The North Shore Waterfall Season
Come spring, things tend to get very quiet along the North Shore. This is one of our “shoulder seasons” that receives fewer visitors than in the summer, winter, or Leaf Change seasons. However, that doesn’t mean that the North Shore doesn’t put on an incredible show, even with fewer people around to see it. In fact, the North Shore Waterfall Season is probably the most underappreciated season here.
So what exactly is Waterfall Season and how can you make the most of this short-lived period? Read on to find out!
What is Waterfall Season?
Each spring, starting in late-March, the temps begin to rise up. After several consecutive days above freezing, the snow in the region begins to melt. Melting inland snow tries to find every way possible to flow to the lowest level in the region- the area lakes, primarily Lake Superior.
To do this, snowmelt finds its way into the area rivers and streams, raising water levels above average summertime levels. While all of this is happening, the rivers themselves are melting and releasing the water they’ve held onto through the winter months. Also, the frozen waterfalls spring to life with flowing water once again.
All of that extra water can create raging rivers and waterfalls that you can enjoy from the safety of solid (though, sometimes icy) land in the area’s state parks and hiking trails.
Additionally, some water can’t seem to make its way into established rivers and streams and instead form seasonal streams and waterfalls right along Highway 61. These streams and waterfalls are usually only seen during Waterfall Season or after heavy rains.
Unlike the TLC song, we here on the North Shore encourage chasing waterfalls. Some enthusiasts have even made books and nature films about the North Shore Waterfall Season phenomenon. And chasing waterfalls is quite easy to do up.
Starting in late March – usually the third or fourth week depending on the weather – the ice covering the waterfalls breaks free and starts Waterfall Season. It takes a few more weeks for the snow inland to find its way to Lake Superior. River and waterfalls stay very active until mid-April most years.
So if you come up between the end of March and mid-May, it’s hard to miss the waterfalls. They literally cascade down the cliffs along Highway 61 as you drive. Others can easily be seen from your car as you drive along. These include the Beaver River Falls outside of Beaver Bay and the Cross River Falls in Schroeder.
However, the most spectacular sights to see during the North Shore Waterfall Season are found inside the area’s state park. Huge, raging waterfalls greet you after varying lengths of hikes.
Our Top 10 Favorite Waterfalls
It truly is impossible to pick a favorite waterfall. It’s also very hard to predict exactly what a particular waterfall will look like during Waterfall Season. During the 3-week long season, they might look different each day! But here’s a list of our top ten favorite springtime waterfalls:
- Gooseberry State Park: Both of the lower falls and upper falls of this incredibly popular state park are fun to watch during the season. The lower falls, accessible by a paved but not maintained trail from the visitor’s center, are probably the most photographed and popular. But, for good reason! The waterfall is wide and from the hiking trail you can get so close to them you can almost touch them. Only, we don’t recommend that!
- Beaver River Falls: One of two waterfalls on our list that you can view right from your car on Highway 61. Located just outside of Beaver Bay, you can park your car along the shoulder and view the falls from the overpass. Easy and accessible as no hike is required to view these falls.
- Tettegouche State Park: Boasting four waterfalls, out person favorite are the Illgen Falls. The take a little more effort to get to (park above the main State Park parking area on Highway 1 and hike in from there) but worth it!
- Caribou Falls: Located along the Superior Hiking Trail, the falls are easily accessible from the Caribou River wayside rest. Just hike half a mile (and take over 100 steps) down to the base of the waterfall.
- Temperance River State Park: Discover the Hidden Falls deep inside the river gorge, or hike up a little further to see the Upper Falls. Both area amazing during waterfall season.
- Cross River Falls: The second waterfall viewable from Highway 61 on the list. Park at the Cross River wayside rest across from the Cross River Heritage Center. A very short walk to the overpass gives your incredible views of the waterfall. Or, hike below the waterfall to see a different (and, in our opinion, better) view from beneath the highway overpass.
- Cascade River State Park: Warning- the trail to the lower falls tends to be icy this time of the year! But, after just a small hike the length of a city block, you’ll find yourself viewing the larger falls along the Cascade River. Head up above the falls for a different perspective, then take another short hike to view the cascading falls.
- Fall River Falls: Previously hidden and not as well known, this little waterfall is no longer a secret after the Gitchi Gami bike trail came through. Enjoy views of the falls from the bike bridge.
- Judge C.R. Magney State Park: The Devil’s Kettle Waterfall is pretty impressive this time of the year. But don’t under-estimate the upper falls (which flows below the Devil’s Kettle)! Since you walk right alongside the lower falls to get to the Devil’s Kettle you can get upclose and personal with a raging waterfall.
- Grand Portage State Park: Well worth the trip to the US/Canadian border! The Pigeon River High Falls are likely the most photographed waterfalls next to Gooseberry Falls this time of the year. The accessible trail is not maintained in the winter, but may be cleared enough to be accessible for those with mobility issues. If you’re looking for a bigger adventure, head on over to the Canadian side to view the falls from the north side of the river. (When the border is open, of course!)
Experience it Yourself
Come on up the shore anytime between the end of March and mid-April to experience the raging waterfalls. Virtually every single waterfall along the North Shore will put on a good show at some point during this time, so don’t feel like you have to stick to our recommendations. But, if you want to, check out our Chasing Spring Waterfalls map below!
Chasing Waterfalls Podcast Episode
On March 21, 2021, Martha and Jaye went out chasing waterfalls. In this episode of Exploring the North Shore we visited five of our favorite waterfalls to check on their status early in Waterfall Season.
Chasing Waterfalls Video
From the 2021 waterfall season.