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Featured image for Porcupine Mountains Cornerstone
August 12, 2019
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Our Favorite Michigan Spots – The Porcupine Mountains

If you know us personally, then you will not be surprised to know that the Porcupine Mountains State Park is our absolute favorite spot in Michigan.  So much so, that we have visited (multiple times) to date. It offers a bit of everything that we love. Deep peacefulness, wilderness, magical virgin forests, rivers, waterfalls, and grand vistas.  There is something for any nature lover in the Porkies.  If you are looking for a new place to visit in Michigan, and love being deeply immersed in nature, you’ll want to read on about our Porcupine Mountains experiences!

The Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

The Porcupine Mountains State Park was created in 1945 primarily to preserve one of the last large stands of old growth Northern Hardwood forests west of the Adirondacks. The years prior to the founding of this park saw Michigan being almost literally “forested to death”. So activists and state legislators worked together to protect this unique and very beautiful area. If you plan on visiting, there’s plenty to do as the park itself spans a little over 60,000 acres with more than half of it being populated with virgin forest. We’ll tell you now, it simply is an amazing place! After 5 visits, we still can’t wait to go back and explore more of the park.

The lush green forests and pathways of the Porcupine Mountains State Park
This is a pretty common scene along the trails of the Porkies. Everywhere you go, you will be surrounded by natures beauty! A true biophilia’s dream.

Prepare for some magical experiences

It is difficult for someone as inarticulate as myself to convey to you the magic of walking into an untouched, old growth virgin forest for the first time. In a bit, I will do my best. In the meantime, however, know that you can easily experience it for yourself as there are still 35,000 protected acres to explore in the Porkies alone. If you are have a familiarity with nature and forests at all, you likely already know the difference between a young and an old-growth forest. Just based on appearance alone, the difference is quite remarkable. However, I will do my best to give you a mental picture to augment the pictures we include here.

Late afternoon sun shines into the forests of the Porcupine Mountains
There is very little that can compare to the magic of these forests. Especially during the golden hour! Jess captured this beautiful scene on our first trip, and is one of many reasons we’ve returned several times since.

Abundant Old Growth, Virgin Forests

Upon first breaking into an old growth area, the first thing to hit your senses will be the very dank earthy scent. The years of fallen leaves, needles, older trees that have returned to the earth, and the failed undergrowth all decay on the forest floor to give these areas a unique bouquet of fragrances that is unlike anything I have ever encountered. This sensation is enhanced by the stillness of the air here, owing to the lack of a breeze due to the dense, high canopy extending far above the forest floor. In The Porkies in particular, the old growth is largely Hemlock and Maple. To me though, the Hemlock dominated forests seem almost something out of a fairy tale where Elves and magical creatures could be waiting for you around any turn in the wild, rustic pathways.

Majestic Hemlocks

A majestic old Hemlock found in the Porcupine Mountains.
This photo doesn’t do this unbelievably beautiful Hemlock justice. It is towering above the forest and stands as a majestic reminder of how old some of these giants can get. If I were to venture a guess, I’d be willing to bet this tree is definitely over 200 years old. Hemlocks can live up to 600 years, so I may be short changing this old guy by a couple hundred years.

Stately Maples

Old growth Maple Trees in the Porcupine Mountains
Here’s a couple of rather huge old Maple trees we found on the trail not too far past the Carp River bridge.

As you progress a bit further into the old-growth area, you’ll notice the absence of almost any significant undergrowth. This allows you to peer pretty far into the forest as the tall, majestic grandparents of the forest prevent any of their younger peers from gaining a foothold. Walking along the path you will notice other life on the floor though, in the form of fungi, lichen, and ferns where the oldest trees have fallen and allowed light to pass through. If you pass through any time after a recent rainfall, all of these sensations and small bits of life become even more notable and potent due to the petrichor.

Enjoy Waterfalls, Rivers, Lakes, and Natural Springs

One of the other big allures of the Porcupine Mountains is the numerous waterfalls, lakes, ponds, springs, and streams that can be found throughout the park. Nearly everywhere you can go, you will find that there is a beautiful nook which might have a hidden gem of a waterfall, natural spring, or peaceful little lake to take a moment of respite next to. If the combination of peace and nature are high on your list, you will want to seek these out! Your soul will thank you.

Greenstone Falls

Greenstone Falls in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
An early autumn shot of Greenstone Falls. A fairly easy hike with the added bonus of being able to see the series of Overlooked Falls much earlier on the very same trail. This trailhead can be found at the end of Little Carp River Road, just off of South Boundary Road.

Overlooked Falls

A shot of Overlooked Falls in the Porcupine Mountains State Park
A view of Overlooked Falls on the Little Carp River Trail. These pretty falls are among the easiest to access from within the park, and are found right at the beginning of your hike. If you look closely, you can see the wooden bridge in the background which leads to the trail leading to the second series of falls (seen just below), and eventually Greenstone Falls and Cabin.
Overlooked II Falls on the Little Carp River Trail in the Porkies.
While I believe these falls are unnamed, some simply call them “Overlooked Falls II”. So, I’ll go with that. Lacking a name, they lack nothing when it comes to beauty and peace of the backcountry.

Pinkerton Creek

A shot of Pinkerton Creek in the Porcupine Mountains
A shot of Pinkerton Creek, one of the spots we often go back to in search of “the perfect shot”. So far, this is my favorite. But, that doesn’t mean another attempt isn’t warranted. This is the view near the early parts of the Pinkerton Creek Trail.

Small creek found on Pinkerton Trail

A small creek found on Pinkerton Trail in the Porcupine Mountains.
Little rivers, streams, and trails are a common encounter in the Porcupine Mountains. This scene was captured on the Pinkerton Creek Trail in early Fall.
Pinkerton Trailhead Marker in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness.
This is what a typical trailhead marker in the Porkies looks like. In this case, it’s for the Pinkerton Trail (from which the two above images were taken). A common sight is walking sticks left at the marker of the trails for future hikers to use.

The ever famous Lake of the Clouds

Main pathway to the Lake of the Clouds viewing platform.
This is the main pathway leading to the Lake of the Clouds viewing area. It’s a very short and accessible walk from the parking area, and many visitors come here for a quick glimpse at one of the most beautiful and iconic scenes in the Porcupine Mountains.
Lake of the Clouds as seen from the primary viewing platform.
An almost sunrise over Lake of the Clouds. This is the cleanest view you can achieve of this beautiful lake from the man-made viewing platform.
Lake of the Clouds in Michigan's Porcupine Mountains
A beautiful midday shot of Lake of the Clouds. This particular view can be accessed not far from the viewing platform, a little off of the trail heading down to the Carp River Bridge.
Lake of the Clouds at "ground level". Facing the Big Carp River outlet.
On our last trip to the Porkies, we made the trek down to the shores of Lake of the Clouds. It’s just as beautiful and peaceful as it is from the upper viewing spots. Interestingly, the bushes lining the shores were filled with hordes of buzzing flies. However, they luckily weren’t interested in us so much. Letting us pass through their midst unmolested.
Lake of the Clouds in the Porkies, facing East (ish).
This is Lake of the Clouds from the same spot as the last image. However, it is facing East(ish).

Big Carp River

A view of the Big Carp River opposite Lake of the Clouds in the Porcupine Mountains
Here’s a morning view of the Big Carp River as seen from the Lake of the Clouds overlook. This was one of the most peaceful mornings we’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying.
Big Carp River in the Porcupine Mountains
Here’s a view of the Big Carp River from the North Mirror Lake trail bridge. Water from Lake of the Clouds flows into this river and eventually finds it’s way into Lake Superior further to the Northwest.

Lost Lake

Lost Lake, found in the Porcupine Mountains, in early Autumn.
Here’s an autumn view of the Porkies’ Lost Lake. An approximate 4 mile round trip from the trailhead located at South Boundary Road.
Early Autumn at Lost Lake in the Porcupine Mountains
Early Autumn at Lost Lake in the Porcupine Mountains
Autumn at the Porkies Lost Lake - Michigan State Park
A closer view of the opposite shore at the Porcupine Mountains’ Lost Lake.
A view of the Marsh Marigolds found on the Lost Lake Trail in the Porcupine Mountains.
Heading toward the Lost Lake, this is a springtime commonality throughout the wetland areas in the Porkies… The ever beautiful Marsh Marigolds.

Union Spring

The full view of the Porcupine Mountains' Union Spring viewing platform.
This is Michigan’s second largest natural spring. If you make the hike up to Union Spring, this will be the view upon arrival. The water inside is so pristine. clear, and quite cold all year ’round.
The dock at Union Spring in the Porkies
A closer look at the floating dock/viewing platform over Union Spring.
Clear water at the Porcupine Mountains Union Spring
This gives a good view inside the Union Spring. When you’re looking into the water from the floating observation deck, you can clearly see areas in the bed where the water is bubbling up from the ground.

Union Spring Trail Impoundment & Earthen Dam

Union Spring Trail Impoundment in the Porcupine Mountains
This is the site of a former dam, and is known as the Union Spring Trail Impoundment. In recent years, the DNR has worked to restore this site back to it’s original state. It appears to be working as this is the first time we’ve been here and found water in such abundance.
Porcupine Mountains Union Spring Trail River Impoundment & Earthen Dam
Above is an older view of the Union Spring Trail River Impoundment and earthen dam. As you can see, when compared to the previous image, the work that park staff has done to restore the area to it’s natural state.

You can even visit a Ghost Town at Nonesuch Mine

Back before the turn of the century, in 1867 to be precise, a prospector named Ed Less discovered an abundance of Copper in the area of what is now the Porcupine Mountains.  It was here that he staked his claim and within two years of it’s discovery, the Nonesuch Mining Company was in operation.  At the town’s peak, historical accounts tell us that the town had upwards of 300 inhabitants, a post office, a school, markets, stagecoach service, and even an official baseball team.  Going there now, it is very difficult to see that so much could have been contained in what looks to be a section of deep woods.  However, there are still some ruins in the area, notating the foundations of buildings and mining operations that are now long gone.

Stamp Mill

Ruins at Nonesuch in Michigan's Porkies
We believe, based on what we can glean from online sources, that these are what remains of what was once the stamp mill in the Nonesuch Mine.
Ruins at the Nonesuch Mines in Michigan's Porcupine Mountains State Park
A more dramatic angle of the stamp mill foundation ruins.

The Trail

Ruins of the stamp mill on the left, and the path into the Nonesuch Mine Ghost Town in the Porcupine Mountains
You can see the ruins of the stamp mill on the left, and the path from the parking area on the right of the wooden fence.

An old Mineshaft

Abandoned mine shaft in the Nonesuch Mine trail in the Porkies.
Here’s a view of one of the remaining (filled in) mine shafts in the Nonesuch area.

Remains of long forgotten equipment

Ruined equipment in the Nonesuch Mine area.
These circular indentations used to be equipment that’s sole purpose was to attempt to efficiently separate the copper from the surrounding sandstone rock. Apparently, this was their last ditch effort in making this mine profitable.

Nonesuch Falls & Little Iron River

If you hike past the ruins, you’ll reach the Little Iron River and the diminutive Nonesuch Falls.  In all, from the parking area to the ruins and back, you’ll hike around 1 mile or so.  Jess and I have found this to be quite an easy hike with very little elevation change or challenging trails.

LIttle Iron River and Nonesuch Falls in the Porcupine Mountains
This was taken from the top of what is known as the Nonesuch Falls. To the left of this image, is where you would find the Nonesuch Mine ruins. We have not ventured into the area across the mine yet as no obvious trails were evident.

Enjoy the shores of Lake Superior

Bordering the park on the North, is the largest freshwater lake (by surface area) in the world.  Lake Superior (Gitchee Gumee), is always a sight to behold.  You’ll find it smooth as glass one day, and a roaring tempest of angry waves the next.  There are a few different points in the park from which to access it.  The easiest way to see it, however, is along the 107th Engineers Memorial Highway heading into the park.  In fact, if you’re heading to the park from Ontonagon or Silver City, it is unavoidable.  You will see the lake whether you set out to or not!

A beautiful sunset over Lake Superior in the Porcupine Mountains State Park
Lake Superior is always beautiful. But, on this day we were exceptionally lucky to have such dramatic skies back lit by the setting sun. We watched this scene unfold for a little over an hour before heading back to our hotel for the evening. The peace of the rolling waves and beautiful light made it well worth the time spent here.
Sunset behind the Porcupine Mountains
This was take just a bit East of the Parks interior entrance to Boundary Road. To the left is the 107th Engineers Memorial Highway. To the right, is the Gitchee Gumee (AKA Lake Superior).

Don’t forget to look down!

There’s so many awesome views throughout the park.  Towering trees, beautiful waterfalls, gently flowing streams, and even wonderfully expanisve views from the ancient mountaintops.  In light of all that, it might be a bit difficult to find yourself looking at the ground.  If you are in the least bit interested in what dwells on the forest floor, you’ll find many interesting little scenes throughout the park.

Mushrooms

Mycena Strobilinoides, or Scarlet Fairy Helmet Mushroom on the forest floor of the Porcupine Mountains
Here is what I believe to be an example of Mycena Strobilinoides (commonly known as the Scarlet Fairy Helmet), found on one of our early hikes through the Porcupine Mountains.

Indian Pipe

A fresh growth of Indian Pipe found in the Porcupine Mountains
This is Monotropa Uniflora or, the Indian Pipe. Less commonly known as the Corpse Plant or Ghost Plant. We’ve seen these on rare occasion in the Porkies.

American Cancer Root

American Cancer Root (Conopholis Americana) in The Porcupine Mountains
It took me a while to figure out what this interesting plant is. Turns out it is the American Cancer Root (Conopholis Americana). This example appears a bit older in age as it has started to turn a darker color. Whenever I find interesting growths like this, I always try to grab a shot so I can figure out what it is later on.

Young life in the forest

A small coniferous plant found on the forest floor of the Porcupine Mountains.
I didn’t take the time to try and ID this. However, I love the little bits of life found amongst the giant trees, and am always holding up the hike to grab a shot. Jess and the dogs just love me for this! 🙂

Yes! There are critters too…

While our goal in hiking through the Porkies is to enjoy the unbelievable scenery, you may also happen upon some wildlife.  Since our recent trips have included our Collies Anoush & Duncan, we really do not get to see the native inhabitants of the land very often.  Our first trip, though, was without our doggies… So we got a bit lucky and managed to get acquainted with some of the locals.

A white tail deer in the Porcupine Mountains
Here’s an understandably cautious doe we happened upon during one of our earliest hikes in the Porcupine Mountains.
A small squirrel found on the trails of the Porcupine Mountains
This little guy wasn’t quite as shy, and was curious about the visitors to his home.

Have a True Adventure with Back-Country Camping

We have a growing bucket list.  One item on it, is to embark on the adventure of actually staying in the park.  Perhaps in one of the park’s cabins or yurts.  Maybe even taking it a step further and delving into the more truly adventurous back-country camping option. I have a feeling that these will offer a far deeper and more intimate connection with the park… And, with nature in general. Our biggest conundrum will be deciding on the lightest camera and lens setup.  We want to be comfortable carry around everything (including our necessities)!  We’ll probably have to saddle up our two Collie Dogs to help us share the load.

A campsite along the North Mirror Lake Trail in the Porcupine Mountains.
This is a campsite/resting area along the North Mirror Lake Trail. We found this area in between Scott Creek and the Carp River. There are several of these types of spots we’ve come across throughout the park. This one provided a bit of rest for us before we were to continue on along our journey.

Something For Everyone

Regardless of your personality, or how you prefer to spend your vacation time… The Porkies offer an experience that you can appreicate. If you happen to be less of an explorer type. Which is totally cool, and prefer a more destination approach.  You’ll find there are a few spots to consider here as well. The most popular and well known of these has to be the Lake of the Clouds scenic overlook. It is accessible to just about anyone and doesn’t require a long and potentially difficult hike through the back trails.

A Hope For The Future

We hope you’ve enjoyed our perspective on adventuring in the Porkies! However, before we let you go, we would like to give you some important information. As nature lovers, we do not want to pass this opportunity to bring your attention to a potentially devastating problem.  This is a very real threat that could face the Hemlocks of the Porkies in the future.  The Hemlock Wooly Adelgid. As of now, there have been no cases of the invasive and devastating insect in the park itself. We would like to keep it that way!

What you can do…

These invasive little beasts from Asia have found their way to the United States (and, yes lower Michigan). They have nearly caused extinction in some Hemlock populations in the US.  We passionately urge you to follow any and all guidelines you can. This way we can help in preventing the spread of this plague of the forest. More information, including how to identify the symptoms, can be found on these pages:

Michigan’s official page on the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid..
An organization devoted to keeping our Hemlock population safe and alive from this threat.

Further reading on the Porcupine Mountains…

A recent Porcupine Mountains (and Upper Peninsula) adventure!
All of our current Porcupine Mountains images for sale!  We are working to add more.  Should you wish to purchase any of the art in this post that isn’t currently available, please contact us!

Our Favorite Hotel

Sunshine Motel & Cabins Tell Bruce & Kay we said hi!

For more tourist and other official information…

Site of the Porcupine Mountains & Ontonagon Area Convention & Visitors Bureau
Michigan DNR’s official page with camping and visitor’s information.

 

 

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