Ah, Wisconsin. While often hailed for its charming dairy farms, legendary cheese, and fervent sports fans, it holds another, more serene secret: its waterfalls.
Nestled amidst the state's lush green forests, expansive lakes, and winding rivers, these cascades, both mighty and modest, offer visitors a refreshing escape from the ordinary.
Whether you're a seasoned waterfall chaser or a curious traveler, let's dive into the beautiful waterfalls of Wisconsin.
50+ Waterfalls of Wisconsin
Wisconsin offers a plethora of waterfalls, each unique in its beauty and ambiance. With over 50 waterfalls scattered throughout the state, Wisconsin beckons waterfall chasers and nature enthusiasts alike to explore its hidden gems and popular sites.
Whether you're a seasoned explorer or a curious traveler, these waterfalls promise unforgettable sights and experiences. Dive into our list of the top 50 waterfalls in Wisconsin and let the journey to these magnificent cascades begin!
Northern Wisconsin Falls:
- Amnicon Falls - Amnicon Falls State Park
- Big Manitou Falls - Pattison State Park
- Little Manitou Falls - Pattison State Park
- Pattison Park Falls - Near Superior
- Harker's Falls - Ashland County
- Lost Creek Falls - Bayfield County
- Meyers Beach Sea Caves - Apostle Islands
- Siskiwit Falls - Bayfield County
Central Wisconsin Falls:
- Big Bull Falls - Near Wausau
- Dells of the Eau Claire Falls - Marathon County
- Granite Quarry Falls - Montello
- Pewit's Nest Gorge - Baraboo
- Witches Gulch - Wisconsin Dells
- Yahara River Parkway Waterfall - Madison
Marinette County (Waterfall Capital):
- Dave's Falls - Marinette County
- Eighteen Foot Falls - Marinette County
- Fourteen Foot Falls - Marinette County
- Jenny Falls - Marinette County
- Long Slide Falls - Marinette County
- Lower Falls on Pike River - Marinette County
- Snake Pit Falls - Marinette County
- Veterans Falls - Marinette County
- Twelve Foot Falls - Marinette County
Iron County & Nearby Areas:
- Potato River Falls - Iron County
- Superior Falls - Iron County
- Tyler Forks Cascades - Iron County
- Upson Falls - Iron County
- Red Granite Falls - Copper Falls State Park
State Parks & Special Sites:
- Brownstone Falls - Copper Falls State Park
- Cascade Falls - Osceola
- Copper Falls - Copper Falls State Park
- Fonferek Glen Falls - Brown County
- Morgan Falls - Near Mellen
- Now and Then Falls - Near Ellison Bay
- Stephens Falls - Governor Dodge State Park
- Willow Falls - Willow River State Park
- Superior Falls - Near Saxon
Lesser-Known & Unique Spots:
- Chippewa Falls - Chippewa River
- Devil's Punchbowl - Menomonie
- Houghton Falls - Washburn
- LaSalle Falls - Florence County
- Lone Rock Falls - Florence County
- Lower Cataract Falls - Polk County
- Lower Clam Falls - Burnett County
- Perrot Ridge Cliffs - Trempealeau County
- Twin Falls - Florence County
- Wolf River Stair Step Falls - Near Langlade
- Big Eddy Falls - Florence County
- Bond Falls - Near the Wisconsin-Michigan border
By grouping these waterfalls, you can plan trips around specific regions or even design waterfall-themed tours based on these categories!
Ranking the Waterfalls of Wisconsin: The Top 5 and Why
Wisconsin, aptly nicknamed "America's Dairyland," is not just about cheeseheads and football; it's a nature lover's dream, and its waterfalls are the cherry on top. While all of its cascades deserve attention, here's a ranking of the top 5 waterfalls of Wisconsin, each standing out for its own unique reasons:
1. Big Manitou Falls, Pattison State Park
- Why It's #1: As Wisconsin’s tallest waterfall, Big Manitou plunges a breathtaking 165 feet. Beyond its height, its setting amidst dense forests and rugged terrain makes it an awe-inspiring sight. Plus, with an observation deck, you're guaranteed a perfect view.
2. Willow Falls, Willow River State Park
- Why It Ranks: Multi-tiered cascades and a stunning gorge setting. The falls drop through a series of beautiful rock formations. Its accessibility via a scenic hiking trail and the added bonus of a swimming hole at its base makes it an all-season favorite.
3. Copper Falls & Brownstone Falls, Copper Falls State Park
- Why They Stand Out: Set within a deep gorge with ancient lava flows and a dense forest canopy, these falls offer a double dose of beauty. The park's observation platforms and trails provide varying angles to witness these majestic cascades.
4. Amnicon Falls, Amnicon Falls State Park
- Reasons to Love It: This isn’t just one waterfall, but a collection of cascades and rapids along the Amnicon River. The covered bridge overlooking the falls adds a touch of historical charm. It's a perfect spot for both relaxation and photography.
5. Morgan Falls, Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest
- What Makes It Special: At 70 feet tall, Morgan Falls is a slender and elegant cascade, set against a backdrop of serene woods. The trail leading up to it is a treat in itself, dotted with wildflowers and bird-watching opportunities.
Honorable Mentions: There are many other waterfalls that could have easily made the list, such as Cascade Falls in Osceola and Superior Falls near the Wisconsin-Michigan border. Each of these waterfalls holds a unique charm, setting them apart from the rest.
Whether you're a hardcore hiker, a nature photographer, or someone just looking for a peaceful afternoon, Wisconsin's waterfalls offer something for everyone. This ranking is subjective, so the best way to truly determine your favorite is to lace up those hiking boots and embark on a waterfall adventure of your own!
Popular Waterfalls: The Crown Jewels
Wisconsin's landscape is dotted with cascades that have made their mark not just on postcards but in the hearts of those who've witnessed their grandeur. Here are some of the state's most iconic waterfalls, drawing visitors year after year with their awe-inspiring beauty:
Big Manitou Falls
- Location: Pattison State Park, near Superior
- The Draw: As the tallest waterfall in Wisconsin, Big Manitou tumbles from a stunning height of 165 feet, almost rivaling the famed Niagara Falls in its majesty. A canopy of trees surrounds the falls, making it a mesmerizing sight, especially in the autumn when the leaves paint a vibrant backdrop.
- Best Viewing Spots: The main observation deck offers an unobstructed view, but for those feeling adventurous, various trails around the park provide unique vantage points.
Pattison State Park Falls
- Location: Also in Pattison State Park
- The Draw: Apart from Big Manitou, Pattison State Park is home to other smaller, yet equally captivating falls. Little Manitou Falls, for instance, offers a quieter, more intimate setting, making it perfect for picnics and reflective moments.
- Best Viewing Spots: The boardwalk trail lets you get up close, allowing you to hear the gentle roar of Little Manitou amidst the chirping of birds.
- Location: Amnicon Falls State Park, near Superior
- The Draw: A multi-tiered marvel, Amnicon Falls presents a series of cascades and rapids, each with its own unique charm. The covered bridge overlooking the falls adds a touch of nostalgia, making it a favorite for photographers and romantics alike.
- Best Viewing Spots: The bridge, of course! But also, wandering the trails can lead to secluded spots perfect for reflection.
Cascade Falls, Osceola
- Location: Downtown Osceola
- The Draw: Beyond its natural allure, Cascade Falls is woven into the fabric of Osceola's community. Its 25-foot plunge is right in the heart of the town, offering an urban oasis for locals and visitors. The falls have also played a pivotal role in Osceola's history, once powering mills that stood along its banks.
- Best Viewing Spots: The observation deck is easily accessible and offers a panoramic view. But if you're in for a little hike, the trail leading to the top provides a bird's-eye perspective.
Visiting these iconic cascades gives one a profound appreciation for Wisconsin's natural wonders. They may vary in size and setting, but each resonates with a timeless beauty, beckoning all to stop, look, and marvel.
Hidden Gems: The Less-Trodden Paths to Beauty
Beyond the hustle and bustle of the popular spots lie some of Wisconsin's best-kept secrets. These hidden waterfalls of Wisconsin, often overshadowed by their famous counterparts, are places where serenity reigns and nature's whispers can be clearly heard. Here's a journey through a few of these lesser-known treasures:
Willow River Falls
- Location: Willow River State Park, Hudson
- The Draw: These multi-tiered falls cascade through a series of rocky outcrops, forming serene pools below. What makes Willow River Falls so special is its accessibility amidst solitude—making it feel like you've stumbled upon a secret hideaway.
- Best Viewing Spots: Multiple trails lead to various viewpoints of the falls, but the one leading to the bottom provides the most immersive experience.
- Location: Upson Park, Upson
- The Draw: A quiet retreat, Upson Falls is all about the delicate beauty of nature. While not as grand as some of the state's larger cascades, its charm lies in the gentle flow that meanders through a picturesque setting.
- Best Viewing Spots: The park surrounding the falls has several benches and viewing areas—ideal spots for a quiet read or contemplative moments.
- Location: Near Hurley
- The Draw: Often described as "tranquil," Foster Falls' modest drop of 25 feet is set against a canvas of dense woodland. This is a place where the ambiance takes center stage—where the song of the birds and the hum of insects blend seamlessly with the falls' soft murmurs.
- Best Viewing Spots: A short, meandering path takes you right to the base, where you can feel the fine mist and perhaps even spot a rainbow on sunny days.
- Location: Near Mellen
- The Draw: Tucked away amidst the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Morgan Falls is a slender, 70-foot cascade that seems to have sprung straight out of a fairy tale. Its narrow descent, surrounded by moss-covered rocks and towering trees, feels otherworldly.
- Best Viewing Spots: The base offers a great view, but there's also a vantage point higher up which gives a layered perspective of the forest and falls.
While they may not feature on every tourist brochure, these hidden gems of Wisconsin offer something invaluable—a chance to experience nature's beauty in its purest, most undisturbed form. They're a testament to the fact that sometimes, the road less traveled holds the most enchanting surprises.
Waterfalls by Region
Wisconsin is a treasure trove of natural beauty, and the Wisconsin waterfalls are distributed throughout its diverse landscapes. Breaking it down region by region will help you plan a more strategic and fruitful waterfall-hunting trip!
- Morgan Falls: Just a short hike from the parking lot, this 70-foot waterfall is tall but gentle. Surrounded by old hemlocks, it's a serene spot perfect for a picnic during your Northern Wisconsin waterfalls road trip.
- Upson Falls: Located in the town of Upson, this waterfall offers picturesque views with minimal effort. With a park nearby, it's perfect for a family day out.
- Dells of the Eau Claire: A series of cascading waterfalls and rapids on the Eau Claire River. The dells and gorge are a geologically significant and breathtaking sight.
- Powers Bluff Maple Woods: Not just about the trees, the area is home to a modest, yet beautiful waterfall that's particularly robust in the spring.
- Big Falls: Located near Eau Claire, this waterfall is more about the width than the height. Spanning the entire width of the Eau Claire River, it's a popular spot for both sightseeing and recreation.
- Willow River Falls: Nestled inside Willow River State Park in Hudson, these falls drop dramatically into a deep gorge. The multi-level cascades are a highlight for many visitors to the park.
- Fonferek's Glen Waterfall: A geological gem located just south of Green Bay, this 30-foot waterfall is the centerpiece of a 74-acre geological area.
- Wequiock Falls: Near Green Bay, this waterfall is easily accessible and offers a quick nature retreat from the city's hustle and bustle.
- Parfrey's Glen: As Wisconsin's first State Natural Area, Parfrey's Glen offers a spectacular waterfall at the end of a scenic gorge. Located near Devil's Lake State Park, it's a must-visit when in the area.
- Pewit's Nest: This 30-40 foot deep gorge was carved by retreating glaciers. The Skillet Creek cascades through, forming several small waterfalls. It's especially picturesque in the fall when surrounded by autumn foliage.
Whether you're looking to explore the rugged northern terrains or the more gentle landscapes of the south, Wisconsin's waterfalls offer something for every kind of nature lover.
Best Waterfalls to Visit by Season
Each season in Wisconsin brings with it a unique ambiance, and the state's waterfalls transform in sync with the rhythm of nature. From icy spectacles in winter to roaring cascades in spring, let's dive into the best waterfalls of Wisconsin to visit according to the seasons:
Spring: The Melting Rush
- Amnicon Falls (Amnicon Falls State Park): With the snowmelt, Amnicon Falls becomes a roaring spectacle. The Douglas County park housing this beauty becomes a popular spot in spring.
- Pattison State Park Falls: Home to Wisconsin’s highest waterfall, Big Manitou Falls, spring rain and melting snow supercharge these falls creating a powerful display.
Summer: Serene and Green
- Cascade Falls (Osceola): In the summer, the surrounding foliage is lush, and the town comes alive with visitors. It's a perfect spot for a summer evening as the falls are illuminated with lights.
- Copper Falls (Copper Falls State Park): Ancient lava flows and deep gorges form the backdrop for these falls. Summer's warmth makes it perfect for hiking the park’s trails.
Fall: Colors and Cascades
- Lost Creek Falls: Hidden within a scenic forest, these falls get surrounded by a burst of autumn colors, making it a picturesque location for leaf-peeping.
- Willow Falls (Willow River State Park): The multi-tiered falls set against the canvas of reds, oranges, and yellows is nothing short of mesmerizing.
Winter: Frozen Wonders
- LaSalle Falls: One of the state's highest, LaSalle Falls turns into an icy marvel during winters. The frozen cascade against a snowy backdrop looks like a scene out of a fairy tale.
- Brownstone Falls: Located in Copper Falls State Park, the icy embrace of winter turns these falls into a stunning frozen pillar. Make sure to wear sturdy boots!
No matter the season, Wisconsin’s waterfalls never fail to showcase their distinct beauty. All you need is a sense of adventure and perhaps a good pair of boots to witness nature's artwork!
Wisconsin waterfalls for Adventure Seekers
Wisconsin isn't just about serene cascades; it's also home to a number of waterfalls that beckon the adrenaline junkie within. These falls offer a little more than just a visual treat. Whether you're into kayaking, cliff jumping, or hiking challenging terrains, there's something here for the thrill-seeker in you.
Big Manitou Falls
- Location: Pattison State Park, Superior
- The Draw: As Wisconsin's highest waterfall, Big Manitou drops an impressive 165 feet. But its height isn't the only thing that draws adventurers. The trails around here can be challenging, and the sound of the cascading water echoing through the gorge gives a real sense of the wild.
- Adventurous Activities: Nearby, there are areas suitable for cliff diving, but always ensure you check safety guidelines and water levels before taking the leap.
- Location: Near Washburn
- The Draw: The cascading water has carved out intricate sea caves and hollows over the years. While the falls themselves are a sight to behold, the journey through the Echo Dells with its sandstone gorges makes the trip even more exhilarating.
- Adventurous Activities: Take a trek through the less-trodden paths here, climbing over rocks and navigating the cool, shallow waters for a proper adventure.
- Location: Amberg in Marinette County
- The Draw: This isn't the highest or widest waterfall in Wisconsin, but what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in character. With a series of drops and pools, it's a fun place to explore.
- Adventurous Activities: The rocks around Dave's Falls are smooth and offer a natural slide, making it a favorite among both locals and visitors for a bit of splashy fun.
- Location: Copper Falls State Park, Mellen
- The Draw: This waterfall is part of the Bad River's dramatic journey as it cuts through an ancient lava flow. The rugged surroundings and roaring sound make it a haven for those seeking an adrenaline rush.
- Adventurous Activities: Hiking the trails around Brownstone Falls requires some agility, especially when wet. The terrain offers a fun challenge for those looking to test their hiking skills.
When you're visiting these falls, it's important to remember: while they promise adventure, nature also demands respect. Always adhere to safety guidelines, stay on designated paths, and make sure to leave no trace behind.
Camping Near Wisconsin Waterfalls
Nothing quite compares to the experience of waking up to the gentle roar of a cascading waterfall or the serene chirping of birds in the early morning. If you're looking to amplify your Wisconsin waterfall adventure, why not turn it into a camping trip? Here’s your guide to camping near some of Wisconsin's most mesmerizing waterfalls:
Copper Falls State Park
- Waterfalls: Copper Falls and Brownstone Falls
- Camping: The park offers family campsites, a group camp, and even backpack campsites for those wanting a more remote experience.
- Facilities: Restrooms, showers, and firewood sales are available.
Pattison State Park
- Waterfall: Big Manitou Falls (Wisconsin’s tallest!)
- Camping: The park has over 60 campsites, including some that are accessible for people with disabilities.
- Facilities: A swimming beach, restrooms, and a camp store are available for campers.
Interstate State Park
- Waterfall: Various smaller cascades along the St. Croix River.
- Camping: This park boasts over 80 family campsites, group sites, and even a few walk-in sites for a quieter experience.
- Facilities: Firewood, ice sales, and a boat launch are available.
Willow River State Park
- Waterfall: Willow Falls, a multi-tiered cascade.
- Camping: Over 100 campsites, including some electric sites, are spread across three campgrounds.
- Facilities: Restrooms, showers, and firewood sales make for a comfortable camping experience.
Amnicon Falls State Park
- Waterfalls: Multiple falls and rapids along the Amnicon River.
- Camping: The park offers both family and group campsites.
- Facilities: Fire rings, picnic tables, and restrooms are available for campers.
Tips for Camping Near Waterfalls:
- Pack Essentials: Ensure you have essentials like insect repellent, a waterproof tent, and a comfortable sleeping bag.
- Leave No Trace: Respect nature by packing out all trash and minimizing impact on the environment.
- Water Safety: If you're camping near a waterfall or river, always be cautious. Currents can be deceptively strong, and rocks can be slippery.
- Book in Advance: Some of these camping sites, especially in peak seasons, can fill up quickly. It’s always a good idea to reserve your spot in advance.
- Stay Informed: Always check the state park website or contact the park's office for any alerts, campfire bans, or other important notices before your trip.
Camping near waterfalls combines the thrill of the outdoors with the serene beauty of nature’s waterworks. So, set up that tent, light up a campfire, and let the symphony of Wisconsin’s waterfalls serenade you to sleep.
Tips for Visiting the Waterfalls of Wisconsin
Wisconsin’s waterfalls are undoubtedly a sight to behold. But, like any outdoor adventure, being prepared can greatly enhance your experience. Here are some top tips to make your waterfall hopping in Wisconsin unforgettable and safe:
1. Wear Suitable Footwear
- Many waterfalls require some hiking or walking on uneven terrain. Ensure you wear sturdy shoes with good grip to prevent slips and trips, especially around wet areas.
2. Respect the Environment
- Stay on designated trails and paths. This not only ensures your safety but also helps in preserving the natural habitat around the waterfalls.
- Avoid littering. Carry a small trash bag with you and always pack out what you pack in.
3. Check Waterfall Accessibility
- Some waterfalls might be located in state or national parks which may have entry fees or seasonal closures. Check ahead before planning your trip.
4. Plan According to the Season
- Each season offers a unique view of the waterfalls. However, accessibility can be an issue, especially in winter when trails might be snow-covered or icy. Always check local weather and park websites for current conditions.
5. Stay Safe
- Remember, rocks around waterfalls can be slippery. Avoid climbing or walking too close to the edge, and always supervise children.
- If you’re planning on swimming or wading, be wary of strong currents and never dive into unfamiliar waters.
6. Capture the Moment
- Waterfalls make for excellent photography subjects! Carry a waterproof camera or a smartphone with a protective case. Also, early mornings or late afternoons usually offer the best lighting.
7. Plan for a Picnic
- Many waterfall locations in Wisconsin have nearby picnic spots. Pack a lunch and enjoy a meal with the soothing sounds of cascading water in the background.
8. Interact with Locals
- Local residents often know hidden gems and trails that might not be on the usual tourist radar. Engage in conversations, and you might discover a secluded waterfall or a special viewing spot!
9. Stay Updated
- There are numerous websites and forums dedicated to waterfall enthusiasts. Join these communities to get updates on the best times to visit, trail conditions, and other insider tips.
10. Enjoy the Journey
- While reaching the waterfall is the highlight, don't forget to enjoy the journey. Wisconsin's countryside is filled with scenic beauty, charming towns, and hidden gems.
Armed with these tips and a sense of wonder, your Wisconsin waterfall adventures are sure to be memorable. So, gear up, hit the road, and let the beauty of nature take your breath away!
Historical Significance of Waterfalls in Wisconsin
Waterfalls, while renowned for their breathtaking beauty and serene ambiance, also possess deep-rooted historical significance in the state of Wisconsin. These cascading wonders have been woven into the very fabric of the state's history, shaping the lives and cultures of those who lived around them. Here's a glimpse into the past, highlighting the importance of these natural marvels.
Indigenous Tribes and Spiritual Significance
Long before European settlers arrived, the indigenous tribes of Wisconsin, such as the Ojibwe and Ho-Chunk, lived harmoniously with the land. To these tribes, waterfalls weren't just scenic spots but held profound spiritual meanings. They were often seen as places of power and were incorporated into tribal myths, rituals, and ceremonies.
The arrival of European settlers in the 17th and 18th centuries brought a shift in how waterfalls were perceived. The powerful currents of these cascades were harnessed for mills, aiding in grinding grain and sawing timber. Towns such as Menomonee Falls and Chippewa Falls owe their names—and early economic successes—to the local waterfalls that powered their industries.
Tourism and Recreation
By the 19th century, as the American wilderness became romanticized, many began to view nature as a refuge from the rapidly industrializing world. Wisconsin's waterfalls became early tourist destinations, drawing visitors from near and far. Postcards from the era often showcased these scenic locales, capturing their beauty and allure.
As industries grew and urban sprawl began to encroach on natural habitats, the early 20th century saw a burgeoning conservation movement. Many began to recognize the need to preserve the pristine beauty of places like waterfalls. This period led to the establishment of state parks and nature reserves, ensuring that these natural treasures were protected for future generations.
Wisconsin's waterfalls have often been immortalized in art, literature, and local folklore. From paintings capturing their majestic flow to poems that sing praises of their tranquil surroundings, these cascades have served as muses for countless creatives.
In conclusion, the waterfalls of Wisconsin aren't just natural wonders to be admired from afar. They're integral parts of the state's history and culture. Whether you're a history buff or just an avid nature lover, understanding the historical context can enrich your experience and offer a deeper appreciation for these cascading jewels.
FAQs: Waterfalls of Wisconsin
1. How many waterfalls are there in Wisconsin?
While the exact number might vary depending on what's considered significant, there are over 40 notable waterfalls spread throughout Wisconsin, ranging from towering cascades to quaint trickles.
2. Do I need to pay an entrance fee to visit these waterfalls?
Many of the waterfalls are located within state parks, which might require a vehicle admission sticker or a day pass. Always check ahead with individual parks or natural areas for the most accurate information on fees.
3. Can I swim at these waterfalls?
Some waterfalls, like Willow Falls, offer swimming holes at their base. However, always ensure it's safe and permitted before taking a dip. Currents can be stronger than they appear.
4. Are there any waterfalls accessible without hiking?
Yes, several waterfalls offer nearby parking or shorter walks, making them accessible to those who may not want to hike long distances. Big Manitou Falls, for example, has an observation deck a short walk from the parking lot.
5. When is the best time of year to visit the waterfalls?
Spring is often considered the best time, as the snowmelt results in more robust flows. However, each season offers a unique beauty: lush surroundings in summer, colorful foliage in fall, and frozen cascades in winter.
6. Are these waterfalls safe for children and pets?
Many waterfalls have designated viewing areas that are safe for families. If you're bringing along pets, make sure to keep them leashed and always follow posted safety guidelines. Some trails might be rough, so always judge based on your child or pet's capabilities.
7. Can I camp near these waterfalls?
Several state parks with waterfalls, such as Copper Falls State Park, offer campgrounds. It's a great way to immerse yourself in nature and wake up to the sound of cascading water!
8. How should I prepare for a day of waterfall chasing?
Pack essentials like water, snacks, a map or guidebook, comfortable footwear, and a camera. If you plan to hike longer trails, consider bringing along insect repellent, sunscreen, and a first-aid kit.
9. Are there guided tours available?
Some parks or nearby tour companies might offer guided tours, especially during peak seasons. It can be a great way to learn about the geological and historical significance of the falls.
10. Can I fish near these waterfalls?
Certain waterfalls are located on rivers where fishing is permitted. Always check with local regulations and ensure you have the necessary licenses or permits.
Remember, while waterfalls are beautiful and captivating, always prioritize safety. Stay on designated paths, respect any posted signs, and practice leave-no-trace principles to ensure these natural wonders remain pristine for generations to come.