As a longtime resident of southern Arizona, I didn’t have a lot of personal experience with waterfalls. Sure, Arizona has a few waterfalls, but, well, only a few. Needless to say, when the opportunity came up to explore some of the waterfalls in Wisconsin this summer, I jumped at the chance.
I’ll be honest though, I was a little surprised to learn that waterfalls in Wisconsin are even a thing. After all, most waterfalls are found in the West, in locations like California, the Pacific Northwest
, and Colorado
— all very mountainous places. Wisconsin? Not exactly mountainous. However, I quickly learned that there are actually over 40 waterfalls in Wisconsin, including one of the tallest east of the Rockies.
Intrigued but having no idea what to expect, I packed and headed to the Midwest. Here are some of the key takeaways from my trip, along with my favorite waterfalls in Wisconsin.
Top 3 Waterfalls in Wisconsin
With so many waterfalls in Wisconsin, it was difficult to decide which ones to visit! We chose to focus on the Northwoods and western region of the state where there are lots of waterfalls to frolic in.
The first stop on our Wisconsin waterfall road trip was Morgan Falls, in the massive Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. The hike was .75 miles each way on an easy, well-maintained trail. Morgan Falls itself is about 70 feet tall (although researching the trip, I came across figures as high as 100 feet) and zig-zags through moss-covered granite channels. The falls cascade into a small pool, so naturally, I waded in. I didn’t actually want to swim but just touch the waterfall itself, and I’m proud to report that I succeeded without falling in!
Morgan Falls is also right near St. Peter’s Dome, affectionately called “Old Baldy” by locals. It’s the highest point in the national forest, a nearly-flat outcropping in the granite with expansive views, including of Lake Superior. To reach St. Peter’s Dome, continue past Morgan Falls for about 1.5 miles. It’s not far, but it is steep and usually muddy. We chose not to hike it because the weather was looking dicey, but if you do both, your roundtrip mileage will be about 4.2 miles.
Big Manitou Falls
Next up: Big Manitou Falls, which is honestly worth a trip to Wisconsin in its own right. It’s the largest waterfall in the state at a whopping 165 feet and for perspective, Niagara Falls is just two feet taller! To reach Big Manitou Falls, head to Pattison State Park near Superior, where you’ll find plenty of services like gas, restaurants, RV parks, and hotels. We paid $11 admission for parking, but it’s a few dollars cheaper for Wisconsin residents. Once in the park, we took the half-mile trail to view the falls, then also hiked the 1.5-mile Big Manitou Falls River Trail. If it’s warm out, I recommend taking a dip in Interfalls Lake, just before the falls.
My personal favorite Wisconsin waterfall was Willow Falls, hands-down. It’s not the biggest, obviously, but it is the most striking with several cascading tiers. If I had to guess, it’s at least 100 feet wide. Surprisingly, Willow Falls is also one of the most accessible waterfalls in Wisconsin. It’s in Willow River State Park and several short, paved trails lead directly to the falls. A park ranger told us the pools below the falls are “usually very swimmable,” but it happened to be a chilly day so we didn’t brave it (remember, Arizona girl here!).
Other Notable Waterfalls in Wisconsin
Although we didn’t make it to all 40+ of them on this particular trip (we didn’t even scratch the surface, actually!), there are many other waterfalls in Wisconsin to explore. Upson Falls and Cascade Falls were both on our shortlist, primarily because there are actually multiple waterfalls to see in each area. Upson Falls is in Iron County, home to more waterfalls than any other region in the state, and Cascade Falls is near Minnehaha and Vermillion Falls.
Things I Learned About the Midwest
I travel extensively, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn a lot on this trip to Wisconsin. A little bit of education injected into adventure is always a great thing!
- There’s such a thing as waterfall etiquette. Keep in mind that anyone else at the falls is there for the exact same reason as you: to enjoy the natural beauty. And maybe do some swimming. Make sure you give other people a chance to enjoy the falls all to themselves. Don’t take your snack break directly under the falls and try not to linger too long as you take photos. We watched one group who seemed to be totally oblivious that anyone else was around. They took group photos and selfie after selfie but didn’t move off to the side when they were done, and everyone waiting was clearly frustrated. Also, don’t bring any glass containers and pack out all trash you bring in.
- Midwestern folks really are super kind and friendly. I’ve never had so many strangers wave and smile at me in my entire life. I complimented a woman’s earrings at a coffee shop and she offered to take them off and give them to me. I’m confident she wasn’t kidding, either! My experience wasn’t just a fluke — the University of Cambridge conducted a study that proved Midwesterners are particularly “agreeable.” They will correct you if you call a Coke a “soda,” though. It’s “pop” in the Midwest, period.
- The Midwest is very humid. It turns out all that water — not just waterfalls in Wisconsin, but also the many, many lakes and rivers dotting the entire region — creates a great deal of humidity. Plan on having frizzy hair and feeling perpetually sticky. Yes, I’m speaking from personal experience. The silver lining is that there are plenty of spots to jump in the water for a refreshing dip.
- Summer brings out ticks, black flies, and other biting insects. With all of Wisconsin’s water and humidity levels come bugs. Biting ones. Particularly in June and July, you’ll likely encounter mosquitoes and black flies near waterfalls in Wisconsin. Wear long sleeves, use heavy-duty bug spray, and wear one of those netted hats if it’s really bad. Bug spray and long sleeves worked well for me, but we admittedly weren’t visiting in the worst of the season.
After reading about my experience visiting waterfalls in Wisconsin, I hope you feel inspired to do the same! They’re definitely somewhat of a hidden gem, largely overshadowed by the Great Lakes and bigger cities in Minnesota. And since many of the waterfalls are clustered together, it might be a good idea to get an RV rental
and take a little waterfall-themed road trip
. Maybe I’ll do that myself next time (there will
be a next time, Wisconsin!).