Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is plentiful with natural beauty, and when you step out of your RV at Tahquamenon Falls State Park, you’re in for a unique treat. It is one of the largest falls east of the Mississippi and the centerpiece of the park.
The Upper Falls features a drop of nearly 50 feet, and at more than 200 feet across, the water flows at more than 50,000 gallons per second. Many campers refer to them as “The Root Beer Falls” because the amber-colored water cascading over the falls resembles root beer. Hike four miles downstream and you will arrive at the Lower Falls, five smaller falls that cascade around an island.
Spanning over 13 miles and 48,000-acres, Tahquamenon Falls State Park is the second-largest state park in the Michigan Department of Natural Resources system. The park also has about four miles of shoreline on Lake Superior at the mouth of the Tahquamenon River. Even though this popular park features two campgrounds and receives over 500,000 visitors a year, you’ll find plenty of places to be away from the crowd and enjoy nature at its finest because most of the park is very rustic with no roads, buildings, or power lines.
You’ll also love the variety of outdoor activities available at the park no matter what time you drive your RV through the entrance. During the warmer months, you can enjoy hiking, fishing, and canoeing. If you don’t mind the cold, the snowy Upper Michigan winters are perfect for snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. Year-round activities include photography, studying nature, and even hunting.
One of the benefits of visiting Michigan's Upper Peninsula is crossing the Mackinac Bridge, a very large suspension bridge spanning the Straits of Mackinac to connect the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. Or, you can drive through Wisconsin and enter Michigan’s Upper Peninsula from the western side.
Either way, you will head towards Michigan’s Eastern Upper Peninsula, and reach the Tahquamenon Scenic Byway (M-123). The Byway passes natural wonders, breweries, wild animal sanctuaries, waterfalls, museums, lighthouses, and miles of Lake Superior shoreline. There are several side trips you can make along the way including the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, Oswald’s Bear Ranch, and the Two Hearted River, first made famous by Earnest Hemingway’s short story “Big Two-Hearted River.”
There is convenient parking near all three modern campgrounds. The Upper and Lower Falls have their own parking lots and day-use areas. If you park at the Upper Falls you can take a four-mile hike down to see the Lower Falls. Or, you can rent a boat and row over to a small island with a half-mile perimeter trail in order to view the Lower Falls from there. Shuttles are also provided between the falls during peak summer months, and you can bring your furry companion because this park is pet-friendly as long as they are on a leash.
Luckily for guests, there is parking available all throughout the park, and the park has gone to great efforts to demarcate accessible parking spaces and activities as much as possible. Parking is free and open to all visitors, but day visitors need to vacate the park no later than 10 PM.
Unfortunately, there is not a public transportation route that travels to the park, and visitors will have to arrange their own transportation.
The Lower Falls Campground has two loops located close to the water, Hemlock and Portage.
The Hemlock Campground is located about a mile from the Lower Falls and is open year-round. It is a favorite camping spot for cold-weather enthusiasts, and the state keeps about a dozen spots open and plowed. The water is turned off at the sites, but electricity is still available in the winter. However, winter camping is not for everyone. It’s a good thing Tahquamenon Falls State Park is a great place to relax and enjoy nature any time of year!
The Portage Campground is the most popular campground due to its proximity to the river and the Lower Falls, which are only a quarter-mile away. This campground fills up quicker than the rest because there are several waterfront sites with stunning river views. A boardwalk provides easy access to the Lower Falls and you can continue on the River Trail to the Upper Falls, a restaurant, and a brewery! The hike is challenging but you can take a shuttle during peak summer months.
The Tahquamenon Rivermouth Campground is located near the Upper Falls. The park is five miles south of Paradise on M-123 where the Tahquamenon River flows into Whitefish Bay on Lake Superior. This is a modern, 72-site campground with electrical service, including some sites with 50-amp hookups. The sites are large, but there is little privacy provided for interior sites. However, the campground has room for you to stretch out with picnic areas and potable water. The bathrooms and showers are kept clean, and the park has a recycling center for paper, plastic, aluminum, and propane canisters.
There are also 36 rustic campsites. Although the rustic sites do not have electricity, they do have a fire pit and picnic table. You can pay a small fee to take a shower at the Modern Unit.
A restaurant, brewery, gift shop, and snack bar with ice cream are all available, conveniently, at the Tahquamenon Rivermouth Campground. Kayaks are available to rent, and there are also miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking. Also, there are multiple fishing opportunities along the riverbank, or you can walk over to Whitefish Bay on Lake Superior and walk along the sandy beach. Limited cellphone service allows you to enjoy nature without the distractions of everyday life. Pets are welcome to join you during your stay as long as they are on a leash.
There are no first-come, first-served camping options at this state park.
Avid hunters come from miles around to enjoy the thrill of the hunt at Tahquamenon Falls State Park. Area game includes white-tailed deer, black bear, elk, and turkey, small game, and waterfowl. However, there are many rules and regulations about hunting on state land so be sure you have the proper license and know the rules before heading out.
There are several "no hunting" areas near the campsites and recreation areas that are clearly sign posted, and if in violation of this, visitors could be charged or removed from the park. Be sure to keep an eye out for these areas, and it might not be a bad idea to bring a map of the park with these areas noted.
If you love speed and snow, then snowmobiling is right for you! Hitch your trailer to your RV and load up your snowmobiles because you are headed for fun.
There are over 200 miles of snowmobile trails available as long as there is enough snow. Snowmobiles are only allowed on designated trails with a minimum of four inches of snow. Riders can hike to the falls area from the main parking lots and enjoy the miles of marked trails available.
Enjoy a winter wonderland while you get your cardio on. Warm up during the cold winter months with some cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. The park features over four miles of regularly groomed ski trails and is also open to backcountry skiing. Snowshoeing, another highly popular winter sport in Upper Michigan, and it is allowed anywhere that is open to the public. Be sure to walk next to the ski tracks when using trails maintained for cross-country skiing.
Guests are also welcome to participate in the new outdoor adventure, geocaching. Similar to a treasure or scavenger hunt, geocaching involves the search for "caches" of various sizes using hints, GPS, and trivia clues. This activity is a great way to get everyone on your trip out and about, and it is a fun bonding activity because it requires a little bit of creativity, teamwork, and curiosity.
This is an activity that only requires a cell phone or GPS and a pen for signing the finders log usually contained within the cache. There are a handful of caches located in or around the Tahquamenon Falls State Park, so make sure to grab a water and sunscreen as you head out in search of the cache. Geocaching is a global phenomenon, so don't let the fun stop at this park, rather, take it with you on your cross country RV trips in the future. This is a great way to break up a trip as well as a way to enjoy the journey, not just your destination.
Lace up your hiking boots if you want to see portions of the park that are rarely seen by the public. The park has over 35 miles of hiking trails including the North Country Scenic Trail that crosses 16 miles within the park including the trail between the Upper and Lower Falls. This trail is part of a larger network of trails spanning the distance from North Dakota to New York, and it even crosses through the neighboring Brule River State Forest in Wisconsin before it reaches the Michigan area.
You may see an occasional moose feeding in the wet areas of the park. Other area wildlife includes black bears, coyotes, otter, deer, fox, porcupines, beaver, and mink. Look up to see the many bird species including pileated woodpeckers, spruce grouse, bald eagles, waterfowl, and songbirds. With so many creatures to see during your hike, you won't want to leave your camera or binoculars in the camper.
Avid fishermen will love the many fishing holes in the Tahquamenon area. Take your bait and pole to the Lower Falls, and you may catch some northern pike, muskellunge, walleye, yellow perch, or smallmouth bass.
Fish along the river or in the frigid waters of Lake Superior, and you can bring your own boat or rent one from a local vendor. Fishing licenses are available from the General Store on-site. You will also find live bait and a small selection of fishing poles available.
An RV trip to this incredible state park wouldn't be complete without a visit to the falls. The Upper Falls can be viewed from the nature trail down to the falls. There is also an observation platform for an up-close view that is ADA-accessible for all to enjoy. The Lower Falls is visible from the island and rowboats can be rented from the park concession.
When you are hiking to the falls from your campsite, don’t forget to look up and take in the numerous species of nesting birds.
Thanks to the beautiful scenery around the falls and the park, guests are sure to want to ride a boat or canoe along the shoreline. There is a location to rent boats, kayaks, and canoes by the Lower Falls concession during peak season. Also, there is an accessible boat launch in the Rivermouth area with limited parking.