michigan waterfall

Hiking Porcupine Mountains, Michigan

A river runs through it
A river runs through it

Hiking in the Porcupine Mountains through a virgin hardwood forest made my soul sing. To see a map of our hike on Presque Isle River Trailhead, go to the bottom of this post.

After a gorgeous hike on the sea cliff in Wisconsin on our 50 Hikes 50 States Hiking Project, I couldn’t wait to get to the Porcupine Mountains in Michigan.


Once a Collector?

virgin woods
The trail along the river was cool and inviting

Well, the story starts back in 1998 when I lived in Pensacola, FL. My boyfriend at the time, an amateur historian who eventually discovered the original Tristan de Luna encampment and went on to get national recognition, and I had a friend. This friend, a modern-day TT Wentworth, collected anything having to do with Pensacola. From post cards to obscure pins and souvenirs, he could never say no to adding something new to his collection.

Since I had the travel bug then, too, my boyfriend and I would scour the antique shops and bookstores we came across in our road trips to find things that our friend would want to collect. We’d buy them, and he would reimburse us for them. We weren’t in it to make money, rather, we wanted to fuel his desire and to return Pensacola paraphernalia to Pensacola.

Are there porcupines in the Porcupine Mountains?

After a road trip, we’d go to the friend’s house and present our goods. A trinket, a hand-signed love letter, a set of salt and pepper shakers. Watching his eyes light up with a new find fascinated me, and invariably the conversation led to a backstory or a research project to find provenance for the items. Enter our friends’ mother.

She was easily in her 70s if not 80s, and was a true delight. She’d join our conversation, and always enjoyed our visits. She’d toddle over from her house next door, and we’d sit for hours digesting the paraphernalia and the stories that accompanied it.

A Collection Doesn’t Start

Then one day, she turned to me and said, “Chris, what do you collect.”

michigan waterfalls
Several waterfalls awaited us in the Porcupine Mountains

I had no response. I didn’t collect anything, nor did I want to. I’m not a fan of clutter, I like to live lightly, and I don’t have much use for collections, although I do enjoy other people’s collections.

Knowing that I couldn’t answer, “Nothing,” I quickly scanned my memory of all the things we often see while looking for items for our friend. What *hadn’t* I seen that I could say that I collected so that I wouldn’t have to find anything to add to a collection I didn’t want to have?

“Porcupines,” I wisely answered.

She asked how many I had. I told her none; I had never found any to collect. Although I had seen several variations of hedgehogs, I had never seen a porcupine figurine, stuffed animal, nor salt and pepper shaker.

Whew, I thought, I was off the hook.

Wise move, I thought.

michigan waterfall
Is that slate on the river bottom?

Don’t get me wrong. I love porcupines. I love their persona, and I feel like we are kindred spirits. I like that they roam along happily until you make them mad, and then they spike you with fair warning. I’m kinda like that too. If I were to collect something, porcupines would be a good fit.

Well, word got out. Somehow a rumor developed among my friends that I collect porcupines.

And now, I have over a dozen. They’re all gifts from friends or family. I’ve learned that having a collection hobby makes other people happy because they now know what they can give you when gift-giving time comes. So as someone who has never purchased something for her own collection, I own a good dozen porcupines.

Porcupines in Michigan

The virgin woods in the Porcupine Mountains were fresh and inviting
The virgin woods in the Porcupine Mountains were fresh and inviting

Which brings me to being excited about Michigan. Why not hike in the Porcupine Mountains and possibly even find a real porcupine? So off we went.

The drive from Wisconsin to Michigan was very similar to the one from Minnesota to Wisconsin which we did to get from Duluth where we completed our Minnesota hike. Lake Superior sparkled over our left shoulders as we drove east and then north to the visitors center for the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. On the way there, a giant black bear crossed the street in front of us. Shorty afterward, we passed a (dead) porcupine in the road.

Porcupines in Trees?

My first question at the visitors center: Where could we find some porcupines?

wood frog
Wood frogs hopped by

Sadly, we were told, they are extremely hard to find, and if we were lucky, we might find them in the tops of trees?

Tops of trees? I thought they were like anteaters or armadillos, roaming the ground and rutting around in the soil. Nope, they’re great tree climbers and find their insects in the bark.

Mind blown!

The ranger suggested I visit the information kiosks where I would find a couple fo stuffed porcupines and some more info, and then we headed off to what has become my third-favorite hike so far on our 50 Hikes 50 States Project.

A Gorgeous Trailhead at Presque Isle River

michigan pool
Hiking on Presque Isle River was delightful

We arrived at the Presque Isle River Trailhead at around 11, sprayed some bug repellent, and headed out to enjoy a set of amazing waterfalls spreading up river a few miles and over shale called Nonesuch Shale. Find a hike in Michigan that had shale, virgen forest and porcupines made me happy.

The hike began in the shade of hard woods and pine with fresh ferns gracing our feed. We stepped down a nice boardwalk and a hundred steps or so to cross the river. We then headed up river on the opposite bank from where we had parked so that we could walk in a virgin forest.

Virgins in the Woods

nonesuch shale
The shale at Presque Isle River looked like roofing

It’d been a long time since I’d enjoyed the beauty of an uncut stand of woods, flushing healthy with strong, large, trunks, duff of fertile soil, and nicely spaced trees not crowding themselves for resources. The old- growth hardwood and of hemlock felt a bit like walking in Muir Woods, although the different species of trees were smaller and shorter. But the fresh, painless vibe of the forest fueled my soul.

Up the river we hiked for a couple of somewhat strenuous miles. Every half mile or so, the river treated us to water falling in gentle roars. Each fall had its own story, named with local Ojibwa vocabulary such as Manabezho Falls, Manido Falls, and Nawadaha Falls. Each waterfall encouraged us on to find the next, and all were spectacular.

presque river
Hiking on Presque Isle River had many waterfalls.

We came to the top of the hike where we crossed the river than returned down the opposite side from whence we came, viewing the virgin forest from across the river. The much-more gentle hike on this side of the river took us mostly on boardwalk, which, naturally, had more people out enjoying the falls. Along the way, signs described the backstories of the Ojibwa and the importance of the falls to this tribe.

Third-Most Favorite Hike So Far

handsome hiking couple
The Presque Isle River hike might have been in our top five

This hike had all the elements I love in a good outing. Water, waterfalls, trees, a healthy forest, interesting history and great views.

As you can imagine, we were hungry, and food up in this REAL neck of the woods didn’t exist. We cruised down to a family diner and had a mediocre meal before pulling into a tiny Wisconsin town for the night on our way back to Minneapolis where we had started the previous Friday. Full of cheese curds, porcupine thoughts, and Lake Superior experiences, we hopped our Southwest flight back to Denver. Next up, Nebraska.

What You Need to Know about This Hike (Click for interactive map)

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