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Landscape Michigan Nature

Upper Michigan’s Porcupine Mountains – The Porkies

Lake of the Clouds AutumnLake of the Clouds

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in western Upper Michigan is one of my favorite play spots! I used to live in Houghton about 2 hours north, so it was “almost” in my backyard at one time. I can still get there in 5-6 hours from the Twin Cities. At 60,000 acres, it’s the largest state park in Michigan and you can spend a lifetime exploring and still not see everything.

I highly recommend stopping in the Visitor Center on the east side of the park. Check out their bookstore – they have lots of titles covering the history of the area as well as guides about your favorite activities. One of my faves is The Last Porcupine Mountains Companion by Michael Rafferty & Robert Sprague (fifth edition).

So, here are a few highlights:

Hiking the Porkies

If you want to see the best of the Porkies, you’ll want to get out on the trails. You have options ranging from short and easy jaunts to multi-day backpacking adventures on fairly rugged trails that can test your endurance.

Big Carp River Valley - Porkies
Big Carp River Valley and Lake of the Clouds from the Escarpment Trail

The Escarpment Trail is truly awe-inspiring, providing beautiful vistas of the Big Carp River Valley and Lake of the Clouds. The easiest way to enjoy it is to start from the Lake of the Clouds overlook (which is typically very crowded). You can simply turn around and go back the way you came at any point, or have a choice of 2, 4 or 8 mile round trip loop options.

The Union Spring Trail can provide good options for birding in the summer. It is one of the less-traveled hikes and is typically quiet for those seeking more solitude.

Lake Superior Trail is an out and back 4.4 miler if you go all the way to the shoreline. The first half is relatively easy, but you’ll have a long climb back if you go all the way down to the water’s edge.

Waterfalls

The Porkies is loaded with waterfalls! Another nice hike is to Greenstone and Overlooked Falls from the Little Carp River Road. It’s a short easy jaunt to Overlooked Falls, which is probably my favorite spot in the park.

Overlooked Falls Porkies
Overlooked Falls

There are several smaller falls all along the trail if you choose to continue to Greenstone Falls.

The Presque Isle River on the western side of the park has several beautiful waterfalls as well, but the Potholes section just before it empties into Lake Superior is my favorite.

Presque Isle River
The Presque Isle River shortly before it enters Lake Superior. One of my favorite spots in the Porkies!

Fall Colors

Fall colors in the Porkies
Early October in Upper Michigan overlooking Lake Superior.

Just two things you need to know:

  1. First week of October
  2. Fall colors in the UP are like nowhere else on Earth. They glow in the day. Literally. A nice lady visiting from the south asked me at one of the overlooks, “Who turned the lights on?” referring to how brightly colored the leaves were. Word.

I hope you get a chance to see for yourself some of what the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness has to offer. Lots of mining history as well as beautiful scenery. Put it on your bucket list!

In the meantime, head over to the gallery and dress up your walls by bringing some of the North Woods wild inside 🙂

Categories
Landscape Michigan

Michigan’s Mackinac Bridge

I got to spend a week in my home state of Michigan recently (both peninsulas). Though I’ve been living in Minneapolis for the last thirty plus years, I’ve been a Yooper and I’ve been a Troll. For those who don’t speak Michiganian, that means I’ve lived in the Upper Peninsula (Yooper) as well as the Lower (Troll, who lives below “the bridge”). “The Bridge” is the one and only Mackinac Bridge, and it’s a beauty!

Mackinac Bridge
Mackinac Bridge as seen from St. Ignace

Mackinac Bridge Trivia

The “Mighty Mac” was built more than 50 years ago and was considered an engineering marvel for it’s time. Many thought it couldn’t be done. The bridge connects the Upper and Lower Peninsula’s of Michigan over the Straits of Mackinac where Lake Huron and Lake Michigan meet. It is the largest suspension bridge in the Western hemisphere and fifth largest in the world to this day!

The photo simply doesn’t do it justice. Just a few facts and figures from the Mackinac Bridge Authority:

The height of the road deck at the center span is 200 feet above the surface of the water. The deepest part of the channel that runs under the bridge is almost 300 feet. That’s deep water! No wonder many folks thought that building a five mile long bridge couldn’t be done in this particular spot back in the 1950’s!

As amazing a feat as it was, building this bridge was not without consequence. Five men died during construction and a few others have lost their lives working on the bridge since it opened.

Mackinac Bridge Experiences

Being a Michigan native who’s lived in both peninsulas, I’ve made more Mackinac Bridge crossings than I can count. It’s never boring 😉 Two in particular stick in my mind:

There are two things that will shut the bridge down: high wind and poor visibility. Sometimes you get both, especially in winter when a snow squall blows through. After sitting for an hour in a parked traffic jam during one such squall more than 30 years ago, they finally opened the bridge to passenger cars with a bridge escort. High profile vehicles (trucks, campers) and cars pulling trailers still had to wait for better conditions. Those of us in cars would be allowed to cross only with the Mackinac Bridge Authority “pace car” leading the way. We were instructed by the woman at the toll booth to turn our headlights on, don’t lose sight of the car in front of us, don’t try to pass, don’t change lanes, and don’t stop. We were the last car in line and followed the single file caravan behind the pace car doing a blistering 20 mph. It. Took. Forever. When we finally reached the other side, the Mackinac Bridge Authority car did a U turn to lead the next group going the opposite direction and another woman at that end radioed that we had all made it across. They were literally doing a head count. Wowza!

The second white knuckle ride I had was getting behind someone pulling a trailer who apparently was afraid of heights. As I mentioned before, the road on this bridge rises 200 feet above the water and it’s five miles long. All you can see going up is sky and water. Lots and lots of sky and water. Technically, the roadway is part of I-75 with two lanes running each direction. The inside lanes are on metal grates and the outside lanes are asphalt with no shoulder. There is just a 3 foot wide catwalk for workers to walk on, so you are very close to the edge of the bridge on the outer lanes. The metal grates kind of grab your tires a bit and make a humming noise vs being next to the edge on the asphalt. Some people freak. The guy pulling the trailer in front of us did – he had that thing fish-tailing all over the road. Classic “Big Mac Panic Attack”. It happens often enough that the bridge authority has a Timid Driver Program where they will drive your vehicle across for you (for free).  And in case you’re wondering, yes… some people have plunged off the bridge.

Want to see what’s happening on the bridge right now? Check out the bridge cameras to catch a glimpse of the local weather and road conditions. Better yet, hop in your car and see it for yourself. It’s truly a sight to behold! Nothing says “Pure Michigan” like the Mackinac Bridge 🙂