At nearly 60,000 acres, the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness is Michigan’s largest and perhaps most impressive state park. Located near the west end of the Upper Peninsula, it was created in 1945 to protect one of the largest remaining old-growth northern hardwood forests in North America. This primitive and secluded wilderness is blanketed with sugar maples, eastern hemlocks, yellow birches, American basswoods, and many other trees, with mountain maples common in the understory. Over half the acreage is virgin timber.
The park is home to abundant wildlife including black bears, gray wolves, moose, river otters, beavers, bobcats, and white-tailed deer. With 90 miles of backcountry trails, traversing this North Woods wilderness on foot provides the best chances for seeing these elusive animals.
The Porkies also feature some interesting geology. Angled beds of basalt and conglomerate form high escarpments running roughly parallel to the Lake Superior shore. Many swamps, rivers, waterfalls, and lakes lie between these slopes.
My first visit to the Porcupine Mountains was a quick look at this geology. My friend Jim and I stopped here briefly on our way back from Isle Royale National Park in May. We first visited Lake of the Clouds near the east end of the park:
This spectacular lake is the result of snow melt and runoff collecting between two adjacent ridges (this area gets 20-25 feet of mostly lake-effect snow every winter). To the west, the view is nearly as impressive:
From here we drove over to the west end of the park to hike along the Presque Isle River. A series of waterfalls quickly drop the river elevation as it approaches Lake Superior. A couple of the more impressive include Manido Falls…
…and Manabezho Falls:
In late July my wife and I camped here for a night on our way up to Voyageurs National Park. We picked up where I left off along the Presque Isle River, first seeing the cool circular shapes the swirling rapids had carved in the bedrock:
A foot bridge traverses the river here, providing clear views not only up the river but down towards the mouth as well:
The bridge crosses over to a small island that sits between two forks of the river at the mouth:
Here a small pebble-strewn beach lines the Lake Superior shore:
Venturing back inland, we stopped to check out some of the more interesting foliage:
From here we headed over to the rustic Presque Isle Campground at the park. Seeking seclusion, we opted for the most distant walk-in site at the far end:
At this spot we were surrounding by the forest, but only a short walk from the cliffs overlooking Lake Superior. Before dusk we hiked down a very primitive, unmarked, and dangerously steep trail to the lakeshore:
The sun set behind approaching storm clouds, forshadowing the distant thunderstorms that rolled by through the night:
The storms never reached us, and neither did the bears we were warned about. Apparently they had been pilfering food from campsites over the previous few days, but we kept our food in our car and never got to see one. Although we were spared the storms and the bears, it was uncomfortably hot that night. The next night of camping at Voyageurs was much more pleasant.