Last updated on January 26th, 2019
For those that are not accustomed to the north, winter can be one of the most beautiful times of the year. There have been many instances where I have wanted to go stop the car while I’m driving just to get a cool shot of the trees or the frozen stream by my work. But what is most impressive is what happens to the waterfalls. Thankfully Minnehaha Falls is just 30 minutes from my house, in the heart of Minneapolis. When most people think of looking at a waterfall, they think they have to venture into the woods. With these falls, you have to go into the city.
The History of Minnehaha Falls in Winter
Minnehaha Falls Regional Park has been a part of Minnesota History for a while. It was home to the Minnehaha Depots, built in 1875, the Longfellow House and the John H Stevens House. It first gained notoriety from the poem The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. However, today it’s known best for the pictures from those that ventured behind Minnehaha Falls in winter.
What to do at Minnehaha Falls in Winter
Minnehaha Falls has a lot going on all times of the year. But during winter, it draws in mostly people that are looking to see the frozen Falls. In addition to the falls, there is also a lot of trails to take advantage of. But the Gardens, biking, and café that are popular in the summertime will all be closed the season.
A glimpse of the Frozen Falls
At the top of the falls, you could see water misting out from it. The base of the falls had a big mound of water where it had been piling up. Because the water is constantly moving, it is always changing. If we went back in a couple weeks, we could probably notice a bunch of differences. You could see open water at the base of the falls where the ice had not fully formed. There were big openings between the frozen falls where you could see behind it. There were a bunch of people that were taking advantage of the opportunity do to just that.
The Dangers of Minnehaha Falls in Winter
As a warning, going to the base of the frozen falls is illegal. They have barricades up and no trespassing signs all over the place. To get down to the falls, you have a few options. Going down a set of icy stairs that are not maintained at all in winter or scale down the snowy side of the riverbanks walls. Then venture out onto the ice, of unknown thickness and make your way through an opening in the wall of ice. Those that venture in are rewarded with a view of an ice cave.
It is not safe for you to go down there, even if you are just planning on staying on the paved trails. The people that walked on the ice, they were just crazy. You are putting yourself at risk along with anyone else that may be trying to recuse you. When it comes down to ice conditions in a situation like this, don’t do it. It’s one thing to venture onto a lake, but when there is moving water involved, it’s another story. In 2017, a group of people were injured by falling ice as then went behind the falls. Be smart and just don’t do it.
The Safe Way To See Everything
Instead, stay up top and explore the park from all angles. Minnehaha Falls Regional Park has a great footbridge allowing guests to walk over the river from above getting a new perspective on everything. This allows guest to easily access the Falls from both sides. This will give you the best views of the falls.
Other Things to Know
The waterfall is free to visit. Because of its popularity, they charge for parking. Don’t worry, it’s only a $1 an hour and they take credit cards. There is parking on both sides of the park. One side is street parking and on the other, there is a parking lot. They have a free parking lot to the West of the falls by the Longfellow Gardens.
Getting to Minnehaha Falls Regional Park is easy. It’s right off of Hwy55.
As long as the snow isn’t falling, the Minneapolis Park systems do an excellent job of keeping the pathways around the falls clean and dry, including the bridge going over the falls. If you are unsure of where to go from the parking lot, just follow the mass of people heading towards the river. You can’t miss it.
Tips for your visit
- Bring a pair of Ice Cleats to give you some extra stability for walking around the falls. You don’t need to spend a fortune or even wear anything crazy on them. For help in picking the correct pair, check out: The 10 Best Ice Cleats for Hiking You Need This Winter
- Bring a Camera. Yes you can use a Cellphone, but nothing beats a real camera
- Dress Warm. It is winter after all. You won’t need to walk too far, but you’ll have a much better experience when appropriately dressed.
If you love waterfalls as much as I do and are interested in finding more, check out 8 others in the Twin Cities. There are also a few good books you can pick up that have more hidden falls to explore. My favorite for Waterfalls all over the state is Waterfalls of Minnesota by Lisa Crayford. If you want something more specific to the North Shore, Eve Walligna has a great book Waterfalls of Minnesota’s North Shore and More. She’s found all the hidden locations.
Other Things to Do Around Minnehaha Falls
Other Attractions to Visit
Minnehaha Falls Park is at the intersection of many different walking and bike paths. One of which takes you to Fort Snelling Park. There is also the Princess Train Depot, one of the first ones in the State. It’s not in operation and closed during winter, but you can explore the outside. The park is also home to many different sculptures that are viewable from the falls.
For more ideas on how to stay busy this winter, check out 28 Things to do in Winter in MN.
If you only have an Hour
This is such a fun little day trip to take in the Twin Cities that doesn’t require much hiking. You will have so much fun taking all kinds of pictures in this little winter oasis. Remember, Minnehaha Falls isn’t the only waterfall in the Twin Cities that freezes either. If you loved this adventure, you’d also love exploring Nerstrand Big Woods State Park and their Frozen Waterfall. Thiers is easier and safer to access than Minnehaha. Happy Exploring!