Falling Waters

Waterfalls abound across Upper Peninsula

Story and photos by Pam Christensen

Cutline: Bond Falls is located on the middle branch of the Ontonagon River about three-and-a-half miles east of Paulding.

Upper Peninsula waterfalls are even more spectacular as the snow melts and spring arrives.  The melting snow pack sends water rushing down rivers and over waterfalls at peak levels in the spring. Despite muddy conditions and stubborn patches of ice and snow, a hike into one of the U.P.’s waterfalls is a trip worth making.

Locating waterfalls is made easier with a visit to a local tourism office. John Collins of the Michigan Welcome Center in Marquette provided several key pieces of information on a recent visit. He gave me a comprehensive guide of over 80 waterfalls identified by each local tourism agency in the U.P.’s 13 counties. This handy publication lists the location, directions to and comments about over 80 waterfalls. He also distributes the professionally produced Marquette County Waterfalls map published by Travel Marquette.

Laurie and Bill Penrose published A Guide to 199 Michigan Waterfalls in 1996. This helpful guide book features a photo of each waterfall, small map, directions and information about each falls. This would be a handy book to keep in your car or truck for easy reference. Each chapter is organized by county. The book also includes information on Ocqueoc Falls located in Lower Michigan.

While most people estimate there are approximately 200 waterfalls in Michigan, Phil Stagg of Cadillac has counted over 550. He loves waterfalls and has spent several years compiling his comprehensive four-volume set, Waterfalls of Michigan. Broken into four volumes organized by county and region, Stagg has spent a great deal of time chronicling each and every Michigan waterfall. His books contains large county and area maps, hundreds of color photos, waterfall GPS coordinates, turn by turn driving details, a must-see rating system, hiking distances, approximate hiking times, recommended footwear and if restrooms are available in the location. If you want to take waterfall hunting to a new level, buy or borrow a volume of Stagg’s guides and go exploring.

Many of the smaller waterfalls have informal names or are unnamed. These smaller falls are also just identified as part of a larger falls, system of falls or ignored altogether. The amount of water comprising the falls varies during the year, and during dry periods, they may be nonexistent. Using numerous sources of information can help the waterfall seeker locate and visit the falls, whether named or unnamed.

There are several other valuable sites for waterfall locations and information available on the web.  The Michigan DNR website michigan.gov/dnr is a wonderful resource since many of the waterfalls are located in state parks or other public lands. The Pure Michigan website also has brief information about many of the waterfalls as do local travel bureau sites. You can find a listing of waterfalls across the U.S. and Canada at gowaterfalling.com. This site is arranged by state or province, with Michigan being well represented. The site includes factual information about each falls, directions and beautiful photos—many taken during the fall and winter.

Facebook feeds have been featuring several waterfall tours across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in anticipation of spring.  Only in Your State recommends The Ultimate U.P. Waterfalls Trip across the U.P. visiting nine waterfalls. This tour hits the most popular and impressive waterfalls and can be done from east to west, west to east or from a central point. These nine waterfalls are the most recognizable and are often located near other smaller and less known waterfalls.  It is possible to visit many other waterfalls on a trip to the big nine, so advanced research can really transform a waterfall seeking trip into a day-long adventure.

Starting on the western end of the U.P. leads to many falls. The Black River in Gogebic County is home to Potawatomi Falls. Potawatomi Falls and Gorge Falls are part of a series of five falls located on the Black River. There is a parking lot, located on CR-513 and the Potawatomi and Gorge Falls are closest to parking. Visitors can also see Great Conglomerate Falls—also known as Conglomerate Falls—Sandstone Falls and Rainbow Falls along the Black River in this area.

Gabbro Falls are located on the Black River in Gogebic County about eight miles north of Bessemer. This falls is a series of two falls often called the Upper Gabbro Falls and Lower Gabbro Falls. Falling about 40 feet, the flow is impressive during the spring when water is at its highest.

Porcupine Mountains State Park is a 60,000-acre park set in some of the largest old-growth hardwood-hemlock forest in the Great Lakes region. A visit to the Porcupine Mountains Visitor Center located in Ontonagon is a must before exploring. The center has exhibits and programs that tell the story of the area. Displays highlight the native wildlife species that call the mountains their home. The history of copper mining and lumbering are also included.

One of the highlights of the area is the Presque Isle River and a series of waterfalls located along the river. The Presque Isle River meets Lake Superior by traveling along a series of rapids and waterfalls. A one-half mile boardwalk with decks and observations platforms follows one of Michigan’s wildest rivers. The river has a strong current and wading or swimming is not allowed.

Waterfall number three on the Ultimate U.P. Waterfall trip is one of the falls located here. Manabezho Falls, named for the Ojibwa spirit-god who loved to play tricks on people, is a majestic falls best viewed when water levels are high. This waterfall is also known as Presque Falls. It is the largest falls in the series of falls along the river. The river is about 150 feet wide at the falls and it drops about 20 feet.

Unnamed Falls, also called the Presque Isle Kettles, is located below the Manabezho. Some people consider this section an extension of the Manabezho Falls.  This area is best seen with a lower water level. The rushing water has carved a lacy pattern of bowls in the rock. The best viewing is when the river is not at its highest or lowest. During these times of the year water can be seen dropping from one carved out bowl to the next, creating small whirlpools.

Waterfall number four is also located in this same area. Manido Falls is set on a wide portion of the river and has a strong current. The smallest of the falls on the Presque Isle River, the falls drops 15 to 20 feet. Manido derives from the Ojibwa word for ghost or spirit.  The conditions of the falls change depending on water levels, and in times of low water it may be almost non-existent. Perhaps this is why it is called Manido.

Nawadaha Falls is located above the Manabezho and Manabezho Falls and is worth a short hike. The river drops about 10 feet over a bed of shale and sandstone. Nawadaha is Ojibwa for “in the midst of the rapids” and this falls is the first of the series along the Presque Isle River.

Bond Falls is located on the middle branch of the Ontonagon River about three-and-a-half miles east of Paulding. The falls has been identified as a Michigan State Scenic Site and is probably the second most visited falls after Tahquamenon Falls. A spacious parking lot is located near the base of the falls. Visitors can walk along an easy-to-travel boardwalk that includes six viewing locations and three viewing platforms along the 600-foot stretch of the river.

The river spans about 80 to 100 feet and the falls cascade down a 40-foot drop. Above the main falls a series of rapids flow along an area that drops about 20 feet, making for a captivating view. The river’s flow is controlled by a dam and this results in a steady source of water during all times of the year. The falls are most spectacular in the spring time when melting snow increases the water levels, but Bond Falls is a must-see for any time of the year.

The Munising area and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is home to many of Michigan’s most-viewed and popular waterfalls. The steep sandstone cliffs and many rivers located in the area combine for some of the best waterfall viewing in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The Ultimate Waterfall Trip lists Munising, Miners and Sable Falls, but some of the smaller and more difficult to access waterfalls are well worth the time and effort to locate.

Just outside of downtown Munising is one of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore visitor centers. This is an excellent place to begin any visit to the area’s waterfalls or the National Lakeshore. The visitor center can answer questions and provide maps and information about the area.

Munising Falls is located a short distance away and also has a visitor’s center which includes exhibits about the history of mining in the area and some of the area’s native plants and animals. Located just inside the Munising city limits, Munising Falls can be visited by a short walk on a paved path along Munising Creek. The falls drop about 40 to 50 feet into a deep basin of rock. This is Alger County’s most visited and easily accessed falls. This falls delights no matter the season, but spring viewing is spectacular. Visiting in the winter months gives viewers a magnificent view of frozen ice dropping over the falls.

Miners Falls in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is one of the park’s most popular sights.  Located on Miner’s River, the falls can be reached by a slightly over one mile walk on a paved trail. The falls travels into Miner’s Basin down a narrow and steep cut in a 40-foot cliff.  There are two viewing platforms that give excellent views of the falls. The force of the water has eroded the base of the falls and it is easy, at this spot, to see how powerful the water can be.

Sable Falls is located on the eastern edge of the park-west of Grand Marais. There is a short trail that brings viewers to the falls, but the staircase to the viewing platform contains 169 steps. The 75-foot tall waterfall travels through a deep valley and drops over several cliffs until it reaches Lake Superior.

The final waterfall in the Ultimate U.P. Waterfall Trip is Tahquamenon Falls located in Tahquamenon Falls State Park. The Upper Falls are what most people recognize from photos, but there are a series of Upper and Lower Falls that are well worth visiting. Many people compare Tahquamenon with Niagara Falls due to its shape, size and sound. Springtime may be considered the best time to see the falls in their full glory, but winter visits are also spectacular—and less crowded.

A visit to the Lower Tahquamenon Falls should also be made. Stagg identifies a series of lower cascades that comprise the Lower Falls. Rental rowboats are available for traveling to the island that provides access to all of the falls. The short rowboat trip is a popular family adventure and a great way to see the Lower Falls up close.

If social media posts are any indication, U.P. waterfalls are popular sites for visitors.  It is amazing that many people who live in the Upper Peninsula have not taken advantage of these natural spectacles. There is no excuse for ignoring these treasures, online research and guide books by Phil Stagg and Laurie and Bill Penrose enable anyone to find and visit waterfalls across the U.P.


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