Tahquemenon Falls State Park is a highly popular park in the UP located about 6 country miles from the middle of nowhere. I was told that if I wanted to see Michigan natural beauty at its best I had to visit. I’d looked at the park as a destination prior to the trip, but I wasn’t sure if I’d have time. As it was the computer put me at the park at 1700, which would still leave enough daylight to do some things. A bit under two hours of driving through the rolling hills of this part of the UP got me there.
I knew I’d have to pay the out-of-state park fee of $9, but Michigan made an extra dollar because I didn’t have exact change and the gate booth was unmanned. State government agencies usually don’t accept plastic because of the attendant fees. I’m of the opinion state’s should rethink this. There’s information on the pay envelope about refunds and it was amusing to think about asking the state for my $1 back.
The entrance has a parking lot for the upper falls, a privately-run restaurant and gift shop, and an information center. The parking lot is the trailhead for several trails, and two short ones run to the river. There’s a walkway and boardwalk along the river cliff with a number of interpretative signs. There are also trashcans and a number of ashtrays. I thought this was good thinking on the part of Michigan DNR: people are going to smoke; may as well offer even the laziest smoker a place to put their butts.
Several signs give some history of logging in Michigan, and apparently a goodly amount of it took place on land the park now encompasses. There’s still some forest product industry in the state, but maybe not as much as you might expect. Of course, you can say the same thing about the Northwest. I noticed that much of the UP and northern Michigan are public land. I can’t say if Michigan has the same restrictions on logging as the Northwest, but back in the day a lot of timber came out of the North Woods.
The upper falls:
The river drains cedar swamps and the dissolved tannin turns the water brown. The foam is a result of soft water and organic material. During the spring run-off the falls can be the third-largest east of the Mississippi river by volume when some 50,000 gallons/second tumble the fifty feet to the river.
Looking down the river:
The lower falls are four miles distant and there’s a trail along the river. Other options are a privately-run shuttle service or driving. I opted for ‘C’ but before that I had to get something to eat. The restaurant is done in a sort of North Woods decor with lots of mounted animal heads. Considering it’s the only place to eat for literal miles, prices aren’t as bad as they could be. I’d seen signs for something called a ‘pastie’ all over the state, so I had the large one of those. If you stuff a calzone with a chicken pot pie, you’ll have a good approximation of this dish. Served with gravy, it’s filling, and would hit the spot after a day of winter outdoor activity.
A short drive or longer hike bring you to the lower falls. Rather than one large drop the lower falls are a series of stepped falls around an island.
Boats are available for rent to make the short trip to the island where trails give access to the falls. By the time I got here the concession was closed. The sign warns of rapids. As at the upper falls there’s a boardwalk with a number of interpretive signs.
One sign describes beavers and what to look for. I figured the sign would be placed in an area of beaver activity, but I didn’t see any indications. It is relaxing walking through the woods on a nice late summer day.
The park doesn’t have any one thing that’s really spectacular, but everything taken together makes for a nice place. There’s enough stuff to do where one could easily make a day or weekend here. As with most of the UP, the park isn’t remotely close to what might be considered a population center. I suspect that unless they live in the eastern UP or the tip of northern Michigan many people spend at least one night.
It was time to leave but I had a slight problem. There is zero cell phone service in the park, and I had no clue which way to go. I was told to go out of the parking lot and turn right, then drive 12 miles to Paradise. The road is MI 123, and it runs east until the small town of Paradise hard by Lake Superior. Another right at what I believe is the only stoplight in town, then south to I-75. There were signs for the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point about 12 miles north. I would have liked to have seen that, and it’s not as if I’ll randomly be in this part of the country. Maybe I’ll find a compelling reason to visit Sault Ste. Marie.