Tahquamenon, not Phenomenon, Falls State Park
Can’t say we fell in love with this Michigan State Park, but to be honest we only had a day to explore it so maybe we didn’t give it a proper chance. When we announced that our travels were taking us to “da U.P. eh” everyone said Tahquamenon Falls is the “Gem of Michigan”. In fact we heard this statement so many times we had visions of towering rust colored falls dropping into the river below with massive amounts of spray to cool us off after a long rewarding hike. Ya know similar to Nevada Falls in Yosemite, Marble Falls in Sequoia, Zapata Falls in CO, or Multnomah Falls in OR. I guess our expectations were just too high for this particular adventure.
The Lower Falls are accessed by a boardwalk trail where everyone and their dog can walk leisurely around to see the falls. None of the falls are breathtaking by any stretch of the imagination, however the rust color stripes in the water are pretty interesting.
The little general store peddles knick-knacks and rents small boats to get across to the island for what the sign claims is “The best view of the falls”, we weren’t sold on the fact it would be any better so we saved the $10 per person. We did notice several people wading across the river which seemed a little dangerous if you don’t know what your doing, but obviously it can be done. We hiked about a half mile up the River Trial to get a taste of the “best hike in the park” and it seemed moderately challenging for a short afternoon hike. It’s not a loop trail but if you hike the 4 miles to the upper falls and decide you don’t want to hoof it back there is a shuttle bus (busy season only) to take you back down for $5.
The Upper Falls are a little more striking as the water volume is much higher and I must admit the “cola” colored stripes are pretty darn cool. A set of steep staircases brought us down to the different overlooks, so even though it wasn’t a challenging hike at least we were getting some good cardio. One interesting thing is most people just stuck to the paved trail and didn’t attempt to tackle the stairs, so there were a few moments of uninterrupted peace for us.
Just for fun we decided to hike about 2 miles down the River Trail and we found a peaceful hike in the trees away from all the concrete tourists. The trail had a few nice “ups” and “downs” and we stumbled upon a little nature along the way. Goes to show you if you wanna get away from the big groups you have to hit the longer, or more challenging hikes.
We finished our day at the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery, that’s right there’s a brewery inside the state park! Sounds too good to be true right?!? Well it is. At the time of our visit the brewery only offered 4 beers on tap and they were sold out of 2, leaving behind a wimpy, watery pale ale and a mediocre lager. We did a taste of both but decided we didn’t want to purchase a pint of either. I would think the number one rule of a brewery would be: DON’T RUN OUT OF BEER! To be fair we were there on a Friday afternoon in July, so maybe the brewery was bombarded with customers that morning.
We did not camp in the state park as we felt the $21 for 30a (no sewer or water) plus a $9 daily RV fee plus a $6 tow car fee was a little bit steep…I realize the UP only has a few months to make money but come on $36/day for a basic campground (we’ve gotten a little spoiled/cheap after so many great wild camping experiences here in MI). Since our route is taking us north we drove the RV through the park and there was ample RV parking at both sets of falls.
I originally wrote this article the day after our visit, but reflecting on our photos and thinking again about our experience I’ve come to this conclusion: Tahquamenon Falls State Park is worth a visit! Would I say it’s the “Gem of MI”? Probably not. If I was compiling a list of our top 10 for Michigan I still don’t think these falls would make the list. Michigan has so much beauty, and wonderful small towns, that we’ll share with you over the coming months. Hopefully by the end you’ll agree with us (or at least understand) why we weren’t blown away by our experience at this State Park.
If you feel Tahquamenon Falls State Park is the best of MI please let us know in the comments below. There’s a great chance we were just “off” the day of our visit. If you had a similar experience then back us up. I’m sure we’re going to get an earful on this one 🙂
Should have also went to Whitefish Point in Paradise, which is about a half and hour past Tahquamenon Falls. It actually is paradise up there.
It’s too bad you didn’t spend more time in Tahquamenon Falls, it is one of my favorite Michigan State Parks. My favorite activity is “Playing” in the lower falls, you can actually swim right under the falls – like being a kid again! Here is the post from our last trip there in 2012. http://michigantraveler.org/2012/08/03/tahquamenon-falls-july-2012/.
We also visited the Pictured Rocks and the Porcupine Mountains on that trip and you may find our posts on those stops appealing. (BTW $10/night at the Bay Furnace National Forest Campground in the Pictured Rocks is a good deal!)
You guys went to a couple of places that are nice, but they really don’t get into what’s good in northern Michigan. For instance, Copper Harbor, on the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, is a WORLD CLASS mountain bike destination. I know, world class mountain biking in MI…sounds like the booze talking. But seriously. I am a biker and I have done Sedona, Santa Cruz, and Northern Idaho but Copper Harbor is better than all 3 of these places.
Just west of the Keweenaw is Porcupine Mountains State Park. Miles of trails and backcountry campsites (that allow PETS) and the gorgeous Lake of the Clouds are just a few of the things to do in this LARGEST of Michigan State Parks.
Head South from there and you arrive at the Black River. BREATHTAKING views of secluded waterfalls line the scenic drive. You park and hike to them (about .5 – 1.0 miles to each one) so they aren’t a popular spot. Which is a shame but, at the same time, more waterfalls for me. They are one of Michigan’s hidden gems. Seriously, I have seen the waterfalls at Yosemite and Yellowstone and these falls, while not as tall, are up there as far as beauty and water volume.
My family and I are fulltime RVers. We worked as campground hosts in the redwoods, we backpacked Yellowstone and hiked the Grand Canyon yet, we all agree, that the Upper Peninsula is the best place on earth.
We will be back there this summer so, if you would like to come up and tag along and do it the RIGHT way this time, we would be glad to show you around.
Here is our website where we have some photos and blog posts about the UP. http://www.yumfam.com
We also were not overly impressed and we had no high expectations when we went. We were only passing through and spent about 6 hours there. I bought the hooded sweatshirt (which I’m wearing today, 25 in N. Ga) and had a decent vegie burger and fries. It was a pleasant stop.
To be honest the menus sounded pretty tasty, we shoulda sat down to eat but when we heard they were out of beer we just gave up 🙂
We travel to Michigan each summer to visit family. We kept being told that we must visit the UP as well as see the falls. When we did we felt a let down. Michigan is a beautiful place but we are much more impressed by the quaint towns and the beautiful lakes.
I also agree that Tahquamenon Falls is not necessarily the “gem” of Michigan. As a Michigan resident and traveling throughout the state as a camper, there is so much more breath taking things to do and see. Sometimes, I have to remember I’m in Michigan. But with that being said, I think a lot of the hoopla comes from city folks who don’t get out much and the “Pure Michigan” campaign that shows popular spots in Michigan. For me, popular attraction never really rattle my chain, whether its here or some other state.
When we first toured the UP, we got all the same sorts of recommendations. And have to agree, it was nice.. it was worth a visit. But definitely did not live up to the hype. We had so many other wonderful Michigan adventures, that this one doesn’t even really come up in conversation for us.
Agree, and you guys have done the sunset coast, the sunrise coast and da UP!
I love how honest and candid you both are! You have seen enough of our nation to have a valued opinion for sure! many of us look to you both for direction. Thanks so much for all the great times you share and even the not so great times you still have fun!
May you be BLESSED!
Linda and John Miller
Thanks Linda, we do feel an obligation to be honest, even when it’s not what everyone wants to hear. Nothing worse than hyping up a place that can’t live up to the expectations. That sets everyone up for disappointment.
Well being a michigander my whole life and traveling all over this state. I will agree with you. Its nice and a neat natural setting but not in the top ten spots in the state. I would place it 21st actually. Knowing some. Of your route you probably only hit 4 of the top ten spots that I would pick. But I am anxiously waiting to do more outwest travels as thats where my heart is pulling me now.
Good to know as a local you feel the same way we do. The west is hard to beat in terms of natural beauty but if there is one thing we have learned, it’s that there is something fascinating, beautiful and worth exploring in every state, every country and every corner of the world. Too much to see, too little time.
I agree with you btw.
I hope you were able to make it to Laughing Whitefish Falls to offset some of your disappointment.
You hit it on the head. Michigan has so much to offer that to include these falls on a “top10 list of Michigan attractions” is selling this state short.
As a Michigan resident I would say it is interesting, and worth a visit for a day or maybe a weekend. It is not, in my opinion, the “gem” of Michigan, or even the Michigan state park system.
I would point out that while mid-summer is the most popular time to visit for obvious reasons, it is the worst time to see waterfalls in Michigan since water volume is usually near its lowest. Tahquamenon, like most MI falls, is at its most impressive in early spring during snowmelt. It’s pretty neat in winter as well, although unless you’re a snowmobiler I wouldn’t make a special trip.
We did see some pretty spectacular snowy winter scenes online with deathly crazy looking icicles. I can imagine a snowmobile adventure in that area would be amazing!