State’s largest park boasts lakes, trails, waterfalls, amazing views

The Big Carp River is seen from atop a summit at the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. (Photo courtesy of Michigan DNR)

LOOKOUT POINT • By Deborah Frontiera
With 60,000 acres, 35,000 of that in old growth forest, the Porcupine Mountains State Wilderness area in Ontonagon County is Michigan’s largest state park! Estab-lished in 1945, it contains lakes, rivers, waterfalls, numerous streams, 90 miles of hiking trails and includes Lake Superior shoreline. If one dates the park from the 1944 efforts to purchase land, then 2019 marks the 75-year anniversary of the Porkies. Its elevation ranges from 600 feet above sea level along the Lake Superior shore, to 1350 feet at Lake of the Clouds, to 1950 feet at Summit Peak! But statistics are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
Whether for a day trip or an entire vacation, the park’s many attractions are filled with breathtaking beauty, impressive vistas with flora and fauna in abundance. It’s family friendly, pet friendly, handicap accessible, year-round, and has spaces for motorhome parking as well as tent camping, wilderness cabins or more luxurious accommodations for rent, and Wi-Fi. So those visitors who simply have to be plugged into the world, not just nature, can use their phone and other devices in some areas of the park.
Most visitors begin their tour at the Visitors Center located three miles west of Silver City on M-107. Here there is information on all the hiking trails, camping sites, etc.
Visitors can view wonderful interpretive programs and exhibits. A 20-minute video in the Visitors Center informs guests about the long geological and human history of the area, and the development of the park, a story beginning as early as the 1920s with efforts to preserve the virgin timber from the wasteful practices at the height of the lumber boom and the fires of the early 20th century. The park supports the largest stands of maple and hemlock west of the Adirondacks. The Visitor Center is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily from mid-May to mid-October.
From the Visitors Center one can proceed to camp, hike, picnic, fish, kayak and soak up the scenery . For those planning to stay more than a day, back-country rustic campsites cost as low as $15 per night for up to six people. For those who like a bed to sleep in, rustic cabins and yurts are available for around $68 a night. Those who really want luxury can reserve a place at the Kaug Wudjoo Lodge, where rooms can run up to $200 per night.
Motels, resorts and rental cabins are available in the general area as well. Those miles and miles of hiking trails range from as short as half a mile to 17 miles, and from easy for families with young children to rugged backpacking areas for experienced hikers.
For a wilderness area with rugged hills and cliffs, it can be helpful to know that the park has four areas that are in full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Lake of the Clouds scenic area has many ramps, even to the best vantage points, all on sturdy boardwalks with benches strategically placed for those who need a slow pace and frequent rests. The views of the cliffs and lake are spectacular. Information stations along the way explain the geology of the area as well as the diversity of its flora and fauna.
A second ADA accessible area is next to the ranger station in the Nawadaha Falls area of the Presque Isle River on the west side of the park. The pathway to the falls is designed for wheelchair use. The Union Bay Campground on the shore of Lake Superior is also handicap accessible, as well as the entire Visitor Center. Other areas of the park are, of course, wilderness and require varying amounts of physical ability.

There is a lot to see and do at the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. (Clockwise, from left) The Presque Isle River cascades through a number of little waterfalls as it winds its way downstream. A couple of four-legged residents of the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park graze near a trail. Take a hike on some of the 90 miles of trails offered at the park; there are a variety of trail distances and difficulty levels to choose from. Displays at the Visitors Center, like this one about the gray wolf, are interactive and include sound and visual information. (All photos courtesy of the DNR with the exception of the gray wolf display photo, which was submitted by Deborah Frontiera)

There are several ways to reach the park’s highest point, Summit Peak. Long and short trails lead to it. Visitors can choose one as short as half a mile from a parking area. It’s a good up-hill cardio work out, but it provides benches along the way for those who need a slower pace. The steps leading to the very top of the lookout tower have numerous flat areas between sets of steps (over 200) that range from three to nine steps between landings and short level walks. The view from the top is well worth the climb! Even on a hazy day, one can see for miles out over Lake Superior and inland. The smokestack at from the former White Pine Mine stands out prominently even though it is nine miles away. Another trail from that same parking lot, the Beaver Creek Trail, curves through hardwood forest, over streams with stepping-stones, all the way to the Little Carp River Trail. 10 to 15 minutes will take a hiker to a spot with a lovely view of Lily Pond. Along the way, one might see rotted, pulled-apart logs where a black bear made a good meal out of the grubs in what was once a huge tree trunk. A profusion of wild flowers grow along the trail while a symphony of birds cheers the soul. (And it wasn’t too much for this senior’s knees.)
Any time of year, part of the park is open. While some roads may be closed Dec. 1 until late spring, the ski area is there for winter fun and there are snowmobile trails, too. That ski area is also the site for the annual Porcupine Mountains Music Festival, which is hosted by by Friends of the Porkies in August each year. That’s a good time to ride the chairlift to the top of the ski hill for the spectacular view.
The stars are vividly bright at night with no light pollution except the moon to interfere. But there is one thing many posters advise visitors to avoid: DO NOT FEED THE BEARS. It’s not good for people or the bears.
Wilderness areas are important to people and wildlife, so it seems fitting to close with a Haiku:
Our wilderness will
Inspire your soul
and senses
In sanctuary

For more information about Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park visit

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