I am amazed at how many Michigan natives — educated, sophisticated, successful Michiganders — have never been to the Upper Peninsula. True, you don’t get there by accident. But when you imagine a place that comprises about one-third of the state’s territory, but only about 3 percent of its population, well, there’s got to be some kind of scenery there, no?
The Upper Peninsula is one of the more beautiful places, and a downstater visiting for the first time might find it hard to believe it’s the same state. Everything, from the topography to the trees, is different. But one characteristic sets the peninsulas apart — the waterfalls.
There are close to 200 waterfalls in Michigan large enough to have names. Only one — the Ocqueoc Falls on the Ocqueoc River west of Rogers City — is south of the Mackinaw Bridge.
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula waterfalls range from picturesque to spectacular and though many are off the beaten path, some of the most beautiful can be easily accessed from paved roads.
Here are five Michigan waterfalls you should see:
Tahquamenon Falls: In a 50,000-acre state park of the same name located just west of Paradise in Luce and Chippewa counties, there are actually a pair of falls: the Upper and Lower Falls. The Upper Falls are among the more spectacular falls in the eastern United States, stretching across more than 200 feet and dropping tannin-tinged water nearly 50 feet at a maximum of 50,000 gallons a second. Four miles downstream via trail, the Lower Falls cascade in a number of braids around an island and are easily viewed from shore or a rental rowboat.
Miners Falls: Located just north of Munising, the falls are slightly more than a half-mile hike along a gravel path through the woods from the paved parking area. A 77-step stairway leads to a lower viewing area, where the falls drop 50 feet over a limestone outcropping. Veterans recommend viewing in late spring, when the abundant wildflowers are in bloom.
Munising Falls: This may be the easiest of Michigan’s most notable falls to visit as it’s actually located within Munising city limits, a short walk from the parking area off Highway 58. The water drops gently for 50 feet over sandstone, except during the spring thaw when it can roar and in the winter when it freezes.
Potawatomi Falls: Named for the Indian tribe, these falls, on the Black River about a dozen miles out of Bessemer in Gogebic County, are 130 feet wide and drop 30 feet. An asphalt-surfaced trail from the parking lot makes the viewing area wheelchair accessible. As a bonus, the smaller Gorge Falls (29 feet wide with a 24-foot drop) is a just a short distance downstream.
Bond Falls: Created by the Middle Branch of the Ontonagon River tumbling over a band of fractured rock in numerous cascades, the falls drop about 50 feet. The scenic viewing area boasts an accessible boardwalk with six viewing locations. Not far away, Agate Falls (on the same river) is considered one of the most scenic and popular waterfalls in the state.
Bob Gwizdz is an award-winning outdoor writer who works for the Department of Natural Resources and resides in East Lansing with his wife, son and a crazy English setter.