PATTISON STATE PARK
Pattison State Park features the highest waterfalls in Wisconsin and the fourth highest waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains. Big Manitou Falls is 165 high, and Little Manitou Falls is 31 feet high.
The 1,436-acre park also has a lake with a beach, nature programs and guided hikes, a nature center, camping, 9 miles of hiking trails, and abundant wildlife.
The cities of Superior, Wisconsin, and Duluth, Minnesota; Amnicon Falls State Park; Brule River State Forest; and Lake Superior are all within an hour of Pattison State Park.
Pattison State Park is named for Martin Pattison, an early lumber man and miner. He began work in his first lumber camp in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. By the age of 25, he was a full partner in the company. The company moved to the Upper Peninsula, and then, in 1879, on to Superior. For three years, Pattison and his men logged along the Black River. The remains of their camp can still be seen along the Logging Camp Trail.
Pattison sold his lumber interests and began exploring for iron ore on the Vermilion Range in Minnesota. His success there made him a wealthy man. He became one of the largest individual holders of iron lands in all of Minnesota. In Superior, he purchased an entire city block on the harbor and built a 42-room Victorian mansion, now known as Fairlawn Mansion and Museum (exit DNR). The house is open daily and is well worth a visit. (Call (715) 394-5712 for more information.)
In 1917, Pattison learned of a plan to build a power dam on the Black River which would have destroyed Big Manitou Falls. To block the development, he secretly purchased 660 acres along the river from a number of landowners including James Barden. With the donation of the land, in 1918, Pattison saved the waterfall and property surrounding it.
"In being able to grant this site to the public, I have accomplished one of my chief ambitions. For years I have spent much time amid the surrounding of the falls and have received so much enjoyment there that it gradually became a part of my life."
With his generosity, the waterfall that had attracted people for thousands of years would not be lost. With this donation of land, Wisconsin dedicated its sixth state park on January 20, 1920.
Until 1935, facilities at Pattison were modest: a small picnic area, some wooden overlooks, pit toilets, and a ranger's cabin. Visitors camped on the lawn and parked along the road. A dam formed in 1928 had enlarged Interfalls Lake, causing a muddy and weedy shore.
One of the programs of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's plan to end the Great Depression of the 1930s was the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) (exit DNR). Young, single, unemployed men were put to work on conservation projects. On July 25, 1935, Camp Pattison Company 3663 of the CCC was established at what is now Little Manitou Falls picnic area. For the next seven years, thousands of men labored to transform the landscape into what is now the main park area.
The CCC put in sewer and water systems, removed old roadbeds and abutments, planted trees, landscaped and built 3 miles of foot trails.
During the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps quarried rock and chiseled it into blocks to create the park shelter building, nature center, bathhouse and former office building.
CCC members began work on the campground and pedestrian underpass. One of the most ambitious projects was draining Interfalls Lake, rerouting the river channel, and hauling sand from Lake Superior's shore to make the beach.
Once World War II was underway, the labor shortage ended the CCC program. CCC veterans often return to Pattison, and reunions have been held at the park. The CCC left a legacy of beautiful buildings, practical facilities, and a changed landscape in its wake. A booklet detailing the history of Camp Pattison is available at the park office.
Pattison has 59 regular (family) campsites, 18 of them with electric hookups, and three backpack sites.
There is a sanitary dumping station but no sewer or water hookups. Showers and flush toilets are available during the summer.
The backpack sites are about 1.6 miles from the parking area. They have pit toilets, tables, and fire rings. Water must be carried in; garbage must be carried out.
Pattison has no designated group camping, but groups may use available individual or double sites.
Firewood may be purchased at the park office. There are soft drink vending machines outside the shelter and in the campground shower building. Nearby businesses offer ice and other items.