Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Michigan

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:

Lake of the Clouds photographed 05/28/2012 at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Michigan.

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:

View west from Lake of the Clouds photographed 05/28/2012 at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Michigan.

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…

Manido Falls on the Presque Isle River, photographed 05/28/2012 at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Michigan.

…and Manabezho Falls:

Manabezho Falls on the Presque Isle River, photographed 05/28/2012 at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Michigan.

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:

Rapids on the Presque Isle River, photographed 07/22/2012 at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Michigan.

A foot bridge traverses the river here, providing clear views not only up the river but down towards the mouth as well:

View towards the mouth of the Presque Isle River, photographed 07/22/2012 at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Michigan.

The bridge crosses over to a small island that sits between two forks of the river at the mouth:

The mouth of the Presque Isle River, photographed 07/22/2012 at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Michigan.

Here a small pebble-strewn beach lines the Lake Superior shore:

Beach near the mouth of the Presque Isle River, photographed 07/22/2012 at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Michigan.

Venturing back inland, we stopped to check out some of the more interesting foliage:

Unknown flower photographed 07/22/2012 at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Michigan.

Unknown plant photographed 07/22/2012 at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Michigan.

Spotted joe pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum, Asteraceae) photographed 07/22/2012 at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Michigan.

Mountain maple (Acer spicatum, Aceraceae) photographed 07/22/2012 at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Michigan.

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:

Walk-in campsite 16 at the Presque Isle Campground, photographed 07/22/2012 at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Michigan.

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:

Shore of Lake Superior below the Presque Isle Campground, photographed 07/22/2012 at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Michigan.

The sun set behind approaching storm clouds, forshadowing the distant thunderstorms that rolled by through the night:

Sunset over Lake Superior from the Presque Isle Campground, photographed 07/22/2012 at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Michigan.

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.

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About Jeremy Sell

Science and nature nerd.
This entry was posted in Botany, Geology, Vertebrate Zoology, Weather and Climate and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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