Tahquamenon Falls State Park, Michigan
An hour past the Mackinac Bridge and tucked deep in the wilds of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Tahquamenon Falls State Park is a unique, rugged, and unmissable destination.
Yes, this sprawling water wonder is known for its stunning Upper and Lower Falls.
But, it also holds surprises beyond gazing at its two waterfalls, like the fact that offers dynamite swimming holes.
With this, and all of the new park improvements underway, see why you might want to visit this inspiring destination for the first time – or make a trip back – soon:
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Tahquamenon Falls State Park Overview
A State Park since 1947, this 50,000-acre swath of land envelopes most of the 89-mile-long Tahquamenon River as it flows east through Luce and Chippewa Counties.Tahquamenon Falls in Michigan
Eventually, the river empties into Lake Superior at Whitefish Bay, just south of Paradise, Michigan.
Tahquamenon Falls State Park is the second largest state park in Michigan.
A Year-Round Destination
The park serves as a year-round haven for recreation, drawing people in even during the colder months.
During the warmer months, you can camp, swim, hike, fish, paddle, go bird watching (bald eagles!), or look for wildlife.
As the seasons change, fall is a magnet for people on the hunt for fall colors.
And, when winter sets in, the park doesn’t close down.
Tahquamenon Trivia: Root Beer Falls
Since we’re spilling all of the Tahquamenon tea, here’s a fun fact: The Tahquamenon Falls are sometimes called “Root Beer Falls.”
The Tahquamenon River’s waters are crystal clear with a golden-brown tint, kind of like root beer.
The reason for the amber-colored waters?
It’s all thanks to tannic acid, a naturally occurring substance produced by the cedar, spruce and hemlock trees growing near the river.
Plan to Spend Time at Lower Tahquamenon Falls
39956 M-123, Paradise, MI 49768
While the Upper Falls garners a lot of attention due to its size, the Lower Falls draws us in with its fabulous stepping stone swimming area.
Here, a small island is surrounded by five picturesque miniature waterfalls and we can’t get enough.
Hike around the island, swim, or even put in a kayak and paddle miles to Lake Superior.
Set your alarm and keep your eyes peeled; bald eagles fish the rapids below the falls early in the morning!
The Lower Falls also have a picnic pavilion, a kayak launch, and two modern campgrounds.
Waterfall Swimming Hole at the Lower Falls
The small falls create several natural swimming holes that are good for a fun dip.
Plan to spend hours here on a warm summer day when the water and weather cooperate.
*Of course, this is a waterfall that you’re playing in. To that end:
- Use caution.
- Obey all signs.
- Swim and recreate at your own risk.
- Life jackets are recommended.
New Lower Falls Bridge Makes Island Access Easy
Thanks to a new bridge, boardwalks, and flat trail surfaces, the island is easily accessible to everyone.
Hike Around Island
For those who wish to explore beyond the swimming hole, a short hike around the island at the Lower Falls is a must-do.
This manageable hike is primarily on boardwalks or crushed stone.
A well-maintained trail skirts the island, giving you 360-degree views of the falls, river, and surrounding forest.
Several viewing platforms dot the island. Take your time and get a good look at the falls and waters so clear you can see the rock layers underneath.
Or, choose to reach the island via a row boat. (This is how the island was accessed before the bridge was built. Rentals available at concessions.)
Major Improvements Elevate the Lower Falls
Recently, the state embarked on a $4.2 million upgrade at Tahquamenon Falls State Park with the majority of the improvements happening at the Lower Falls.
Pathway construction and bridge projects have made the Lower Falls easily accessible for wheelchair users.
Lower Falls Amenities
As far as amenities go, they’ve also been upgraded in a major way.
Not only is there a huge new restroom building, the concessions and gift shop have been entirely rebuilt and added to the existing picnic pavilion, kayak launch, and campground.
Plus, everything is conveniently situated near the falls – and completely wheelchair accessible – so everyone can be immersed in the natural beauty of the falls.
- Ice Cream
- Paddle Boat Rentals
Upper Tahquamenon Falls Experiences
41382 W M 123, Paradise, MI 49768
The Upper Falls are much larger and really something to see – they’re actually the second biggest waterfall east of the Mississippi!
At 200 feet wide and with a 50-foot drop, there’s no swimming here!
(A ton of water goes over the Upper Tahquamenon falls but they still can’t beat Niagara Falls in size or volume.)
The Upper Falls offer an awe-inspiring viewing experience. This spot also houses a brewery/restaurant and gift shop.
Viewing the Upper Falls
A series of trails, boardwalks, and staircases guide visitors to five viewing points for the best views.
FIVE UPPER FALLS VIEWING AREAS
We recommend starting at the platforms furthest from the falls and working your way closer, saving the best for last. See the map below for details.
1: GORGE VIEW
Don’t let the 181 stairs keep you from this view. The Gorge View wasn’t as hard as I thought 181 steps would be because a large portion of the access is flat boardwalk. Yes, there are a lot of stairs, but the flat sections give you a breather.
This view gives first glimpses of the falls. You’re at the lower level of the falls here, looking straight on at the cascade.
If you have a large zoom on your camera, you can get some great shots from here.
STOP 2, 3 & 4
Once you climb back up to the shady, paved trail, you will be able to catch various views of the falls from the photo areas numbered 2, 3 & 4.
5: BRINK VIEW
The 94 steps to get to this view were worth it, in my opinion.
The Brink View puts you atop the waterfall, so you can watch the water careen over the side and even see the river around the bend. Very cool.
Upper Falls Shops and Amenities
The Upper Falls area houses the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery & Pub, an popular year-round stop for meals and local craft beer.
They also operate a giant gift shop filled unique souvenirs.
A Fact Shack, restrooms and picnic facilities, and sometimes a food truck are available here. This is also where you can catch the shuttle to the Lower Falls.
Tahquamenon Falls Brewery & Pub
Built to emulate a logging camp, this brewery is one of the only places you can get a sit-down meal for miles. Try their locally caught Whitefish or a UP pasty to get a taste of the area.
The Fact Shack is a covered pavilion that doubles as an info center with artifacts and displays and as a launch point for ranger-led activities.
Hiking at Tahquamenon Falls State Park
“Trail Between Da Falls”
It’s a 4-mile trail one-way.
You’ll see awesome river views the whole way. But, just a heads up – there are plenty of tree roots sticking out, hilly terrain, and lots of stairs to climb. Plus it is overgrown in spots and muddy in places.
It can be a bit tough but it’s worth it to do at least once in your life.
If you would like to try it, consider using Jordan’s Hike & Ride Shuttle Service so that you can turn your trek into a one-way hike. (This privately-operated shuttle service even accepts dogs!)
*We recommend parking at the Lower Falls, riding the shuttle to the Upper Falls, and then hiking back to your vehicle at the Lower Falls.
If it’s a warm summer day, reward yourself with a dip in the Lower Falls and ice cream from the new concession shop!
Paddling the Tahquamenon River
You can rent a kayak from the Rivermouth Campground office and use it to explore Marsh Island’s abundant wildlife or venture into the shallow waters of Whitefish Bay and paddle along the Lake Superior shoreline.
Rentals for kayaking or canoeing are also offered by The Woods on M-123 between Newberry and Paradise, with two beginner-friendly trip options available.
If you have your own canoe or kayak, you can paddle the Tahquamenon River between the Lower Falls and the river mouth. Start your adventure from either location to access this 17-mile stretch of water.
Camping at Tahquamenon Falls State Park
There are four main campground loops at Tahquamenon Falls State Park.
Two are located at the Rivermouth, near Paradise, and the other two are at the Lower Falls.
The Lower Falls Campgrounds are ideal for:
- people wanting to be close to the falls
- birdwatching and paddling
- a more rustic experience
Lower Falls Campgrounds: Modern Hemlock and Portage Loops
6999 N. Lower Campground Lane, Paradise, MI 49768
Most people stay overnight at or near the falls because of the park’s remote location. For the full UP experience, consider staying at one of the Lower Falls Campgrounds (there are no campgrounds at the Upper Falls.)
All sites have 30-amp service (some 50-amp sites) and a seasonal sanitation station is available.
A short walk from your tent from the Portage Campground will lead you to the awesome fun of the Lower Falls.
- some sites are sunny
- river views
- access to the North Country Trail
- accessible facilities.
- In winter, it’s open for hike-in camping
The Hemlock campground loop is about a mile from the Lower Falls and is open year-round. (modern winter camping is offered.)
Most campsites are shaded under big pine trees.
Hemlock PERKS: This is the best spot at Lower Falls for cellphone service and the loop connects with park hiking trails.
Rivermouth Campgrounds: Modern & Rustic Pines
The River Mouth area is a peaceful and beautiful spot where the Tahquamenon River meets Lake Superior. It’s about a 20 minute drive (16 miles) from the Rivermouth Campgrounds to the Lower Falls.
You can relax, spot wildlife, go fishing, paddle, play at the beach, and enjoy stunning sunsets.
RUSTIC RIVERMOUTH CAMPGROUND
The 36 rustic campsites (and camper cabin) at Pines Rivermouth Campground (32130 W South River Rd, Paradise, MI 49768) are equipped with vault toilets but they don’t have electricity or showers.
They do have phenomenal riverfront views, though, and rustic campers can use the showers in the nearby modern campground, too.
Address: 32130 W. South River Road, Paradise, MI 49768
Where to Stay – Tahquamenon Falls Lodging
If you’re not into camping you can still stay overnight near the falls.
Birch Lodge in Trout Lake
Our recommendation: stay at Birch Lodge in Trout Lake (21830 S Birch Lodge Dr, Trout Lake, MI 49793) if you can get a room. It is a 50-minute drive from the falls but it worth it, as it’s probably one of the nicest places you can lay your head.
This 1912 hotel has been restored and modernized in the most thoughtful way. Beds are comfortable, ambiance is relaxing and the décor, refreshing. Air conditioning is crisp and the rain shower heads add a welcome touch.
Bonus: Guests get free use of the row boats and sea kayaks as well as a muffin breakfast.
Vacation Rentals & Nearby Hotels Map
History of Tahquamenon Falls
Tahquamenon Falls is a place steeped in history. Considering its place in time and culture add to the experience. Here are a few bits of relevant history:
Eventually, the old-growth forest became a bustling center for fur trading and later, a hub for lumberjacks and logging.
Finally, the State of Michigan worked to take over as caretaker of the land, eventually turning it into a State Park.
Tahquamenon Falls State Park Timeline
First: Native Americans lived here
Early 1600s: French explorers come to the area and meet Natives
1634-1763: Fur trading era
1805: Michigan becomes a territory with Detroit as its capitol
1837: Michigan becomes a state.
1840: The State’s first geologist, Douglass Houghton, paddled a canoe up the Tahquamenon River to the Upper Falls and noted signs of native life along the river. Survey work of the area followed, laying the foundation for the 50 years of logging that followed.
app. 1860-1910: Logging becomes a huge industry in Michigan. Forests are clearcut and the industry dies.
1885: Longfellow publishes “The Song of Hiawatha”
1929: Six men snowshoed 50 miles, sometimes on the icy river, to capture the first-ever winter images of both falls. Once published, these photos ignited public interest, ultimately resulting in area land acquisition by the state.
1947: Tahquamenon Falls becomes a Michigan State Park
Making of Tahquamenon Falls
This constant erosion created the almost 50-foot high ledge at the Upper Falls that the water cascades over today.
First People of the Land
Not much has been written about the Native Americans who lived around the Tahquamenon Falls area, but we know they were here. In fact, this area was home to the Ojibwe and other indigenous people for thousands of years prior to Europeans arriving.
Note: The Ojibwe call themselves “Anishinaabeg,” which means the “True People” or the “Original People.” Other Indians and Europeans called them “Ojibwe.” While “Chippewa” is a widely used term, it is the name the US government uses in its documents and is not the preferred term.
Before their world was upended, the indigenous people established a sophisticated way of life that flowed with the seasons, allowing them to thrive even with the UP’s harsh winters.
Food preservation and travel for trade and social gatherings were common practices. Strong family bonds and community connections shaped their lives, along with deeply held spiritual beliefs. Places like the falls, often mentioned in stories and customs, held great spiritual significance.
Most Native American settlements in Michigan grew up along waterways (easy transportation and a steady supply of fish) during the warmer months, with families moving inland to more sheltered hunting camps for the winter.
Every few generations, native groups would relocate to areas with fresh resources. Despite challenging terrain and soil, they grew several crops and foraged for apples, berries, nuts, and wild rice.
Maple trees were tapped for sugar production, and birch bark was used in creating wigwams, baskets, and the canoes that were important for hunting, fishing and trade.
Hardship happened, too. Relationships between tribes could be contentious, so it’s not surprising that these tribes had their share of conflict.
War with other tribes, including deadly raids and ambushes were normal occurrences.
This pattern was normal until the arrival of white people in the 1600s.
Note: Some of the Ojibwe lifestyle is depicted in “The Story of Sault Ste. Marie and Chippewa County” by Stanley Newton (printed in Sault Ste. Marie in 1923.)
Ripple Effects of Longfellow’s Poem
Understanding the backstory of Tahquamenon Falls can deepen a visitor’s experience.
Are dining facilities available at the park?
Yes, the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery & Pub located near the Upper Falls offers a variety of meals and locally crafted beer. Additionally, a concession stand is available near the Lower Falls, providing food and drink options.
Is there a shuttle between the Lower Falls and the Upper Falls?
Yes! Jordan’s Hike & Ride Shuttle Service runs between the upper and lower falls so that hikers can do a one-way hike. (This privately-operated shuttle service even accepts dogs!)
Pick-up locations are at the Lower Falls parking lot and Upper Falls parking lot. (Look for the large green flag – No reservation required.
The shuttle runs continuously from 12-8 PM every day from June 19 – Sept 4, 2023.
Spring and Fall shuttles run on Saturdays and Sundays from May 27 – June 18 and Sept16 – Oct. 8 in 2023.
Are pets allowed at Tahquamenon Falls?
Yes, it is a pet friendly park. There are rules for pet-owners to follow, however.
– Take your dog with you, or get a ticket: People who leave pets in their car unattended will be ticketed.
– Keep your dog on a short leash
– Bring a bowl for water
– If you are bringing your pet, bring a bag and clean up after your pet
Can you visit Tahquamenon Falls in the winter?
Yes, you can visit Tahquamenon Falls in the winter! The falls take on a magical aura in the winter season, with the frozen landscapes, snow-covered trees, and icy cascades making up the winter wonderland.
Activities, like snowshoe hikes, are scheduled and snowmobiling is popular. Winter camping is available, too.
Will you visit this outdoor paradise?
With its rich history, old-growth forests, hidden swimming holes, scenic hiking trails, and captivating waterfall views, Tahquamenon Falls State Park has stolen our hearts.
This dreamlike sanctuary certainly stays with you long after you have left the park.
We can’t wait to talk about one of our favorite destinations with you – Drop your tips and questions below!