Big Manitou Falls, Wisconsin

Last week we made a trip to Pattison State Park in northwestern Wisconsin, just south of Superior. Our winter snow has melted, we’ve had many days of rainfall, and I knew the waterfalls would be rushing…and we were not disappointed. Big Manitou Falls drops 165 feet, giving it the designation of the highest waterfall in Wisconsin and the fourth highest east of the Rocky Mountains. It is the flowage of the Black River that continues on to Lake Superior.

The falls gets its name from the Ojibwa who called it “Gitchee Manido (or Manitou)” meaning “Falls of the Great Spirit.” The darker root-beer color of the water comes from the tannic acid of decaying leaves and roots of vegetation along the river. Native American Indians were in this area for centuries and these falls were a well-known landmark and gathering place for the Chippewa. Copper mining was done by the Native Americans and later by European-Americans after 1845.

The state park is named for Martin Pattison who was a prominent miner and lumberman. In 1917 he heard of a plan to build a power dam on the Black River that would have eliminated the Big Falls. He purchased 660 acres of land along the river and then donated the land to the state in 1918.

Big Manitou Falls has a thundering roar as it cascades down the gorge. We explored the numerous views near the top, including the large overlook deck that is seen in the upper left hand corner of my photo. Then we found ourselves following the south-side trail that goes through the gorge to the bottom along the river. From here you can look up and truly appreciate the depth of the falls and the power of that volume of water.

For photographers that are reading this, I made images of the falls with varying shutter speeds. The slow shutter images softened the water to a “beautiful and dreamy” flow but I didn’t feel those images truly reflected the power and the turbulence that the river held the day we were there.

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