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  • Writer's pictureSam Hageman

Michigan State Parks: Porcupine Mountains Wilderness

Updated: Jul 31, 2021

BACKGROUND

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is located in the western part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula & is Michigan’s largest state park (spanning roughly 60,000 acres).

The “Porkies” are a mountain range in the western UP that run along Lake Superior. The highest elevation point in the Porkies is 1,958 feet (Summit Peak). There are 90 miles worth of trails throughout the Porkies, including parts of the North Country Trail. The Porkies also feature 35,000 acres of old growth forests, waterfalls, rivers, streams, 21 miles of Lake Superior shoreline, Porcupine Mountains Ski Area, & an 18-hole disc golf course. The park is also populated with tons of wildlife, including black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars, bobcats, lynx, moose, and more.

There are two front country campgrounds, Union Bay & Presque Isle (45 minutes apart driving). Union Bay sits on Lake Superior & is right down the road from Lake of the Clouds (the most popular scenic overlook). Union Bay is considered a modern campground with modern bathrooms, electric & water hook ups.

Presque Isle Campground is right where the Presque Isle River meets Lake Superior. The campground is more rustic with no electric & water hook ups, as well as vault toilets. Presque Isle consists of a lot of stairs to walk along the river to see 5 waterfalls, as well as a suspension bridge which takes you over the river to an island. There are some cabins & 63 designated backcountry camping sites within the Porkies as well (which you MUST book from May to October, as no dispersed camping is allowed during peak season).

The Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is our favorite Michigan State Park, so much so we plan to be married there this June. If you need more information about the park or wish to check conditions of the seasonal roads, click here for more information.

PROS & CONS OF THE PORKIES:

The Porkies are absolutely beautiful. One of the benefits is even if you are not an avid hiker there are three locations that are very accessible to everyone.

First, Lake of the Cloud is a paved path that it up hill for about a quarter of a mile. Lake of the Clouds is the only wheelchair accessible location in the park & is an easy view point to see the beauty of the Porkies. Lake of the Clouds is also a starting point for many backcountry sites & trails. One of the downsides of this scenic overlook is that it can get very busy, especially during the summer & fall.


Second, Union Mine Interpretive Trail is a one mile trail that is flat. The trail features history of the mine & miner's in the region & runs along part of the union river. Although it is very accessible, it is a very boring trail & does not offer much. However, it usually is not very crowded.


Third, Presque Isle is accessible to anyone who is willing to do some stairs. The stairway allows you to walk along the Presque Isle River to see five different waterfalls. You can then walk across the suspension bridge to the little island to walk over to the Lake Superior shoreline & see the waterfalls from a different perspective. Just like Lake of the Clouds, due to its accessibility, this area can also get very busy during the peak season.

Outside of those three locations it varies on accessibility for those who do not have hiking experience & many trails may be too difficult for those who have not hiked moderate trails. Also, with 90 miles of trails the terrain in the Porkies varies drastically, from flat to steep elevation climbs. One of the cons of the Porkies is that unlike most mountains there are no switchbacks up the Porkies, which can make for some steep uphill trails (& slippery when it’s damp). An example would be part of the North Mirror Lake Trail that has a steep incline that is covered in pine needles & very slippery in the rain causing you to just slide down on occasion if you don't hike right next to the trees. The terrain in the Porkies ranges from dirt/mud, to rocky, to covered in moss/pine needles, & sandy, so trail conditions can be very important depending on where you are hiking. Most of the trails are well maintained & well marked, however when you’re in the backcountry some can be pretty overgrown.

Another benefit is there is a ton of access to water in the Porkies, so long as you have the right equipment to obtain it (lifestraws or other water purification systems). Most of the trails run along rivers, waterfalls, or Lake Superior (except the Escarpment Trail, Cross Trail, & parts of the Government Peak Trail). This does make backcountry camping easier as you may not need to carry as much water during certain hikes if you bring water purification systems.

Also when it comes to wildlife in the Porkies, the most common sighting are black bears. Black bears do not usually disturb you, but it does mean you should be prepared with bear spray, bear bags, & bear bells in the backcountry or for long day hikes outside of heavily trafficked areas. I have personally seen a bear & heard a few bears while my brothers & I went backpacking a few summers ago. However, we have not encountered any during peak season day hikes.

Please note you need to do your research before traveling in the Porkies, whether for a day hike or backcountry hike. You should look into the trails you plan to hike, the conditions, as well as know your limits. In 2020 there were 30 rescues in the park between June 22, 2020 & September 7, 2020, a massive increase from the 6 rescues in 2019. I encourage people to enjoy the outdoors, but please prepare yourself if it is your first time doing anything. Make sure to be prepared by having a trail map, water/purifier, broken-in hiking shoes, compass, bear spray, & anything else you may need for the trip you plan. Always be prepared & contact the DNR Rangers if you have any questions or to get updates on trail conditions before you travel unknown terrain.

1 Comment


rhageman
Feb 22, 2021

I remember skidding down North Mirror Trail and landing on a bed of pine needles. Chap (remember Chap?) followed me down and stood over me while I looked up through the line branches. Actually, it was quite pleasant!

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