The Upper Peninsula: Tahquamenon Falls

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North America » United States » Michigan » Paradise
July 16th 2018
Published: July 21st 2018
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Yesterday, after a late breakfast, we crossed the Mackinaw Bridge and drove into the Upper Peninsula. Our surroundings quickly turned to forest and soon wilderness. There were almost no signs of people, and any shops we did see were closed down. On our drive to Tahquamenon Falls, I think we saw two gas stations and a small handful of dilapidated buildings. I was thankful we'd filled our tank in Mackinaw City because there really wasn't much to stop at for quite a distance.

I’d made reservations for us to camp in the Lower Falls area of Tahquamenon. Portage was the name of our campground area, and it was only about a mile hike to the Lower Falls. Unfortunately for us, the temperatures were unusually warm for the area. It was over 90 degrees! So, we chose not to hike to the Lower Falls from our campground.

After we got our tent set up, we drove to the Upper Falls. We parked, smeared ourselves with sunscreen, and ate a quick picnic lunch under some shade. The parking lot area also had bathrooms and a little restaurant with a place to fill water bottles. We finished eating, cleaned up, and filled our bottles before setting out on the short hike to the Upper Falls. The trail was wide and paved until we reached the stairs, so most of the walk was accessible. The only way to go down to the falls, however, was to take the 94 stairs down to it. It’s absolutely worth it to get so close to the large falls! The climb up wasn’t too bad, and so we decided to hike about half a mile to the stairs down to the gorge. That staircase was 116 steps down. Andrew and Joanna decided to sit that one out while Oliver and I went down. I thought this part of the hike was worth it, too. It was a beautiful walk and gave a different perspective of the falls. Admittedly, I got a little worn out climbing up this second set of stairs in the heat. I had to sit down and drink a lot of water to recuperate. Once I was ready to start walking again, we easily made the walk back to our car.

We drove to the Lower Falls, where we used the restroom and cooled off with a scoop of ice cream in an air conditioned shop. There was a short path to a row boat rental. The cost was $7/person or $20/family. So, after paying our $20, we set out on the water. There’s a small island a short row away, and it had about a ½ mile loop around its shore. We rowed there and made the trek around, enjoying some of the shoreline along the way. There were little water falls, drift wood, and little pools of water around. At the start of the hike where we docked, there was a sign warning of the dangers in the water. Apparently, there are whirlpools and undertows that can be deadly. We saw many families allowing their toddlers and children to play in the water, but we told our kids no. We still enjoyed the shady, tranquil hike. When we were done, we paddled around the area a bit before returning our boat.

Our day at Tahquamenon Falls was beautiful and enjoyable, but hot! It took a long time for it to cool off enough for us to sleep in our tent. After we finally fell asleep, we woke up to a thunderstorm. For the second time this trip, I had to wake the kids up and bring them to the car to wait out the storm. It was exhausting, and Andrew made the comment that we might be getting too old for tent camping. I don’t know that I’d go that far, but it definitely was a rough night.

In the morning, we quickly packed up. We said goodbye to our green tent, which got a hole this trip and was leaking during the storm, and threw it in the dumpster. I'd purchased it about 8 years ago when Oliver was a baby. It was a no-name brand on sale at Target for some incredible price like $25. That $25 tent served us well!

Then we set out for Copper Harbor. The drive through the northern part of the Upper Peninsula was actually a lot more developed than the parts we drove through yesterday. There were real towns we drove through with access to food, bathrooms, and gas. The views were still stunning, though, with a lot of forest and shore to appreciate during the drive.

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