Having heard many interesting comments about Tahquamenon Falls in the upper peninsula of Michigan, we made the trip in October so that in addition to the waterfalls we saw the vivid colors of trees in the autumn. The park is located approximately 1 ½ hours from the Mackinac Bridge that crosses from Michigan’s lower peninsula into the upper peninsula.
Down a narrow two lane Michigan Highway 123 in the wilderness are the rushing waters of the Tahquamenon River. The Tahquamenon rises from springs north of McMillan, Michigan. It meanders 94 miles before it empties into Whitefish Bay on Lake Superior. It flows at a rate of up to 50,000 gallons per second. As the water passes through the cedar swamps upriver from the falls, it leaches tannin from the cedar so instead of the blue color expected, the water is brown when it reaches the falls.. The first precipice drops some 50 feet it is known as the upper falls. These falls are majestic in their 200 foot span. The water then flows some additional 4 miles before it reaches the series of 5 smaller falls encircling an island that are known as the lower falls.
Long before the white man saw the river, the Chippewa Indians camps, farmed, fished and trapped along its banks. Lumbering in northern Michigan became big business in the late 1800’s and the river carried their logs to the mills. These lumberjacks were the among the first permanent settlers.
The state park that includes the falls encompasses more than 50,000 acres over a span of 13 miles. It is located west of Paradise, Michigan. There is an admission fee for state parks in Michigan that varies based upon what state the entering automobile is registered. When entering the park at the Upper Falls entrance there is a large parking lot. Just off this parking area are a gift shop and a restaurant. A paved pathway from the parking lot leads .4 miles to the falls. We were glad that the walk to the falls was gradually downhill when approaching the falls. Since we were tiring from the walk, we were very glad that the trek from the falls back to the parking lot was only gradually uphill. As we walked the pathway, there was lots of moisture in the air and the walkway was damp. If it had not been paved, it would have been perennially muddy. Although there are several viewing areas, to some extent the leaves and trees hindered the view of the falls.
There is a path leading the 4 miles from the Upper Falls to the Lower Falls but we did not walk it. Driving back towards Paradise, Michigan, is the easier way to reach the Lower Falls which are some 5 miles away by highway. The walk from the parking area at the lower falls is much shorter than the walkway at the upper falls. Near the river there are stairs (112 steps) leading to the river’s edge. Part of the series of 5 cascading falls are visible from a boardwalk at the bottom of the stairs. The remainder of the falls are visible from the island which is accessible only by boat.
There are 4 campgrounds within the park. 2 are modern and 2 are primitive. Hotel lodging is not readily available in the area and we drove to Brimley and stayed at Bay Mills Resort. The restaurant at the resort – Sacy’s – is outstanding.
The park is open year round. More information about the hours and admission policies can be found at the Falls website.