falls at gooseberry waterfalls along the north shore
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middle falls gooseberry raibow over waterfalls spring runoff waterfalls
Waterfalls photos from Gooseberry Falls State Park, taken in April.


Nina's Recommended Waterfall Tours
taken from Nina's North Shore Guide, 3d ed

Along the southwest half of the North Shore streams tend to be showy. With no headwaters, the rivers swell and pound during spring run-off and heavy rains and run low during dry times. Rivers without headwaters can discharge up to four times as much water as those with headwaters. From the Manitou River northeast, the rivers have headwaters and thus, a more stable flow. But it's a close call to the best performance during run-off.

lester river falls Lester River
Consider driving Scenic 61 if you would like to view some streams, their flows into Lake Superior and some fishing action. The Lester, French, Sucker, and Stewart (past Two Harbors) rivers all have spring steelhead runs. The Sucker River also has an abundant spring sucker run.

On the northeast side of the Lafayette Bluff Tunnel, you will cross the Crow Creek. See if it is running. It was originally named the Prohibition Creek, since it usually ran dry.


Gooseberry River
Get out of the car at Gooseberry River. Two waterfalls are visible from the bridge and three more are within a short hike. The three lower falls drop over 100 feet and the river path is beautiful. To see Gooseberry in all her glory, visit during spring run-off in April and early May.

spring run off gooseberry river lower falls gooseberry river

Next on the tour is the Split Rock River. You can access the river at the trailhead in the parking lot on the west side of the river or at an old road turnoff about a quarter mile east of the river on the lake side. Three miles upstream the West and East Branches of the Split Rock join beginning a 400-foot tumble over cascades and rapids terminating in a high falls about one mile from the mouth. Named for this split rock canyon, the river spreads into a wide flat valley before discharging into Lake Superior.

beaver river Beaver River
You should also get out of the car at the Beaver River at Beaver Bay. The river drops 300 feet in a series of cascades and falls above the bridge and enters the sedate bay. Highway 61 follows the curve of the bay to East Beaver Bay, providing additional panoramas.


The Baptism River is the highest falls entirely within Minnesota and can be seen at Tettegouche State Park. This superb trout stream descends over 700 feet including the 70-foot Baptism Falls and the 50-foot Illgen Falls further upstream.

Palisade Creek pales in comparison to the big rivers, but it originates in a stunning valley in the rocky ridges above Silver Bay. Check the hiking chapter for details on how to get there and bring a rod and reel, the brook trout can be thick.

From this point north, rivers have headwaters. Headwaters are typically lakes, streams and swamps. In addition, the Caribou and Manitou Rivers have plentiful spring water sources, which, when coupled with relatively stable flows, mean excellent trout habitat. You will encounter the Caribou River at the junction of Lake and Cook Counties. This border river begins in the swamps and then cascades and falls to Lake Superior. On the immediate eastern side of the river, there is a small parking area on the northern side of the road. You can access the river and a path that leads about a half mile up the river to the falls.

Manitou River
The Manitou, Ojibwa for great magical spirit, features eight major waterfalls with the last one dropping almost directly into Lake Superior. Access is limited with tour or charter boats providing excellent views of the last falls.
Two Island River near Taconite Harbor is named for the two islands, Gull and Bear, opposite the mouth of the river. With lake and swamp headwaters, Two Island descends the last miles into rapids and cascades.
Cross River in Schroeder is a sight to behold. The bridge spans the river almost mid-falls, providing an awesome water display, especially in the spring. You'll find ample room to pull over on both sides of the river, which features five major falls in the lower six miles.
manitou river

Temperance River
In my book, Temperance has the easiest access to the best river presentation. A mere quarter-mile upstream the Temperance River takes a spectacular last drop into a gorge so narrow you can't always see where the river lands. Upstream a few yards more are roaring cascades. Just below Highway 61 is a footbridge showcasing the river's mouth, for which the river was named. Temperance was credited as the only river along the North Shore without a sand bar at its mouth (though in some years it actually has a bar). The headwaters of the Temperance includes Brule Lake, which is also a headwaters for Brule River. It is a rarity that the same lake serve as a source for two different river systems.
temperance river gorge

Legend has it the Onion River between Tofte and Lutsen was created from the tears Paul Bunyan shed while cutting timber nearby, where wild onions grow in profusion.

poplar river falls Poplar River
The Poplar River serves as water source for snowmaking at Lutsen Mountains and is restive in the last mile of descent. A few miles inland, however, is a roaring falls followed by canyons and cascades.

Cascade River
You haven't seen cascades until you've seen the Cascade River. Ten miles above the mouth the river abruptly falls into the descent to Lake Superior. Dropping 900 feet in the lower three miles, the river takes a steep final run in the last quarter mile as it drops 120 feet through a deep, churning gorge. Hike both sides of the Cascade River by parking at the river mouth and following the trails signs.

Swamp River enters Devil Track Lake (8 miles north of Grand Marais) and at the outlet of the lake becomes Devil Track River. The upper river is slow moving with beaver ponds, but then enters a barely visible gorge by thunderously leaping over a sheer vertical wall of red rhyolite. Comprised almost entirely of shards of rhyolite, the riverbed winds a last mile down to Lake Superior.

The Kadunce River in Colvill is a wonderful river hike. The lower reaches have small red rhyolite gorges and waterfalls. You can follow the path on the east side of the river or hike right up the river. Wear a pair of rubber soled shoes and be prepared to get a little wet. At the mouth of the river are a few picnic tables and a great cobblestone beach.

brule river Brule River
The Brule River at Judge Magney State Park is third in size after the St Louis and Pigeon Rivers. But the Brule's most famous feature is the Devil's Kettle. A mile and a half inland are the Lower Falls, then the Upper Falls and the Devil's Kettle, where the river course splits. About half of the river's water flow runs over the Upper Falls while the other half enters a cauldron, the Devil's Kettle, and disappears. It is presumed that some of the water goes into an underground waterway and some reappears in a pool in the lower river reaches, but the point of re-entry remains unknown.

Reservation River is unique in that it has no waterfalls near the mouth, so lake-run rainbow can ascend and spawn
almost the entire length of the stream.

Pigeon River was named for large flocks of now extinct passenger pigeons that once called the river home. A continental divide between North and South Lakes divides the watershed of Lake Superior and Hudson Bay. From the divide, the Pigeon drops 950 feet with the 50-foot Partridge Falls a precursor of the lower 20 miles of cascades and falls ending with the 100-foot drop Pigeon Falls (High Falls). This lower reach is particularly rugged until a short distance after the falls, where the river widens. An easy half-mile trail in Grand Portage State Park leads to the High Falls. The trail end has two great viewing decks where you can feel the spray of the falls!

As the international boundary, the Pigeon River also plays into American history. In 1783 the Treaty of Paris between Canada and the USA set up an international boundary along the usual waterway line. But that line varied with time and was still debated after the War of 1812 when the Treaty of Ghent made provisions for a further look at the border. In the 1820s a British and American survey party set to the task and came up with three options; the St. Louis River (British choice), the Kaministikwia (American choice) and the Pigeon River as an alternative. A compromise was set on the Pigeon River in 1842 when the British determined little value existed in the wilderness area between the St. Louis and Pigeon Rivers.
pigeon river


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