On holiday in the Midwest – hiking in UP

Upper Peninsula, Michigan, is known for being ridiculously beautiful and with lots of gorgeous outdoorsy activities – so of course, when visiting James in South Bend, we were really keen to get up there and do some exploring. We were slightly limited in our options by time and distance – we only had a few days, Michigan is a huge state, and we were driving from South Bend which is south of Michigan, in Indiana.

So after some googling, we hit upon visiting the Tahquamenon Falls. As we drove closer,  the countryside around us got more and more isolated, long, straight roads with nothing but trees either side and barely another car in sight. There were some stunning views – cresting a hill to see that same straight road carrying on in front of us and the forest stretching on for miles, rounding a bend to see the waters of Lake Superior glistening in the sun. 

It was so beautiful that at times we stopped the car just to lean out and take photos.


We drove up to the Upper Falls first, primarily because we had heard they were most dramatic but also because there was a brewery by the falls that was meant to do really good food. Sadly we didn’t get to experience that as we were a week before the start of the season and so everything was closed up… The whole place was empty as we walked towards the falls.

We heard them before we saw them – a huge torrent of copper-coloured water cascading towards us. 


The falls are yellow because of the tanins produced by the trees along its back. The Upper Falls have a drop of 50ft with a maximum flow of 50,000 gallons of water per second – which is loads! 


There is a path leading from the Upper Falls to the Lower Falls, about four-ish miles long. In the summer, there is a shuttle bus between them so you don’t have to go back on yourself, but not pre-season – although the park is open all year round there is nothing there but the falls outside of the summer. We wanted to walk it, or at least to see how far we could get along the path, but our rumbling stomachs reminded us that we hadn’t yet eaten and so we drove back to the wonderfully named Paradise to find somewhere for lunch.

We were starting to get nervous given there was nobody around and Paradise was not a town as such, just a gas station and a few buildings along the side of the road. I was concerned that everywhere would be closed, and there were no other towns – actual towns – anywhere near. I got excited to see an “Open” sign in the window of one building until James pointed out it was a neon sign and the light was off. Just when we were about to give up and eat boiled sweets for lunch we noticed a small cafe – and it was open! 

After polishing off a tasty bowl of chilli we drove back, this time towards Lower Falls. These were less high and were wider, a set of smaller waterfalls and rapids as the river approached a bend. 


We checked the time and set off along the path with the idea being that we would walk for an hour and a half towards the Upper Falls and then turn back. The first part of the trail was very well-marked, we were walking along a wooden walkway where the only difficulty was avoiding the big chunk of snow all through the middle.


When this ended we climbed up among the trees and then back down to the river, and the rest of the trail wound always within a few metres of the river.


Indeed, as we were pre-season the water levels were still really high and in certain parts the water was actually over the trail, so we picked our way inshore and climbed over fallen trees. 


There was nobody else on the trail, nobody else for miles and miles and miles – glorious isolation. When we came to our turnaround time we stopped at a bench that was set out over the river, taking some time to sit and enjoy the silence and the beauty of the woods.


I don’t think we could have gone much farther – the path was flooded increasingly often and we kept having to go inland and even then it was hard to make our way through so it was the perfect time to turn around. I’d love to go back a bit later in the season when I could walk the entire path, or in the summer when we could stay in a hotel on the lake and swim and paddleboard and hike all the different trails in the area. It was brilliant.

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