This State Park On Lake Superior's Shores Is A Waterfall Paradise With Unmatched Hikes

Gooseberry Falls State Park in Northern Minnesota's Lake Country is a dream destination in a region full of thundering wonders. After all, the Midwest is waterfall country, as you'll know if you've already paid a visit to Cuyahoga State Park's famously stunning waterfalls. If you consider yourself a falls connoisseur, this park along the shore of Lake Superior offers up an assortment of styles: plunge, multi-step, cascade — think of these as the pinot noir, merlot, and chardonnay of waterfall varietals. You can see them all on a series of glorious hikes here, or combine them into one grand loop. 


This part of the state is known for its falls, but locals consider the ones you can see at Gooseberry to be the best of them. And if you think the "flat" Midwest has no epic landscapes in store for avid hikers, think again. You may not be climbing a peak here, but it's definitely a peak experience.

Midwest summers are epic — the perfect time to take a scenic road trip along Lake Superior, for instance — and the falls are fantastic then. But there is no bad time to visit Gooseberry Falls: The falls thunder most mightily in the springtime as the region's epic snows melt away. Or if you like your waterfalls Nordic-style, you can even ski or snowshoe in to see them in winter. Fall offers colors galore, and the falls' slowed flow rates will offer up more zen-like, babbling serenity.


Hike to the best waterfalls in Minnesota at Gooseberry Falls State Park

The 2.2-mile Gitchi Gummi trail is forested and picturesque, with many side trails to falls viewpoints (don't hike head-down or you'll miss them). There are benches along the way for resting in contemplation, and a few sections with stairs, but little elevation change. In addition to the falls, there are bonus lake views (go counterclockwise for the most gasp-inducing reveals of the lake along the way). In winter, this ungroomed trail is popular with snowshoers. The 2-mile Upper and Fifth Falls Loop trail is longer and quieter than the Gitchi Gummi, a rolling stroll through quaking Aspen. Bring the bug spray, and wear shoes with grippy soles if there is mud underfoot. This is also a popular winter cross-country skiing route on groomed trail. 


In summertime, when the trails are unimpeded by snow or mud, combine the Middle and Lower Falls loop with the Gitchi Gummi, for a perfect warm-weather ramble. Does anything feel better after a vigorous summertime hike than to stand close enough to a waterfall to feel your sun-warmed skin blanketed in droplets of cool mist? Along this double-loop hike, you'll see the falls from viewing platforms and pass a retaining wall built to resemble a stone castle by a group of boys enrolled in the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s Great Depression.

These bonus waterfalls can extend your visit

Are you a fan of gorgeous waterfalls you can swim in? We like to finish off a stunning Gooseberry Falls hike with a splash or a plunge. After you've hiked the falls at Gooseberry Falls State Park, it's a short, 20-minute drive up Highway 1 to Tettegouche State Park, which has the tallest falls in Minnesota: High Falls (pictured above), a roaring 60-foot cascade on the Baptism River that's a 1.5-mile hike to get to. When you arrive, expect to see families frolicking in the shallows beneath. But don't stay too long, because there's an even better place to tarry up ahead. 


Continue on just past the park's boundary to the parking lot for Illgen Falls, a hidden gem of a 40-foot cascade that plunges into a perfect swimming hole said to be warmer and more inviting than Lake Superior's chilly waters. The hike to it takes you back into Tettegouche State Park and past a genuine log cabin that you can rent for the night through the park service. Could there be a more perfect base for a waterfall weekend?