There are so many waterfalls in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan that it is really hard to decide which ones to see. We started with a cluster of small waterfalls that lie along the Black River in the northwest corner of the U.P. next to the shores of Lake Superior.
The five waterfalls — Rainbow, Gorge, Sandstone, Potawatomi and Conglomerate — are all within a few miles of each other and there is a rustic dry camping campground nearby.
The hike to each waterfall is a very short jaunt through the woods, and we headed to Gorge Falls first.
After a brief hike through the woods, we heard the roar of Gorge Falls as we descended the long staircase down to its base. Then we saw a beautiful rush of water falling down the rocks in front of us.
Gorge Falls is right next door to Potawatomi Falls, but it was Sandstone Falls just a short ways away that we liked most of this group of waterfalls on the Black River.
Sandstone Falls is special because rather than a vertical hike to the top or bottom of a steep waterfall you can climb all over the wonderful flat and wide rocks to view the multiple smaller cascades from many angles. A hiker we met on the trail told us his kids love to swim at Sandstone Falls.
As soon as we got there and began clambering around on the rocks I was entranced by the millions of white bubbles that were floating downstream.
The bubbles had come from the froth and foam of a bigger waterfall upstream, and they floated at varying speeds down the river. A slow shutter speed showed the magic of this bubbly dance.
A little further downstream a series of cascades flowed between the rocks.
After an exhilarating waterfall hike (or two) there’s nothing like a nice cold frosty brew. It didn’t take us long to discover the many flavorful craft beers made in the Upper Peninsula by Upper Hand Brewery. One of our favorites was a pale ale called Yooper which is the local term for people who live in the U.P.
At the mouth of the Black River where it dumps its inky brown tannin-filled water into the blue water of Lake Superior there’s a small marina at Black River Harbor and a cool suspension bridge that crosses the river.
The best views of Rainbow Falls are reached by hiking through the woods from the suspension bridge at Black River Harbor. We headed into the woods one morning as mist still hung heavy in the air.
This trail from Black River Harbor to Rainbow Falls is part of the 4,600 mile long North Country Trail that stretches through seven northern states from North Dakota to New York. Like the more famous Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail, this is a trail that can be hiked in tiny sections — like going from Black River Harbor to Rainbow Falls as we were doing — or can be through-hiked from one end to the other over the course of many weeks.
We passed a trail box that contained maps and info and a sign-in book for hikers doing big adventurous hikes on this trail. We got a thrill looking into the box and imagining what it takes to do such a hike.
A few years back when we were doing a waterfall hike that crossed the Appalachian Trail, we met a fellow at the intersection of the two trails who was doing a through-hike on the Appalachian Trail. We’d been intrigued to see him carrying a very small pack for his four month adventure and to discover that his hiking boots were still holding up after hiking a third of the Appalachian Trail (700 miles) so far (blog post here).
Hiking the North Country Trail sounds very exciting, but we were content with a brief mile and a half hike out to Rainbow Falls.
As we stood taking photos of the falls a woman appeared across from us on the other side of the cascade at the top of the falls, phone in hand. She took a selfie and then she suddenly jumped from one rock to another over a part of the waterfall.
She seemed to think nothing of it, but this is a remote spot and the bottom of the falls was a long way down. We were the only ones in the area, and I doubt she knew we were there because the woods were very thick and we weren’t standing near the edge.
Closer to the ground, and much more rooted to it, Mark found a cluster of mushrooms standing between some red leaves that had fallen.
Lying on the ground and shooting up at the undersides of the mushroom caps gave a wonderful effect.
Even though all these cool woodsy things like waterfalls and mushrooms were just steps from Lake Superior, we hadn’t felt the lake’s presence at all during our stay.
However, a leisurely walk around nearby Black River Harbor took us to a nice sandy beach that was a delightful contrast to the thick woods that had dominated our lives for a few days.
The water in Lake Superior was surprisingly warm, and we tossed a stick out a little ways to see if Buddy would swim out to retrieve it. Sure enough, he did a few dog paddle strokes, but rather than swim back to shore he swam over to a nearby log and climbed out of the water as quickly as he could and walked on the log back on it to the sand!
The Black River waterfalls are not well known, but Bond Falls, about 75 miles away, is one of the most popular destinations in Michigan’s entire Upper Peninsula. And rightfully so.
A walking path and boardwalk takes visitors from the base of the falls up along one side to several smaller cascades. It is these cozier spots that attract photographers, and many a Michigan travel brochure or waterfall field guide sports a cover or centerfold photo from here.
Even though Mark and I often take photos standing shoulder to shoulder, our results are usually very different. This time we each instinctively gravitated to different shutter speeds…
We loved Bond Falls and visited several times at different hours of the day. Families with kids and old folks made their way up and down the path alongside the falls all the time, and most had been there before.
One older gal stopped to talk with me and told me she had grown up in the area 65 years ago and that she and her siblings had swum in the calmer parts of Bond Falls as kids. That wouldn’t be allowed today, but her eyes twinkled as she reminisced about being a little girl and calling this place home.
One of the most dramatic waterfalls in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is Tahquamenon Falls over in the northeast corner of the peninsula. When we walked out on the path to the falls and got our first glimpse through the autumn leaves, my jaw dropped and I set up to take a shot immediately.
A young couple coming back from the hike down to the falls saw my tripod and camera gear and asked me if this was the best place to photograph the falls.
I laughed and said I had no idea. This was the first I’d seen of them! But it was very beautiful…
A little further on there was another view of the waterfall wrapped in fall colors.
We followed the path towards the falls and came across a sign that explained what to expect as we descended a long ways down to get a close-up view of Tahquamenon Falls. We had to laugh when we read it!
At The Brink we got a lovely sidelong view of Tahquamenon Falls.
We climbed back up the 94 steps from The Brink and headed out on the path to The Gorge. This gave us a wonderful view of the falls from another vantage point.
If you are a fan of waterfalls, as we are, the U.P. is a fantastic place to go waterfall hunting. These were just a few of dozens of waterfalls we could have seen, and I know we missed some beauties that we’ll have to check out another time. But we were delighted by the variety of the falls we saw and the fun hikes and walks we took to get to them.
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More info about everything mentioned in this post:
- Black River Harbor and Campground – USFS Info with more info about the Black River Harbor wildflowers here
- North Country Trail – Michigan Upper Peninsula plus General Info about the North Country Trail
- Bond Falls Scenic Site and campground
- Tahquamenon Falls State Park and Campground
- Interactive map: Black River waterfalls, Bond Falls Scenic Site, Tahquamenon State Park – Zoom in and out
Blog posts from our RV travels in Michigan:
Other waterfalls we’ve visited:
- Watkins Glen State Park NY – Absolutely Breathtaking! 09/10/15
- Waterfalls, Wildlife & Wineries in New York’s Finger Lakes 08/30/15
- Waterfalls of the Blue Ridge Parkway (North Carolina) 06/10/15
- Shenandoah National Park, Virginia – Climbs & Falls! 06/20/15
- Jasper National Park – Columbia Icefields & Athabasca Falls 07/12/16
- Huay Mae Khamin – Thailand’s Most Beautiful Waterfall – Mellow Adventures 02/15/17
- Grand Staircase Escalante Nat’l Monument – Lower Calf Creek Falls Hike 11/11/16
- Erawan Falls – Jewel of Erawan National Park – with Mellow Adventures 02/07/17
- Bryce Canyon National Park – “Mossy Cave” – Mystery Waterfall! 10/18/16
- Blue Ridge Parkway (Virginia) – Waterfalls & Rhododendrons 06/18/15
- Agua Azul & Misol-Ha – Waterfall Adventures in Mexico 03/30/12
- A Jewel of a Waterfall – Great Smoky Mountains National Park 05/12/15
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