Continuing upstream from Potato River Falls, I followed the foot-worn trails until reaching the campsites and the trail head towards Willard Falls. I’ve been down this way before, but today I had more knowledge of the area and was determined to find the actual falls that I missed before.
The trail isn’t very long and quite a pleasant hike down an old 2-track for the majority of the trip. Nearing the cliffs the trail narrows then disappears, but you can find your way through the trees easily. Trees change over from oaks, ash, and birch, and now become pine and cedar.
If you are quiet and keep a sharp eye, there is an abundance of wildlife back here where many visitors will never see. In the past I have found raccoons, turkeys, and deer; today I made friends with a curious little garter snake.
Nearing the area where I have previously climbed down the cliffs I found an unofficial campfire ring and some make-shift wood benches. I can’t say I would encourage having fires here (not really sure it’s allowed truth be told), but it was interesting to find.
On my last visit, I found a series of rocky rapids that I called “Potato River Dalles” for lack of any other known name. Since then, I have been in contact with Eric Peterson who is the Iron County Forest administrator and he confirmed there is no official name for the feature. After some discussion with my colleague Bob from WaterfallsWisconsin.com, we agreed on calling this simply Willard Rapids since it is nearest to Willard Falls and gives a better description based on proximity.
Here’s another look from overhead. It is impossible to cover this in one photo – see my old post for more details, and definitely watch the video at the bottom of this post which will give the best views.
Reaching the falls once you are at Willard Rapids is pretty easy – either make your way along the rocky river shoreline, or cut up through the woods in the sparsely stemmed pine plantation. I found an old camping chair quite near the falls so if you also find this you are almost there!
Just a stumble, hop, and skip through the brush you will arrive at Willard Falls. Satellite views on Google Earth do not give this justice, it is very clear with boots on the ground this is a substantial feature. From the shoreline you can’t see all that much, but if you hop along the rocks you’ll get a closer view.
Even though you can get physically close, it is still very hard to photograph from the ground. Here’s a view from the air facing directly at the falls. There are two distinct tiers, and I’d estimate an overall drop of 10-15 feet. Due to the current lower water levels during autumn it is mostly just a single ribbon of water flowing through a carved chute.
Here’s a view from the same position but with increased elevation. This gives the best idea of what the rocky crag looks like. I’m positive that in springtime during higher flows this would look incredibly different. 100% suggest coming here – it’s very peaceful and you probably won’t see anyone else here all day.
Willard Falls Lower
Now if you thought I was finished having seen the “main” Willard Falls…well, you’re wrong. From past trips I know there is another falls that is even harder to see due to the tall cliffs up trail where the pine needles blanket the forest floor. You can just hear something up there that is very loud and large, but there is no way at all to see it without risking serious injury or death. From Willard Rapids, I hiked back downstream carefully along the rocks.
I failed today by forgetting my water shoes so I couldn’t fully cross the river (it is surprisingly deep in some spots), but I was able to hop to a point where I could fly the drone and still safely maintain visual range. Here’s the first look as I was flying downstream from Willard Rapids where it changes into another large falls that we are calling Willard Falls Lower (or my friend Bob may end up calling it Willard Lower Cliffside Falls but it’s all the same spot; again confirmed with Iron Co Forest there is no official name for this feature).
Before we get a better look at the large falls, I wanted to show the tall cliffs that prevent a more direct route. There are also some smaller rapids/falls downstream – I’m not even sure these would be visible at higher water levels but they are fun to watch today. I did briefly fly from atop the cliffs but that is a difficult flight that I don’t recommend.
Turning back upstream, here is another view of those small rapids/falls. I wonder how many of those small boulders on the shore would be covered in spring during snow melt or floods.
About 100 yards upstream we finally come to see a good view of Willard Falls Lower. It should be quite clear now why you cannot see this from the ground – it’s just a small ribbon of water that slices right through a channel in the rocks, and unless you are right on top it becomes nearly hidden.
Another view from a little closer and slight raise in elevation. From here you can see even more, and it becomes clearer that the rocks on the right side of the photo are in different levels/steps. Had I reached the other shore by wading, I’m sure I could have seen much more details from the ground. That will have to wait for next time.
One more look from the sky to show better details of the rocks and pools on the opposite shore. Immediately I was reminded of the “pools” commonly found in the western U.S. at places like Moab where rainwater fills them up instead of moving waters. Very glad I finally got a glimpse at this waterfall, and I hope to get better images in the future!
Here’s a video of everything you can see on the upper trail from Potato River Falls all the way to Willard Falls. I believe this is my longest video produced to date, and it took a very long time to edit everything together. All told, I think I captured over 200GB of data on today’s trip alone so I’m sure you can understand how tedious it was sorting through things. I hope you enjoy! [UAV Info & Disclaimer – follow the rules!]
Here is the hiking loop that I traveled today. You can see where I first went down the stairs/cliff at the Potato Falls Upper section, where I stepped out close to the cliffs edge downstream of Willard Falls Lower, and then how I went all the way to the end and visited Willard Falls before heading back to the parking area. Markers for the camping area and some of the roads/paths can also be seen.
Total distance was just over 2 miles. Had I remembered to bring my water shoes this would have been much, much longer. Having the drone also saves a ton of time. Beyond that it isn’t a difficult hike regarding distance or elevation – if you take your time on the steep and slippery sections it isn’t very hard.
In addition to my normal hiking details, I want to share a map giving approximate locations for all of the different waterfall features to help clarify the specifics. This is a pretty quick-and-dirty screenshot of Google Earth/Maps that shows the satellite view. Numbers identify the features as follows: 1 = Potato River Falls (main falls); 2 = Potato River Upper Falls; 3 = Willard Falls Lower; 4 = Willard Rapids; and 5 = Willard Falls.
Don’t leave just yet, today’s adventure isn’t quite over! Stay tuned for part 2 where I explore the trails and river below the main fallsLat = 46.4569397 , Long = -90.5204544 -- Show at Google Maps