Happy Trails: Big Manitou Falls river trail is a buggy stunner
Water rumbled down a 165-foot drop of the largest waterfall in Wisconsin, and I can't believe I get to live here.
DOUGLAS COUNTY — The Big Manitou Falls River Trail is well worth the drive.
Located in Pattison State Park, about 20 minutes south of Superior, parking was ample and well-marked on a Sunday afternoon in June.
From the lot, I followed a paved pathway across County Road B to the Big Manitou Falls south overlook. (Access the Little Manitou Falls trail about a mile south on Wisconsin State Highway 35.)
My friend, Laurie, my dog and I arrived at a clearing to take in the largest waterfall in Wisconsin. Water rumbled down a stunning 165-foot drop, so vast and close, yet far off.
Seeing this stirred disbelief and excitement that I get to live here.
Several people pooled around the overlook to get photos, some taking advantage of the selfie station, others requesting help from lay people happy to help.
From there, we started the down-and-back trail that runs about half-mile to the Black River.
The hiking-only trail is smooth, pleasant — with minimal divots or tree roots — and it’s wide, allowing passersby and pets an ample berth.
I caught glimpses of the big falls through breaks in the balsam fir, aspen and spruce, and it felt a little anticlimactic to separate from such a main attraction.
Wooden and stone fencing along the way adds feelings of security from steep drops and a shire-like charm. A brown metal sign reads “trail to river” as we made our descent toward the waterway.
We eventually arrived at a dilapidated staircase leading down a very steep drop. One of the posts was eaten away on top, discouraging use from this gal. I felt nervous walking down it, as my dog trotted ahead easily.
The Black River greeted us at the bottom, its borders wild and dry, with many rocks, fallen trees and scores of mosquitoes.
Various hikers popped in and out by the river: A one man scaled the rocks leading across it, another pair of young women sat and chatted nearby. An older man cautiously stepped down toward the waterway.
Clouded, sluggish water pooled and curved along the river’s edges, resembling patterns in an agate. The water was so eerily still it reflected the details of the gorge, the soft sandstone and clay with precision.
We headed along the river, climbing up and down its rocky shore and over branches, wild and loose. We didn’t make it far before the mosquitoes became unbearable.
It sprinkled as we trudged up that very steep hill, a welcomed refresher to my perspiration and rising heart rate.
In the parking lot, we ran into a van of folks also wrapping up their hike.
Sachin Pentela, 12, his sister, Sahasra Pentela, 9, and family friends made a day trip from Madison, Wisconsin, to check out the state’s largest waterfall. They’re regular hikers, and Sachin is a rock climber.
It was the first time Punitha Manne, 14, and Umesh Manne, 11, had hiked this, too. Punitha liked the views; Umesh was ready to see more of the Twin Ports during the family day trip.
Asked what tips they’d share with others wanting to explore this trail, they agreed, “Bring bug spray.”
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