My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

My vacation in the UP, Tahquamenon Falls State Park

I spent way too little time at Tahquamenon Falls State Park, I arrived Sunday night, and left soon after photographing the falls for which the park is most famous for, on Monday mid-morning.

Here’s what the Michigan DNR’s website has to say about the park.

Tahquamenon Falls State Park encompasses close to 50,000 acres stretching over 13 miles. Most of this is undeveloped woodland without roads, buildings or power lines. The centerpiece of the park, and the very reason for its existence, is the Tahquamenon River with its waterfalls. The Upper Falls is one the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi. It has a drop of nearly 50 feet and is more than 200 feet across. A maximum flow of more than 50,000 gallons of water per second has been recorded cascading over these falls. Four miles downstream is the Lower Falls, a series of five smaller falls cascading around an island. Although not as dramatic as the Upper Falls, they are equally magnificent. The falls can be viewed from the river bank or from the island, which can be reached by rowboat rented from a park concession. The island walk affords a view of the falls in the south channel.

This is the land of Longfellow’s Hiawatha – “by the rushing Tahquamenaw” Hiawatha built his canoe. Long before the white man set eyes on the river, the abundance of fish in its waters and animals along its shores attracted the Ojibwa Indians, who camped, farmed, fished and trapped along its banks. In the late 1800’s came the lumber barons and the river carried their logs by the millions to the mills. Lumberjacks, who harvested the tall timber, were among the first permanent white settlers in the area.

Rising from springs north of McMillan, the Tahquamenon River drains the watershed of an area of more than 790 square miles. From its source, it meanders 94 miles before emptying into Whitefish Bay. The amber color of the water is caused by tannins leached from the Cedar, Spruce and Hemlock in the swamps drained by the river. The extremely soft water churned by the action of the falls causes the large amounts of foam, which has been the trademark of the Tahquamenon since the days of the voyager.

It had been nearly a decade since I had last visited the falls, I had forgotten how beautiful that they are, and what a wonderful area that the entire park encompasses.

I could have, and should have, spent an entire week there hiking the many trails in the park, seeing the wildlife and scenery, and enjoying the quiet that the park affords once you are any distance from the falls. In addition to the trails created by the state for hiking and cross country skiing, the North Country Trail runs through the park as well.

I camped in the Rivermouth Rustic Campground, I was up before first light, and was rewarded with a beautiful sunrise!

Tahquamenon River sunrise

Tahquamenon River sunrise

Tahquamenon River sunrise

Tahquamenon River sunrise

Tahquamenon River sunrise

Tahquamenon River sunrise

Tahquamenon River sunrise

Tahquamenon River sunrise

It was a frosty start to the day.

Frost on the pumpkin (colored) mushroom

Frost on the pumpkin (colored) mushroom

After driving over to the falls viewing area, I set off down the boardwalk to the falls, a delight in itself.

Cedars forming a canopy of the boardwalk

Cedars forming a canopy of the boardwalk

And I paused to shoot a few photos of these guys.

Red-breasted nuthatch

Red-breasted nuthatch

Then, the lower falls came into view.

Lower Tahquamenon Falls

Lower Tahquamenon Falls

Lower Tahquamenon Falls

Lower Tahquamenon Falls

The walk through the woods between the smaller cascades of the Lower Tahquamenon Falls was quite scenic as well.

On the trail between falls

On the trail between falls

On the four mile drive to the upper falls, I had to pull over to photograph this hawk along the road.

Red shouldered hawk

Red shouldered hawk

I was hoping for more color in the trees, but the falls are magnificent any time of the year!

Upper Tahquamenon Falls

Upper Tahquamenon Falls

Upper Tahquamenon Falls

Upper Tahquamenon Falls

Upper Tahquamenon Falls

Upper Tahquamenon Falls

Upper Tahquamenon Falls

Upper Tahquamenon Falls

A few more notes before I end this post. Tahquamenon Falls State Park offers a range of options as far as camping or renting cabins as far as a place to stay with in the park. (Click the link near the top of this post for more info) There are a few motels nearby, but they run on the small side, and one can never be sure if they are open, both because of the seasonal nature of their business, and because they seem to change hands often.

The falls and the park are less than 60 miles north of St. Ignance, Michigan or about the same distance west of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. (Pronounced soo saint marie, or just The Soo to the locals) Much better lodging is available in either of those cities. The same is true for gas stations, there is one in Paradise, Michigan, at the entrance to the park, but you’d be better off topping your gas tank off in either of the aforementioned cities.

Area map

Area map

Be prepared to deal with crowds, especially during the summer months. I had to wait in line for an opportunity to photograph the falls at most of the viewing spots even in the end of September. Away from the falls, the park’s character is completely different, much more of a wilderness type experience.

Since this was a scouting trip of sorts to me, I only hit the falls, then I was off towards the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

A couple of side notes. Just to the north of Tahquamenon Falls State Park, just off the map above, is Whitefish Point. There is a shipwreck museum there, along with the restored lighthouse and a park. It is near that spot that the 730 feet (222.5 m) long freighter, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank on November 10, 1975. That remains the largest ship to have been lost on the Great Lakes, and it claimed the lives of 29 men, as imortalized in the song  “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot.

In May 1976, the U.S. Navy dived the wreck using its unmanned submersible, CURV-III, and found the Fitzgerald lying in two large pieces in 530 feet (160 m) of water. Navy estimates put the length of the bow section at 276 feet (84 m) and that of the stern section at 253 feet (77 m). The bow section stood upright in the mud, some 170 feet (52 m) from the stern section that lay face down at a 50-degree angle from the bow.

Also on the tip of Whitefish point is an Audubon Society bird observation area, as birds migrating south out of Canada cross Lake Superior to arrive at the closest land in Michigan. Whitefish Point is a narrow peninsula that reaches several miles into Lake Superior toward Canada. The geography of this location makes it a natural “funnel” for birds of all kinds as they migrate between their northern breeding grounds in Canada and warmer wintering grounds to the South. The distance between the Canadian coast and Whitefish Point is about seventeen miles.

Here are links to other posts I have done about my week long vacation in Michigan’ UP.

My vacation in the UP, the highlights

My vacation in the UP, Sunrise, sunset

My vacation in the UP, the bridges

That’s about it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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18 responses

  1. That’s a beautiful place. I wondered about tannin in the water when I saw the color of it in your first post. We don’t see that color water too often here, but it does happen. It would be a great place to spend an entire week exploring along the river.

    October 2, 2013 at 6:28 am

    • Thanks Allen! Yeah, it will be an entire year before I make back there, or one of the other places in the UP that I would like to spend more time at.

      October 2, 2013 at 9:10 am

  2. Jane

    Love your blog. My husband and I are quitting our jobs and going full time exploring and hiking. We bought a 5th wheel and Dodge Ram 3500 diesel which will be our only home (besides the Big Agnes tent for thru-hiking and thru-biking). We will hit Michigan during our travels and check out this area.

    October 2, 2013 at 6:35 am

    • Thanks Jane! I would love to do what you and your husband are doing, good luck in your new lifestyle. An added note, I would avoid northern Michigan during the months of June and July, the biting insects can make life miserable. Fall is the best time to visit Michigan’s upper peninsula, after the bugs are gone. 😉

      October 2, 2013 at 9:16 am

  3. The water colour looks just like our local hill streams in flood. Our colour comes from peat. Another very nice set of pictures.

    October 2, 2013 at 6:59 am

    • Thanks Tom! I’ve never been to Scotland, but I think that you would find the UP to be very similar, but with trees, millions and millions of trees.

      October 2, 2013 at 9:18 am

  4. Love the mist on the water!!! PS, doesn’t look crowded at all! Just peace & stillness. Thx for sharing more of Michigan’s amazing natural beauty!

    October 2, 2013 at 7:14 am

    • Thanks Lori! One reason that it doesn’t look crowded is that I used conveniently located trees to block every one’s view of the crowds in the photos of the various falls.

      October 2, 2013 at 9:20 am

  5. One of my favorite spots in the UP.

    October 2, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    • Thanks Robert, one of mine too!

      October 2, 2013 at 2:11 pm

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  7. Tahquamenon Falls is magical. Thanks for taking me there.

    October 3, 2013 at 4:20 am

    • Thank you, I’m glad you liked it.

      October 3, 2013 at 8:45 am

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  9. Your images are truly inspiring to me. Such beauty and magically captured. I think I need to get back out into the wilderness.

    October 6, 2013 at 6:50 pm

    • Thanks, and you should get out there more, we’ve got lots of wilderness here in Michigan. 😉

      October 6, 2013 at 9:20 pm

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