Minnehaha Falls was perhaps the most well-known waterfall in the state of Minnesota. I’d imagine the biggest reason for this was that it was pretty much an urban waterfall within the city of Minneapolis (though I had also read that famed poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow brought widespread notoriety by publishing “The Song of Hiawatha” in 1855 when he was inspired by a photograph of the falls). Yet belying our experience with urban waterfalls (which we tended to associate with that stale, Frankenstein mix of urbanization and Nature), this waterfall was actually in a scenic and serene park with plenty of trees and greenspace essentially concealing the fact that there were a fair bit of urban and suburban developments surrounding it. From looking at the photos on this page, the relative lack of such developments immediately visible from within the park kind of illustrated this pleasing aspect about the falls. And given the number of people (especially families) that I had seen on my late afternoon Autumn visit, it also happened to be one of the most accessible and family-friendly waterfalls that I could recall.
There were plenty of ways to access Minnehaha Falls, but I happened to find street parking near the Minnehaha Depot, which was very close to the falls (see directions below). My visit pretty much consisted of a short loop walk that took me above and below the waterfall. My path began by going across a large lawn area with picnic tables before traversing a bridge upstream from the brink of the 55ft waterfall. Beyond the bridge, there was the Sea Salt Restaurant (I had previously thought it was Se Salt because the “a” was missing on the sign during my visit) as well as nice angled views along the rim of the gorge encompassing the plunge pool and continuation of Minnehaha Creek.
While the walk continued further downstream along the gorge rim, where there were more distant and obstructed views back to the falls (looking against the sun during my late afternoon visit) as well as a small garden, I took some stairs descending into the gorge itself where I was able to get direct views of Minnehaha Falls itself. It looked like there was a trail of use that continued past the sanctioned lookout leading to the backside of the falls, but it was closed due to public safety concerns. I saw some younger folks behind the falls when I first showed up, and I’d imagine this was the manner in which they got there at risk. I then crossed the bridge within the gorge, where I then followed some steps up (past more evidence of past use trails leading to the backside of Minnehaha Falls) towards a relatively obscure (because it seemed that fewer people ventured here) angled look at the waterfall.
Back at the top of the steps, there was a canopied walkway leading further downstream along the rim of the gorge as well as the finishing of the loop walk going in the opposite direction back to the bridge above the brink of the falls. Overall, I had spent 40 minutes to take in Minnehaha Falls in all the different ways legally possible.
One funny thing I saw from one of the signs here was a picture of President Lyndon B. Johnson, Senaror Hubert H. Humphrey, and Governor Karl Rolvang by Minnehaha Falls. The irony here was that Minneapolis was experiencing a drought so the falls was flowing in the photograph only because many fire hydrants were opened further upstream and out-of-sight to feed Minnehaha Creek. I guess since my home state of California was facing unprecedented drought at the time of my visit here, this irony wasn’t lost on me.
There are many ways to get to Minnehaha Park so I’ll just describe the way that I managed to get here from the Minneapolis-St Paul Airport (MSP) and Mall of America vicinity (which was where we stayed) since that was the way that I did it.
From the I-494 and Route 1 interchange, head east on the I-494 for about a half-mile then merge onto Highway 5. Follow the Hwy 5 for about 4 miles as it merges with the MN-55 along the way, then exit at Hiawatha Ave. Turn right at E 54th Street and follow it as it becomes Minnehaha Ave.
I managed to find street parking on Minnehaha Ave (metered parking at a rate of 75 cents per hour) near the Minnehaha Depot building about a mile north from E 54th street, but I noticed many other car parks along the way as well as along Minnehaha Parkway west of the roundabout just a short distance further to the north. So it’s not terribly important where you park as the difference in walking could be at worst an additional 30 minutes in each direction if you really parked far from the falls. The Minnehaha Depot was merely a couple minutes walk from the top of Minnehaha Falls.
Overall, this drive took me roughly 15 minutes to go from Minnehaha Depot to the northeast side of the Mall of America near Sears.
For additional context, Minneapolis, Minnesota was 268 miles (4 hours drive) northwest of Madison, Wisconsin, 337 miles (5 hours drive) northwest of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and 408 miles (6 hours drive) northwest of Chicago, Illinois.
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