Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Tahquamenon Falls River Trail

 We took advantage of a rare weekend with nothing on our schedules to take a three-day trip up to Tahquamenon State Park in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. We had debated for weeks about where to go--Pictured Rocks, Pigeon River State Forest, Sleeping Bear Dunes. The government shutdown eliminated PIRO and Sleeping Bear as options since both are National Parks, but even after we were on the road we did not decide for sure to go to Tahquamenon and not Pigeon River until we were in Gaylord, in Northern Lower Michigan. The forecast was for rain in both places much of the weekend, but warmer below the bridge. But Lori really wanted to go to the U.P. to do some research for her next book, so to Tahquamenon we went.

We planned on camping in the modern Lower Falls campground, but it was pretty busy (at least for October) so only stayed one night, electing instead to camp at the rustic River Mouth unit, where there were only four other campers. Before moving camp, Lisa and I decided to hike the four-mile River Trail, which links the Upper and Lower Falls. Lori, who was feeling a bit under the weather, agreed to meet us at the Upper Falls at 12:30. Leaving around 10:00 we felt we had plenty of time.

Map of the Upper and Lower Falls area at Tahquamenon State Park's the thing about trail distances. They don't always tell the whole story. We left from the campground and walked down to the eastern side of the Lower Falls and the concession/boat rental area, about .2 miles. We lingered by the falls, taking pictures, then walked down along the river to the viewing area of the western side (the river is divided by an island at the Lower Falls), where we lingered longer.

East side of the Lower Falls, Tahquamenon State Park

River geology.


West side of the Lower Falls. There seemed to be a lot of water in the river for autumn.

Lower Falls from viewing platform.

We had probably walked a half mile, and been gone about 30-45 minutes, when we came to this sign just past the last viewing area for the falls:

Sign marking the start of the River Trail.

We stopped and stared at the sign. This marked the beginning of the trail, the "official" start to the four mile trek. We considered not doing it--we weren't sure we would be able to meet Lori on time. But the weather was good and I was concerned that we would not have another opportunity the following day, so we pushed on.

Along the River Trail, Tahquamenon Falls State Park.
Because we had to maintain such a fast pace there was not much time to stop and rest, much less take photos. The day turned from cloudy to clear and we both found ourselves to be over-dressed, and it wasn't long before I was sweaty and over-heated. I really don't like to hike like this. To me the point of hiking is not to get from point A to point B but to immerse myself in my surroundings. But there was no cell service and no way to tell Lori if we'd decided to turn back, so we had to march on.

We did catch a glimpse of this sparrow--either a Chipping or Clay-colored, I can't decide which--along the river's edge.

Yet another mystery bird....

Despite feeling rushed, we enjoyed the beautiful afternoon and gorgeous scenery.

The blue blaze indicates this is part of the North Country Trail.

At each mile there was a marker, so we were able to track our time and pace. We managed 30-minute miles, more or less, and arrived at this sign, marking the other end of the River Trail, at around 12:45. Of course, this is not at the parking lot, or even at the Upper Falls--there's still another .3 or .4 miles to the parking lot, so in reality the hike, from parking lot to parking lot, is probably closer to five miles. It felt like it, too--we were tired, hungry and thirsty, being in terrible shape after a summer crammed with busy but devoid of much exercise.

We paused briefly at the nearest overlook to take in the Upper Falls, then continued our march to the parking lot, a half hour late. Lori was waiting patiently, although she had considered driving back to the campground in case we had changed our minds about the hike.

The magnificent Upper Falls, Tahquamenon State Park.

Back at the campground we hooked up the trailer and drove down to the River Mouth campground, where there were no barking dogs, no children, and virtually no neighbors. After setting up camp there, we drove up to Whitefish Point to do a short hike, see Lake Superior and whatever birds may be around.

Next: Whitefish Point.

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