Saturday, September 30, 2023


6 gorgeous Midwest waterfalls to add to your travel list

With fuel prices skyrocketing, it’s safe to say we won’t travel to Niagara Falls this summer. In fact, we plan to stay in our “home territory”—the Midwest. I’m excited to experience shorter travel days. I’m eager to prove to our family that there are great things to see and do without heading for the coast, as well. Don’t get me wrong. I love the coasts. They offer amazing beauty, fresh ocean breezes, and unique vacation opportunities. The problem? When you live in the Midwest, you’ll drive for days to get to a coastal destination. This summer we’re choosing to stay closer to home. This year, we’re going to visit some Midwest waterfalls.

Flat, flyover land has… waterfalls?

Yes, the Midwestern section of the United States is often called “flyover country.” I used to bristle at the title. Now I kind of like it. In the Midwest, we can still find great places to camp without a six-month waitlist. Many locations in the Midwest have topography that may surprise our coastal friends. We have mountains. Rivers and streams, too. Yes, even waterfalls! Here are just a few of my favorites. (Don’t worry. If I happen to miss your favorite, you can add it in the comments.)

Midwest waterfall season

Springtime is the best time of year to visit the Nidwestern natural falls. Snowmelt and typical springtime rains bring extra beauty to places that may very well dry up in the mid-summer’s heat. Recent droughts have made an impact on some areas in the region, as well. Call ahead to the local ranger or park station to check on current conditions.

Minnehaha Falls, NPS

The top 6 waterfalls to see in the Midwest

Minnehaha Falls

Minneapolis, Minnesota. I’m hoping that the springtime rains have returned water to this wonderful park. Last year’s (2021) drought dried up the falls. That hadn’t happened for a decade or more! When free-flowing, the falls are breathtaking! The Minnehaha Falls Regional Park is the oldest park located in Minneapolis. It can be crowded at times, so plan to arrive early in the day. (I know you’re probably wondering: Minnehaha is a combination of two words from the Dakota tribe of Native Americans. Translated, it means “waterfall.”)

Dunnings Spring Waterfall. Photo credit: Kari Yearous

Dunning’s Spring Waterfall

Decorah, Iowa. This 200-foot waterfall is located just outside the town of Decorah and is also known as the Decorah Falls. You can easily view the falls from the bridge near the parking lot if you choose. Designated hiking trails will take you to various viewing points all around the falls and are accessible to all ages of hikers.

Burden Falls. Photo credit: Joseph Gage, Wikimedia Commons

Burden Falls

Stonefort, Illinois. It’s well worth the 1.2-mile trek along a relatively challenging hike to find these falls. (If you prefer, you can view the falls from the top.) Burden Falls is located within the Shawnee National Forest. It falls about 20 feet over a ledge and then drops another spectacular 80 feet. There are more than 3,500 acres of wilderness here, so you’re sure to find additional trails to explore.

Grand Falls. Photo credit: Visit Joplin

Grand Falls

Joplin, Missouri. Dubbed “The Falls” by locals, the Grand Falls are just a few miles off Interstate 44 near Joplin, Missouri. Though not very high, Grand Falls is considered to be the largest continually flowing falls in the state. Picnicking along the rocky banks of Shoal Creek is popular. It’s also fun to fish. And you won’t find a better spot to photograph spectacular sunsets. I like to use SunsetWx as my sunrise/sunset guide.

Smith Falls. Photo credit: Nebraska Game & Parks

Smith Falls

Valentine, Nebraska. At 63 feet, Smith Falls is the tallest waterfall in the state. The Niobrara River which feeds the waterfall has a special distinction. It’s been declared a National Wild and Scenic River. Less than a fourth of one percent of our nation’s rivers have this designation. When you visit, you’ll see why it’s earned this special title. Note: There is a $12 daily non-resident fee for entry.

Chase Lake Falls. Photo credit: Jasmine G., AllTrails

Chase Lake Falls

Cottonwood Falls, Kansas. This triple waterfall is located about a mile outside Cottonwood Falls. To reach the falls you’ll follow an easy trail and experience fantastic views. The middle falls are the most majestic, while the lower falls are calmer and serene. Hint: It’s best to visit the Chase Lake Falls after a good, soaking rain because the falls are part of (and dependent upon) the Chase Fishing Lake spillway.

Now it’s your turn! I’ve barely scratched the surface of wonderful Midwest falls. What are some of your favorite waterfalls to visit in the Midwest? Share in the comments below, please!


Gail Marsh
Gail Marsh
Gail Marsh is an avid RVer and occasional work camper. Retired from 30+ years in the field of education as an author and educator, she now enjoys sharing tips and tricks that make RVing easier and more enjoyable.


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martin a
5 months ago

There are several beautiful falls along and near the north shore area of North Western Wisconsin, Amnicon near Superior Wi is notable for the water color it looks like root beer, supposedly from tannin from the treas along the river. Further east there are some along the cliffs that fall directly into lake Superior, all are worth a look, buy a state day pass they are required for the state parks. Great area to buy some smoked fish for an impromptu picnic.

1 year ago

I have to add Cumberland Falls in Kentucky.

Cheryl Sheldon
1 year ago

Smith Falls in Nebraska is spring-fed as are most of Nebraska’s Rivers. The water from Smith Falls then flows into the Niobrara River. A favorite activity is to canoe, kayak, or tube down the Niobrara River, stop to view the falls, then continue down the river to a campsite.

1 year ago

Minnehaha is ONE of the oldest parks in Minneapolis, but it is not THE oldest. That honor goes to Murphy Square. The land was donated to the city by Edward Murphy in 1857, and became Minneapolis’ first park. It’s still there, although Augsburg College has grown up around it.

1 year ago

And don’t forget Ferne Clyffe State Park, in southern IL. It has a lovely campground too.

1 year ago

Tahquamenon Falls in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula as previously mentioned is not to be missed. Very surprised it wasn’t on this list but then again one can hardly call the UP a part of the Midwest!

Don Peterson
1 year ago

For water falls I would suggest two places. Minnesota’s north shore from Two Harbors to the Canadian border. Numerous falls like Temperance, Devil’s Kettle, Gooseberry Falls and many more. The other area is the UP of Michigan. Tahquamenon Falls in the east is the second biggest falls east of the Mississippi next to Niagra of course. The town of Munising on Lake Superior is near about 50 different falls, one of my favorites is Laughing Whitefish Falls. Love the name but the falls are a treat to see.

Dale e Rose
1 year ago
Reply to  Don Peterson

I agree that the waterfalls in the UP are very enjoyable to see. West of Marquette there are also several marked and unmarked falls.

1 year ago

Thank you for this article!! I would love to read more articles on Midwestern campgrounds and nature trails.

Tony Grigg
1 year ago

Falls Park in Sioux Falls, South Dakota is a wonderful park and falls to visit. Rather than a single spillway, the Big Sioux River diverges into several pathways that tumble over the distictive pink granite rock that is common to this region. The falls cover several acres and visitors can walk walk up close among the various flows and spillways.

1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Grigg

Yes! Great place.

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