Tahquamenon Upper Falls, Paradise, MI: A Majestic & Awesome Waterfall

Tahquamenon Upper Falls, Paradise, MI: A Majestic & Awesome Waterfall
Leah
Leah 
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Here and there, through breaks in the trees, you can catch a glimpse of the rushing water. The falls are audible as you approach the precipice before they come into view. Over 50,000 amber-streaked gallons of water plummet over the edge every second, crashing almost 50 feet below. The roar of the water isn’t excessive, but it permeates your chest cavity the way a bass beat does at a concert. The spray from the towering waterfall rises up in a mist above the churning foam, gently spritzing tourists on the viewing platform. The Upper Falls at Tahquamenon Falls State Park are one of the great, grand showpieces of Mother Nature, and folks come from all over the world to stand and watch the painted water drop with such force.

A grand welcome

The concession complex, “Camp 33,” at Tahquamenon’s Upper Falls.

The sign for Tahquamenon Falls State Park is clearly visible from highway M-123. The park has two separate entrances, and the Upper Falls is the second one, about an 8 minute drive from Paradise, MI. The large, modern parking lot is flanked by green, shady spaces to sit and picnic. Grills are available, and many of the picnic tables are chair accessible.

It’s impossible not to notice the large concession and gift shop area. The building is modeled after the logging camp that once stood in the area. A variety of snacks, beverages, and ice cream are available. The gift shop is two-stories tall, and has a wonderful variety of all things Upper Michigan and Tahquamenon Falls. Don’t miss the rock candy!

Also on the premises is the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery and Pub, which boasts gourmet food and micro-brewed beers, all while echoing the local natural world. The menu focuses on Michigan treasures such as wild mushrooms, whitefish, and beverage names like “Porcupine Pale Ale.”

Access to the park requires only a yearly Michigan Recreation Pass, available at the gate for 31 USD, or you can purchase a day pass for 9 USD.

Two paths to the falls

A peek through the trees at the Upper Falls.

At the trailhead leading to the falls, a series of educational exhibits flank the path. A large showcase stands along the main paved trail, displaying a stuffed wolf and coyote. Another case holds a stuffed mountain lion. Here and throughout the park, signs are posted with interesting information about the wildlife and the landscape.

Much of the park is wheelchair accessible, and the 0.4 mile (~ 0.64 kilometer) paved trail through dense woodland offers visitors of all abilities access to some of the Upper Falls overlooks. A second way to meander to the falls is to take the nearby nature trail, which is slightly longer and much quieter than the paved path, and sometimes a little muddy after a heavy rain.

Both trails take visitors to the paved walkway that runs along the top of the gorge. Turning left to the east will take you to the stairs that descend to the gorge floor. Turning right to the west will take you to toward the brink of the falls. Good viewing areas are all along the rim path between the gorge and the brink, and some of them are complete with benches for sitting and looking out over the Tahquamenon River.

Climb down into the gorge

The gorge stairway leads to a view worth the climb back up.

Climbing the seemingly endless stairs down into the gorge floor creates a real sense of just how far the water has to drop before continuing on. Along the way, tree roots snake along the moss-covered cliff surfaces. Once at the bottom, a boardwalk leads along the river’s edge to a couple of viewing platforms of the falls and the sandstone cliffs.

Be advised, there’s no other way back up. Every step down will, eventually, require a step up. I recommend taking advantage of the views at each and every platform on the return climb. Your thighs and glutes will appreciate it.

Follow the gorge-bottom trail between the cliff and the shore

The old footpath is visible from the boardwalk, now moss covers the rock face.

There’s a special energy when you get close to a cave or large rock structure, and the path along the gorge bottom at the Upper Falls lets you walk along the base of the cliff overhang and get your deep earth-connection vibes on. The old dirt footpath used to let folks right up against the sandstone, but erosion and safety issues necessitated the construction of the wooden boardwalk, which makes the walk easier, if less intimate, geologically.

View the falls and geology from the gorge bottom

A moderate volume of water during a dry summer is still an impressive spectacle.

The gorge-bottom trail terminates in a viewing platform of the Upper Falls. The views are spectacular in every direction, but of course, the focal point is the huge waterfall. Also worth noting is the way a large portion of the sandstone is visible, and augments the majesty of the falling water.

This stone escarpment is comprised of Miner’s Castle sandstone, named for the rock structure at nearby Pictured Rocks Lakeshore, of the same stone layer. Above the Miner’s Castle sandstone is a layer of Au Train dolomite, which is largely obscured by vegetation. Just four miles downriver, at the Lower Falls, the exposed stone banks are made up of Chapel Rock sandstone (also a structure at Pictured Rocks). This wealth of topographical variety makes Tahquamenon Falls State Park a great place for geology enthusiasts.

Get right up to the brink!

The summer sun glints off the dancing water at Tahquamenon Upper Falls.

Here, visitors can stand nearly on top of the falls. The overlook deck is so close that the rising mist sometimes sprinkles the platform. There are stairs required to get right out to the water’s edge, but not nearly so many as the gorge trail.

The Upper Falls are particularly beautiful. Smaller than Niagara, they still compete for one of the world’s most impressive waterfalls. Their color varies, and are usually streaked with dark amber threads due to the tannins in the tree roots upriver that dye the water. Sometimes in the winter, parts of the river and falls freeze, creating beautiful natural ice sculptures.

The south bank of the falls lies in pristine wilderness preserve, and is therefore not really accessible. But this means that the view of the forest on the far bank is utterly wild.

If you MUST get your feet wet . . . .

A break in the trees reveals an inviting bank.

Where the boardwalk ends, dirt paths begin. The park has many miles of trails, but it doesn’t take very long to get off the beaten path and away from the crowds. Once out of the way, there are plenty of places to get off the trail and play on the stone bank of the river. Step in, the water is lovely. Be sure to save at least half a day to explore this natural waterpark.

Don’t miss these grand falls

While you’re in Upper Michigan, don’t miss your chance to see the stately, world-famous Tahquamenon Upper Falls. Standing by the powerfully-rushing water is an experience that will always stay with you.

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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I love exploration. I was on my first camping trip mere weeks after my birth, and I’ve sought out new experiences ever since. I wrote my first travel narrative at twelve years old, about a family...Read more

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