Explorer’s Guide to Waterfalls in Lake County

In early April, the spring melt gives way to raging waterfalls that start to erase the last remnants of winter. Although several outdoor activities halt in early spring, exploring Lake County’s four state parks and the beautiful waterfalls can be a satisfying adventure.

Did you know that there are more than 12 waterfalls in Lake County – the most of any county in Minnesota? Of course, many visitors are familiar with Gooseberry Falls and the High Falls in Tettegouche State Park; however, between the North Shore and the BWCAW, you’ll find off-the-beaten-path trails and falls to explore. Check out the guide below and add these falls to your waterfall-viewing bucket list:

Waterfalls Along the North Shore in Minnesota

Gooseberry Falls

Gooseberry Falls in Two Harbors, MN

Gooseberry Falls earns its popularity as the gateway to the North Shore for its spectacular waterfalls, river gorge, Lake Superior shoreline, Civilian Conservation Corps log and stone structures, and north woods wildlife. Listen to the thunderous roar of the Gooseberry River’s Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls as it rages through a rocky gorge.

gooseberry falls in spring
Gooseberry Falls: Middle Falls and Lower Falls in Spring

Hike or ski to see the Fifth Falls through a forest of evergreens, aspen, and birch. Camping is available with modern campsites, picnicking, or relaxing along the Lake Superior shoreline or the Gooseberry River.

Split Rock River Waterfalls

Although Split Rock Lighthouse is one of the most photographed lighthouses in the U.S., many may not be aware of the waterfalls that run through the Split Rock River. If you seek a unique and beautiful waterfall but don’t want all of the foot traffic near many famous North Shore waterfalls, explore the Split Rock River Falls.

Located along a section of the Superior Hiking Trail, Split Rock Falls offers a beautiful 20-foot waterfall. You can also find a lovely wooden bridge and a surrounding forest to hike and explore. Spring makes the best season to watch the water flow.

west-split-rock-river-falls at split rock lighthouse national park

The first part of the hike to the waterfall is about half a mile. The trail leads you down a path to Split Rock Creek and a wooden bridge. Next, you’ll find the water rushing over the cliff.

We recommend hiking boots to access the cascades on the Split Rock River. Then, at the state park, take the Split Rock River Loop Trail, one of our favorite North Shore day hikes, to get a close-up view of the river gorge and waterfalls.

Tettegouche Waterfalls

Discover the spectacular overlooks at Shovel Point; rocky cliffs and inland bluffs; the cascading 60 ft. High Falls of the Baptism River; and the historic Tettegouche Camp, where visitors can stay the night. Tettegouch ranks as a hiker’s paradise with miles of trails that overlook the Sawtooth Mountains and wind down to inland lakes accessible only by foot.

tettegouche state park high falls
High Falls on The Baptism River, Tettegouche, State Park, Minnesota

Nature lovers adore this park! Hiking trails along the Baptism River provide views of many falls and cascades.

Baptism River Cascade Falls

Baptism River Cascading Falls, Tettegouche State Park

Although not as steep as its neighboring falls, the Cascade Falls offer a unique landscape as the water fills an upper pool before it washes down the rocks in the river.

High Falls

Located within Tettegouche State Park, the High Falls of the Baptism River is the highest waterfall entirely contained in Minnesota. As one of the major highlights of the state park, the waterfall is only a 1.5-mile hike to view. To see the falls from the bottom, it’s a fairly steep hike down and back – but the view is definitely worth the effort!

Illgen Falls

Still, within Tettegouche along the Baptism River and just a short drive up HWY 1, you can drive to Illgen Falls. Parking is available just past the Superior Hiking Trail parking area. These falls also feature a great swimming hole!

Two-Step Falls

On the hike towards the High Falls, you can observe the Two-Step Falls, about a 1.2-mile walk along the trail.

Glen Avon Waterfalls

Although typically unknown to the casual North Shore traveler, Glen Avon Falls, a hidden North-Shore gem, is a popular destination for anglers. Visitors can park and walk about 40 yards across a red, rocky area to the river’s edge.

glen avon falls lake county mn north shore

Beaver Falls

The Beaver River flows gently along to this juncture and then widens into a dramatic drop over a route of over 100 tumbling yards, down and down broad rock shelves. Then, the river again narrows, circulating at the bottom in a slow whirlpool before continuing. The Instagram-worthy vista sets in a broad valley with a forested ridge hiding the view of Lake Superior.

beaver river falls
Beaver River Falls, Beaver Bay, MN

Find the Beaver River roadside waterfall in Beaver Bay on Highway 61. Stop at the Wayside on Lax Lake Road to park and walk along the bridge and the cascades. You can also find a short trail leading you to the river and falls. This wayside stop has a covered picnic area and restrooms.

George Crosby Manitou State Park Waterfalls

A local favorite, this rugged, north-country wilderness park features waterfalls that cascade through a volcanic canyon surrounded by glorious forest. The park trails carve through a forest of fir, cedar, spruce, and other northern hardwoods. Hikers should watch out for moose, deer, bears, and wolves.

About 1.1 billion years ago, volcanoes spewed fiery lava, which cooled and built up in thick layers which form the bedrock along most of the North Shore. Later, when glaciers moved down from the north, they scraped and dislodged the rock. Finally, streams gradually eroded through these sediments between the numerous glacial advances and into the bedrock. Today, the rough, tumbling Manitou River still works to sculpt the gorge.

Wild Waterfalls Flow Through a Wild Park

The Manitou Cascades, multi-tiered falls on the Manitou River, deliver a raging waterfall viewing experience. A medium-difficulty one-mile hike will lead you to these gorgeous wilderness falls.

Caribou Falls Wayside

Heading north on 61, just north of Little Marais, sits the Caribou Falls Wayside. This hidden North Shore gem can get easily overlooked; however, it ranks as one of the locals’ favorites.

Caribou Falls Wayside North Shore MN
Photo Credit: North Shore Explorer

The moderate to easy 1.5-mile hike starts along the Superior Hiking Trail and Caribou River. The trail rolls with mild inclines and declines, giving way to scenic views of the Caribou River and gorge before arriving at a set of wooden stairs leading to the falls. Follow the stairs down to the water, where you will discover beautiful views to photograph the falls.

Continue back up the stairs and hike along the Superior Hiking Trail for views of Crystal Creek or head back towards the parking lot.

For a great guide to this hike, see the Caribou Falls post from North Shore Explorer!

Northern Lake County: Waterfalls near Ely and within the BWCAW

Kawishiwi Falls

kawishiwi falls neary ely mn

Within the Superior National Forest near Ely, Minnesota, in Fall Lake Township, the Kawishiwi Falls (pronounced Ki-WISH-i-wee) flows from the dammed Garden Lake into Fall Lake. Parking for this waterfall is located six miles east of Ely on the north side of Fernberg Road. To get to the falls from the parking area, take just short of a one-mile loop trail through the woods.

The Kawishiwi River is also a well-known river to kayak and hikes along the Kawiwishi Trail.

Newton Falls (Upper Pipestone) & Pipestone Falls

Pipestone Falls, BWCA

Just north of Fall Lake and Mile Island and South of Newton Lake, adventurous outdoors enthusiasts can find BWCA entry point #24. You can portage about .13 miles around Newton Falls into Newton Lake, heading northwest from the entry point. Paddling the length of Newton Lake is about two miles. At the north end of Newton Lake, there is about a half-mile portage around Pipestone Falls, located on Basswood Lake.

Wheelbarrow, Basswood & Lower Basswood Falls

On the edge of the  US/Canadian Border in the BWCA, northern Basswood Lake features three waterfalls mentioned above. Unfortunately, these falls are only accessible through portaging. To explore the beauty of the BWCA and these waterfalls, we recommend seeking an Ely-area outfitter to guide you.

Basswood Falls, BWCAW Fall Lake Township near Ely, MN
Basswood Falls, Basswood Lake, BWCAW MN. Photo Credit: Tone Coughlin

Spring Lodging Specials

Look for great lodging deals in the spring along the shore and inland. Often, there are valuable discounts before the summer season begins. In addition, many lodging establishments offer lake-view rooms and cabins where visitors can watch roaring Lake Superior waves, especially with early spring Nor’easter winds.

Spring makes an excellent time to head north; tourists will enjoy less traffic and crowds before the summer rush. Additionally, the scenic views while winter transitions to spring can be breathtaking.

Check out the specific locations and directions to explore all of Lake County’s waterfalls!