Minnehaha falls is one of the most important places to visit in Minneapolis. It is a gorgeous Minneapolis waterfall, but beyond its spectacular beauty it is important for these 3 reasons:
- Critical Minneapolis geology
- Important Minneapolis historical significance
- Deeply important Western and Native American cultural significance
The Beauty of Minnehaha Falls
Minnehaha Falls is 53 feet high. That is a colossal waterfall in the Great Plains! The brink of Minnehaha Falls forms a beautiful half moon shape. The falls drop over the weir in front of a rock face that has been eroded out to form a dark concave embankment which highlights the cascading water.
300 Clifton Bed and Breakfast
When you are visiting Minnehaha Falls the best place to stay is 300 Clifton Bed and Breakfast in downtown Minneapolis. The gorgeous garden estate in the center of downtown is the most important historic house in Minneapolis.
You will enjoy the luxurious accommodations on your weekend getaway or romantic escape. The mansion has trolley tours, unique rooms, hot tub, game room and so much more.
Where to View Minnehaha Falls:
There are several incredible vantage points to enjoy Minnehaha Falls. Here are the three best places to stand to experience the Falls.
1) Minnehaha Falls: Best View
The best view of Minnehaha Falls is halfway down the staircase that goes down to lower Minnehaha Creek. There is a perfect overlook which gives you perspective, spray, and sound in perfect measure. Minnehaha Falls is very seasonal. The water originates in Lake Minnetonka and flows 22 miles along Minnehaha Creek into the Mississippi River. Sometimes the Falls is a trickle or even dry. Sometimes it is beautiful solid ice!
2) Minnehaha Falls: Top View
The second best view of Minnehaha Falls is from the upper edge of the Minnehaha Regional Park. It is a great view and easy to get too, because you just walk across the grass from the parking lot. The overlook is near the Sea Salt Restaurant. Sometimes the stairs are closed because it is too treacherous, and the upper overlook is the best way to see Minnehaha Falls.
3) Minnehaha Falls: View From Behind
The third way to see Minnehaha Falls is an illegal way, and that is from behind the Falls. The cave behind the falls creates a ledge that a cavalier traveler can scramble to and get a magnificent view out from behind the cascading or frozen water. The dangers inherent with this are that:
- Park Police will give you a citation or warning if you cross beyond the no trespassing signs.
- Falling ice can hit you because waterfalls are inherently unstable
- It is treacherous but doable especially when it is frozen. But frozen or not, it is slippery.
Things to do At Minnehaha Falls
Sights and Culture at Minnehaha Falls
Longfellow House – Minnehaha Falls was a full blown tourist hot spot in the early 1900’s. This house was not actually Longfellow’s house, but it was built as a 2/3 scale replica of the famous poets real house as a tourist attraction.At that time there was a large zoo and carnival rides also at Minnehaha Falls. The significance of Longfellow cannot be overstated. He was highly celebrated as a poet long after his death in 1882, and tourists made the pilgrimage to Minnehaha Falls to see the inspiration of his most famous epic poem. Today there is a mediocre interpretive center inside and some Park Board offices.
John H Stevens House – This is an incredibly important historical house for Minneapolis which is likely why it has been targeted for arson three times recently. This house is the birthplace of the name Minneapolis. It was in this house that the structure of Hennepin County was established. The House is the second oldest House in Minneapolis and the oldest was also built by the same carpenter. John Stevens established the first legal homestead on the West Bank of the Mississippi River in what would become Minneapolis. The historical significance of the house was well known from early on, and the house was moved to Minnehaha Falls Regional Park for safekeeping in 1896. The statue of John H Stevens stands near his house.
The Hiawatha and Minnehaha Statue at Minnehaha Falls is of utmost significance from a cultural point of view. The bronze sculpture was cast and placed at Minnehaha Falls in 1912 years after the famous sculptor Jacob Fjelde died. The cultural importance of the sculpture is because the subject matter is the hero and heroine of Longfellow’s epic poem the Song of Hiawatha. This poem, inspired by Minnehaha Falls and the Native Americans in Minnesota, was the first time a western author depicted Native Americans positively and humanly. Fjelde captures in bronze Longfellow’s humanity of Hiawatha and Minnehaha in their embrace. It is touching especially in the context of the story as Hiawatha struggles to keep his starving lover alive.
Little Crow Mask – Prior to Minnehaha Falls being a tourist attraction, Native Americans congregated at the Falls too. It was considered a safe place, and even sacred place among some tribes. There is a mask of Little Crow at Minnehaha Falls, even though the famous Dakota Chief is never known to have been there. Little Crow is a conflicted and tragic figure who both sided with European settlers and fought against them. He is known for leading the Dakota War of 1862 which started during a time of simmering tension but with no direct provocation. Little Crow’s attacks on fortified installations were all thwarted even though he outnumbered the defenders. The Dakota Chief was successful in killing hundreds of civilians. His army was defeated and fled. When he returned to the area a year later he was recognized by two townspeople and was killed in a firefight. There was such a deep loathing of Little Crow that a reward was paid of what in today’s money would be more than $15,000, and the Minnesota Historical Society displayed his remains for decades. The haunting mask in Minnehaha Park is a tragic reminder of a life and times punctuated by violence.
Activities at Minnehaha Falls
Kayak to Minnehaha Falls – It is absolutely remarkable that in Minneapolis the City of Water, you can kayak across the entire City. The best route actually starts at the headwaters in Minnetonka and takes an entire day kayak trip down Minnehaha Creek to Minnehaha Falls. This is highly recommended and goes through lakes, wetlands gorgeous houses and under city streets!
Wheel Fun Rentals – This is no ordinary bike rental. The bikes you get at Wheel Fun Rentals are incredibly fun and memorable. They have three different types of really cool bikes. One is a Surrey that can fit four adults and two kids. I’ve seen upwards of Nine people on these cool bikes. They also rent a low rider bike that reminds me of an old school green machine. They have a chopper style with one wheel in the front and a quad with two steering wheels in front. These are so low they make you feel like you are going really fast. Highly recommended. You are on an unbroken 102 mile Grand Rounds Scenic Byway System through and around Minneapolis so start pedaling!
Lower Glen Trail – This is way underrated by highly recommended. Lower Glen Trail is an easy 2 mile loop from Minnehaha Falls down to the Mighty Mississippi. The trail starts at the bottom of Minnehaha Falls and goes down the East side of Minnehaha Creek and returns on the west Side of Minnehaha Creek so you get to explore the Creek from two different sides. The easy hiking trail ends at a beach, so Yes! this is a must do.
Minnehaha Off Leash Dog Park – This is hands down the best dog park in Minneapolis. Dogs are allowed to go off leash along a huge stretch of the Mississippi River, into the water and along the beach. It seems that dogs get along better at dog parks situated on the water, because they are simultaneously intimidated and enchanted with the water. Huge and little dogs frequent the park and comingle admirably. You are supposed to have a permit to bring your dog to the off leash park. This park is only partially fenced.
Wabun Disc Golf– This is an average disc golf course that starts at the Wabun Picnic Area. It is a busy park so there are some pedestrians to avoid. It is an old course, and there are no long throws, but it is a great use of the area.
Eating at Minnehaha Falls
Sea Salt Restaurant – It is odd that the theme for a restaurant at one of the most iconic freshwater marvels in the Midwest is the Ocean. They wear it proudly though, and the fish and chips are to die for. They have a big menu of seafood and there is often a long line. Don’t worry, there are also burgers and stuff. The restaurant is seasonal, so check to make sure it is open on the website.
Dairy Queen – Just barely outside the Minnehaha Regional Park is a Dairy Queen,so after you eat your fish and chips at the overlook, save room for an ice cream or an Orange Julius. This is the type of DQ that is Treat Only, so no burgers and chicken fingers.