Waterfalls Area

Minneopa State Park, Minnesota

Trip Date: Saturday, August 5th, 2017
Last Updated: Wednesday, August 9th, 2017
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★☆☆☆(2/5)
Overall Difficulty Easy
Navigation Difficulty     Easy
Distance 1.2 miles roundtrip
Time 30 minutes
Terrain Hilly
Best Seasons All
Family Friendly Yes
Dog Friendly Yes
Accessible Yes


Hike Summary

This waterfall is essentially the Minnehaha Falls of Mankato, and honestly if you live in the Twin Cities, save the gas and just go to Minnehaha Falls -- you can spend that gas money on a beer and a po' boy at Sea Salt instead. If you live closer to Mankato, exactly the opposite applies: save your gas money and skip Minnehaha Falls and head straight to the waterfalls here at Minneopa State Park. The more I think about it, the more similar the two waterfall experiences seem.

Dogs are allowed on leash. This is the perfect place to introduce your children to hiking since the trail is short and open-ended for exploration at the bottom of the gorge. Note about accessibility: I marked this hike as accessible because the most important portion of the trail allowing you views of both waterfalls is accessible via a flat paved walkway and bridge; however, the remainder of the trail to the bottom of the gorge requires using a long set of stairs. You are not missing out on much if you do not go to the bottom.

As soon as you open you car door, you will hear the roar of the falls. You will not have to walk far at all to receive your first view, just follow the paved path past the picnic area and onto the bridge. On your left will be the smaller waterfall (pictured below), and after crossing the bridge the larger waterfall will be on your right (main picture at the top of the page).

The smaller of the two waterfalls as seen from the bridge

The smaller of the two waterfalls as seen from the bridge
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Take the stairs down to the bottom of the gorge, cross the small bridge, then turn right. Hike along the creek to the bottom of the falls, with a view like the picture below. On a weekend, you will likely be following closely behind other people.
The falls from the bottom of the gorge

The falls from the bottom of the gorge
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At the time of writing, about half of the trail was closed; after you crossed the bridge at the bottom of the stairs you probably noticed another set of stairs going up the other side of the gorge. You can ascend these stairs if you wish, but the trail is closed once you continue past these stairs -- there is a sign stating the trail is unsafe beyond that point, and it looks like the trail was damaged by storms and heavily eroded. The park website does not state when the trail will be reopened. Since this portion is closed, simply return to the parking lot using the way you came.

This hike (really not much of a hike) was too crowded for my taste, and it seems like everyone in Mankato has carved their initials on the rock wall at the bottom of the gorge on the way to the falls. Again, I'll state that this hike isn't worth the drive unless you live nearby or are driving through the area. For a family friendly waterfall that is worth the drive, I suggest going to Willow Falls at Willow River State Park in Hudson, Wisconsin. Otherwise, there's always Minnehaha Falls.


From the Twin Cities, take U.S. Highway 169 towards Mankato. A bit outside of the city, turn right on Gadwall Road (ignore the brown sign pointing to Minneopa State Park that tells you to turn earlier -- Gadwall Road is more direct). Turn left as indicated by the sign pointing to the falls area, then pay the entrance fee at the park office. Drive straight until you reach the parking lot.

Google Maps Directions

Parking, Fees, and Facilities

Like all Minnesota State Parks and Recreation Areas, you must pay a vehicle entry fee of $7 per day or $35 for an annual pass (highly recommended if you frequently go to Minnesota State Parks). The parking lot is small considering the popularity of this hike -- when I arrived on a Saturday around noon it was completely full, so I circled until a space opened. There is a large covered picnic area with vault toilets nearby.

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