Spring Thunder at Upper Midwest Waterfalls
When the rivers that drain into the upper Midwest's Great Lakes begin to shake winter's frozen grip, fantastical ice formations will burst free as rivers swell with snowmelt and spring showers. If you're itching for a road trip and willing to dress for lingering ice, brisk breezes and a few puddles, head for one of our top picks for postcard-perfect waterfalls.
Tahquamenon Falls State Park, Paradise, Michigan You'll hear the roar and be fumbling with your camera long before you catch sight of this magnificent waterfall in the eastern Upper Peninsula. At 200 feet wide and with a 50-foot drop, the root-beer-color water of Tahquamenon Falls gushes year-round at more than 50,000 gallons per second. (Tip: If you head into Ontario and hug the Lake Superior coast, you'll find even more falls along the way). michigandnr.com
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan As you drive west from Tahquamenon Falls State Park to Pictured Rocks, waterfalls such as Bridalveil, Chapel and Miners Falls dramatically cascade throughout the 75-mile stretch of the Northern Michigan Escarpment. But Spray Falls ranks as the most dramatic as it pours off a colorful cliff directly into Lake Superior. It can be seen from boat tours that begin mid-May (www.nps.gov/piro). Other waterfalls can be spotted earlier in the season via park hiking trails and the North Country Trail.
Copper River State Park, Mellen, Wisconsin In this thick, lush forest with deep gorges, the Bad River offers several spectacular waterfalls and 17 miles of hiking, including a segment of the North Country Trail. dnr.wi.gov
Pattison State Park, Superior, Wisconsin South of the city, Big Manitou Falls plunges 165 feet, making it the fourth-largest waterfall east of the Rockies. Little Manitou Falls Black River tumbles another 31 feet (dnr.wi.gov). You can make a day of it and also visit Amnicon Falls State Park about 30 minutes east of the park in South Range, Wisconsin. Watch a series of waterfalls glide down terraces while standing on a covered bridge above the Amnicon River (dnr.wi.gov).
Gooseberry Falls State Park, Two Harbors, Minnesota With arguably the prettiest and most iconic of Minnesota's waterfalls, this state park northeast of Duluth includes five different falls as the Gooseberry River winds to Superior. Most visitors explore the two-tiered middle and lower falls, but there are more to admire for anyone wanting to hike its 20 miles of trails (dnr.state.mn.us). Keep driving north on State-61 (North Shore Scenic Drive) for more waterfalls at Tettegouche State Park, Cross River Falls (a free wayside stop), Temperance River State Park and Judge C.R. Magney State Park.
Grand Portage State Park, Grand Portage, Minnesota You'll have to drive just short of the Canadian border to see this grand waterfall on the Pigeon River that divides Minnesota and Ontario. The water plummets 120 feet and almost triples in size with spring meltdown. Leave time to tour the Ojibwe displays at the visitors center and at the nearby Grand Portage National Monument, which highlights the 1800s fur trade (dnr.state.mn.us).
If you're willing to drive an hour north of Minnesota into Ontario, Canada, the spectacular sight of Kakabeka Falls awaits on the western outskirts of Thunder Bay (ontarioparks.com/park/kakabekafalls).
Enjoy the rush!