Underneath all its beauty, there’s something eerie about the Palisade Head overlook, just north of Two Harbors, MN.
On my first visit, I couldn’t shake a vivid image out of my head.
Peering over the towering sheer rock cliffs, which stand 300 feet above the rocky Lake Superior shoreline below, I felt like I was in a movie scene. All that was missing was some dense morning fog, a creepy character or two, and… a body jumping off the cliff to a dramatic death.
All these morbid thoughts led to the next logical question. Have there been any Palisade Head deaths? And if so, how many people have died at Palisade Head?
The sad answer is that yes, there have been deaths at Palisade Head. But thankfully, those deaths are a little more rare than the terrifying cliffs might have you think.
PS – don’t miss our complete guide to Palisade Head! It’s one of our favorite things to do on the Minnesota North Shore!
Why Palisade Head is so scary (and deadly…)
Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources has chosen to leave Palisade Head undeveloped. This means the dramatic cliff side has no construction or improvements on it, other than the steep access road, a radio antenna tower, and a small parking lot.
More notably, this means there’s guard no rails along the sheer rock cliffs.
The closest measure of safety would be a meager stack of small rocks at the most popular overlook spot. But even these can easily be sidestepped, and the remaining 99% of cliff edges remain completely exposed and unprotected.
Yep, visitors old and young can walk right up to the edge of 90+ degree cliffs that tower over 300 above the lake. (Well, not technically the lake… a fatal slip would have you hitting the jagged, rocky shore line before the water.)
All of these facts have risen the heart rate of watchful parents for decades. And surely induced sweaty palms for even the toughest adult visitors.
How Many Palisade Head Deaths Have There Been?
There have been two recorded deaths at Palisade Head.
In April 2010, a 48 year old woman died after falling from the top of Palisade Head. She was hiking alone to celebrate a new job, and authorities believe the death to be accidental. Her body was recovered the next day.
In September 2017, a 14 year old girl fell to her death at Palisade Head. According to her friends, she was trying to look over the edge to see the water when she accidentally fell off the ledge. Onlookers repelled down the cliff wall to render first aid, but she was pronounced dead after being airlifted to the hospital.
Rock Climbing Deaths at Palisade Head
Anyone who’s ever visited Palisade Head and seen the many death-defying rock climbers belaying and repelling down the cliff side might wonder the next logical question…
“Aren’t they going to die!?”
Surprisingly, no one has ever died while rock climbing at Palisade Head.
Apparently, those rock climbers know what they’re doing. In his book Rock Climbing in Minnesota and Wisconsin, author Mike Ferris goes to great lengths to detail safety measures while rock climbing Palisade Head. From what I’ve gathered, these include avoiding anchoring to a tree (due to soil erosion at Palisade Head), avoiding loose rock, and checking/rechecking the safety equipment.
Fictional Deaths at Palisade Head
Fun trivia: The 1993 psychological thriller The Good Son, starring Macaulay Caulkin and Elijah Wood, was filmed at Palisade Head, MN.
*Warning* – Movie spoilers incoming…
Palisade Head plays a pivotal role during the movie’s climax. At the end of the movie, the two main characters get into a fight on the Palisade Head cliff sides. (The movie claims they’re cliffs along the Atlantic Ocean)
When the Mother/Aunt of the two main characters arrives, one of the boys pushes her off the cliff. But… she grabs onto the edge and pulls herself back up. *GASP*
The boys roll off the cliffside while continue to fight, but the Mother/Aunt grabs both of them. In a dramatic (and cliche) moment, she only has enough strength to save one of the boys. Reluctantly, she lets go of the evil one, and he falls to his death off Palisade Head.
Thankfully, deaths at Palisade Head are relatively rare.
The DNR’s decision to leave Palisade Head in its natural state has no doubt allowed hundreds of thousands of visitors to enjoy the natural beauty of Palisade Head. It’s a thrilling location with stunning views of Minnesota’s North Shore.
But like everything in life, that thrill comes with a risk. Palisade Head is not to be taken lightly, and visitors certainly need to exercise caution while exploring the beautiful area.