On my third trip to Minneapolis this past May, I felt the challenge of figuring out what was left for me to tour in the area. I’d conquered the Chain of Lakes, the Walker Museum, the Sculpture Garden, the Guthrie Theater, the Mall of America, and plenty of delicious eats and drinks downtown. Yet somehow, in my prior searches of things to do in the city, I never came across Minnehaha Falls.
The Falls are famous for being the focus of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Song of Hiawatha,” which is actually a name stolen from a nearby lake—we’ll get to that on this day trip, too. This sprawling recreational area is impossible to miss if you’re taking the Blue Line—and you should take the Blue Line because Minneapolis’s public transit is awesome. Just get off at the Minnehaha Falls stop and cross the street to the park. The first thing you’ll see is the John Stevens House.
The home of John Stevens, who served as a ferryman for Fort Snelling, was the first home built in Minneapolis and it’s been moved four times since. I found the eyes on the statue of Stevens quite creepy.
Just me? I swear they glow.
Another nifty sight right inside the park is the Minnehaha Depot.
Tell me you’ve seen a more picturesque abandoned train station. You can’t, can you? The Minnehaha Depot was a primary destination for cityfolk in the mid-1800s. I found the tracks trains used to travel quite appealing as well.
After you’ve had your fill of dandelions, walk through the nearby trellis—
–and take a minute to decide whether you think the sculpture of this American Indian is beautiful or ghastly.
I couldn’t decide. Right past that mask is the falls. You can’t miss them.
There are a lot of stairs to descend, and climb back up later, if you want to see it from the bottom. In fact, the rest of this blog post involves a lot of walking, so if you like to take it easy, perhaps just stroll around the lovely grounds of the park’s upper levels. The rest of us will continue following the creek….after lunch!
Sea Salt Eatery is conveniently located right at the top of the falls. It’s closed during winter, but the rest of the year, seafood is the main draw. I should note the ice cream was also popular on a 60-degree day—those Midwesterners know when it’s hot!
With a tap that pretty, I decided I had to try a local beer and chose the Surly Schadenfraude, a German-style dunkel aged in Minnesotan oak.
My lunch choice was fish tacos made with haddock.
The tortillas were freshly grilled though not freshly made, and the ingredients included great fried fish, onion, cilantro, and a salsa sweet enough that it might masquerade as a marinara sauce if its ingredients didn’t provide such a pleasant burst of spring. Use that lime on the taco, apply one of the multitudes of hot sauces liberally, and your lunch will be fantastic.
Now that we’re fed, it’s time to continue our sightseeing. Once past the bottom of the falls, follow the path as it forks to the right. You’ll pass plenty of beautiful sights along the way.
Near the mouth of the Minnehaha Creek, you’ll encounter my favorite part of this park—the colorful limestone walls that have been carved up by various artists—or bored teenagers—for decades.
You’ll hit all that limestone at the exact same time as you reach the confluence of the creek and the Mississippi River. That’s a beautiful sight worthy of the walk all on its own.
Now you can take the trail back to the Falls, keeping the Mississippi on your right as you go. The view of the Ford Parkway and Lock and Dam #1 are pretty scenic, if you can find them between the trees.
Once the trail loop catches up with itself, you’ll recognize the first bridge you passed. It’s right by that pretty pool near a meadow with people sunbathing on the rocks.
Now, most sane people on vacation will probably call it a day after seeing all of Minnehaha Falls Park, but if you’re an industrious sightseer like I am, walking the 1.5 miles of creekway to Lake Hiawatha is a challenge you can’t resist. First, head past the Sea Salt Eatery and cross the street in pursuit of the striking yellow Longfellow House in the distance.
No, Henry never lived there, but the house is a reproduction of one of his homes and part of the Longfellow Gardens situated on a hill behind it.
There was little blooming at the gardens in May. The gardens are the former home of all sorts of mid-century amusements for Minneapolis cityfolk, but except for a small planted area, it’s mostly wilderness now. The abandoned sculpture of Longfellow struck me as evocative of Moses parting a Red Sea of weeds.
Yes, my imagination is overactive.
Continue following the creek and take in the Hiawatha neighborhood as you go.
You’ll know when you hit the lake. It’s what truly inspired Longfellow’s poem.
Follow the trails south around the lake, and you’ll find a much larger one just across the road—Lake Nokomis. The clouds were perfect for picture taking that day.
I only took a quick peek at both lakes, but spending a quiet afternoon on their shores would be lovely. Not to mention needed rest before heading back those 1.5 miles to the Blue Line. I got that rest at Nokomis Beach Café, just up the first block on 50th St and 28th Ave.
Enjoy a pleasant walk back up 50th; it’s a straight shot to the Blue Line stop. And you’ll discover a few strange sights along the way.
I hope you enjoyed this photoblogging stroll through Minnehaha Falls and the Hiawatha neighborhood of Minneapolis! Want more pictures? You can find them here.by