This post focuses on Amnicon Falls State Park in Wisconsin. If you would like to view a quick summary of my travel and photography recommendations, please scroll down to the end of this post.
Amnicon Falls State Park is located in northern Wisconsin, only a 30 minute drive from Duluth, Minnesota. The root-beer-colored Amnicon River flows through the park in a series of beautiful waterfalls and rapids. The park is also known for its unique geology, with the Douglas Fault running through it. You can pick up a free geology booklet from the park office for more information. If you’re quiet and careful, you might catch a glimpse of deer, coyotes, foxes, mink, otters, or many different species of birds (the park office lends out bird field guides and binoculars) while hiking through the park. The history of the area includes several Native American cultures, fur trappers, copper miners, lumberjacks, a railroad company, and a brownstone quarry.
A Wisconsin State Parks & Forests Vehicle Admission Sticker is required to enter Amnicon Falls State Park. You can either purchase a daily sticker or an annual sticker if you plan on visiting more state parks and/or state forests in Wisconsin (there are currently 66 state parks and 9 state forests).
The only lodging within the park is the Amnicon Falls State Park Campground. The campground has vault toilets and drinking water. The campsites are surrounded by forest and have fire pits (the park office sells firewood) and picnic tables. Campsites can be reserved online. I recommend sites on the outside edge of the loop for views into the seemingly never-ending forest. I would avoid choosing a site next to the vault toilets. Unless you have children, I would also avoid choosing a site next to the playground.
Left: View of the forest from Site 29 in Amnicon Falls State Park Campground Right: Site 29 in Amnicon Falls State Park Campground
There are a couple restaurants in South Range, Wisconsin if you feel like going out to eat. You can also travel to Superior, Wisconsin or Duluth, Minnesota for more dining options. Amnicon Falls State Park has picnic areas throughout the park and a reservable picnic shelter.
There are hiking trails all around the waterfalls. You can view every waterfall by walking a short distance. The Amnicon Falls State Park Map shows the location of each waterfall and hiking trail. Along with hiking up to the waterfalls, you can climb around on the rocks surrounding the waterfalls. The Thimbleberry Nature Trail is 0.8 miles round trip and relatively flat. The trailhead is at the entrance to the campground. The trail winds through the forest, where you can see a variety of plants, maybe some wildlife, and a calmer section of the Amnicon River. Pick up a booklet from the park office to follow along with the numbered signposts. There is a spur off the Thimbleberry Nature Trail to the site of a former brownstone quarry, which has now become a pond. Brownstone is a type of sandstone and was a popular building material. Superior, Wisconsin has several buildings built out of brownstone from this quarry. If you visit Amnicon Falls State Park in the winter, there is also a snowshoeing trail through the forest. It is 1.5 miles round trip and relatively flat.
Old brownstone quarry off the Thimbleberry Nature Trail
Other activities include swimming and fishing. Swimming is allowed in the Amnicon River. However, it’s important to be cautious. Do not try to jump into the river (it is extremely dangerous and not permitted). Most people fish downstream of the waterfalls. Remember that a fishing license is required.
The Horton Covered Bridge is located between Upper Falls and Lower Falls and takes visitors to an island in the river. The age of the bridge is unknown, but it was moved to its present location in 1930. The Civilian Conservation Corps built the roof in 1939. The roof has been replaced twice due to heavy snow and vandalism. The unusual design of the bridge was patented by Charles Horton in 1897-1898.
Left: Horton Covered Bridge Right: View from Horton Covered Bridge
The dense forest casts shadows across the river on sunny days, which makes taking photos a bit tricky. It’s best to photograph this park in overcast conditions or in the soft lighting around sunrise and sunset. With the waterfalls so close to the campground, it’s easy to go back and photograph them in different types of lighting. If you have a nice camera (I don’t own a DSLR camera yet; otherwise, I’d show the effects I describe) and a tripod, this is a great place to experiment with adjusting shutter speeds while photographing waterfalls. Shorter exposures freeze the waterfalls while longer exposures (low lighting and a tripod are necessary) result in a silky, blurred effect. I recommend trying several shutter speeds for each shot to see what you like best.
Waterfalls in the evening on a sunny day
Waterfalls on an overcast day