Sunday, January 24, 2021

Vermillion Falls

As the old story goes, when you visit a place, you go to all the sights, but if you live there, you never get around to seeing them. I decided to play the tourist and see Vermillion Falls in Hastings, which I'd never done despite living about 10 to 15 minutes away most of my life. (And yes, it's spelled with two "l"s here.)

Partly frozen over, with adjoining industrial facility at the falls itself.

Looking down into the gorge from above the falls.

Vermillion Falls is a waterfall on the Vermillion River, a tributary to the Mississippi. The falls and downstream gorge are actually not unlike a miniature version of the Mississippi gorge from Fort Snelling up to St. Anthony Falls. Aside from scale, the major difference is the steeper walls. Unlike the Mississippi, which has only had to contend with about 15 to 30 feet (5 to 10 m) of Platteville Formation before getting to the soft underbelly of Glenwood and St. Peter, the Vermillion has the task of cutting through something like 100 to 150 feet (30 to 45 m) of genuine Prairie du Chien Group, which hasn't eroded peaceably for anyone in 475 million years and isn't about to start now. The walls of the gorge have been weathered to a crisp.

Although we can identify several substantial subdivisions, and plenty of beds.

Looking downstream within the gorge, from the floor.

Hastings escaped the attention of the most recent glaciation, so the Vermillion River has had longer to work on its gorge than the Mississippi has in Minneapolis–St. Paul above Dayton's Bluff. Instead, the current incarnation of the Vermillion River postdates the preceding glaciation, the Illinoian, which would make Vermillion Falls's origin about an order of magnitude older than St. Anthony Falls and the other Mississippi gorge falls (i.e., older than a hundred thousand years rather than ten thousand years). Before that, the Vermillion disappears into the hazy web of buried channels beneath the glacial drift. Hastings is surrounded by buried channels, including a massive example south of town cut down all the way into the Franconia (see Mossler 2006 for the layout). In fact, if some evil genius were to remove all of the loose post-bedrock sediment, most of metropolitan Hastings would become a roughly rectangular island. (Also of note: the Hastings Fault only clips the northwest corner of the city.)

Looking upstream in the gorge toward the falls (not visible due to a bend in the river) from a small bridge.

Sneaking a peek from just below.


Mossler, J. H. 2006. Bedrock geology of the Hastings Quadrangle, Dakota, Goodhue, and Washington Counties, Minnesota. Minnesota Geological Survey, St. Paul, Minnesota. Miscellaneous Map 169. Scale 1:24,000.


  1. Since you mentioned you've never visited this location, did you see the original eroded old mill location? It's just a little bit further down one of the walking paths. If you cross the walking bridge with all of the locks attached to it, you're getting closer.

    1. Thank you for your comment! I have indeed gone as far as the old mill ruins, which are pretty substantial for their age and worth the walk.