For a trip into a living picture postcard, grab your toboggan (that’s Southern speak for a knit hat) and your snowmobile (the Northern equivalent of a four wheeler) and take a trip to the Upper Penisula of Michigan’s most accessible falls – Tahquamenon Falls.
The “fall” is actually 2 falls in one, separated by either 4 miles of snowmobile-able road or snowshoe enabled trail. This is a great day trip to get out of the house with dogs, dependents, or dad when staying inside one more second isn’t an option. Oh, and if you’re lame you can drive to both falls too.
Is it goat approved? If the goat has snowshoes maybe.
How you get there: Lower falls parking is at 46.609447, -85.205915 and Upper Falls Parking is 4 miles north at 46.579444, -85.252585. Note that at the Upper Falls the rear two parking areas in heavy snow are reserved for snowmobile parking. There are HUGE signs for each of the falls.
Time for hike: You can visit both falls in about 2 hours with photo-op time if you are with adults. With kids, plan on more like 4 hours. The lower falls is a 2.5 mi round trip out and back walk from the parking area, down the closed park road, and over to the overlook. The road is unrecognizable in snowy weather. The upper falls is a 2/3 a mile walk out and back to the overlooks.
Best season to do this hike: Come in winter for a winter wonderland worthy adventure.
Trails to Take
The parking lot is to the right as you enter. There are no actual signs for the trail to the lower fall, it is behind the closed gate. The trail is groomed, and follows the road bed that you can drive down…if you come in the summer.
The view is picture postcard worthy, and the trail slopes gently down, eventually reaching the lower (closed) parking lot. The path goes through the main park area, and then off to the overlooks. The ice is not generally thick enough to go out to the island because the water is moving on the river, but the near side bank overlooks are pretty good.
The lower falls itself are underwhelming if you’re used to the Appalachian waterfalls, but the unusual color of the water makes a beautiful contrast with the snow. It’s not dirty – the dark color originates from the tannins left behind by decomposing hemlock and spruce needles. The foam at the base of the falls is from the softness of the water, rather than pollution!
If you brought your snowshoes you can go from the overlooks at the lower falls up to the upper falls. The hike is 4 mi one way. Otherwise, turn around and walk the 1.25 mi back to the car.
The upper fall is the busier of the two falls, with the parking lot packed even in winter time. The brewery is to the right as you enter, and the car parking to the left. Don’t park with the snowmobiles (unless you are one)! Park with the cars. The trail head is readily visible, and goes past the bathrooms.
The trail branches, and either direction leads to overlooks of the upper fall, but the right hand, farthest over look has the best views. There are 90 something steps to the “brink” at this final and best overlook, as a forestry sign puts it, but the average person will find the trip decidedly less ominous.
- The lower falls is payment free if no one is in the kiosk in the winter. The upper falls has a self serve kiosk, and out of state cars are $9 a piece! Ouch. Anyway, plan ahead on how you want to deal with this. In the dead of winter no one seems to be checking if you paid or not…
- No four wheel drive? Not a problem so long as you don’t go during snow or right after snow has fallen. They plow the roads. We did this run in a two wheel drive Nissan.
- If you get hungry the brewery at the upper falls (http://www.tahquamenonfallsbrewery.com/) does do lunch and dinner, but its filled with snowmobilers and has a 15% add on charge for take out! Caveat emptor! But it is open year around. For more reasonably priced fare, go to nearby Paradise, MI.
A perch can survive being frozen inside ice so long as the fish itself doesn’t completely freeze before the ice thaws. Fish for the FTW.