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For information on State Natural Areas, contact:
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Wisconsin State Natural Areas Program Big Manitou Falls and Gorge (No. 398)

Big Manitou Falls and Gorge

Photo by Aaron Carlson

Resource links:

Pattison State Park


Overview

Location

Within Pattison State Park, Douglas County. T47N-R14W, Section 21. 60 acres.

Description

Description

Big Manitou Falls and Gorge contains a unique river gorge carved out of both sandstone and basalt and includes the 165' high roaring, cascading falls of the Black River. In the few thousand years since the last glacier retreated, the river slowly eroded through the layers of soft sandstone and clay and gradually formed the steep sided gorge. However, underlying much of the area is basalt, a strong and resistant product of deep volcanic action that occurred over a billion years ago. While the river forged a relatively easy pathway through the sandstone, upon meeting the resistant lava rock, the river could not erode as rapidly, and the water's power was expended downwards, creating Big Manitou Falls. The fourth highest waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains, its name comes Native Americans who said they heard the voice of the Great Spirit in the roaring of the falls calling it "Gitchee Manitou". Two rare species have been found within the rocky gorge Oregon woodsia (Woodsia oregana var. cathcartiana) and the mystery vertigo land snail (Vertigo paradoxa). Big Manitou Falls and Gorge is owned by the DNR and was designated a State Natural Area in 2003.

Access

Driving directions

From the intersection of Highways 35 and 105 in South Superior, go south on 35 8.9 miles to the park entrance. Get a map at the contact station. The natural area can be accessed via the Big Manitou Falls Trail.

Ownership

Big Manitou Falls and Gorge is owned by:

  • WDNR

Maps

The DNR's state natural areas program is comprised of lands owned by the state, private conservation organizations, municipalities, other governmental agencies, educational institutions and private individuals. While the majority of SNAs are open to the public, access may vary according to individual ownership policies. Public use restrictions may apply due to public safety, or to protect endangered or threatened species or unique natural features. Lands may be temporarily closed due to specific management activities. Users are encouraged to contact the landowner for more specific details.

The data shown on these maps have been obtained from various sources, and are of varying age, reliability, and resolution. The data may contain errors or omissions and should not be interpreted as a legal representation of legal ownership boundaries.

Objectives

Site objectives

Manage the site as a moist cliff reserve, a rare plant protection site, a significant geological site, and an ecological reference area. Natural processes will determine the structure of the moist cliff. Provide opportunities for research and education on moist cliffs, rare plants, and especially geological features.

Management approach

Native species are managed passively, allowing nature to determine the ecological characteristics of the site. Exceptions include control of invasive plants and animals, and maintenance of existing facilities. Salvage of trees after a major wind event is not considered compatible with management objectives.

Site-specific considerations

  • A park trail forms the exterior boundary of the site, and is an excellent location for geological interpretation.
  • Although removal of hazardous trees from over and near trails is an allowed activity, manipulation/removal of vegetation and soil disturbance should be minimized to the extent possible.

Recreation

Very few State Natural Areas have public facilities, but nearly all are open for a variety of recreational activities as indicated below. Generally, there are no picnic areas, restrooms, or other developments. Parking lots or designated parking areas are noted on individual SNA pages and maps. Trails, if present, are typically undesignated footpaths. If a developed trail is present, it will normally be noted on the SNA map and/or under the "Access" tab. A compass and topographic map or a GPS unit are useful tools for exploring larger, isolated SNAs.

Allowable activities

In general, the activities listed below are allowed on all DNR-owned SNA lands. Exceptions to this list of public uses, such as SNAs closed to hunting, are noted under the "Access" tab above and posted with signs on site.

  • Hiking
  • Fishing
  • Cross country skiing
  • Hunting
  • Trapping

Prohibited activities

  • Camping and campfires
  • Collecting of animals (other than legally harvested species), non-edible fungi, rocks, minerals, fossils, archaeological artifacts, soil, downed wood, or any other natural material, alive or dead. Collecting for scientific research requires a permit issued by the DNR
  • Collecting of plants including seeds, roots or other non-edible parts of herbaceous plants such as wildflowers or grasses
  • Drone use, unless authorized by a SNA research permit
  • Geocaching
  • Horseback riding
  • Rock climbing
  • Vehicles, including bicycles, ATVs, aircraft, and snowmobiles except on trails and roadways designated for their use

For rules governing state-owned SNAs and other state lands, please consult Chapter NR 45 Wis. Admin. Code [exit DNR]

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Last revised: Thursday, October 19, 2017