Tall tales don't get much taller than North America's most beloved lumberjack, Paul Bunyan. His larger-than-life adventures often included his similarly gigantic wife and children along with Babe the Blue Ox. According to folklore, during their travels, this clan constructed some of the continent's most breathtaking rivers, mountains, and canyons. Here are 11 of the most famous.
1. The Mississippi River
One day, as Paul was leading Babe down a treacherous road with a heavy tank of water in tow, the container sprung a leak. The water trickled southward and eventually formed the mighty Mississippi.
2. The Grand Canyon
Babe owes his distinctive hue to a bizarre meteorological event called “The Winter of Blue Snow,” in which (as the name implies) loggers and their countrymen endured an entire season of bright blue snowflakes. The snow changed Babe's color permanently. Later in the year, while braving through a storm in search of firewood, Paul absent-mindedly dragged his heavy axe behind him, carving one of the world's Seven Natural Wonders in the process.
3. The Finger Lakes
Stories differ on how the Bunyans might've had a hand in creating these gems of the Northeast. Among the most popular tales hold that one day while hiking through New York, Paul tripped and threw his hand down to break his fall, thus inadvertently carving the aptly named Finger Lakes.
4. The Great Lakes
According to one legend, after “inventing logging,” Paul and his trusty bovine dug some enormous holes—the Great Lakes—to quench the thirst of the men he assembled to help him cut down trees [PDF].
5. The Bay of Fundy
That Paul was a big baby should come as no surprise: Some storytellers maintain that it took nearly half a dozen storks to carry the infant to his bewildered parents in northeastern Maine. It was said that the rocking of his cradle was so violent that it sent surging tidal waves through the Bay of Fundy, which were so powerful that they're still going strong today.
6. The Black Hills
Babe wasn't Paul's only beast of burden: Benny the little blue ox—an exuberant youngster who, in the words of folklorist William B. Laughead, “weighed only two tons when Paul got him”—often accompanied the pair on their exploits. His insatiable appetite for pancakes unfortunately led to an early demise. The ground disturbed by his burial became a range of picturesque mountains—one of which went on to have the faces of four presidents carved into its side.
7. The 10,000 Lakes
While trekking through Minnesota one winter, Paul and Babe left a myriad of gigantic footprints, known throughout the state as the “Ten Thousand Lakes” to its modern denizens.
8. The Missouri River
In some stories, when Babe died after growing to a ripe old age, Paul's tears were so large and so numerous that they formed the Missouri River.
9. Niagara Falls
In The Bunyans, children's book author Audrey Wood writes that Niagara Falls were formed when Paul's feisty toddlers got dirty and had to be bathed in the Niagara River, though it's unknown if this story was first told by modern yarn-spinners or their 19-century counterparts.
10. Mount Hood
After camping in northern Oregon, Paul decided to extinguish his fire by smothering it with a pile of rocks, which have since been dubbed Mount Hood.
11. Lassen Peak
As you'd expect, the Bunyan clan needed a lot of food. Paul's equally titanic cousin, known simply as “Big Joe,” was a talented cook who one day decided to transform a nearby mountain into a stove large enough to feed his kinsman with. The result was California's Lassen Peak, an active volcano that erupted in 1914.
A version of this story originally ran in 2013; it has been updated for 2021.