Best Things to Do in the Porcupine Mountains
The Porcupine Mountains, affectionately known as the Porkies, are home to the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Michigan’s largest state park. The park spans 60,000 acres, with the largest expanse of pristine hardwoods in North America. Located at the western end of Michigan’s upper peninsula in Ontonagon County, the Porcupine Mountains take their name from early explorers who thought the contours of trees along ridges resembled porcupine quills.
Mid-May to mid-October is the perfect time to visit this region. However, be aware that many sites in the region are seasonal and are not open outside of these months. Seasonal park roads close in early December and remain closed until late spring, but are open for snowmobiling and cross-country skiing during the winter.
Vehicle access to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park requires a Michigan State Park Recreation Passport, which you can purchase as an annual or day pass at the door or online. If you are cycling or hiking, a leisure passport is not required for entry.
Although most of Michigan, including the Porcupine Mountains, is in the Eastern time zone, be aware that some areas in the western part of Michigan’s upper peninsula, such as Gogebic County and the neighboring state of Wisconsin, are in the central time zone.
Things to do in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
The Porcupine Mountains Wilderness National Park presents a myriad of outdoor activities throughout the year. With over 90 miles of hiking trails, hiking is one of the park’s most popular activities. Admiring the spectacular waterfalls gives a purpose to these hikes. You will also enjoy a panoramic view of the outlook throughout the park. A few favorites are Lake of the Clouds and Summit Peak.
Orient yourself to the Porcupine Mountains at the visitor center
Located three miles west of Silver City on the M-107, the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park Visitor Center is ideal for orienting yourself to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. Open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., from mid-May to mid-October, the center features wildlife exhibits throughout the park. Plus, you can sign up for interpretive hikes and other programs, buy hunting and fishing licenses, check trail conditions, and get directions. At the visitor’s center, you can hike a mile over streams and through forest.
Pro tip: This is where you collect your backcountry camping permits.
Admire the view of Lake of the Clouds
To reach the observation area at the top of the lake of clouds lookout, from the parking lot, it has a ramp and a wooden walkway accessible by the ADA. The viewing area is about 300 feet from the parking lot, and for those who need frequent breaks, you’ll find benches at regular intervals along the walkway, about every 15 feet. The whole trail is a 1.4 mile round trip hike, but if you just want to get to the viewing area it’s an easy 300ft. If you want to take Rover, he has to be on a leash.
Once you’ve taken in the stunning lake views from the lookout, you’ll probably want to get closer to the lake. Lake of the Clouds, known for bass fishing, is a release-only lake. While they don’t offer boat rentals, you can haul light boats via a three-quarter mile hike. Wading birds and shore fishing are welcome, but you can only use artificial lures.
Pro tip: Make sure you wear sturdy hiking boots and put bug spray. I recommend you to visit Lake of Clouds from the end of September to the first week of October to see the brilliant show of fall foliage.
Attend the Porcupine Mountain Music Festival
The Porcupine Mountain Music Festival is the first music festival to be held in a state park in Michigan. After the pandemic, he plans to hold the event the weekend before Labor Day, where you can enjoy a variety of live music including rock, country, bluegrass, Americana, folk and blues. They also offer workshops, children’s activities and jam sessions.
Pro tip: Consult the calendar of artists for the current year.
The park has over 70 waterfalls to explore. While some are easy to access, others are off the beaten track. Agate Falls, Bond Falls, and O-Kun-de-Kun Falls are three favorites.
Located on the central arm of the Ontonagon River, Agate Falls are a series of falls with a total height of 40 feet. One of Michigan’s most scenic waterfalls, water tumbles over an exaggerated ledge of terraced sandstone. To access the viewing platform, visitors can take an accessible walking path.
There is a roadside park, parking lot, picnic area, and pit toilets next to the falls.
With a drop of about 50 feet, Bond Falls is a natural waterfall enhanced by a dam. The falls are in the central arm of the Ontonagon River, where a wide rim of rugged rock splits into several smaller waterfalls. You’ll find trails leading to a picnic area from the top of the falls, and another walkway crosses the river below for great views. The paved walkways are easy to access.
One of the few plunging waterfalls on the Upper Peninsula, O-Kun-de-Kun Falls, is approximately 15 feet high and 30 feet wide, falling over a sandstone ledge. Seeing this waterfall requires a significant 1.3 mile hike in the area where you will find the falls. From Bruce Crossing, head north on Hwy 45 for approximately 8 miles, then follow the signs from the parking lot. Before you get to the central falls, you will come across a smaller set of upper falls.
Pro tip: Dress in layers when hiking in Michigan’s Porcupine Mountains. Mornings and evenings can be chilly, even in summer.
Hike to the top of the summit
Summit Peak, the highest point in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, is approximately 2,000 feet high. On a clear day at the top, the 50-foot observation tower offers panoramic views of Isle Royale and Lake Superior.
To reach the top, take a winding road and park. From there, you’ll have to walk about a mile and a half to the Observation Tower, where you’ll climb over 50 steps to reach the top of the tower. The hike is a relatively easy round trip hike, with benches along the way.
Pro tip: The observation tower is not accessible to the ADA.
Explore the Presque Isle River Corridor
Located on the west side of the park, the Presque Isle River is the largest in Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park. You will find two trails along the river, the 1.2 mile East River Trail and the 1.1 West River Trail. The West River Trail, considered the most leisurely hike, has overhanging platforms and is part of the walk. Trails are accessible from several points and connect to the North Country Trail. Most prefer to start the hike at the daytime picnic area.
The river has three waterfalls – Nawadaha Falls, Manido. and Manabezho Falls. Be aware that you cannot wade or swim in the Presque Isle River. Nawadaha Falls are about a quarter of a mile further south than Manido and Manabezho Falls.
Pro tip: The Presque Isle River trail accepts dogs, however, you must keep dogs on a leash.
Hike the Porcupine Mountain Escarpment Trail
The Escarpment Trail is one of the most scenic trails in the Midwest. Here you will have the opportunity to see the lake from several different angles. This 13 km round trip hike is moderate to difficult. The simplest route starts at the Lake of the Clouds viewpoint, but there are several starting points.
Pro tip: You won’t find water at the Lake of Clouds viewpoint so make sure you have water before you start your hike.
Camping in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
Camping is popular in the park. You can book up to 6 months in advance. In addition to camping, it offers a variety of rustic cabins and yurts in the park.
Camping in the backcountry
The park has 63 backcountry campsites and each includes a metal fire ring. The pitches do not have water or toilets.
Pro tip: You’ll need reservations, and once you reach the park you’ll need to get a backcountry camping permit at the visitor center.
Presque Isle Porcupine Mountains Campground
Presque Isle Campground offers 50 rustic sites with water via hand pumps and vaulted toilets near the river. Don’t forget to pack your bags.
Pro tip: Ontonagon is the closest town to the park, where you’ll find gas, accommodation, and food.
Union Bay Campground
The Union Bay Campground at Porcupine Mountain Wilderness National Park is the only campground in the park that offers modern amenities, such as water, flush toilets, hot showers and electricity.
Pro tip: Some campsites are larger than others. Some are right on Lake Superior. Consult a map of the campsite to determine the best spot for you and book up to six months in advance to get the desired location.
While in the area, visit some of these other outdoor destinations in western Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.