by Lybra Olbrantz
for The Beacon
Looking for something new and fun to do this summer? How about a weekend getaway to Wisconsin’s tallest waterfall? Located in Pattison State Park about 13 miles south of Superior, Big Manitou Falls cascades 165 feet into the Black River. When I heard there was a waterfall this large in Wisconsin I immediately started searching for local Airbnb’s and found a cute little abode, over the bridge in Duluth.
I haven’t spent much time in the Northwoods and I was so excited to drive through. Once you pass Eau Claire, the energy of the state completely changes. It no longer feels like you’re in Wisconsin anymore. There’s hardly anyone on the road, it’s just you and the trees for miles. A true testament to how desolate it is up there: a fox was standing in the middle of the highway snacking on whatever roadkill laid barren on the open road. I was shocked to see a fox in midday sunlight in the middle of a highway living his best life, for the first time Wisconsin felt so foreign to me.
We woke up early Saturday and started the day with an amazing breakfast spread at the Duluth Grill. One Deluxe Biscuits & Gravy, an Everything Skillet, one cup of coffee and a Mimosa Flight later and we were ready to go!
If you don’t have a 2021 pass for the state parks, make sure to stop at the pay station before you park. It can be easy to miss, but it’ll save you the hassle of having to find it after they put the little warning tab on your front window.
The waterfalls are only a hop, skip and a jump away from the parking lot. Once inside you’ll see the true magical wonder of mother nature. It feels powerful and peaceful at the same time, to hear the waters roar over the bedrock and stand in the silence of the Northwoods.
There are multiple vantage points to view the scenic waterfall. I recommend crossing over the arched footbridge and hiking alongside the water until you come down into a little wooden balcony. This view is breathtaking. You’re so high above all of nature, it feels majestic and surreal. The experience is a panoramic photograph of a nature magazine come to life.
Big Manitou Falls boasts the fourth highest waterfall east of the Rockies. The geology of the area began over a billion years ago when basaltic lava welled up from underground and covered the area. Once the volcanoes calmed down, the lavas were then covered in red sandstone that was deposited by the oceans that once existed here eons ago. Over time the waterfall formed after the last glacier melted and the flowing water eroded the layers of sandstone and clay. The basalt being strong and resistant to erosion created the falls we see today.
According to the DNR website, “its name comes from Native Americans who said they heard the voice of the Great Spirit in the roaring of the falls – calling it ‘Gitche Manitou’,” which translates to ‘Great Spirit’ in several Algonquian languages.
After the Big Manitou Falls, you can enjoy a leisurely walk along the hiking trail south to the Little Manitou Falls. What it lacks in height, it makes up for in space and proximity. One trail will lead you straight to the top where you can sit alongside it as it flows over the edge and another leads to a little gully where you can sit parallel to the gushing waters and just admire the moment.
The drive might be long, but the level of connection you’ll feel to nature in this place is truly sacred. This makes for a perfect weekend getaway to renew the mind, body and soul after the truly traumatic last year.