Tahquamenon Falls (tuh-KWAHM’-in-uhn) is the largest waterfall in Michigan. It’s also one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi. (Niagara wins first place, of course!) And like many other places in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, it’s uniquely beautiful, and so worth a visit!
You’ll find Tahquamenon Falls in the eastern Upper Peninsula, inside the state park that shares its name, not far from the shores of Lake Superior. The falls is made up of two falls, the large Upper Falls is about 200 feet across and drops 48 feet into the Tahquamenon river. The Lower Falls, about five miles downstream, is a series of small cascades. It’s shallow enough for wading and playing.
Upper Tahquamenon Falls
The two falls have seperate entrances and parking areas, both accessed from M-123. I recommend visiting the larger Upper Falls first. It’s a short walk on a paved pathway, about a quarter of a mile from the parking lot. When you arrive at the Upper Falls, you can continue down 93 steps to a viewing platform for a closer look. Beyond the first set of 93 stairs, the paved trail continues to another set of 112 steps that lead down to a platform along the river gorge. Going down is easy. If you think you might have trouble ascending all those stairs, don’t worry. You can see the Upper Falls from the main path just fine.
Tahquamenon Falls is also known as Root Beer Falls, because the water is a distinctive shade of brown from tannins that leach into the water from the surrounding forests. As the water roars over the falls, it even forms a froth like the head on a cold mug of A&W. Against the backdrop of a lush green forest of towering pines, the powerful falls is a stunning sight.
If you work up an appetite while viewing the Upper Falls, stop at the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery and Pub when you arrive back at the parking area. They have a variety of dishes featuring locally sourced foods and serve up their own micro-brews on-tap.
If you’re not hungry, there’s a lovely deck outside the restaurant where you can sit in a rocking chair and relax. Often live music is playing, and there’s even an outdoor fireplace for chilly days. Camp 33 gift shop is also located there. You can stock up on Upper Peninsula art, gifts and souvenirs.
Lower Tahquamenon Falls
When you’re done at the Upper Falls, get in your car and drive about 10 minutes north to the Lower Falls viewing area. A quarter-mile boardwalk takes you through the woods to the viewing platform to see the Lower Falls. But the best way to see the Lower Falls is to rent a rowboat for $20 from the concessionaire in the park.
You row a short distance across a calm section of the river. Attendants help you land your boat and disembark. Then you wade into the river to play in the water. You can even stand under the cascades and go behind the small falls.
I thought the water in the Tahquamenon river would be cold like Lake Superior, but it was surprisingly warm. Don’t worry about the brown color of the water. It’s actually very clean and clear, and dyed naturally from the surrounding forests. The riverbottom is smooth flat rock. You need to be careful not to slip and watch for holes and cracks so you don’t step in one and twist your ankle. Playing in the Lower Falls was one of the highlights of our U.P. trip that summer. Who needs to spend big bucks to on a waterpark visit?
When you arrive back at the Lower Falls parking area, there is a gift shop and a concession stand with a limited selection of food.
There is also a hiking trail from the Lower to Upper Falls. However, it’s five miles one-way. It is a rough trail with lots of inclines, declines, bare roots and mud. The hike is beautiful and follows the river through the deep forest. But it’s not a hike for the inexperienced, elderly or young children. It will take you at least 2 hours, but that’s at a good clip without stopping. If you go, bring water and wear sturdy shoes. Shuttle service should be available for one-way hikers, but check with the park for operating days and hours.
Know Before You Go
Since Tahquamenon Falls is inside a state park, you’ll need a Michigan Recreation Pass to enter. Michigan residents can purchase an annual one for just $11 when they renew their license plate. Residents can also purchase them at DNR customer service centers and state parks. The cost increases to $16. Non-residents can purchase passes at DNR customer service centers and state parks as well. Daily passes are $9 or a yearly pass is $33. The annual pass gets you into all Michigan State Parks without paying another fee. If you’re going to visit a Michigan State Park more than three days, you save money with the annual pass.
Modern and Rustic camping is available at Tahquamenon Falls State Park. This popular campground fills up fast in the summer. Plan ahead and make reservations six month out at Michigan DNR.
Paradise is the closest town with a grocery store. It’s about 15 miles north. There’s a gas station and a few restaurants there as well.
Newberry, 25 miles south, is a bigger town with the closest laundromat.
Bring a paper map with you. GPS in the Tahquamenon area is unreliable, taking travelers down two tracks, sandy roads and snow mobile trails not intended for regular automobiles. Unless you really know where you are going, stick with paved roads. And when it doubt, look at the paper map!