Peering into the emerald-blue, crystal-clear water of Kitch-iti-kipi spring, sand swirls up from the bottom as trout swim around a hand-cranked raft that takes visitors to the middle of this natural attraction.
Serene and pristine in setting and beauty, Kitch-iti-kipi was considered a magical place by early Native Americans who discovered the remote spring in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Calm on the surface, Kitch-iti-kipi, also called Big Spring, gushes more than 10,000 gallons of water every minute from underground aquifers. At 200 feet wide and 40 feet deep, it’s the state’s largest freshwater spring. And Kitch-iti-kipi never freezes, remaining a constant temperature of 45 degrees.
During busy summer months, visitors line up along a path leading to the main highlight of 300-acre Palms Book State Park: a self-observation raft gives curious visitors a closer look at the fallen, mossy trees, bubbling bottom and large fish. It’s free to ride the raft, operated by state park employees during the tourist season and open for self-manned tours year-round.
“It’s one of the hidden gems of the U.P.,” said Lee Vaughn, park supervisor of Palms Book and nearby Indian Lake State Park. “People are amazed when you go across and can see all the way to the bottom.”
A variety of lore and legend surrounds Kitch-iti-kipi, which has several meanings in the Chippewa language: The Great Water; The Blue Sky I See; The Roaring, Bubbling Spring.
“It’s one of the hidden gems of the U.P. People are amazed when you go across and can see all the way to the bottom.”
— Lee Vaughn
“We pretty much leave it the way it is,” Vaughn said. “It’s pretty much a natural spot; you see all of those old trees, and I wouldn’t be afraid to say they have been there for hundreds of years.”
Located about 12 miles from Manistique, early visitors found their way by following telephone poles marked by a painted circle, Vaughn said. He has noticed more visitors in recent years, due to billboards around Manistique and better promotion downstate.
Historic photos show a raft on the spring as early as the 1910s, but John I. Bellaire, who moved to the area in the 1920s, stumbled upon the spring virtually hidden by overgrown trees. Bellaire is said to have visited the spring almost daily throughout his life and helped preserve the site as Palms Book State Park in 1928. He often closed his five-and-dime store in Manistique and personally escorted tourists and travelers to the spring to give them tours.
Linda Van Wyck of Mears discovered the area years ago after looking for places to take her children and continues to return to camp and visit Kitch-iti-kipi.
“I think it’s one of Michigan’s natural wonders because it’s just so unique,” she said. “The depth of the crystal-clear water, the huge trout, peaceful woodland setting and people-powered raft draw the interest of visitors of all ages.”