Pattison State Park, located in northwest Wisconsin, is a popular State Park and home to the tallest waterfall in the state. Big Manitou Falls draws visitors to the park, but there is plenty to see and do for a weekend.
The park is actually located closer to Minnesota’s largest cities than those in Wisconsin, just 30 minutes from Duluth and 2.5 hours from the twin cities. Wisconsin’s most well-known cities of Green Bay, Madison, and Milwaukee are all around 5 hours by car.
This guide will give you all the insight into visiting Pattison State Park, and why you should be planning a visit soon!
Table of Contents
History of Pattison State Park
In addition to the geological forces at work in the park, it has also been shaped by the mining and logging industries.
The brown basalt rock prevalent in the area is evidence of volcanic lava that is said to have flowed across the area of the park a billion years ago.
Techtonic pressure from the Douglas Fault contributed to the opportunities to mine precious metals, while rock quarries took advantage of the sandstone to use for bricks.
Glaciers also shaped the terrain of the area.
As far as inhabitants of the area, the park was a hub for trade for the Chippewa tribe, with a trading post situated at the top of the Big Falls in the 1800s.
Some of the river stones were used to make arrowheads and points, among other tools. Many artifacts have been found in the area over the years.
In the mid-1800s, the first European-American explorers started digging for copper, but even though the rock tested high in the metal, mining efforts were never hugely successful.
The park’s name, however, was given to honor the man who saved the Big Manitou Falls from being destroyed by a dam to be built on the river.
Martin Pattison was successful in the lumber and mining industries in both Michigan and Minnesota.
He built the Fairlawn Mansion to be his residence around 1890, also in Superior, and years later learned of the plan to build a dam.
Without the developers knowing, he bought over 600 acres of land from various landowners around Big Manitou Falls to stop them from being destroyed.
A year later, he donated the land, and then in 1920, the area officially became a part of the Wisconsin State Parks system. It was the 6th designated state park for Wisconsin.
The development of the current facilities was a project of the Civil Conservation Corps during the Great Depression.
Cost to Visit Pattison State Park
There is an admission price that must be paid to visit any of Pattison State Park and any of the State Parks in the Wisconsin system.
There are options for daily visitors, as well as an annual pass. Both are based on vehicle license plates.
Annual rates are $28 for in-state visitors and $38 for vehicles with out-of-state plates.
Plan for daily rates of $8 and $11 for in and out-of-state visitors respectively.
These passes can be purchased online ahead of time or in person at any State Park.
If you’ll be traveling in a rental car, you will need license plate and vehicle information, so wait to purchase the pass in person. The passes are not transferrable.
Pattison State Park Map
Things to Do
View the Tallest Waterfall in Wisconsin
Big Manitou Falls is the tallest waterfall in Wisconsin and the fourth tallest waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains.
The first viewpoint of the falls is easily accessible via a paved trail with a short walk from the Big Manitou Falls parking area on East County Highway B.
The paved trail leads to other viewing areas, as well as a pedestrian tunnel under Route 35 to access the rest of the park.
Explore the entire 0.5-mile trail to see each perspective of the waterfall, and choose your favorite view!
Explore the Smaller Waterfall and Black River
Views of the Little Manitou Falls are easily accessed via the Little Manitou Falls Trail.
There is a well-marked parking area, reached by turning off Route 35 at the big sign for Little Manitou Falls (on the left when coming from Big Manitou Falls).
You’ll find a sign for the Little Manitou Falls Trail, which is also a portion of the North Country Trail, and a very short walk on the trail leads to views of the falls.
These twin falls drop 31 feet, small compared to the one at the opposite end of the park. They are definitely worth visiting, though!
The trail then continues along the Black River, with plenty of places to explore the plant life of the park.
Hiking trail options circle the Interfalls Lake and connect both Big and Little Manitou Falls with 7 miles of trail options.
Many of the trails also wind around the Black River and through forests.
You’ll see plenty of diverse plant life, and you may catch a glimpse of the wildlife.
2.1 miles of the trails here along the Black River are dually named and included in the North Country Scenic Trail, which spans from South Dakota to Vermont, over 4,600 miles.
|Beaver Trail||2.0 mi|
|Big Manitou Falls Trail||0.5 mi|
|Little Manitou Falls Trail||0.5 mi|
|Overlook Trail||1.2 mi|
|Oak Ridge Trail||0.8 mi|
|River View Trail||2.0 mi|
Swim in the Interfalls Lake
This 27-acre lake situated in the middle of the park is popular for swimming, with a 300-foot beach for enjoying in the summer.
There are bath and shower houses near the beach, as well as picnic areas.
The area for swimming is marked, and swimming anywhere else in the park, including at the waterfalls is dangerous, so don’t attempt it.
The beach is unguarded, though, so even swimming here is at your own risk.
At its deepest, it is 13 feet to the bottom but averages about 7 feet.
Kayaking is possible on areas of the Black River, though not on a significant portion within the park due to the falls.
There are no rentals available in the park, either.
For those looking for fishing from their kayak, this park may not be the best option, and none of the waters are stocked with any fish.
Those looking for an adventurous kayak trip may want to consider the 40-minute drive to Brule River Canoe Rental. With options available for beginners through more advanced river kayakers, there is something for just about anyone there.
Camping in the State Park
The park is home to a campground for RVs and tents as well as a few backpacker sites available for reservation.
59 sites are available in the campground on the Big Manitou side of the park and the 3 backpack sites near Little Manitou Falls.
Only 18 of the campground sites have electric hookups, so book a site early if this is something you require!
The backpack sites are popular with those hiking along this North Country Trail section but are also 1.6 miles from the nearest parking area and can be used by weekend backpackers.
Water must be packed into the area. Remember to pack out your trash!
Where Else to Visit Nearby?
Just a short drive from the city of Duluth, there are other attractions nearby for both outdoor lovers and city explorers. Explore the Duluth waterfront or one of these outdoor parks.
Amnicon Falls State Park
In less than a 30-minute drive, you can find yourself at nearby Amnicon Falls State Park with more waterfalls to chase.
You’ll also find a covered bridge on the 2 miles of hiking trails through the park.
Both camping and picnic areas are available for reservation and use, as well.
This park is about half the size of Pattison State Park.
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
Separated by about an hour and a half of driving, if hiking, camping, and water activities draw you to a park, then consider visiting the Apostle Islands.
Although you will have to catch a ferry or arrange private transportation to the 21 islands included in the National Lakeshore, once you get out there many have feelings of great seclusion.
Madeline Island, not included in the National Lakeshore, is the 22nd and final of the Apostle Islands, and also has a state park for hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities. Madeline Island is much more developed than the others.
There are also a few spots for these activities on the mainland of Wisconsin.
Wrapping Up: Your Guide to Pattison State Park
Although Pattison State Park is quite a drive from the big Wisconsin cities, this gem in the northwest corner of the state is worth visiting for a relaxing adventure to view the beautiful waterfalls.
If planning to visit the area, we’d recommend combining on a road trip to visit others as well, either along the shores of Wisconsin or continuing up along the Minnesota shores of Lake Superior.
For those looking for a park that can be fully explored in one weekend, or somewhere with a great weekend backpacking opportunity, consider Pattison State Park.