Minnesota’s Waterfall Wonderland

Apr 7, 2021News

Visit our trail-friendly sponsor!
Cannon Falls is a great destination for biking, hiking, skiing, and paddling.

By Tom Watson

Think waterfalls in Minnesota and the most famous ones come to mind easily: Minnehaha Falls, the double drop of Minneopa Creek, perhaps even the hidden falls at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. Lisa Crayford can spout off those and a dozen more- and that’s her short list. As a master photographer and the author of Waterfalls of Minnesota, a photo-guide to over one hundred waterfall drops and cascades through the state, Crayford combines two loves, waterfalls and hiking, into an outdoor activity she can enjoy from one end of Minnesota to the other.

Minnesota Waterfalls-Upper Falls on the Brule River

“I took a North Shore trip to Tettegouche State Park where I fell in love with Two Step Falls,” she recounts. “There’s just something about a waterfall,” she adds. For Crayford, the quest for that certain something had encouraged her to visit nearly every waterfall in the state, from the remote magnificence of Johnson Falls deep within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) to the somewhat elusive Minnemishinona Falls within a few miles of Mankato’s highly popular Minneopa Falls.

Minnesota Waterfalls-Hill Falls on the Pigeon River

Minnesota’s waterfalls and cascades are scattered throughout the state: 19 are found in the southern region from the Twin Cities southward including Redwood Falls, Pipestone and the 60-foot underground waterfall at Niagara Cave. Scores more dot the northern half of the state, 46 in the North Shore region alone. Ten Minnesota state parks feature waterfalls in their list of natural attractions including Banning, Temperance River, Judge C.R.Magney, Tettegouche and, of course, the massive cascading steps in the falls at Gooseberry State Park. The 120-foot drop in the Pigeon River at Grand Portage State Park is Minnesota’s tallest waterfall.

Minnesota Waterfalls-Dry Falls

To encourage waterfall seekers to hike and photograph Minnesota’s waterfall wonderland, Crayford offers several tips to finding and photographing these spectacular water displays. “Most of the hikes to falls are pretty short but some are well off the beaten track,” Crayford says. She highly recommends searches for the word waterfalls on both Google and Flickr – two essential tools for learning how to get to remote, out-of-the-way sites. “You don’t’ want to go in blind, especially out in the boondocks,” she warns.

Minnesota Waterfalls: Barrier Falls on the Devil Track River

Crayford says spring is “always the best time of year, the first week in March” for “beautiful, crystal clear waterfalls.” Along the North Shore most major rivers are flowing year-round for fantastic winter settings, too.
Photographing the scenery, dramatic rock outcroppings and flowing, raging streams require special techniques to ensure the best images possible.

A steady tripod is necessary whenever shooting at the slow shutter speeds needed to capture the sense of fluid motion of the waterfall. A cable release or timer keeps any shutter release motion to a minimum. Crayford recommends setting a digital camera’s ISO number to 100. “It will yield the greatest detail, sharpness, effects and color accuracy.” Among the other photography tips in her book, she suggests slower shutter speeds of 1/8 second or slower – “to produce a soft quality”.

Minnesota Waterfalls-Devil's Falls

Lighting is critical for capturing the full essence and grandeur of a waterfall. Because midday or full, bright sun can cause harsh shadowing and bright spots in the image, Crayford recommends heading out early in the morning, late afternoon or on cloudy days for optimum light conditions. “On overcast days you don’t have any hot spots on your waterfall,” she says. It’s also important to frame the waterfall and include some foreground element to give it all perspective.

A woman sits on a tree stump holding a camera

As far as picture composition goes, Crayford offers this advice: “Shoot from the top, bottom or side of the falls, but always try to keep one side of the image frame parallel to the ground. Basically, treat the waterfall like a piece of architecture.”
Some of Minnesota’s most spectacular waterfalls are also it’s most remote. Finding them and getting there safely may require the services of a backcountry guide. The journey to Johnson Falls in the BWCAW required paddling across three lakes connected by portage and “one hell of a hike,” remembers Crayford. For beginners, she suggests starting out with Gooseberry Falls and Devil’s Kettle along the North Shore or the Hidden Falls at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park.

Whether it’s the seven metro waterfalls, those in ten state parks or the scores of breathtaking cascading and plunging rivers roaring above Lake Superior, Crayford stresses that the main thing is to “get out and explore so much beauty.”

This article appeared in the 2017 spring edition of Minnesota Trails Magazine

About the Author

About the Author

Tom Watson

is the author of three books featuring amenities at Minnesota state parks: 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of MinneapolisBest Tent Camping-Minnesota, and Minnesota Camper Cabins. He’s a member of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW) and has been a regular contributor to Minnesota Trails Magazine for many years. Find out more about Tom and get in touch on his website.

Visit our trail-friendly sponsor!
Minnesota's Tour de Save is an annual bike ride fundraiser for suicide prevention
The Mesabi Trail connects Minnesota's Iron Range with the Boundary Waters
Hutchinson MN: Home of the Luce Line State Trail
Cannon Falls is a great destination for biking, hiking, skiing, and paddling.
For amazing views of winter on the prairie visit Luverne, Minnesota.

Keep up with the latest MN Trails news and events in our newsletter

About me

I’m Jan, the publisher of Minnesota Trails Magazine. I’m looking for that one trail, the next ride, a new discovery and other reasons never to sit still in Minnesota.

Save

More stories:

Save the Date for These 2023 Bike Rides

Road, trail, gravel, you name it. Take a look at our list of 2023 bike rides and mark your calendars!

Task Force Recommends New Office to Make State Parks More Inviting to Diverse Users

Outdoor recreation is a huge business in Minnesota. It could be much bigger if people of color saw more campers and hikers who looked like them.

2022/23 Winter Events at Itasca State Park

Family-friendly events at Minnesota’s iconic state park celebrate exploring the outdoors in the winter.

Trail Pairings: Mineral Springs Brewery

The beers at Mineral Springs Brewery come with stories and the fat bike trails are groomed-a perfect match!

An Iron Range Weekend

The new Redhead Mountain Bike Park opened a few weeks ago and the Mesabi Trail has added more miles. Time to visit the Iron Range again.

11 Minnesota Bike and Beer Pairings You Should Try This Year

Reap your reward for all of the hard work you do on the bike and treat yourself to a post-ride, barley-based electrolyte drink. Here’s some of our recommendations.

Skiing the Chippewa National Forest

200km of groomed ski trails in the Grand Rapids area offer something for everyone.

Adventure Report: Milaca Trails

This central Minnesota trail system packs a lot of hiking, biking and skiing into one 200-acre park.

Trail Pairings: Beaver Island Brewing Co

A canoe trip on the Mississippi deserves a pint at Saint Cloud’s Beaver Island Brewing Company.

Where the Heck is Breadloaf Ridge?

During peak fall color season on Minnesota’s North Shore, it’s good to have some alternatives to busy hiking trails.

Changing Seasons at Glacial Lakes State Park

Glacial Lakes State Park preserves a landscape formed by glaciers, like no other in Minnesota.

Visit our trail-friendly sponsor!
Whether you're an adventurer, antiquer, foodie or historian, Minnesota's Mesabi Iron Range has the perfect activity for you.

Please join our newsletter mailing list!

It’s your source for sneak previews of the next print issue, new trails to explore, upcoming events and the latest blog posts. We promise to keep it brief, entertaining and relevant and you can unsubscribe anytime. We will not share your info with anyone.

* indicates required