The Upper Tahquamenon Falls (it rhymes with “phenomenon”) was easily the most impressive waterfall that we had seen for the entirety of our Great Lakes trip in 2015 that encompassed the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as well as much of the neighboring states and provinces of the Great Lakes basin. Julie thought of this waterfall as like a “mini-Niagara” given its classical block appearance and relative high volume for a river waterfall of this size, which was said to be 50ft tall and more than 200ft wide. In fact, it might even be better than the similar Cumberland Falls in Kentucky, which was said to be roughly 68ft tall and 125ft wide. Perhaps the only downside to our visit here was that the peak of the fall colors didn’t quite make it as the reportedly warm start to Autumn caused the color changes to come a couple of weeks late. Nevertheless, even without the kaleidoscopic effects of the fall colors, the water did exhibit a brownish color which was said to be a result of the natural tannin from the wetlands further upstream. Besides, the naturesque settings and wildness of the Tahquamenon River felt just right for a special place like this, and it compelled us to place the falls on our list of Top 10 Waterfalls in the USA as well as the Top 10 Waterfalls to see in the Fall.
Our visit to the Upper Falls began from a very large car park (see directions below), which even had a brewery and pub here attesting to the waterfall’s popularity. After going past some interpretive signs at the so-called Fact Shack (including an encased stuffed cougar) and a restroom facility, we then walked roughly 1000 ft or so to a signposted junction. Along the way, there were more interpretive signs mostly about the flora of the area. Then, we had a choice of going right towards the top of the Upper Falls or go left to descend into the gorge for a more frontal look at the falls. The much longer trail (about four miles downstream) to the Lower Tahquamenon Falls also branched off from the trail to the left.We first went right. After about 400ft or so, we started to get a top down look at the impressive Upper Falls through the openings in the foliage at a pair of overlooks. Because our visit took place very late in the afternoon, we were also looking against the setting sun. So that suggested to us that morning would probably have the best light as long as there wasn’t too much fog obscuring the view. In any case, the views from these upper viewpoints were satisfying as they revealed the entire breadth of the falls as well as its forested context deep within a gorge. An interpretive sign here said that the highest flow ever recorded on the Tahquamenon River was a whopping 50,000 gallons per second. According to the Fact Shack back at the trailhead, the flow was only 2,278 gallons per second during our visit.
Beyond the upper lookouts, we then descended a series of stairs containing 94 steps leading brink of the Upper Falls. The lookout area at the bottom was long enough to even give us a partial frontal view of the overall width of the Upper Tahquamenon Falls as well as an impressive view of the waterfall’s profile and the Tahquamenon River meandering further downstream within its gorge. Fortunately for us (and other visitors who have brought their family), the fenced railings gave us some piece of mind as our daughter was able to safety view the falls without the risk of falling into the fast-flowing river. Speaking of the river, apparently there were efforts in 1883 to remove sandstone (including a waterfall) to improve the navigation of the river (especially for transporting logs) further upstream where the Tahquamenon River Improvement Company had owned the swampland.
Back at the paved junction, we then took the other path going in the downstream direction. Interpretive signs along this part of the trail told of the history of logging along the Tahquamenon River where white and red pine trees were pretty much cleared and even caused huge log jams. There was an overlook of the Upper Tahquamenon Falls, where we managed to get perhaps our best frontal photos of the falls (see photo at the top of this page). The trail would continue for another 0.2 miles before reaching a fork where the left path went on the primitive North Country Trail to the Lower Tahquamenon Falls (4 miles away) while the path on the right descended 116 steps into the base of the gorge.
At the bottom of the steps, I found myself on a long boardwalk path that ultimately got me to a lookout at its end yielding the most direct view of the Upper Tahquamenon Falls that I could get. There was also another lookout a little further downstream, which was more partial and really seemed to be more about appreciating the gorge as well as providing river access. After having my fill of the gorge, I returned to the car to rejoin Julie and Tahia who opted not to go into the gorge. Overall, we spent a little over an hour away from the car, but as you can see, we easily could have spent even more time here given the many different trails and lookouts that were on offer here.
The Upper Tahquamenon Falls was accessed from its own dedicated car park in the state park. From Paradise, Michigan, we drove about 14 miles west on the M-123 to the well-signed turnoff on the left for “Upper Falls”. This was about
3.5 miles west of the turnoff for the “Lower Falls”. Overall, this drive took us about 20 minutes. At the car park, there was an entrance kiosk that wasn’t manned so we had to pay and display with the self-help envelope for $10 non-resident fee for the Michigan Recreation Passport for the day of our visit.
Coming from Munising, Michigan, we took the M-28 (it continued on Cedar St in Munising) for about 57 miles south then east to its junction with the M-123 near Newberry, Michigan. Turning left onto the M-123, we then drove for the next 27 miles to the signed “Upper Falls” turnoff on our right. Overall, this drive took us around 90 minutes.
For additional reference, Newberry, Michigan was 69 miles (90 minutes drive) northwest of Mackinaw City, 428 miles (7 hours drive) north of Chicago, Illinois (via Green Bay, Wisconsin), 479 miles (8 hours drive) east of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and 357 miles (5.5 hours drive) northwest of Detroit, Michigan.
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