The Porcupine Mountains fondly referred to as the Porkies, is home to the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Michigan’s largest state park. The park encompasses 60,000 acres, with the largest tract of virgin hardwoods in North America. Located at the west end of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in Ontonagon County, the Porcupine Mountains got their name from early explorers who thought the tree outlines along the crests looked like porcupine quills.
Mid-May through mid-October is a perfect time to visit this area. However, be aware many venues in the area are seasonal and aren’t open outside of these months. Seasonal park roads close at the beginning of December and remain closed until late spring but are open via snowmobiles and cross-country skiing during the winter.
Vehicle access to the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park requires a Michigan State Park Recreation Passport, which you can purchase as an annual or day pass either at the gate or online. If you’re bicycling or hiking, a Recreation Passport isn’t required for entrance.
While most of Michigan, including the Porcupine Mountains, is in the Eastern Time Zone, be aware some areas in the western part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, like Gogebic County and the nearby state of Wisconsin, are in the Central Time Zone.
Things To Do In The Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
The Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park presents a myriad of outdoor activities year round. With more than 90 miles of hiking trails, hiking is one of the most popular activities in the park. Taking in the spectacular waterfalls provides a purpose to those hikes. You’ll also enjoy panoramic views of the outlooks throughout the park. A couple of favorites are the Lake of the Clouds and Summit Peak.
Get Oriented To The Porcupine Mountains At The Visitors Center
Situated three miles west of Silver City on M-107, the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park Visitors Center is great to get oriented to the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. Open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., mid-May through mid-October, the center features exhibits about the wildlife throughout the park. In addition, you can sign-up for interpretive hikes and other programs, buy hunting and fishing licenses, check on trail conditions, and get directions. At the visitors center, you can take a one-mile hike over streams and through the forest.
Pro Tip: This is where you pick up your backcountry camping permits.
Take In The View Of Lake Of The Clouds
To reach the viewing area at the top of the Lake of the Clouds lookout, from the parking lot, it has an ADA-accessible wooden ramp and walkway. 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 entire trail is a 1.4-mile out and back hike, but if you only want to go to the viewing area, it is an easy 300 feet. If you’re going to take Rover along, he must be on a leash.
Once you’ve taken in the stunning view of the lake from the overlook, you’ll most likely want to get closer to the lake. Lake of the Clouds, known for bass fishing, is a catch-and-release only lake. While they don’t offer boat rentals, you could carry light boats in via a three-quarter-mile hike. Waders and shore fishing are welcome, but you can only use artificial lures.
Pro Tip: Be sure to wear sturdy hiking shoes and put on some bug spray. I recommend that you visit Lake of the Clouds in late September to the first week in October to see the brilliant spectacle of fall foliage.
Attend The Porcupine Mountain Music Festival
The Porcupine Mountain Music Festival is the first music festival to be held in a Michigan state park. Post-pandemic, it plans to hold the event the weekend before Labor Day, when you’ll enjoy various live music, including rock, country, bluegrass, Americana, folk, and blues. They also offer workshops, children’s activities, and jam sessions.
Pro Tip: Check the schedule for the current year’s artists.
The park has over 70 waterfalls to explore. While some are easy to get to, others are off the beaten track. Agate Falls, Bond Falls, and O-Kun-de-Kun Falls are three favorites.
Located on the middle arm of the Ontonagon River, Agate Falls is a series of falls with a 40-foot total drop. One of Michigan’s most scenic waterfalls, the water tumbles over an exaggerated ledge of terraced sandstone. To reach the observation platform, visitors can use an accessible foot trail.
You’ll find a roadside park, parking, a picnic area, and vault toilets next to the falls.
With a drop of about 50 feet, Bond Falls is a natural waterfall improved by a dam. The falls are in the middle arm of the Ontonagon River, where a broad ledge of rugged rock divides into several smaller cascades. You’ll find trails leading to a picnic area from the top of the falls, and another walkway goes across the river below for a great view. The paved walkways have easy access.
One of the few plunge waterfalls in the Upper Peninsula, O-Kun-de-Kun Falls, is approximately 15 feet high and 30 feet wide, dropping over a sandstone ledge. Seeing this waterfall requires a significant 1.3-mile hike into the area where you’ll find the falls. Starting at Bruce Crossing, go north on Highway 45 for about 8 miles, then follow the signs from the parking area. Before you get to the central falls, you’ll come across a smaller set of upper falls.
Pro Tip: Dress in layers when hiking in Michigan’s Porcupine Mountains. Mornings and evenings may be cool, even in the summer.
Hike Summit Peak
Summit Peak, the highest point in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, is approximately 2,000 feet tall. On a clear day at the peak, the 50-foot observation tower offers panoramic views of Isle Royale and Lake Superior.
To reach the summit, drive up a winding road and park. Starting there, you will need to hike about a mile to the observation tower, where you’ll climb more than 50 steps to reach the top of the tower. The hike is an out and back relatively easy hike, with benches along the way.
Pro Tip: The observation tower is not ADA-accessible.
Explore The Presque Isle River Corridor
Located on the park’s western side, the Presque Isle River is the largest in Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park. You’ll 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 more leisurely hike, has overlook platforms and is part boardwalk. The trails have access from several points and connect at the North Country Trail. Most prefer to begin hiking at the day-use picnic area.
The river features three waterfalls — Nawadaha Falls, Manido. and Manabezho Falls. Be aware that you can’t wade or swim in the Presque Isle River. Nawadaha Falls is about a quarter-mile further south than Manido and Manabezho Falls.
Pro Tip: The Presque Isle River Trail is dog-friendly, 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’ll have the opportunity to view the lake from several different angles. This 8.3-mile out and back hike is moderate to challenging. The easiest route is starting at the Lake of the Clouds overlook, but there are several trailheads.
Pro Tip: You won’t find water at the Lake of the Clouds overlook, so be sure you have water before starting your hike.
Camping In Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
Camping is popular in the park. You can make reservations up to 6 months in advance. In addition to camping, it offers a variety of rustic cabins and yurts within the park.
The park has 63 backcountry campsites, and each includes a metal fire ring. The sites do not have water or toilets.
Pro Tip: You will need reservations, and once you reach the park, you will need to get a backcountry camping permit at the visitors center.
Porcupine Mountains Presque Isle Campground
The Presque Isle Campground offers 50 rustic sites with water via hand pumps and vault toilets near the river. Remember to pack in-pack out.
Pro Tip: Ontonagon is the nearest town to the park, where you’ll find gas, lodging, and food.
Union Bay Campground
The Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park’s Union Bay Campground is the only campground within the park that offers modern conveniences, like water, flush toilets, hot showers, and electricity.
Pro Tip: Some camping sites are larger than others. Some are right on Lake Superior. Look at a campground map to determine the best place for you and book up to six months in advance to get your desired location.
While you’re in the area, visit some of these other outdoor destinations in Michigan’s western Upper Peninsula.