Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
Want a true wilderness adventure in the U.S.? One with unrivaled vistas of Lake Superior’s stunning shores, roaring waterfalls, miles of rivers and streams, 35,000 acres of untamed old-growth forests and 90 miles of hiking/backpacking trails? You don’t have to travel to the wilds of Colorado, Utah or Alaska for it. Come to the rugged Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park — explore the Midwest’s last great wilderness.
Where is it?
At nearly 60,000 acres, this is Michigan’s largest state park, located in the western reaches of the Upper Peninsula. And we should note that you will not likely see porcupines here. The mountains actually got their name from early adventurers who thought the outline of the trees along the ridges resembled the large rodent’s quills.
When is the park open?
The park is open all year, but the park roads close December 1 through late spring. However, you can still access all the fun via snowmobile during those winter months.
What to see at the Porkies
You can access the park with a daily or annual Michigan Recreation Passport, and there is something for everyone here. You don’t need to worry about being a diehard off-the-grid explorer to experience this vast wilderness. No one is left out when it comes to adventuring the “Porkies.” Here are some of the top reasons people visit.
Lake of the Clouds
You can access this exhilarating view in the Porcupine Mountains by foot, wheelchair or motorized cart. Follow the signs on South Boundary Rd. off of M-107. Park and take a 100-yard walk on a paved trail or ADA-accessible boardwalk to the top of a steep escarpment overlooking the beautiful Lake of The Clouds. Surrounded by forests and dramatic mountains, this lake is gorgeous all year, but it’s a top destination for fall leaf-peepers when the forest is drenched in brilliant oranges, yellows and reds.
Hikers and anglers (catch-and-release only) can reach the shores of Lake of the Clouds by the Big Carp River Trail or Escarpment Trail.
Copper Peak boasts several titles. Located 10 miles north of Bessemer via County Road 513 to Copper Peak Rd., it is the only ski-flying hill outside of Europe. It is also the highest man-made ski flying hill in the world and offers the highest unobstructed view in the Midwest.
To reach this vantage point, take an 800-foot chair lift ride, then an 18-story elevator ride to the viewing platform. From there, you can gaze out at 2,500 square miles of spellbinding lush forests (yes, it’s a top fall color tour destination) and the glistening waters of Lake Superior. The hardiest adventurers can climb an additional eight stories to the ski jump’s starting gate for a jaw-dropping view. On a clear day, you can see parts of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
In addition to viewing the scenery from the ski jump, experienced mountain bikers will love riding the surrounding trails’ thrilling descents. There are also trails for beginners, too.
Summit Peak Observation Tower, accessible from South Boundary Road, is the highest vantage point in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. At nearly 2,000 feet above sea level, its climbable 50-foot tower is reached after a short hike. If it’s a clear day, you can see Lake Superior, Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands and Isle Royale. Open late spring to mid-October, this is a definite destination to add to your fall color itinerary.
Things to do at the Porcupine Mountains
Play outside from sunrise to starry night! Name your adventure and you will find it here. Hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, disc golfing, canoeing, kayaking, boating, fishing, stargazing and Northern Lights viewing are just some of the ways you can fill multiple days. Since this wilderness is home to one of the largest old-growth forest tracts, you also can spend time outdoors birdwatching and wildlife viewing. During the winter, outside activities include several downhill ski and snowboarding resorts plus miles of picturesque snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails. Read more below.
Spring is the peak waterfalling season in the Porkies. It’s when the snowmelt sends rushing water roaring down rivers and over glistening rocks. Other times of year are also camera-worthy, including when winter showcases its sparkling ice sculptures. There are 15 waterfalls in and around the Porcupine Mountains—giving you reasons to return multiple times to see them all. When building your itineraries, be sure to include:
Agate Falls near Bruce Crossing, one of the most scenic sites in the U.P.
Black River Waterfalls includes five major falls and several smaller ones that you can access along County Road 513, also known as the Black River Scenic Byway.
Bond Falls is located in the western U.P. in southern Ontonagon County near Paulding. This impressive waterfall on the middle branch of the Ontonagon River is 100 feet wide with a total drop of about 50 feet. It is one of the most photographed falls in the U.P. (While you are near Paulding, stay until after sunset to decide if the eerie Paulding Mystery Light is for real or not.)
There are approximately 115 miles of hiking trails leading you across this vast state park. Some of them are great for beginners, starting at .5 miles. But if you want a challenge or distance, take on the Lake Superior Trail at 17.1 miles or the River Trail at 10.5 miles. The Michigan DNR has an updated list of trails in the park and their lengths.
Pick from 11 campgrounds in the state park. Contact information is available on this Michigan DNR page.
Festivals and other events
Don’t miss out on the annual festivals! The Snowburst Winter Carnival in February will offer downhill skiing, lantern-lit trail events, live music, fireworks and more. And when the weather warms again, The Porcupine Mountains Music Festival will be held around Labor Day. Live music, workshops, jam sessions and children’s activities draw musicians and concert-goers to hear bluegrass, Americana, folk, rock, country, blues and more drifting on mountain breezes.
You can call the park staff for information on upcoming festival dates and events, (906) 885-5275.
The stories these mountains can tell. You are never far away from hearing about the ancient copper miners, the 19th-century copper rush, lumberjacks and sailors who braved the heaving waves of Lake Superior off the coast of this remote corner of the U.P. Visit the Ontonagon Historical Society Museum to see a replica of the Ontonagon Boulder, a 3,700-pound chunk of nearly pure copper that is now housed at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. While in the vicinity, visit historic downtown Ontonagon and the Ontonagon Lighthouse, one of the oldest in the state.
Other historic sites include the Adventure Mine in Greenland — one of the best-preserved copper mines in the region — where you can choose from four underground tours, including one that sends you rappelling down to the second level. Or dig for minerals and rocks at Caledonia Copper Mine near Mass City.
For a glimpse into what working conditions were like during the copper rush, visit the Old Victoria Restoration. Self-guided and hour-long guided tours are available from mid-June to mid-October.
Come winter, get your dose of recreation at the Porkies Winter Sports Complex. Spray fresh powder on your skis, explore backwoods trails on snowshoes and take on thrilling jumps on the fat tire biking trails.
When visiting the park, make your first stop, the park’s Visitor Center, open mid-May to mid-October, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. It is located three miles west of Silver City on South Boundary Road, one quarter-mile from M-107. Built next to the largest old-growth hardwood-hemlock forest in the Great Lakes region, you can walk a one-mile trail that winds through the hemlocks and over majestic streams. Stop in the center to see the exhibits about the Porcupine Mountains and its wildlife, sign-up for interpretive programs and hikes, check trail conditions, buy fishing/hunting licenses, make backcountry camping reservations, browse in the gift shop and get directions to the park’s scenic sites and other nearby wilderness adventures.
When traveling to the beloved Porkies, we recommend wearing layers. Depending on the season and activities you have planned, you might need more buttoning up. Keep in mind that some of those views from the tallest heights mean an accompanying breeze!
Where to stay
Lodging is available at resorts and hotels in nearby Silver City and Ontonagon. Porcupine Mountains cabins, yurts, cottages and campgrounds are also available in and around the park. Book your lodging ahead of time!
Ready to deepen your love of our amazing planet? Find wonderfully wild adventures in the Porcupine Mountains.