Minneahaha Falls in Minneapolis

Have You Witnessed Nature’s Masterpiece at Minnehaha Falls? Everything you wanted to know

If you’re looking for a little slice of natural paradise in the midst of a major city, you’ve gotta check out Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

This powerful 53-foot waterfall tucked away in a lush regional park is a must-see attraction.

What I love about Minnehaha Park is that it’s hidden in plain sight. I know Minnesotan’s that have lived in the Twin Cities their whole lives but have never ventured into this park.

I didn’t find out about the park until about 10 years ago when I went to visit in Winter. They have an amazing ice cave behind it that people like to explore. It’s illegal to do. But it’s still fun to explore.

This past weekend, my family and I decided to see it in person, during the summer. It’s a completely different experience.

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History of Minnehaha Falls

Minnehaha Falls traces its name and fame back to the epic poem “The Song of Hiawatha” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Published in 1855, the poem tells the fictional story of Hiawatha and his love for Minnehaha, which translates to “laughing waters” in the Dakota Sioux language.

Longfellow was inspired to write his poem after visiting the breathtaking 53-foot waterfall during a trip to Minnesota in 1822. While the great literary work was fictional, it shined a light on the cultural significance of the falls to the region’s Native American inhabitants.

For centuries before European settlement, the area around Minnehaha Falls served as a gathering place for the Dakota and Anishinaabe peoples. They knew the falls as a place to camp, hunt, fish and conduct ceremonies. The roaring cascades held spiritual meaning, viewed as a sacred site blessed by nature.

The natural beauty and power of the falls features prominently in Dakota legends and oral traditions passed down over generations. According to some stories, Minnehaha was the name of a mythical woman who tragically met her demise near the waterfall’s banks.

While Longfellow romanticized the setting in verse, the real Minnehaha Falls remains an enduring connection to the land’s original caretakers. Visiting offers a chance to appreciate both its scenic splendor and storied Native American heritage.

Peeking over the footbridge to view Minnehaha Falls

Getting to Minnehaha Falls and Parking

Located at 4801 Minnehaha Avenue, Minnehaha Park is easily accessible from downtown Minneapolis. It’s just a quick turn off the highway, close to the MSP airport and across from Fort Snelling.

There are pay parking lots right off Minnehaha Parkway, but spaces can fill up quickly on nice days. You can also park on the street all around the park, but they are pay lots as well.

Alternatively, you can find street parking along the residential roads bordering the park’s east side or arrive early to snag a lot spot.

The pay parking is all done through an app called Flowbird. We paid $2.75 for one hour at the park. It was more than enough time to see the falls and explore. If you plan on doing any hiking, I recommend 2 hours.

View from the top of Minnehaha Falls

Exploring the Mighty Minnehaha Falls

As you enter the park, the roar of the falls will greet you. Follow the paved trails down and you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the rushing Minnehaha Creek cascading over a limestone ridge. You can’t miss it.

I like to start out at the top of the falls. Standing at the top of the bridge, you’ll get the full magnitude of the falls. The misty spray and riverbed boulders create a picturesque scene.

Currently, there is some construction, and the south side of the park and the stairs are not accessible. You’ll have to go down on the north side of the falls.

After taking the steps down, take in the view from the lookout spot.

a boy walking down stairs to minnhaha falls

After that you’ll be able to check out the iconic stone footbridge that crosses right in front of the falls for an unforgettable photo op.

There is a lookout spot midway up the stairs on the south side. This is currently closed (2024). There is also a path on the river where you can get a better view of the falls. This is past the boundary of the park’s approved trials. Just a heads-up.

There is also a great overlook at the south end of the park. Just follow the stone wall down past the falls, and you can see straight on.

Things to do at Minnehaha Falls

The park has much more to offer than just the falls. Wander along the 5+ miles of hiking trails meandering through the lush green spaces and bike trails.

You’ll find plenty of picnic areas perfect for enjoying a leisurely outdoor meal. Kids will have a blast at the playgrounds and splash areas during the warmer months.

Biking Along the Grand Rounds

For those looking to explore the area on two wheels, Minnehaha Falls makes for an excellent stop along the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway.

This 51-mile network of trails and parkways encircling Minneapolis offers paved paths perfect for biking, with Minnehaha serving as the beginning/end point.

There is even a bike trail that goes directly to Fort Snelling State Park. Along the trial, you’ll see the ruins of the old fort from the trial.

Rent bikes from vendors like Wheel Fun Rentals right in the park and hit the trails. They have surrey carts starting at $29 an hour.

Bike Rental and Pavilian at Minnehaha Falls
Stone Wall with Bikers at Minnehaha Falls

Hiking the Minnehaha Trail

If you want to stretch your legs, you should take advantage of the Minnehaha Park Trail. The trailhead is at the start of the food bridge near the base of the falls.

This relatively easy 5.3-mile trail loop winds through the park’s wooded areas, leading you across footbridges over the creek and opening up to beautiful views.

The trail takes you all the way to the end of the creek where it reaches the Mississippi River. You’ll get a great view of the bluffs.

Trailhead for Minnehaha Falls Trail

Grabbing a Bite at Sea Salt Eatery

After working up an appetite from all that outdoor adventure, refuel at Sea Salt Eatery right across from the park entrance.

This community-supported bakery and cafe offers a tempting variety of sandwiches, soups, baked goods and seasonally-inspired dishes.

In warmer months, snag a spot on their patio and sip a local beer or fresh-squeezed lemonade while enjoying gorgeous views of the Mississippi River just steps away.

Things to do nearby Minnnehaha Falls in Minneapolis

After exploring Minnehaha Park, be sure to check out some of the other top attractions just a short distance away.

The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is 6 miles away with an impressive collection of modern art pieces.

History buffs will enjoy a tour of the Longfellow House, once home to the famous poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Lake Nokomis to the southwest offers beaches, fishing, and waterfront trails as well.

And just across the river is Hidden Falls in St Paul. You’ll also be able to see the Lock and Dam.

Tips for Visiting Minnehaha Falls

For the best experience, try to visit early in the morning or evening to avoid peak crowds. Weekends are busy. We went by the falls around 7am on a Saturday to catch the morning light. In the evening, the sun is behind the falls, making them shaded and harder to photograph.

Sturdy walking shoes are a must as the trails can get uneven and slippery near the falls’ mist. The steps down are steep.

Dogs are allowed in the park as long as they’re on a leash.

I recommend visiting in Spring or Early summer as the water levels are higher. During times of drought, this waterfall has been known to go dry.

Stay on approved hiking areas to prevent erosion of the cliffs.

Does it cost money to go to Minnehaha Falls?

No, it does not cost money to visit Minnehaha Falls. The only cost associated is with parking.

How long does it take to hike Minnehaha Falls?

You only need 20 minutes to visit Minnehaha Falls and hiking the park. If you want to do the longer hiking trail, plan 2 hrs.

Can you go behind Minnehaha Falls?

No, you cannot go behind Minnehaha Falls. The falls are not accessible to swim or wade in during the summer. In winter, people do go behind Minnehaha Falls while it’s frozen, but it is illegal.

Taking a picture of Minnehaha Falls Rainbow

Would I go back to Minnehaha Falls?

Minnehaha Falls is truly a gem in the Minneapolis park system. It’s stunning any time of year. And when it comes to my kids, it blew them away and a great way to start off our summer.

Of all the waterfalls in the state of Minnesota, this one is one of my favorites. Put this one at the top of your must-visit list!

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