Bridal Veils, Canyons, Laughing Whitefish and more - oh my!
Also known as Michigan's Waterfalls
By Tom Haxby
Why are waterfalls so fascinating? Is it the thundering roar, the picturesque scenes where they are found, or is it thousands of gallons of water cascading in unison over a precipice, that depending on how you view the falls can appear to be still or in endless motion?
Whatever the answer, there are about 200 waterfalls, some say more than 300, in Michigan. Some falls are named and many others are unnamed. Of the named falls only one, Ocqueoc Falls, east of Onaway, is in the Lower Peninsula. The remaining falls are in the Upper Peninsula and it seems that they are just about everywhere in the UP.
For those who are properly equipped and skilled for paddling on the big lake, a kayak can allow access to Bridal Veil Falls from Lake Superior at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore near Munising. My only trip in a kayak to view the falls revealed the technical nature of the trip, and quite frankly if I were to do it again, I would be better prepared and probably safer too. For those not so daring, this waterfall is part of the boat tours of the spectacular Pictured Rocks cliffs. Bridal Veil Falls flows down the mineral stained cliffs into Lake Superior and is a spring event due to snow melt runoff and only occasionally flows at other times as a result of heavy rainfall.
One of my favorites is Canyon Falls and the Sturgeon River Gorge off of US-41, South of L'Anse in Baraga County. The trail leading from the unassuming rest stop on the west side of US-41 leads along the Sturgeon River to Canyon Falls which begins the Sturgeon River Gorge. It took me by complete surprise on my first visit when I unexpectedly stumbled upon this amazing river canyon. Local residents and students from nearby Michigan Technological University have known about this area for some time and have utilized the pools in the gorge for swimming. My other revelation was of the wildflowers such as nodding trillium that line the path to the river.
One of the tall waterfalls, Laughing Whitefish Falls, in Alger County slides more than 100 feet over layered rocks. It has been several years since my last visit and my memory is of the staircase from the top to the bottom of the falls and the difficulty of capturing the essence of this waterfall with a camera. Still, the view from the top of the falls is spectacular.
For those who desire a hiking adventure to a waterfall, Spray Falls at the Pictured Rocks can be the focus of an 8 mile round trip hike. The trailhead is accessed via H-58 and Beaver Creek Road. Part of the hike is on the Lakeshore Trail which parallels Lake Superior and offers incredible views of the bluegreen lake from the bluffs above. There are some challenging stairs and moderate climbs on the trail, but the reward for the hike is a view of the falls and the lake from a plateau more than 100 feet above Lake Superior.
For those wanting a more leisurely experience, Alger, Scott and other falls can be viewed from a car or may only require a very short walk, as is the case for Wagner Falls.
No waterfall tour is complete without a stop at Upper and Lower Tahquamenon Falls southwest of Paradise. Upper Tahquamenon Falls is the largest in Michigan. The wide expanse of tannin colored water which forms the falls has long been a must-see for any who enjoy viewing waterfalls. The area surrounding Tahquamenon Falls is especially attractive in autumn colors. On one of my late winter – early spring trips I had the good fortune to visit these falls at the peak of the snow melt. The extreme volume of water thundering over the falls was literally shaking the ground.
There are so many fascinating waterfalls and scenic rivers in Michigan, and favorites of mine also include the Presque Isle River in the Porcupine Mountains or Bond Falls for the iconic photo possibilities. But surely there are more my travels have yet to discover. My introduction to the waterfalls of Michigan and a good resource is the book, “A Guide to 199 Michigan Waterfalls” by Laurie Penrose. Another good source of information is the Internet. A search for Michigan waterfalls will reveal many useful websites for waterfalls in Michigan.