Minnehaha Park: Planning Your Visit

View of Minnehaha Falls through the trees

 Dan Thornberg / Getty Images

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Minnehaha Park

Address
5000 W River Pkwy, Minneapolis, MN 55406, USA

Minnehaha Park is located on the banks of the Mississippi and is one of Minneapolis' oldest and most popular state parks. It features a 53-foot plummeting waterfall, Minnehaha Falls, and limestone bluffs, and attracts more than 850,000 visitors annually. The park is home to several sculptures that depict historical characters, as well as a wading pool for families to enjoy on a hot summer day. Steps, retaining walls, and a bridge surround the falls allowing access to its base, from which it appears much taller than it is. If you visit after a rain, the rushing water makes the falls a dramatic spectacle. In late summer, the falls slow and sometimes dry up during drought years. Cold winters create a solid wall of ice when the falls freeze. It's a spectacular sight to see, but take caution, as the steps to access the viewing area can be icy and treacherous.

History

White settlers discovered Minnehaha Falls around 1820, not long after their arrival in Minnesota. Located on the Mississippi River, this area, along with nearby Fort Snelling, was one of the first places inhabited by settlers of the region. A small mill was built near the falls in the 1850s, however, Minnehaha Falls produced considerably less power than neighboring St. Anthony Falls on the Mississippi, and the mill was soon abandoned.

The falls were on their way to becoming a tourist destination after the publication of the epic poem The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1855. Longfellow never visited the falls in person, but he was inspired by both its images and the prior works of Native American scholars.

The city of Minneapolis finally purchased the land in 1889 and architect Horace Cleveland laid out the plans for the park after the park's board officially accepted title to the land. The next summer, tables and chairs were placed north of the falls, and swings, hammocks, and restrooms were constructed. The park became a spectacle of great pride for the city of Minneapolis on the bluff overlooking the confluence of Minnehaha Creek and the Mississippi River. In 1906, the park became one of the United States' first state parks, which included the grounds of Mississippi Park, the parkways on both sides of the river, as well as what is now Riverside Park. Since then, Minnehaha Park has become a popular attraction for both locals and tourists.

Geology

Minnehaha means "falling water" in the Native American Dakota language, which is an appropriate name for the 10,000-year-old falls (surprisingly very young in geological time). St. Anthony Falls, located about six miles upriver in downtown Minneapolis, used to be situated downstream of the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnehaha Creek. Yet, as St. Anthony Falls eroded the river bed, the falls gradually moved upstream and past Minnehaha Creek, creating a new waterfall. The force of the water altered the route of both the creek and the river. Today, the section of Minnehaha Creek that flows between the falls and the Mississippi makes its way through the old Mississippi riverbed, as the river itself has cut a new course. A plaque located on Lookout Point at Minnehaha Falls has an in-depth explanation of the fall's geology, as well as a geological map of the area.

Things to Do

While many people visit the falls to see this magnificent water feature, Minnehaha Park also contains historical sculptures and sites, a bike and walking path, a wading pool, a disc golf course, a volleyball court, gardens, and a picnic area. Plan a day to hang out and take advantage of all this urban reprieve has to offer.

  • Visit the sculptures: The park contains two sculptures. The most well-known is Jakob Fjelde's life-size bronze cast of Hiawatha and Minnehaha, characters from Longfellow's The Song of Hiawatha. This sculpture is located on an island in the creek, a short distance above the falls. There is also a statue located at 50th Street and Hiawatha Avenue that depicts Gunnar Wennerberg (1817-1901), a Swedish poet, scholar, composer, and politician. 
  • See Chief Little Crow's mask: A mask of Chief Little Crow is located near the falls. The chief was killed after the 1862 Dakota conflict and the mask represents the sacredness of this space to Native American culture.
  • Check out historical sites: Take a tour of both the Longfellow House and the John H. Stevens House, considered the birthplace of the name "Minneapolis." You can also visit the Princess Depot which stood on the first railroad line west of the Mississippi River.
  • Bike or walk the trails: Take a ride or a walk on the miles of trails that span Minnehaha Park, meandering past Minnehaha Falls and its limestone bluffs. Bike rentals operate on-site during the summer months.
  • Stroll through the gardens: Stop and smell the flowers at the Longfellow Garden, the Pergola Garden, and the Song of Hiawatha Garden. The gardens beautify park grounds with varied perennials, birdbaths, and fountains. The Pergola Garden, in particular, is a favorite site for wedding photos.

Getting There

Minnehaha Park is located at the intersection of Hiawatha Avenue and Minnehaha Parkway, on the banks of the Mississippi in Minneapolis. The park is situated just across the river from the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul. Take the Hiawatha Light Rail Line to the 50th Street/Minnehaha Park station, which is a short walk from the park. If you decide to drive, parking is limited to metered spaces and designated parking lots where parking fees apply. Get there early, especially on busy weekends.

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Minnehaha Falls and Park: Planning Your Visit