Exploring Pattison State Park

Pattison State Park has two amazing waterfall to explore. Both are close to parking areas so you don’t have to hike hours to see them but if you love to hike, you can take the trail between them and get a more in depth view of the park. There is a campground and a few hike-in campsite for those who want more privacy. There is a large sandy beach for those who want to build a castle or swim a bit. This is a great family park! And don’t miss Amnicon Falls, another Wisconsin state park only 30 minute away! Or check out my list of all the state parks I’ve written about here.

Hiking and Big Manitou Falls

There are two waterfall at Pattison State Park, both on the Black River. First the Black River tumbles 31 feet off Little Manitou Falls, then it forms Interfalls Lake in the center of the park, and then plunges down Big Manitou falls. You can park either by the Little or Big falls and there are hiking trails connecting them as well.

Starting from the main parking area it’s easy to get to the lookouts at Big Manitou Falls. There is a pedestrian path from the main picnic and beach area with a tunnel that takes you under highway 35. From here, there are several short trails to get a variety of great views of the magnificent 165 foot Big Manitou Falls. The total distance of the Big Manitou Falls Trail is 0.5 miles. You don’t have to walk the whole trail to see the falls but it is not a loop so to cover the whole thing and get back to where you started it is about a mile.

The paths around Pattison’s Big Manitou Falls are well marked and pretty but do have stairs and elevation change. I loved the views here, especially when the water level was higher but my kids were less impressed because they couldn’t climb on rocks or touch the water. My husband was also less found of the big waterfall as he is a bit nervous with the kids around heights and there are some dramatic drop offs at the viewing sites.

Hiking and Little Manitou Falls

Sometimes little legs get tired

If you want to hike to the Little Falls at Pattison, start at Beaver trail, it is a two mile loop trail going around the lake between the two falls. It is also how you get to the half mile, non looping, trail to Little Manitou Falls. If you aren’t up for the three mile hike to get to the Little Falls and back there is a parking area that provides access.

The “Little” Manitou Falls is certainly smaller in height than it’s counterpart but it is impressive in its own right. My family had fun admiring the big falls but liked the little one better because you can get closer. There are lots of rocks to climb on and around at the bottom of the smaller falls. My kids could have spent hours there.

A little geology at Pattison

The waterfall flows over are a type of rock which was originally lava from billions of years ago. Interested in geology and how these falls came to be? Check out the Big Manitou Geology Walk . According to the guide the water has a “root beer” type color due to tannic acid which it picks up from dying plants along its path. Tannic acid is, along with caffeine ofcourse, one of the main active components of tea and coffee.


Pattison State Park offers both regular car camping and back country camping. The sites at the car camping area are wooded and do offer a little privacy. Many of the sites have a U shaped drives allowing for a pull through experience. The campground has 59 family campsites with 18 of them providing electric hook ups.

Firewood is available at the park office. Showers and flush toilets have a central location and are available during the summer. There is an additional pit toilet towards the back of the campground loop. There are drinking fountains and a dump station in the summer. During the winter there are pit toilets and you can get water from the contact station during their office hours.

Looking to get away a bit more? Try one of three backpack sites. They are close to Little Manitou Falls and you will have to carry in abut one and a half miles to earn one of these peaceful back country sites. There are vault toilets, tables, and fire rings available.

Swimming and the Beach

Pattison State Park hosts a 300 foot sand beach. There is plenty of nearby grassy areas as well for a game of frisbee or a place to lay out. According to the DNR site, the depth of the lake varies a lot but has a maximum depth of 13 feet.

Picnics and Playgrounds

There are several dedicated picnic areas in Pattison Park. The largest is by the main parking area near the beach. The marked playground is two sets of swings. This did include a couple baby swings for those who can’t hang on. There is also a basketball hoop and a sand volleyball court.

There is also a playground marked on the map at the parking at Little Manitou Falls. That playground was also a simple couple of swings. It is next to a generously sized picnic area with multiple picnic tables and a grill.

Dogs at Pattison State Park

Bringing your furry friend? Dogs are allowed in ALMOST the entire park. They area allowed on all trails and at the viewing ares of both waterfalls. They are allowed in the campsite as well. Pattison asks pets to not be in the rather large main picnic area which includes the beach area. There is a dedicated pet picnic area between the campground and the lake. It is immediately adjacent to the main picnic area. There are several picnic tables and water access for your pup.

Biking and Horses

Sorry, no biking or horse trails are available in Pattison State Park. There are very few park roads so even that is not an option for biking.

Nearby Food

Less than a 1/2 mile from the park is Manitou Inn Bar and Grill which has an all American type menu. Opens for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There are a lot of choices in Superior which is 20 minutes away or Duluth which is a little over 30 minutes away. Mama T’s Smoking Eats is on the close side of Superior and only 10 minutes away.

Nearby Food Superior/Duluth

In Superior check out the Thirsty Pagan for microbrews and deep dish pizza .They have live music as well. If you prefer a burger, check out Anchor Bar and Grill-featured on Diners, Drive ins, and Dives. They have a 4.5 star rating on google with nearly 3,000 reviews. For a delicious sandwich check out Superior Cubans. This is a newer restaurant that already seems to be making waves.

If you go a bit farther north to Duluth we recommend the OMC Smokehouse. Their BBQ is legit and they have local craft beer as well. For a local favorite you’ll want to find some smoked fish. Check out the Northern Waters Smokehaus. For a traditional English pub experience with live music and a great lake view go to Sir Benedicts Tavern on the Lake.

Nearby Parks

As a park loving traveler my first recommendation for near by activities is Amnicon State Park. It’s about 25 minutes and hosts more waterfall/rapids. The parking is close to the falls so if you are running out of steam don’t worry! If you want another great state park with big falls, check out Copper Falls (just under 2 hours away.) Another great northern park is Big Bay State Park. It is about 1.5 hour to Bayfield and then you take a ferry which takes another hour or so to get to the park.

Nearby Activities

Check out Canal Park in Duluth is a bit touristy and fun for the whole family. There is a selection of stores for those who love to shop. There are multiple food and dessert options. They have a lighthouse you can walk out to and a lift bridge. This area is very pedestrian friendly. This is close to the Park Point Beach.

Duluth has multiple craft breweries. We really liked Ursa Minor Brewing and the Bent Paddle. They are close enough to walk between the two if you can’t choose.

For kids, there are lots of options a bit north of the park. Check out the Great Lakes Aquarium (with an awesome free playground out front), the Lake Superior Zoo, or the Duluth Children’s Museum.

In Conclusion…

Pattison State Park is a great park for viewing impressive waterfalls of the northwoods. They are close to parking for those short on time yet there is enough hiking to keep busy if that is your cup of tea. The beach front is fun to cool off or build a sandcastle. There are two different camping options and it’s close enough to Superior/Duluth to find plenty more fun of all sorts.

Published by Jamie

I was raised on a Christmas tree farm in Wisconsin. I have always been an adventurer, and lover of the great outdoors. I like to enjoy the amazing state of Wisconsin in all weather and share the experience with my kiddos, my husband, my parents, or just my dog.

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