Visiting Kitch-iti-kipi, which means Big Cold Spring, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is like stepping into a technicolor fantasy world that exists on a movie screen.
We set out for Kitch-iti-kipi on a day in early July. It was a stop on our trek from St. Ignace to Fayette Historic State Park on the Garden Peninsula. The journey to Kitch-iti-kipi is an adventure of its own. Coming from the east or west, you drive along U.S. 2, which follows Lake Michigan’s Northern shoreline. The lake is often in sight from the car window, making for spectacular scenery as you drive.
Kitch-iti-kipi is located inside Palms Book State Park. To reach the park, we headed north on M-149 where it intersects with U.S. 2 at Thompson. Away from the lakeshore, we were surrounded by the thick, lush Hiawatha National Forest. We didn’t come across many houses, and we didn’t see a gas station once we turned onto M-149. If we were looking to get it away from it all, we were definitely headed in the right direction!
Palms Book State Park is a day use park, which means there isn’t any camping. The parking lot isn’t very big either. On a crowded day, it gets tight. We arrived at the park before lunch, and it wasn’t very busy. By the time we left, there was a line waiting to get in at the gate and all the spots were full. Parking could be especially tricky if you have a large RV.
The spring is just a short walk from the parking lot. As we approached the spring, our eyes were met with a pool of impossibly clear turquoise water surrounded by tall, green pines. A self-propelled raft was waiting to take us out into the middle of the spring.
We boarded the raft with other visitors. A pair of young boys were elected to pilot us. The raft is easy to operate, and it wasn’t a problem for them. Once the raft came to rest in the center of the spring, we were free to enjoy the view beneath the water.
The raft features a large window in the floor to peer under the water. The water was so clear, we could see straight down to the limestone bottom of the 40 foot deep pool. Bubbles percolated up through the sand where water constantly flows from the spring that feeds the pool. We also saw many huge trout swimming through the beautiful azure water.
The spring is surrounded by tall pine trees that meet the clouds. The calm surface of the water perfectly mirrored the sky and surrounding forest. It’s easy to see why Native Americans named the spring Mirror of Heaven.
There are also the logs of fallen trees resting in the water. They’re well-preserved by the cold water and perfectly visible, just like the fish. Their large forms beneath the water add to the other-worldly feel.
Kitch-iti-kipi is such a beautiful, peaceful place. Even the large crowd that was there the day we visited didn’t spoil the tranquil setting. Everyone was respectful, almost reverent, awed by the impossible beauty. I know I was.
The spring is protected by the State of Michigan, so no swimming or fishing is allowed. You probably wouldn’t want to swim in it anyway, since the water remains a constant chilly 45 degrees all year.
Seeing the beautiful, unique water and landscape of Kitch-iti-kipi was well worth the detour on our way to Fayette. It’s a must-see, if you’re ever in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Know Before You Go
Palms Book State Park is about a 1 hour and 45 minute drive west of the Mackinac Bridge.
The park has restrooms, a gift shop and concessions where you can get a drink and a light bite to eat. Otherwise, bring along your own food and drink, since there aren’t restaurants close by. There are picnic tables at the park.
Palms Book is a Michigan State Park, so you’ll either need the Recreation Passport that gets you admission into all Michigan State Parks for a year for just $16, or you’ll need to pay a one-time entrance fee. You can buy the Recreation Passport at any state park. Michiganders can pay for the Passport when they pay license plate fees at the Secretary of State and get it for just $11.