Big Manitou Falls

Pattison State Park / near Superior / Douglas County, Wisconsin, USA

Rating: 2.5     Difficulty: 1
Big Manitou Falls

TABLE OF CONTENTS



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INTRODUCTION

Big Manitou Falls was said to be the highest waterfall in the state of Wisconsin at 165ft. As you can see from the photos on this page, we had to contend with unseasonably foggy weather during our Autumn visit as the fog conspired to keep the falls from being clearly visible (let alone photographable). The photo at the top of this page was probably as clear as it was going to get during the morning of our visit. Given the waterfall's notoriety due to its height, it wasn't surprising to see that it was both popular and it had a lot of infrastructure to make it accessible to almost anyone. Thus, our daughter didn't have any trouble viewing the falls from the sanctioned lookouts, and we also noticed a handful of families with kids experiencing the falls as well.

Although there was a signposted road and car park for the main office of Pattison State Park (where the Big Manitou Falls resided), it turned out that the easiest way to experience the falls was from a separate parking lot (see directions below). From that nearest car park, we carefully crossed East County Road B before going around a small lawn and picnic area. On the other side of the picnic area was the small lookout area, where we were able to get the picture you see at the top of this page between an opening in the foliage. Other views from this side of the Black River further downstream along the trails were obstructed and unnecessary if this waterfall was the primary purpose of a visit.

That said, we noticed that there was another lookout closer to the waterfall on the opposite side of the river. Although it would've been possible to directly reach that other overlook from the Park Office (about a mile in each direction), it turned out that we could've taken a 0.5-mile walk leading to a footbridge above the waterfall before ending up at the lookouts on the opposite side of the gorge. Given how foggy it was, we didn't bother doing it, but in hindsight, we probably could've driven to Little Manitou Falls first then come back and more thoroughly explore Big Manitou Falls and the various ways to experience it from both sides of the Black River.

So given our limited experience from what we think was the best overlook, we only spent about 15 minutes away from the car. That would make this as close to a roadside stop without actually being visible directly from the road. However, had we experienced the falls from both sides, it probably would've taken more like 45-60 minutes (30 minutes of it would be from walking). The walking distance would take 15 minutes more had we walked from the park office instead of the Falls Parking Lot.




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PHOTO JOURNAL

Further to the south along the WI-35 in Pattison State Park was the pleasant Little Manitou Falls, which was nearly as impressive as the Big Manitou FallsFurther to the south along the WI-35 in Pattison State Park was the pleasant Little Manitou Falls, which was nearly as impressive as the Big Manitou Falls
The nearest city to Big Manitou Falls was the twin cities of Superior, Wisconsin and Duluth, Minnesota. Duluth was well known for Canal Park, which featured a bridge as well as this lighthouseThe nearest city to Big Manitou Falls was the twin cities of Superior, Wisconsin and Duluth, Minnesota. Duluth was well known for Canal Park, which featured a bridge as well as this lighthouse
Duluth, Minnesota was also where we happened to see the eclipse though we had to struggle with seeing it through clouds that tended to get in the wayDuluth, Minnesota was also where we happened to see the eclipse though we had to struggle with seeing it through clouds that tended to get in the way
The main office and picnic area for Pattison State Park on a foggy morningThe main office and picnic area for Pattison State Park on a foggy morning

The bath house near the main office of Pattison State ParkThe bath house near the main office of Pattison State Park

Looking back towards the car park for the main office. Although you can walk to Big Manitou Falls from here, this was not the closest car parkLooking back towards the car park for the main office. Although you can walk to Big Manitou Falls from here, this was not the closest car park

This was the car park closest to Big Manitou FallsThis was the car park closest to the falls

About to cross the East County Road B on the way to Big Manitou FallsAbout to cross the East County Road B on the way to the falls

Going around the lawn and picnic area (with a restroom facility as well) as we made our way to perhaps the best lookout for Big Manitou FallsGoing around the lawn and picnic area (with a restroom facility as well) as we made our way to perhaps the best lookout for the falls

This was our first look at Big Manitou Falls when the fog was pretty thickThis was our first look at the falls when the fog was pretty thick

Tahia checking out the foggy Big Manitou FallsTahia checking out the foggy falls

This was the continuation of the trail leading to more distant and obstructed view of Big Manitou Falls, but would be optional if the main purpose of a visit here was for the waterfallThis was the continuation of the trail leading to more distant and obstructed view of Big Manitou Falls, but would be optional if the main purpose of a visit here was for the waterfall

We took some time visiting Little Manitou Falls before coming back to Big Manitou Falls, and the result was a less foggy view of the larger waterfallWe took some time visiting Little Manitou Falls before coming back to Big Manitou Falls, and the result was a less foggy view of the larger waterfall

Julie and Tahia heading back towards the car parkJulie and Tahia heading back towards the car park

This was the paved path leading towards the other side of the gorge, where there was the closer lookout that we opted to skipThis was the paved path leading towards the other side of the gorge, where there was the closer lookout that we opted to skip

Julie and Tahia crossing East County Road B, where we made sure it was safe to cross, especially since our daughter was with usJulie and Tahia crossing East County Road B, where we made sure it was safe to cross, especially since our daughter was with us


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS


Focusing on the gorge view of Big Manitou Falls before looking around the picnic area


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DRIVING DIRECTIONS

The nearest city of note to Big Manitou Falls was Superior, Wisconsin, which was also a twin city across the state border to Duluth, Minnesota. We'll describe the directions from Superior, Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin State Route 35 (WI-35) heads south of the town of Superior from the intersection of the US-2 at Belknap Street and Tower Ave (which eventually would become the WI-35). From this intersection, the most direct route would be to head south on the WI-35 for about 13 miles to the East County Road B. Turning right onto the East County Road B, the Big Manitou Falls Parking Lot was immediately to the left.

Note that the main office and car park was less than a quarter-mile north of the East County Road B turnoff on the east side of WI-35. This was where I paid the $5 for a one-hour visit. The $9 non-Wisconsin-resident fee was for the entire day, which meant that if I happened to be visiting any other Wisconsin State Parks on the same day I paid for this pass, then I'd be covered.

Unfortunately during our visit, there was a bridge washout at the Nemadji River. Therefore, we had to take a detour about 6 miles south of the Belknap St and Tower Ave intersection on the WI-35, then head east on the County Road C. We'd follow this road for nearly 9 miles (County Road C became County Road A after just under 2 miles), then we turned right (west) onto County Road B. We followed County Road B for a little under 3 miles before rejoining WI-35 about a quarter-mile north of the signed turnoff for the main office and campgrounds of Pattison State Park or under 0.5-mile north of the car park for Big Manitou Falls.

This detour drive took us roughly 30 minutes though I'd imagine it would be more like 20 minutes without the detour.

For geographical context, Superior, Wisconsin was 153 miles (about 2.5 hours drive) north of Minneapolis, Minnesota, 196 miles (about 4 hours drive) southwest of Thunder Bay, Canada, and 392 miles (6 hours drive) northwest of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.




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ITINERARIES

For more information about our itineraries involving this waterfall, check out the following links.




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MAP OF THE FALLS



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TRIP REPORTS

For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.




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TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES




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NEARBY WATERFALLS




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