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  • Writer's pictureSam Hageman

Exploring Michigan: Waterfall Chasing in Ironwood (Siblings Week 2021)

As is our yearly tradition, my brothers, Garrett, the dogs, & myself embarked on another Siblings adventure. As Garrett & I had already gotten married in the Porcupine Mountains this summer & then Road Tripped the West, we wanted to do something where we did not have to travel too much. After talking things over with my brothers we settled on Ironwood, Michigan as our main hub & decided to chase some waterfalls.

Ironwood is the most western city in Michigan, right on the border of Wisconsin. Its a fun town full of good food & a cute little downtown, as well as home to Stormy Kromer. One of the best things about Ironwood is its proximity to the Ottawa National Forest, Lake Superior, & tons of waterfalls.

Garrett, David, the dogs, & I drove to our Mom/Ashton's home in Mid-Michigan to spend a night there before we headed on our siblings week. After a night hanging out we drove the 7 hours to the most western point in the U.P., only stopping in Munising & Marquette for food. We arrived at our campsite at the Black River Harbor National Forest Campground about 30 minutes from Ironwood shortly after sunset. We set up our tent & my brother set up their hammocks, then we hit the hay.

It was supposed to be a rainy weekend & a ton of humidity, so the next morning we set up a tarp as an awning just as a precaution. Once that was done & everyone was ready we got out my Waterfalls of Michigan Book by Greg Kretovic to plan out what waterfalls we wanted to do. We all settled on traveling that day to the waterfalls that ran along the Michigan/Wisconsin border or were on our way out. So we packed up to hike.

Our first stop was Gabbro Falls, which is located near the Blackjack Ski Resort. You can view the falls from both sides, but the best access point is after the parking lot for Blackjack Ski Resort on the left there is a road that goes up. Travel down it for about a quarter of a mile & you will see some yellow gates on the right, park on the side of the road & then you can walk right across the road to the falls. The falls are not far from the road.

We quickly arrived to the top of the waterfalls & were on the edge of the cliff. There are some cliff rocks to go down, but they were too dangerous for the dogs & the top had the best view. However, you can walk the hiking path behind the waterfall to the river bed. We ended up spending a little while exploring the river bed at the top of the falls & jumping around on the rocks in the river.

Once we finished up there we headed Ironwood & grabbed some subs then headed to Interstate Falls. Interstate Falls borders the Michigan/Wisconsin border, however you can only access the falls on the Wisconsin side because the Michigan side is private property. So we drove around to the trail head on the Wisconsin side, ate our subs at the picnic bench at the trailhead, & then hiked the 0.4 mile trail. We ended up going on a trail to the right to follow the riverbed & spent sometime hanging out in the riverbed, catching crawfish, & jumping to the Michigan side & back. Once we had our fill we continued down the original trail to Interstate Falls. The falls can be seen at the top, but it is much better to take the stair case down.

However, there is a very slick black rock that descend the last quarter of the way, so be careful when it is wet as it may be difficult to get back up. We were able to skip rocks, hangout ion the rocky shore, & my brothers crawled around until they were able to sit on a log next to the falls.

We then headed into Wisconsin a little to Saxon Falls, another waterfall that borders Michigan/Wisconsin. We tried to follow the instructions in the book, but could not find the trail it talked about. However, now I know it was because we stopped at the first parking lot. What you should do is instead of going straight when Saxon Rd splits, go right & then continue until you hit the dam. Once at the dam parking area, follow the trail to the bridge & cross over back into Michigan where you can continue on the trail to the viewing points. We did not do this...

Instead we hit the first parking lot & saw it was a private electric company that owned the bridge across the river, so we continues to the right of the parking lot to the view point. Once there we saw a trail to the right that went up, so we followed it to the top of the hill & then saw a steep path down to the falls. So we took the steep path down, however please note unless you have experience with steep/muddy mountain/hills I DO NOT RECOMMEND it. Also, DO NOT do this if you have any physical ailments like knee injuries or back issues. I have knee issues & asthma, although I was able to do it, it still pushed my limits. Please try to follow the path I listed above & do not make our mistake.

When we got to the falls we rested, got some water, & took in the beauty. It was a beautiful waterfall with a very steep drop off the edge. We all sat at the edge of the waterfalls cliff & took in the beauty. My brothers hopped along the rocks to see if they could cross to the Michigan side, but sadly where we were the water was too deep & fast. It was a stunning view & definitely worth the accident, however the hike back up was BRUTAL & took us a little while.

The last waterfall we hit for the day was Superior Falls, another waterfall bordering the Michigan/Wisconsin border that must be access from driving in Wisconsin.

We arrived at the parking lot & descended down a steep hill (man-made that was laid with rock & some pavement). The waterfall is not noticeable when you get down the hill, but you will see the shores of Lake Superior & big cliffs to the right & a large lake to the left along with a path. To get to Superior Falls turn left from the steep hill away from Lake Superior, then walk the path. You will see a building for an electric company, continue around the building & follow the river to the sounds of a waterfall. It was a great view & we spent a great bit of time here. My brothers decided to go fishing, so they grabbed their gear & fished while Garrett, the dogs, & I hung out taking photos. My brothers had no luck because they forgot their bait, only using crickets they caught as bait. Once we all were hungry, we packed up & headed out. Note there is a viewpoint from the top, but it is not worth it compared to the view at the bottom.

Exhausted, we got back to camp & hung out for a while. We wished there were showers at the time due to the humidity, but thankfully the sun was hidden behind clouds. We cooked our dinner & headed to bed.

The next morning, everyone but the dogs & I slept in. I ended up taking care of the boys & setting up my hammock & reading until everyone woke up. Once everyone was up & we ate, we all realized we wanted to shower. As there were no showers available we knew the best alternative was to go swim in Lake Superior. So we packed up our swim gear, fishing stuff, & beach stuff & headed to Black River Harbor right by our campground.

We all went directly to the beach & swan while the dogs laid in the shade hooked up to a large piece of driftwood. Lake Superior is magically & definitely some of the cleanest/coldest water I have ever swam in. We all felt so clean & had a beautiful time relaxing in the water. When my brothers were done they went fishing, while I spent time rock hunting in the water.

Dexter splashed around in the water a bit & Alfred was a beach bum. Once we all finished we headed to the Black River where my brothers tried to fish & Garrett & I crossed to check out the marina (which is a little decrepit & falling apart). Once we wrapped up we headed back to camp for lunch & then headed to Ironwood for some mid-day ice cream.

Although we were tired from the day before after ice cream, we still wanted to check out the waterfalls near camp. The Black River Scenic Byway includes five different waterfalls in the Ottawa National Forest that run along the North Country Trail.

We did not have the energy to hike the entire trail system, so we decided to hike Gorge Falls to Potawatomi Falls to Great Conglomerate Falls. Both the Gorge Falls & Potawatomi Falls have the same parking area. We went to start with Gorge Falls, but the stairs had rotted & were closed, so we barely caught a glimpse of them.

We then hiked he North Country Trail to Potawatomi Falls, which we viewed from the top as there was no way down. We then hiked the 1.5 miles to the Great Conglomerate Falls. It was a very humid hike, lots of stairs & inclines, but ran up above the river.

Once we arrived at the Great Conglomerate we relaxed at the viewing platform for a little while & the dogs got pet by some kids. We all wanted to get closure to the falls/play in the riverbed due to the heat, so we decided to hike along the North Country trail a little longer. We were lucky to find a nice spot that went down to the riverbed where to got to see the falls from the top, jump around the river, & have fun climbing rocks.

It was a great time, especially since the day before had exhausted us & we were pretty tired by the end. We all decided to save the other two waterfalls for the next morning & decided to try to hike to the Great Conglomerate parking lot then the road...that was a mistake. The Great Conglomerate trail SUCKS. It is full of very wide tall steps & sucks to go back up. I highly recommend if you do this loop to go back through the North Country Trail as it may be faster & not suck as much. Once we arrived back to the car we were all crabby, so we headed back to camp to make dinner.

David made a fire for the night, then we all hung out, played "10 Essential" Card Game, & made Hobo Pizza's for dinner. We had a great night talking, hanging out, & having a killer campfire. Around 12PM we decided to go check out the stars at the viewing point at camp. Sadly the viewpoint was not great, so instead we hopped in the car & headed back to the Black River Harbor beach. My brothers, Garrett, & the dog all laid down in the sand while I took photos of the night sky. Although it was super cool, the green harbor light ended up lighting the entire area every 10 seconds. Either way it was a great night of star gazing & once we had enough, we headed back to camp & hit the hay.

The next morning we packed up camp & headed to Rainbow Falls (right across from our campground). Although we did not get the greatest view (for that you should hike the trail at the Black River Harbor), we still got to see the falls after going down lots of stairs. We all then reluctantly went back up all of the stairs to the parking lot to hit the final waterfall on our way out, Sandstone Falls.

Sandstone Falls was the smallest waterfall, but one of the best views & coolest hiking. We took lots of stairs down to the falls, but once we arrived we were able to climb around the rocks, feel the mist off of the falls, David got to hint for Crawfish, & we got to hang out a little before we headed back up. Although it was another brutal set of stairs after the past few days of hiking, it was all worth it.

That was the last hike of the trip, so we packed up, got food in Ironwood, then headed back home. We ended up stopping in St. Ignace for Clyde's Drive-In Food & ate at Father Marquette Memorial Park, but otherwise it was a long night of driving.

Ashton stayed with me for a few days after our trip & we had a game night with David another night for the rest of Siblings Week. It was definitely another Siblings Week for the books & we are so glad we spent the time chasing waterfalls in Ironwood.


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