Niagara Falls may get the bulk of the attention when it comes to waterfalls, but the Midwest is home to its own share of amazing and beautiful waterfalls. Whether it’s a waterfall that’s split between the United States and Canada or an ice-cold waterfall in Nebraska, you’ll find impressive natural attractions at which to marvel. And the fun part is you can get up close and personal with most of these nine waterfalls.
1. High Falls At Grand Portage State Park
Standing at 120 feet tall, High Falls at Grand Portage State Park in northeast Minnesota shares a border with Canada on one side, making it the tallest waterfall in the state that’s split between two countries. The tallest waterfall completely in the state is the 70-foot-tall High Falls on the Baptism River in Tettegouche State Park. At Grand Portage State Park, the only park managed by the state and a Native American tribe (Grand Portage Ojibwe), the High Falls are stunning to watch, as the water barrels over the cliff plummeting with force into the Pigeon River, which eventually flows into Lake Superior.
The view of the falls is enhanced with a series of observation decks, allowing visitors to stand across from the waterfall or next to it, only a few feet from the water. The state park, which is located a few hundred feet south of the U.S.-Canada port of entry on Highway 61, features comfortable paths that lead you to the High Falls, as well as the Middle Falls, another waterfall a short way upriver. Grand Portage State Park is open for day use only.
Pro Tip: While at the park, stop in at the welcome center, where you can learn about the history and culture of the Ojibwe and the giant turtle mural on the floor. You can learn the Ojibwe names of animals, such as the bear, loon, and fish. The center has modern restrooms.
2. Smith Falls
Located about 30 minutes east of Valentine, Nebraska, Smith Falls offers a unique experience. The state’s tallest waterfall at 63 feet, Smith Falls is constantly cold because it’s shaded by trees, such as aspen and birch, commonly found in climates farther north of Nebraska. This is related to glacial movement during the ice age. You can stand underneath the falls in about knee-deep water. Smith Falls feeds into the Niobrara National Scenic River at Smith Falls State Park, which is popular with kayakers. You can access the waterfall along a shoreline trail that crosses the river over the converted Verdigre Bridge, a vintage bridge from the early 1900s that was moved from the northeast Nebraska town of Verdigre to the park after it was replaced by a modern bridge. The area is popular with campers, who enjoy planting tents and spending summer weekends in the area. The park has basic restrooms.
Pro Tip: After visiting Smith Falls, head into Valentine to enjoy an old-fashioned drive-in meal at Frosty Drive In, where carhops serve you. The menu includes burgers, fries, and broasted chicken.
3. Tahquamenon Falls
Spanning 200 feet across and 50 feet tall, the Upper Falls at Tahquamenon Falls State Park is one of the most powerful waterfalls in the country. With more than 50,000 gallons of water rushing over the edge every second and crashing into the Tahquamenon River on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Surrounded by a beautiful forest, the Upper Falls are the high end of a series of falls that includes the Lower Falls, too.
You can enjoy a riverside view as you walk along a boardwalk with a series of stairs (almost 100 stairs to the Upper Falls). You’ll notice that the water has a brownish tinge to it; this is caused by tannic acid, which comes from trees and plants in the area. The state park is home to more than 40 miles of hiking trails, with wildlife such as moose, bears, and wolves. The park has basic restrooms.
Pro Tip: For a true Upper Peninsula dining experience, enjoy a pastie at Tahquamenon Falls Brewery and Pub. Wrapped in a flaky crust, the pastie includes beef, potatoes, and vegetables. It’s best when topped with gravy.
4. Big Sioux River At Falls Park
As Sioux Falls’ most popular attraction, you can stand inches away from the Big Sioux River at Falls Park. With quartzite stone resembling columns as well as sharp rocks hugging the river, you can appreciate the power of the waterfalls as the river travels about 7,500 feet through the public park in South Dakota’s largest city. The falls’ magnificent view can be observed from several angles in the park, including overlooks just a few feet from the upper falls. A pedestrian bridge downriver features a straight-on view, while an observation tower at the visitor center allows you to get an overhead look at the attraction. The city park includes historical buildings, such as the Queen Bee Mill, the power building (home of the Falls Overlook Cafe), and a horse barn. The park has modern restrooms.
Pro Tip: Falls Park is on the edge of a public trail that takes you along the Big Sioux River through downtown Sioux Falls, where you can see public art, including the new Arc of Dreams, which stretches across the river. See my tips for enjoying these and other Sioux Falls attractions here.
5. Grand Falls
Located in southwest Missouri, Grand Falls is the tallest natural waterfall in the state. Dropping about 12 feet and spanning more than 150 feet across chert rock, Joplin locals will tell you that it’s their version of Niagara Falls because the layout resembles the more-famous waterfalls along the U.S.-Canada border in New York. You can actually walk across part of Shoal Creek below the falls. With a hiking area among the wooded area, the rocks are uneven, so you’ll want to wear comfortable shoes as you explore the area. There are no restrooms near the waterfalls.
Pro Tip: Enjoy dinner at Babe’s Drive In, home of the Chubby Cheeseburger, which includes two thick patties. The menu also includes a steak sandwich and chicken basket.
6. Dunnings Spring Falls
Located in northeast Iowa, Dunnings Spring Falls in Decorah is part of a city park with unique attractions. Dunnings Spring Falls follows a 200-foot sloping path downhill into the Iowa River. While it’s common to see people climb the rocks alongside the waterfalls, there is a boardwalk that takes you through the park’s woods to the top of the waterfalls, too. Nearby the Dunnings Spring Falls, the Ice Cave adds to the natural experience. The Ice Cave is an “enter at your own risk” attraction -- that may be a telltale sign not to enter -- but several people enjoy the experience. With thick ice walls, the cave is a summer and fall attraction. You can only go in about 60 feet, and you’ll find there are spots where you need to turn sideways and duck your head. While the Ice Cave isn’t for everyone, it does add to the experience of visiting Dunnings Spring Falls. This park has nice restrooms.
Pro Tip: For an outstanding made-from-scratch meal, you’ll want to visit Family Table. Open from breakfast through dinner, check out Iowa favorites including the pork tenderloin sandwich and chicken-fried steak dinners. If you’re planning time in the area, read my take on why you should spend a weekend in charming Decorah.
7. Bridal Veil Falls
Resembling a bride’s veil, South Dakota’s Bridal Veil Falls is one of three waterfalls in the Spearfish Canyon, about an hour west of Rapid City. At 60 feet tall, Bridal Veil Falls is easily accessible for visitors, with a platform available to view the attraction. The best time to visit is spring, when Bridal Veil Falls enjoys its strongest flow following the winter snowmelt. The canyon’s other waterfalls are Roughlock Falls and Spearfish Falls. There are no restrooms at the waterfalls.
Pro Tip: Enjoy the waterfall view as part of a drive through the 22-mile-long Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway.
8. Gooseberry Falls
With three sets of waterfalls -- upper, middle, and lower -- Gooseberry Falls is the main draw at Gooseberry State Park north of Duluth, Minnesota. Easily accessible paths take you between the waterfalls. The upper falls drop about 30 feet, where the water flows over the middle falls and eventually into the Gooseberry River. The lower falls have a smaller drop into the river. Lake Superior is a short jaunt downriver. You can enjoy hikes on area trails, as well as walking along the riverbed, which allows for a closer view of the waterfalls. Gooseberry State Park was built in 1937 as part of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. The park has a monument recognizing the Corp’s achievement. The visitor center has modern restrooms.
Pro Tip: Enjoy homestyle cooking with a visit to Lemon Wolf Cafe in nearby Beaver Bay. With entrees such as walleye and Swedish meatballs, you can savor outstanding cooking, or you can order a sandwich or salad.
9. Upper Old Man’s Cave Falls
Named for a hermit who lived in a large recess of a gorge, Hocking Hills State Park, about an hour southeast of Columbus, is home to Upper Old Man’s Cave Falls. With a 20-foot drop, the waterfall is one of the most beautiful in Ohio as well as the Midwest. With a stone arch bridge overhead, the waterfall is the starting point for the six-mile Grandma Gatewood Trail, which connects the state park’s three areas. The Old Man’s Cave area can be divided into five sections along Old Man’s Creek. The trail has a basic restroom.
Pro Tip: For a unique experience, stay in a treehouse at Hocking Hills Tree Cabins. If you prefer something on the ground, they also have regular cabins.
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