Sometimes a peaceful, relaxing vacation, where you don’t feel pushed to run from place to place and “see it all,” is just what the soul needs. Seeking the Wolverine state’s many waterfalls provides just such an getaway.
Michigan’s western Upper Peninsula has nearly 150 waterfalls ranging from unnamed small falls to large cascading rivers falling over cliffs. Most of these can be found in all four directions around Munising and in Alger county.
When you think of waterfalls in Michigan, Tahquamenon Falls immediately comes to mind, being the granddaddy of them all. It is the second largest falls east of the Mississippi, only Niagara Falls outranks it. According to Indian lore, the name Tahquamenon is attributed to the water’s amber color, which is the result of tanic acid leached from the cedar and hemlock swamps that feed the river.
Tahquamenon is actually two different falls. The Upper Falls spans 200 feet and has a drop of 48 feet. The Lower Falls is located 4 miles downstream and is a series of five smaller falls that cascade around an island. These falls are breathtaking and you will think you are in paradise and, quite literally, you are since the falls are located just outside of Paradise, Michigan.
When you are in the area of Tahquamenon, you may want your next waterfall stop to be the one that is smack-dab in the center of a bear ranch, Oswald’s Bear Ranch that is. It is the largest (bear only) bear ranch in the United States. At last count it was home to 29 bears with two large habitats and two smaller ones. The yearling bears have a waterfall within their habitat.
Oswald’s does not breed any bears, but rather provides a home for rescued cubs. Area youth enter contests each year to name the cubs. Platforms provide visitors with a barrier-free view of the bears in their natural habitat. They can watch the 4 p.m. feeding and handle and feed the rescued cubs fruit loops while getting their photograph taken with a live cub. OK, I’ve had a couple dog issues so I never dreamed that I would pet a live bear, but it really is awesome!
Not to take any glory away from Tahquamenon, but many of Michigan’s other waterfalls are worth taking the time to visit. Four more enchanting falls are:
– Munising Falls, which has a 50-foot drop cascading over sandstone cliffs. This falls is especially captivating in summer with its lush green moss growing on either side.
– Bond Falls is one of the best-kept secrets of western Michigan. Located on the middle branch of the Ontonagon River near Paulding, it has been part of a calendar listing the most scenic natural places in the world.
– Miners Falls is northwest of Munising and is popular with many folks because you can walk right up to the base and not even get wet because the water falls in a crevice of converging rocks.
– Sable Falls has multiple levels and lends itself well for hiking.
Lower Michigan can only boast two waterfalls, with Ocqueoc Falls near Onaway in Presque Isle County being the most notable. It consists of four small rapids and pools of cool water that is just right for splashing and wading.
Many Michiganders (and out-of-staters) plan their vacations to go waterfall hopping. Many of these falls are in or near state parks so there is usually swimming, hiking and more often than not fishing in the same area. How long has it been since you packed a picnic lunch and let nature take you where she will? On the road to finding these falls, you can discover antique shops, unique little towns, bargains at yard sales and a host more of hidden treasures.
Since you are never more than 85 miles from a lakeshore when in Michigan, a perfect way to see some of the waterfalls is by boat. Some of the most spectacular scenery by water is from the boat tours that feature the waterfalls around the Pictured Rocks.
Waterfalls are welcoming in any season and each season lends its own splendor to the falls. Summer surrounds the cascades with lush greenery while falls in autumn are striking with the crimson maples and golden aspens reflecting in the water.
But don’t rule out winter, especially if you are a snowmobiler. You can have two adventures in one. It’s like time stands still when the waters freeze on their cascade down.
Michigan has many hidden gems and little known places that the locals covet and travelers stumble on by accident, like her many waterfalls. I don’t usually do quotes but Leonardo da Vinci summed it up best when he said, “Human sublety will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple or more direct than does Nature, because in her inventions, nothing is lacking and nothing is superfluous.” He just had to be talking about a waterfall.