On our vacation to Mackinac Island, we decided it would be an adventurous day trip to hike the Tahquamenon Falls in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Tahquamenon Falls State Park was a quick 90-minute drive from Mackinaw City. The kids loved the views from Mackinac Bridge as we crossed into the Upper Peninsula.
When I was researching for this vacation, I found many blogs that talked about the falls hike as being one of the best in Michigan. According to the State Park pamphlet, “The Upper Falls is one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi.” Since we enjoy hiking as a family and exploring beautiful parks, I added this hike to our vacation plans.
Our family culture favors the saying, “The early bird gets the worm,” so we left our campsite at 7:30 am to arrive at the Lower Falls by 9 am. Tahquamenon Falls is in a secluded area, so I packed a backpack with plenty of snacks, water, and sunscreen. Additionally, we brought a full cooler for a large picnic lunch to refuel after our hike. I did not pack swimsuits and towels, but I would highly recommend doing so as there are places to wade and play in the water at the Lower Falls area.
We purchased our out-of-state day pass for $9.00 and parked at the Lower Falls. This area is built up with a visitor center, concessions, bathrooms, and a place to rent rowboats.
We did not rent a rowboat but saw many families that did. There is an island in the center of the Lower Falls which has a 1/2 mile trail on it. Numerous families were walking over the rapids to the island and playing in the small rapid area around the falls. Since I am not from the area and haven’t seen any information on wading in the area, I did not know that this was an option.
We planned to hike the trail that connects the Lower Falls to the Upper Falls and follows the Tahquamenon River. This trail is 4 miles in one direction. During normal circumstances, there is a shuttle that will transport hikers from one falls to the other, so hikers only have to hike in one direction. Due to Covid-19, the shuttle is closed for the 2020 season.
Mike + I are ambitious, so we thought we could hike to the Upper Falls and back in just a couple of hours. This would be an 8-mile roundtrip hike. We did not consider that the trail was tedious since it was a primitive trail. It took us 25 minutes to go a mile over the terrain, so at the 2.5-mile marker, we decided to turn back towards the Lower Falls.
Once we arrived back at the parking lot, it was packed full of cars. The parking was all taken so cars were circling until spots opened up. We ate our lunch and drove to the Upper Falls area that is just a few miles down the road.
It felt like everyone in the UP (Upper Peninsula) decided to hike Tahquamenon Falls on the 4th of July. We had to wait about 15 minutes to get through the pay station and into the parking lot. The Upper Falls had a full service restaurant and brewery which made this area a more popular destination in the park.
Since we had already done our hike for the day, we walked the 0.3-mile trail to the Brink View. The Upper Falls was more impressive as the waterfall was nearly 50 feet. We were all pretty tired but we couldn’t miss the best view so we walked the 94 steps down to the Brink View. The view was stunning! Tahquamenon Falls makes me appreciate the beauty right here in the Midwest.
Understandably, no one was in the water at this area, so be sure to enjoy wading in the water at the Lower Falls if you are planning to do so.
As we were exploring the Upper Falls area, we saw several groups of hikers that we had passed heading back on the Lower Falls trail. They were all trying to figure out how they were going to get back to their cars since the shuttle was closed down. We saw that many groups were sending the driver to walk back on the road to get the car. Since the trail is medium difficulty, it does take quite a bit of time to traverse the terrain, so walking the road would be more efficient.
Hiking Tahquamenon Falls was a great way to see the UP. We needed a break from our bikes since we had spent the entire previous day on them. It was a gorgeous and challenging hike. The holiday weekend drew in a big crowd so we were thankful that we had an early start to the day.
Next time, I would have my kids wear their bathing suits with quick-dry shorts. I would also walk the 4-mile hike between the Lower Falls + Upper Falls and then just walk back on the road for our car if the shuttle was still not operating.
I was hopeful that we would see a moose as we saw signs warning that moose were in the area. Maybe if we arrived earlier and hiked a less traveled trail a moose sighting would be more likely.
What tips do you have for hiking Tahquamenon Falls?
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