About Agate Falls
Agate Falls was one of those elegant waterfalls that was well known in the literature thanks to a well-situated railroad bridge right above its main drop.
In fact, we thought this 40ft tall (maybe 80ft wide) waterfall was one of the better waterfalls that we had seen during our trip through the UP in Autumn 2015.
As you can see in the photo above, that railroad bridge was a distinguishing feature of this rippling waterfall.
Of course, that texture you see in the photo also gave this waterfall what Julie likes to say “character”.
Local Knowledge and Local Heritage of Agate Falls
For the longest time during my trip research, I kept mispronouncing the name Agate Falls as “uh-GATE”.
Then, we chatted with a “Yooper” in the nearby town of Bruce Crossing who set me straight by pronouncing it “AGG-it” (think “Aggies” except you replace the “es” with “t”).
By the way, a “Yooper” is a resident or someone with familial ties to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan or UP for short.
Anyways, she also told me about the possibility of getting down to the bottom of the waterfall as she reminisced about doing it in her younger days.
I’ll get into more on that later on in this write-up.
We would also learn that there used to be a resort at the Agate Falls back in 1935 from an interpretive sign there.
The sign even had a drawing of the falls with a bridge showing a series of steps leading to its bottom.
Experiencing Agate Falls – the Sanctioned Way
From the parking lot at the trailhead (see directions below), we went on a developed walkway that went under the road bridge.
After a couple of minutes, this walkway abruptly ended at a lookout that only afforded us an unsatisfying top down obstructed view of Agate Falls over its brink.
There was an uninviting fence below the lookout that seemed to discourage any further progress from here.
There was also another trail of use that steeply climbed the neighboring hillside up to the railroad tracks above.
So based on this experience, our visit seemed like it was destined for disappointment.
Experiencing Agate Falls – the Unsanctioned Bottom
Recalling what the nice lady in Bruce Crossing told us last night about Agate Falls as well as the interpretive signs here showing a former walkway going to the bottom, I then looked for a way to get down there.
So when I left the overlook and started snooping around, that was when I got down to the fence and realized that it was really there to prevent would-be scramblers from going down a very dangerously steep and eroded gully to the brink of the falls.
When I noticed that there was a pretty obvious trail that continued towards the right side of the fence and gently descended further downstream of the waterfall, that was when I knew I had found the correct path.
There was some degree of dropoff exposure on the side closest to the Middle Branch of the Ontonagon River so that prompted me to increase the difficulty rating of this write-up.
Nevertheless, this scramble (which was really more like a trail) was pretty brief, and I’d definitely seen worse as far as off-trail scrambles go.
Indeed, with care on this narrow trail of use, I eventually made it to the banks of the river where I finally got the satisfying views of Agate Falls that you see pictured at the top of this page.
Overall, this excursion only took us about 10 minutes of walking.
The rest of the 65 minutes that we had spent away from the car was pretty much head scratching (i.e. figuring out how to improve our experience) and taking photos.
I really think that with the improvements made at the nearby Bond Falls, they really should improve the access to get to the bottom of this falls as well.
At the very minimum, that would reduce the amount of hillside erosion from the relatively heavy foot traffic and scrambling.
It would also open up the experience to even more visitors of all ages providing yet another compelling reason to tour the beautiful UP.
Agate Falls resides in the Ottawa National Forest near Bruce Crossing and Watersmeet in Ontonagon County, Michigan. It is administered by the US Forest Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.
Agate Falls was accessed from a well-signed and fair-sized parking lot by the road bridge traversing the Middle Branch of the Ontonagon River.
From Bruce Crossing, drive on the Hwy 28 east for just under 7 miles.
Shortly after crossing the bridge over the Middle Branch of the Ontonagon River, the signposted turnoff was on the right.
The Michigan Recreation Passport fees apply here.
Since we had stayed in Paulding, Michigan, we actually took the Bond Falls Road to the Hwy 28 (roughly 12 miles).
Turning left onto Hwy 28, we then drove 2.7 miles to the signposted turnoff and car park for the falls on the left.
This drive took us 25 minutes.
For context, Paulding was 61 miles (over an hour drive) east of Ironwood, Michigan. Ironwood was 146 miles (under 3 hours drive) west of Marquette, Michigan, 226 miles (over 4 hours drive) northeast of Minneapolis, Minnesota, 264 miles (about 4.5 hours drive) north of Madison, Wisconsin, and 404 miles (about 6.5 hours drive) northwest of Chicago, Illinois.
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