Minnehaha Falls Area Walking Tour:
Location: Two Rivers Area (Minnehaha Falls & Fort Snelling)
Cost: Free, Self-Guided (Optional Fees Listed Below)
Style: Do-It-Yourself Walking Tour (Self Guided)
Start: Minnehaha Falls Park (Minnehaha Light Rail Stop)
Stop: Mall Of America (Mall of America Light Rail Stop)
Getting Around: Getting between the 3 main stops of Minnehaha Falls Park, Fort Snelling, and the Mall of America are all extremely easy to visit without a car as they are all connected by the Light Rail Metro.
Time: 90 Minutes of Walking (2-3 Hours with Falls area sights; Full Day with Fort Snelling Tour and Mall Visit)
Fun Scale: 9.5 out of 10
Minnehaha Falls Overview:
The Minnehaha Falls area is awesome as it is home to one of the best urban waterfalls in the United States, the historic Fort Snelling that cemented the pioneering of Minnesota, and tons of opportunities to connect with nature. In addition to the of the beauty and history, Minnehaha Falls is also easily accessible from Downtown Minneapolis, the Airport, and Mall of American by light rail.
Minnehaha Falls Walking Tour:
1. John Stevens House (4901 Minnehaha Avenue):
About John Stevens House: John Stevens is considered one of the 1st permanent, non-Native settlers in Minneapolis. He served in the army during the Mexican War before coming to the Minnesota Territory in 1849 as a farmer and historian. This was John Stevens’ home built in 1850 as the 1st authorized house in the Minnesota Territory on the Westside of the Mississippi River. While it has since been moved, the home was originally located on the Minneapolis Riverfront next to the Hennepin Avenue Bridge where the Minneapolis Post Office sits today. Stevens was allowed to make his land claim in exchange for performing ferry services across the Mississippi River at Saint Anthony’s Falls. In the early days, his home was surrounded by a Dakota Indian settlement, then by small farms, and later the growing city of Minneapolis. Stevens home became known as the birthplace of Minneapolis as both the City (established 1857) and Hennepin County were both organized right inside his house.
Steven’s home was moved a couple blocks away in 1872 before spending 1881-96 at the corner of Cedar Avenue and 16th Street. It was moved to the current location in 1896 just 4 years before Stevens death and sat vacant until the 1980s when the Park Department opened it up to the public. We find the exhibits inside to be really interesting, especially the early photos of the Stevens House showing it as a lone house near the river surrounded by teepees. You can also see early tools and tables the city was planned on as well as photos of early pioneers and important Natives Americans. Maybe the coolest thing is the elementary school exams from 1872 you can take to see how things have changed. A bronze statue of Stevens also sits in front of the home.
Visiting Hours: May-September on Sundays & Holidays from Noon-4pm. Special tours or groups may be arranged any time throughout the year by reservation only with 2 weeks notice. Entrance Cost: Adults $3, Kids $1. House Website: (HERE).
2. Pergola Garden:
About The Pergola Garden: As you move on from the Stevens house you will be drawn to the really cool vine-covered pergola which was installed in 1995. The rows of flowers and tunnels under the structure are a lot of fun to take photos near. From June-September expect to see lots of butterflies around the Pergola Garden.
Make sure not to miss the statue of Swedish poet Gunnar Wennerberg. While there isn’t a huge direct connection between the poet and Minneapolis, there was a large Swedish population in early Minneapolis which is still strong today. Maybe the most overlooked statue near the Pergola is the Mask of Chief Little Crow (1810-1863), the Dakota chief who agreed to a peace treaty in 1851 then had to fight the government after the United States broke the treaty. The mask commemorates the chief, who was killed in the year following the 1862 Dakota conflict and is in an area considered to be sacred to the Dakota Tribe.
Visiting Hours: Daily from Dawn to Dusk.
3. Minnehaha Falls (4801 South Minnehaha Drive):
About Minnehaha Falls: The 53 foot tall majestic Minnehaha Falls is one of greatest urban waterfalls in the United States. The name Minnehaha means Waterfall in the Dakota language whom originally inhabited the islands around the falls. In, 1853 the poet Henry Longfellow put Minnehaha on the national map when he made it the setting for his work the Song of Hiawatha. Although Longfellow, a New Englander, never saw the falls in person he was inspired by reports from other travelers. By the mid-1800s Minnehaha Falls became a growing tourist destination and it hasn’t looked back since.
When President Lyndon B Johnson famously visited in 1964, there was actually a drought which reduced the falls down to a trickle. In order the get a god photo opt, all of the fire hydrants upstream when open prior to the President’s visit to make the Falls appear to be roaring. Near the lookout point near the Sea Salt Eatery, you can see photos of the President here along with footprints in the cement marking his visit.
You can visit year-round and a tour of Minnehaha Falls is just as magical in the Winter. As the falls freeze in Winter they actually create a large ice cave which reflects a rainbow of colors on the inside.
Read More: How To Go Behind Minnehaha Falls.
4. Minnehaha Garden:
About Minnehaha Garden: SAfter visiting Minnehaha Falls a number of times, it was refreshing to take in the unique view of the waterfall from Minnehaha Garden. The small garden with a central flower-filled pedestrian round-about is a peaceful place to relax also. The Tuscan-style epergne fountain was donated and placed here in 1994. Circling the garden’s fountain, flowers, and benches is a stone ring with the words to Henry Longfellow’s famous poem The Song of Hiawatha. We will see both Longfellow’s house and a statue dedicated to Hiawatha later on this Minnehaha Falls walking tour.
One of the more interesting features of the garden is a plaque giving an overview of how Minnehaha Falls has formed 10,000 years ago and how it has moved over time. If you head to the Western side of the garden you can even see a dry grassy valley below the ledge known as the Lower Glen where the river’s path used to run. At the Northern end of this deep gorge near Godfrey Parkway, you can even see the former dry waterfall from before the river changed its course over time.
5. Sea Salt Eatery & Bike Rentals:
About The Sea Salt Eatery: There is a cozy beer garden right next to Minnehaha Falls called the Sea Salt Eatery which we highly recommend. They are well known for having a wide selection of fresh seafood and Cajun flair mixed with other light eats. When typically stop by at least for some ice cream and either a local beer or sangria. It is about as close to an outdoor European beer garden as Minneapolis has to offer and you’ll be glad you stopped by.
Sitting just in front of the Sea Salt Eatery is the For Wheel Fun Bike Rental stand (website) which is a great activity if you have extra time. We have rented from them a number of times to cruise around the large park and loved their multi-person cart bikes. The cart bikes have a covered canopy and even at $30 an hour are great if you are visiting the park as a family with small children. In total there are over 12 miles of biking trails in the vast Minnehaha Park if you want to explore further than this free walking tour covers.
Hours: April-Memorial Day 11am-8pm; Memorial Day-Labor Day 11am-9pm; Labor Day-October 11am-8pm; Closed for Winter. Website: Here.
6. Longfellow House & Gardens (4800 South Minnehaha Drive):
About The Longfellow House & Gardens: In the early 1900s, former fish market operator Robert Fremont “Fish” Jones built Longfellow Amusement Park here which was named after one of his favorite American authors Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The park’s location near the Falls was a fitting as the poet had immortalized Minnehaha and the story of Hiawatha in his 1855 poem The Song of Hiawatha. You may remember this story from our details on the statue above, but the story of Fish Jone’s amusement park is also a good one.
Jones moved to Minneapolis in 1876 and immediately opened a large fish market on Hennepin Avenue right in the heart of today’s Minneapolis. Because he was the 1st guy to import oysters to Minnesota, the Jones quickly became very wealthy and the Oyster King of Minneapolis. With a fondness for animals, Jones started accumulating a bunch of exotic creatures with extra money. This passion turned into a fulled blown new career as he sold his market in 1886 and bought a 3-acre farm just a little further down Hennepin Avenue to use as a zoo. As Fish’s zoo became popular and noisy he decided to move it in 1906 to land you see before you. The area of his original zoo and farm was then later used to build Minneapolis’ Basilica of Saint Mary.
The zoo’s new location and amusement park near Minnehaha was far more vast adding zebras, monkeys, orangutans, and a polar bear to his collection of seals large cats and 8 lions. In 1907, Jones built a two-thirds scale replica of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Surrounding the home was a vast garden said to be one of the best in Minneapolis. Lore grew around zoo when animal collector Frank Buck personally captured a man-eating tiger that got its own exhibit. The weirdest thing is when 3 seals escaped the zoo during a large storm. Two of the seals found at the Minnehaha Falls, but one got into the Mississippi River and was found in all the way by Red Wing Minnesota.
Jones tried to sell the zoo several times but the city wouldn’t let him. When he died in 1934 most of the animals were given to the Como Zoo by Jone’s family and in 1934 when the Longfellow House and Gardens were given to the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board. The Longfellow statue is all that remains from the original Longfellow Gardens and the house moved to its current location on the edge of the former property. Today a new park has replaced the former gardens and what is really cool about it is that it is built right over the top of Highway 55 like an overpass.
Visiting Hours: Memorial Day-Labor Day on Saturdays & Sundays from 10am-8pm. Website: Here.
7. Hiawatha Statue:
About The Hiawatha Statue: In 1855 poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow helped put Minnehaha Falls on the map by immortalizing it and the story of Hiawatha in his famous poem The Song of Hiawatha. The real-life Hiawatha was a legendary Native American leader and co-founder of the Iroquois Confederacy. Longfellow used the name to come up with an epic story on the fictional adventures of Hiawatha and his lover Minnehaha. The works were an instant classic and became a great seller across the country.
The life-sized Hiawatha Statue located at Minnehaha falls was originally cast in bronze by Jakob Fjelde for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Later, Mrs. L.P. Hunt of Mankato Minnesota organized an effort with school children to buy the statue with pennies and it was moved here in 1912. The Hiawatha Statue depicts the mighty leader carrying his lover Minnehaha and was placed on a small island in the river. The plaque on a large rock across from the statue reads “Over wide and rushing rivers, In his arms, he bore the maiden”.
8. Old Minnehaha Depot:
About The Old Minnehaha Depot: In 1865 the first trains from Minneapolis to Mendota (just Southeast of Fort Snelling) began running on the very train tracks you see before you called the Milwaukee Road Line. With the popularity of Minnehaha Falls the Depot building you see before was built in the mid-1870s. Officially called the Minnehaha Depot, employees used to refer to this beautiful station building as “the Princess” for its elegant appearance. The Depot’s gingerbread architecture is reminiscent of the Victorian era when ladies in bustles and gentlemen in high collars traveled largely by train.
By 1910 there were 3 round trip trains a day making their way between Minneapolis and the Milwaukee Road Station. The route saw its busiest traffic during WW1 & WW2 as troops went to and from Fort Snelling but it didn’t last forever. In 1963 Milwaukee Road shut down the Minnehaha Depot and the building was donated to the City Parks Department.
Reachable By Lightrail From Minnehaha Falls:
9. Fort Snelling (200 Tower Avenue):
About Fort Snelling: Today’s impressive Fort Snelling was started as a wooden barracks in the 1820s at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. It quickly grew into a large stone fort and the US Government’s first true stake in the pioneer region which was already occupied by local Native American groups for hundreds of years. The original purpose of Fort Snelling was to help secure the fur trade and make inroads with Native tribes, although the history wasn’t always rosy.
Today the Fort is a living museum highlighting what early life and the fur trade were like in the Twin Cities. You will also learn some of the more somber points of local history from slavery in Minnesota, and the US-Dakota War of 1862. We love walking the walls, turrets, and inner grounds of the fort which have actors in period dress throughout the Summer.
Hours: Memorial Day-Labor Day Tuesday-Saturday 10am-5pm; closed Mondays. September-October Saturdays only 10am-5pm; Closed for Winter. Cost: $12 for Adults; $6 for ages 5-17; under 4 years old are free. Website: Here.
10. Two Rivers Lookout (2711 Shepard Road):
About Two Rivers Lookout: The lookout across from Fort Snelling is the best vantage point to really see the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers below. There are a couple of cool art pieces at the lookout, but mainly you are stopping for the views.
11. Crosby Farm Park (2595 Crosby Farm Road):
About Crosby Farm Park: Located just across the river about a 1-mile walk from Fort Snelling is one of Minneapolis’ most overlooked parks, Crosby Farm. The area was original a 160 acre farm started by Thomas Crosby in 1858. It was farmed until the 1960s when it was turned into a park and is now one of the largest in the Twin Cities at 736 acres. The park offers some of the best country-like experiences you’ll find in a big city and is a good contrast to Minneapolis other urban parks. There are the 12 miles of wooded trails, two lakes, and a marina to keep you occupied. We love the numerous wooden plank trails and go through subtle grassland marsh areas where you’re bound to see wildlife. There are over 7 miles of paved trails that weave throughout the park and the main plank road hiking loop is 1.5 miles.
Hours: Daily sunrise to 9pm. Website: Here.
12. Mall Of America (60 East Broadway):
About The Mall Of America: While we don’t often add shopping malls on our free walking tours, the Mall of America is the largest in the country and is a destination all its own. With 4 levels of shopping and a huge amusement park built right into it, it can be difficult to realize how massive this giant place is. The most interesting thing to us about the mall is that it isn’t heated even though the Minnesota Winters can often get to -40F. This is because they designed the mall to utilize heat made through the kinetic energy from the footsteps of the 1,000s of people walking around the Mall of America at any time.
Hours: Monday-Saturday 10a,-9:30pm; Sunday 11am-7pm.. Website: Here.
13. Lake Nokomis (5001 West Lake Nokomis Pkwy):
About Lake Nokomis: It’s no wonder that the state of Minnesota is known as the Land of 10,000 lakes as it seems that you pass a new one almost every mile. Lake Nokomis is one of the best ones to visit as it is right in the middle of the Twin Cities and has a great beach. The name Nokomis comes from Henry Longfellow poem “The Song of Hiawatha” as the grandmother of the fictional Hiawatha.
When the city of Minneapolis bought the land in 1907, the lake at that time only averaged 5 feet deep. Seven years later they started digging it out deeper and by 1919 it had a bathhouse and beach making it the most popular swimming spot in the Twin Cities. Unfortunately, a really cool island right in the middle of the lake was eliminated while deepening the water, but today it is still a great place to swim, sun, and jog.