marker 58.5
“This North Shore waterfall is worth the hike!”
High Falls at Tettegouche State Park is another popular waterfall on the North Shore. This one wears the badge of the tallest waterfall “entirely within the state of Minnesota” (High Falls at Grand Portage State Park is the tallest waterfall in Minnesota, and it shares a border with Canada, so it doesn’t count as “entirely within the state of MN”).
There are two ways to get to this North Shore waterfall – a quick way and a long way. To take the quick way, park at the trailhead parking area inside Tettegouche River State Park. It’s less than a mile one-way. The trail takes you to a swinging bridge over the Baptism River upstream from the falls. Hike to a spectacular viewing area that overlooks the top of the falls.
Continue down the trail to the bottom of the falls. This is a great place to swim during low river levels.
Here is a video tour of the quick way during the winter
The long way takes a trail on the other side of the river (the east side).
More detailed information about High Falls and the other falls along the Baptism River can be found on my blog post: Waterfalls at Tettegouche State Park.
How to get to Tettegouche State Park
From Highway 61 mile marker 58.5, turn in to Tettegouche State Park. No state park pass is required to park at the visitor center. Pass is required to drive into the park. More details about how to get to each falls are located here.
Illgen Falls, Baptism River, Tettegouche State Park
Illgen City MN, Mile Marker 59.4
“Nice cliff jumping from this North Shore Waterfall”
Illgen Falls is a lovely North Shore waterfall, upstream on the Baptism River. If you don’t have much time, but want to see something really cool, I recommend taking a trip to explore Illgen Falls. Take the short trail from the parking area down to the Baptism River.
Explore the wide, flat river upstream. Then walk down the steep, rocky trail to see Illgen Falls. In the summertime, you may find people swimming in the pool and swinging from the rope swings! This is also a good place for cliff jumping.
See more details in my blog post – Waterfalls at Tettegouche State Park
How to get to Illgen Falls
From Highway 61 mile marker 59.4, turn onto Lake County 1. Head uphill for about one mile (past the entrance to the Superior Hiking Trail). There is a road-side parking area with a very small sign marking the state park (Tettegouche). If there are no cars there, this pull-off can be easy to miss.
Caribou River & Falls
Schroeder MN, Mile Marker 70.7
“Quick and Satisfying”
The hike to Caribou Falls on the Caribou River is only .75 miles one-way. This easy hike takes you to a set of stairs going to the bottom of the dramatically sloping Caribou Falls. This is a must-do, and it’s quick and easy! See more details in this post called Caribou Falls: A Quick and Satisfying Hike.
How to get to Caribou Falls
From Highway 61 mile marker 70.7 turn into the Caribou River rest area. It is along a part of Hwy 61 that is windy and narrow, look for the pull off, it can be easy to miss. There is a vaulted toilet if you need a potty break.
Cross River Falls
Schroeder MN, Mile Marker 78.9
“See this North Shore waterfall from the car”
Cross River Falls gets the prize as the most convenient waterfall on the North Shore. The falls drop right under the Highway 61 bridge, so you can see it driving by! Or you can park in the parking lot and take a quick stroll to the bridge to see it up close. There are no hiking trails in this area – just the overlook from the bridge. While you’re there stop in the Cross River Heritage Center.
Local tip – rent a cabin at Lamb’s Resort for a great view of the Cross River Falls and Lake Superior!
Temperance River, Temperance River State Park
Tofte MN, Mile Marker 80.4
“The fiercest North Shore River”
Our North Shore waterfall tour continues at Temperance River State Park. The falls and spectacular gorges of the Temperance River can be seen from within a 2-mile round trip hike from the highway pull-off.
Hike up the river over a ledgerock trail to see Hidden Falls and the dramatic “drill-bit” gorges. The trail is mostly rock, with a short uphill climb, so be prepared with proper shoes and ice grippers if it’s winter or spring. The drill bit gorges are the fierce part of the river I mentioned in the beginning! The river has sliced a narrow canyon through the ledgerock, where the violently swirling water has cut the rocks like drill bits! Check out the video below.
Hike down the river towards Lake Superior (and across Hwy 61) to see the lower falls. A boardwalk path and footbridge takes you across the narrow gorge and over the lower falls. Continue on the trail for a great view of Lake Superior, or hike down to the cobblestone beach.
How to get to Temperance River
At Highway 61 mile marker 80.4, there is parking along both sides of the road where the river crosses. There are falls to see on both sides of the highway.
Tofte, Mile Marker 86.5
“Nice trail but unspectacular view”
The 1.1 mile out-and-back trail takes you along the rim of the Onion River canyon for an easy hike any time of year. This first part of the hike takes you along the top of the cliff parallel to Highway 61 and the Lake Superior shore (and the Gitchi Gami Bike Trail). There are a few picnic tables situated along this section, placed for the perfect view.
The trail continues north along the top rim of the Onion River canyon. The trail is not on the edge of the canyon, but there are several “pull-off” areas to an edge where you can see the river and towering canyon walls. Unfortunately, most of the views are not amazing compared to other riverside hikes in the area.
While you start the trail at the top of the, it eventually meets the river’s edge. The trail continues to meet up with the North Shore State Snowmobile Trail.
Check out more details on my blog post: Onion River Hiking Trail, Lutsen MN
Lutsen MN, Mile Marker 90.1
“Stand on the bridge over the upper falls”
There are two different waterfalls on the Poplar River. One up-river, the other down-river.
First are the cascades of the lower falls, located at Lutsen Resort on Lake Superior. Turn into Lutsen Resort, and the road will bring you to Lake Superior. Please note this is private property, but guests are welcome. There are two covered bridges that cross the Poplar River.
The first covered bridge is right at the mouth, near the Lodge, where you’ll see fly fishermen, rock skippers, and beach sitters. The below image is the iconic view of this area at Lutsen Resor ton Lake Superior. The beach is a great place to take-in Lake Superior and wade into the gently moving water (during warm, and low-flow conditions). Then, take the River Trail to the second covered bridge to admire the cascades.
Next, head to the upper Poplar River for a heart-pounding river crossing! The Superior Hiking Trail spur trail takes you to a bridge that crosses the Poplar River. Stand directly over the spot where the river hits an abrupt funnel of rocks creating an incredible roar of water. It can be intense, especially during high water!
Here is a video from the bridge that crosses the upper Poplar River falls!
How to get to the lower Poplar River
From Hwy 61 mile marker 90.1, turn into Lutsen Resort on Lake Superior. Park in the parking lot where you will see the Poplar River flowing into Lake Superior. Walk upstream to the 2nd covered bridge.
How to get to the upper Poplar River
From Hwy 61 mile marker 90.1, turn uphill on Ski Hill Road (Cook County 5). Head two miles up the hill to Lutsen Mountains Ski Area. Continue on the road past the ski area to the end. There is a Superior Hiking Trail parking area at the entrance to the trail. There are a number of hiking trails in this area. It’s a great place to explore if your family is skiing and you are hiking. Check out my blog: Springtime Ski and Hike in Lutsen for more information.
Cascade River, Cascade River State Park
Lutsen MN, Mile Marker 99.8
“Easy, beautiful, and you can get real close”
The lovely Cascade Falls are located inside Cascade River State Park – directly between Lutsen and Grand Marais. This is one of my favorite North Shore waterfalls for a few reasons. First, it’s easy to get there. From the parking area, it’s just a short walk to the first falls. Second, there are multiple falls and cascades to see. Third, the river mouth is incredible during high water. Forth, you can get so close it’s scary (in a few spots)! I think it’s one of the most beautiful waterfalls on the North Shore.
To traverse the waterfall, there are a couple of loops you can take – a short and a long (the long one isn’t even that long!). This area is a hub for many other trails including one to the breathtaking view at Lookout Mountain, the Superior Hiking Trail, the Norpine System, more trails around Cascade River State Park, and more.
How to get to Cascade River
There is a parking area along the sides of Hwy 61 at mile marker 99.8. From here, hike upriver to the waterfalls and inland trails, or head to the shore explore where the river rushes into Lake Superior.
Grand Marais MN, Mile Marker 107
“See from the new section of Gitch Gami State Trail”
The Fall River on Lake Superior’s North Shore is not very accessible. There is no parking area, so you have to pull off on the side of Highway 61, which I don’t necessarily recommend. There is a path to see the waterfall, but it is unofficial.
If you can make it down to the shore next to the Fall River falls, it’s a really cool view! The falls are close to the mouth of the river and during high water, it’s an incredible rush to be so close! During low water, this is a neat spot to wade in the water and look for rocks on the Lake Superior beach.
Now, there is a whole new way to see the falls at Fall River! The expansion of the Gitchi Gami State Trail has brought a new length of paved trail right over the Fall River. The bridge goes past the falls at about eye-level, making it one of the most unique waterfall views on the North Shore! As of this writing in April 2021, the trail is not open yet. They are shooting to finish it this summer.
How to get to Fall River Falls
Pull to the shoulder near the Fall River bridge on Highway 61 at mile marker 107. Take the unofficial path down past the falls. When the Gitchi Gami State Trail is open, you can walk or ride your bike from the nearby Cutface Creek Rest Area.
Devil Track River
Grand Marais MN, Mile Marker 113.2
“Too much effort for what it’s worth, but a nice adventure”
If you want to see the Devil Track River barrier falls, you’re going to have to hike! This is one North Shore waterfall that’s not very accessible due to its distance from a parking area. You can take the Superior Hiking Trail, or walk right up the river (in the right conditions).
To get there from the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT), you can come from either direction (east or west). It’s shorter from the east, parking at the Lindskog Rd. (Cook County 58) trailhead. Park near the lovely Woods Creek and follow the top rim of the Devil Track River canyon to see the falls.
To hike the SHT from the west, park at the Pincushion Overlook parking area above Grand Marais. It’s nearly 4 miles one-way.
However, all of this work doesn’t deliver a very good view of the falls. So, if you’re looking to see great waterfalls, you might skip this one. However, the hiking trails are nice.
The best way to see the Devil Track River barrier falls is to walk along the river. You can do this in the summer during low water, and during the winter when it’s frozen. Check it out on my blog post: Devil Track River, Get in and Explore.
How to get to the Devil Track River
The Devil Track River is located 3.2 miles past Grand Marais. If you want to explore the river itself, you have to pull off Hwy 61, but don’t park by the No Parking Signs. Unfortunately, there is nowhere good to park. If you want to take the Superior Hiking Trail, refer to the instructions above.
Grand Marais MN, Mile Marker 119.0
“Best for canyoneering”
The only way to see the many falls along the Kadunce River is by walking the river itself! The tall and narrow canyon of the Kadunce River makes it impossible to see the water from the trail that follows the top of the canyon.
You can hike the river during the low-flow times of summer and fall, and when it’s frozen in the winter. I did this once during the winter, and I promise you that it’s one of the coolest, most scenic things to do on the North Shore! Check it out on my blog post Snowshoeing the Kadunce River Gorge.
If you prefer to take the trail, it is quite nice as well! Take the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) spur trail along the canyon to meet up with the SHT. Head west to explore Crow Creek. Go east for a short hike to the lovely Blueberry Overlook of Lake Superior.
I also recommend exploring the Lake Superior beach at Kadunce River. The generally low-flow Kadunce River flows into Lake Superior here and it’s a nice place to rock-hunt. Hang out on the rocky shore of Lake Superior and watch the waves.
How to get to Kadunce River
Head east of Grand Marais, MN approx. 9 miles. There is a parking area just over the Kadunce River on the Lake Superior side. Park here to access the beach and trails.
Devil’s Kettle Falls, Judge C.R. Magney State Park
Grand Marais MN, Mile Marker 123.8
“Most mysterious of the North Shore waterfalls.”
Devil’s Kettle Falls is the most mysterious of the waterfalls on the North Shore. That’s because the Brule River splits at the Devil’s Kettle – where half of it goes over the cliff and on down to Lake Superior. The other half flows into a hole and disappears into the Earth!
There has been a lot of research and debate about where that water goes (to the Devil’s House?). However, the DNR has seemed to debunk the mystery by measuring the flow of water before the split, after the split, and further downriver. They found that after the water goes into the hole, it joins up with the river in another location before it hits Lake Superior. The mystery continues, however, since they’re still looking to find where the waters meet. There’s a little more detail in this article for your reading enjoyment.
The trail starts within Judge C.R. Magney State Park. The two-mile out-and-back trail takes you along the upper rim of the Brule River. Be prepared for many stairs heading down to Devil’s Kettle Falls. But it’s so worth it!
How to get to Devil’s Kettle Falls
At Highway 61 mile marker 123.8, turn into Judge C.R. Magney State Park. A state park pass is required.
High Falls, Grand Portage State Park
Grand Portage MN, Mile Marker 150.8
“Tallest waterfall in Minnesota + handicapped accessible”
The High Falls on the Pigeon River is the tallest waterfall in Minnesota! Don’t confuse this one with the High Falls on the Baptism River (Tettegouche State Park). The High Falls at Grand Portage State Park is the actual highest falls in Minnesota. It also borders Canada. This one is a must-do North Shore waterfall!
The half-mile path is paved and handicap accessible. Close to the waterfall, the paved path turns into a boardwalk, and there is wheelchair access right up to the last viewing platform. There are actually two really nice viewing platforms (one has stairs), and they both give an excellent view of the falls, the river, and the Canadian land on the other side.
During high water events, you could get wet from the spray rising from the falls. Call yourself lucky if you catch a rainbow within the mist!
While you’re there, stop in the visitor center. The inside is decorated with local art and history reflecting the culture of the Grand Portage band of Lake Superior Chippewa.
How to get to High Falls at Grand Portage State Park
Take Highway 61 into the Grand Portage Indian Reservation. Go nearly all the way to the Canadian border to mile marker 150.8. Directly before the border crossing (and just after Ryden’s Border Store), turn left into Grand Portage State Park.
Bridal Veil Falls, Gunflint Trail
Grand Marais, 50 miles up the Gunflint Trail
“Most remote of the North Shore Waterfalls”
Make a day of adventure to Bridal Veil Falls on the Gunflint Trail! This one gets the prize for being the most remote waterfall on the North Shore.
Take an 8-mile round-trip hike to the falls from the Crab Lake Spur Trailhead off of Loon Lake Road. Or, boat or canoe to the falls by launching at Gunflint Lake. There are many outfitters on the Gunflint Trail that can help you get to this unique location.
How to get to Bridal Veil Falls
From Highway 61 mile marker 110, take the Gunflint Trail 50 miles to Loon Lake Road. The Crab Lake Spur trail is down the road.
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