April Showers Bring On Waterfall Season

A Duluth writer shares tips for viewing waterfalls at their peak in Superior, Wis.
Big Manitou Falls in Pattison State Park in Superior, WI
Big Manitou Falls in Pattison State Park in Superior, Wis.

Photo by Christopher Pascone

What do you on a weekend of non-stop rain? Where do you go as an outdoors person when the shoulder season is too cold, too wet, and too slow?

This is the question I was asking myself this weekend in Duluth. Winds blowing at 35 miles an hour off Lake Superior eliminated any chance of strolling on the Lakewalk. Snow and mud made the woods still inaccessible. Natural-surface city trails are all closed for the seasonal thaw. Tough times! Yet this immature time of year, when nature feels like a sixth grader who keeps misbehaving instead of following grown-up expectations, is showtime for the mighty waterfalls cascading toward Lake Superior. Get out there and let these gushing flows work into your soul. Let them drown out any disappointment you may have from an underwhelming spring. Water is life, and waterfalls are nature’s exclamation point at the end of a snowy winter.

Little Manitou Falls in Pattison State Park in Superior, WI
Little Manitou Falls in Pattison State Park in Superior, Wis.

Photo by Christopher Pascone

If you’re looking for a spectacular waterfall experience away from the crowds, head from Duluth to Pattison State Park in Superior, Wisconsin. This easy 25-minute drive down WI-35 brings you straight to the frighteningly tall Big Manitou Falls (a 165-foot drop, and the fourth-highest waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains). The falls are a five-minute walk from the parking lot and can be approached from both sides of the river. You can also drive a mile farther down WI-35 to the Little Manitou Falls parking lot, which, despite its name, still makes an overpowering impression.

Whichever falls you visit first, you’ll find yourself in a maelstrom of sensory overload.

Big Manitou Falls in Pattison State Park in Superior, WI
Big Manitou Falls in Pattison State Park in Superior, Wis.

Photo by Christopher Pascone

As soon as you step out of the car, a woody coniferous smell overpowers you, oozing from the cedars, balsams, and spruce that line the Black River. The delicious smell is multiplied on a rainy day. Pinch some balsam needles and rub them in your fingers to feel transported by the lemony scent they exude.

Next you will be enraptured by the transcendental hum of water rushing, falling, and crashing into the rocks and pools below. This constant flowing sound envelops you in nature’s grasp. It’s hard to even hold a conversation next to these deafening torrents.

Finally, the eyes behold nature’s rugged power as you contemplate the force and velocity of the river hurtling over the falls. Mist bellows up from the foamy pools below, and if rain is falling from above, you begin to wonder if you’re not in the Pacific Northwest.

Waterfalls are at their peak right now. Go let them sweep you off your feet.

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