Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

Lake of the Clouds

Most of Michigan, like most of the Midwest, is relatively flat, except for parts of the Upper Peninsula. In the northwest corner of the Upper Peninsula near Wisconsin is 60,000 acres of forest covered mountains that make up the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. The Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is the largest state park in Michigan. Wilderness is an accurate description for this majestic place along the shores of Lake Superior. The state park is home to 35,000 acres of old growth forests. If you were to drive from Detroit to the Porcupine Mountains, it would take you over nine and a half hours to drive the nearly 600 miles, assuming you can avoid the ever-present road construction and traffic. The state park is about as far away as you can go in Michigan without leaving the state. I didn’t make the drive there straight, I was on a tour of Michigan, so that day I only had to drive a little over three hours from Munising. Going home however, I drove it straight. Interestingly, part of the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness Park is in the Central time zone, while most of the rest of Michigan is in the Eastern time zone. The average elevation in the park is about 1,400 feet above sea level with Summit Peak reaching 1,952 feet above sea level. By comparison, Detroit and Grand Rapids are about 650 feet above sea level. If you didn’t already know, all five of the Great Lakes are above sea level.

Back to the mountains, one of the most popular locations in the park is the Lake of the Clouds Scenic Area. It is probably the most photographed and Instagrammed location in the park. Driving west on Highway 107 from Silver City, I began the climb up the hill through the woods with views of Lake Superior peaking through the trees. Once you reach the top, there is a paved walkway and boardwalk system to reach the overlook. Down below in the valley is the namesake, Lake of the Clouds surrounded by mountains. On the other side of the mountains is Lake Superior. In the valley you can also see one of the many trails at one end of the lake. Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is home to nearly 90 miles of trails. I was only at the park for one day, but if I had explored the trails, I am sure I would have found many natural treasures along the way.

Next stop in the park was the Summit Peak Trail. The parking lot is small and limited, so I wouldn’t recommend RVs or vehicles with trailers trying to park in this lot. From the trailhead, it is a half mile trek up hill and some stairs to reach the first observation platform. Looking out from the platform, it’s all forest and mountains as far as you can see in all directions. I visited in July, but I can imagine this would be a great place to see the fall colors in late September and early October. Continuing up some stairs from the observation platform about a quarter of a mile up, there is a 40-foot tower at the top of Summit Peak. Climb up the tower for untamed wilderness in all directions and Lake Superior in the distance. If you can make it up the trail and stairs, you won’t regret it.

Summit Peak first platform
Views from the observation tower

The next stop in the park is the Presque Isle River Area. Here the Presque River cascades over the Nawadaha, Manido and Manabezho falls before flowing into Lake Superior. A short walk from the parking lot will get you to the east and west trails on each side of the river. A suspension bridge spans the Presque Isle River linking the two trails. These trails get you up close views of the falls and rock formations. The eons of water cascading over the rocks have carved out circular cut-outs in the slabs of rocks causing whirlpool-like action in the water. The Presque Isle River area is a good place to take in nature with the rushing waters and woods a plenty.

I stayed at the AmericInn in Silver City at the entrance to the state park. It is one of the few hotels near the park, It’s a very nice hotel, and is located on the shores of Lake Superior. That evening, I joined many of my fellow guests to sit on benches by the Lake, to watch the the incomparable sunset and enjoy the natural beauty of Lake Superior. When I was there in July 2021, there were several large wildfires out west and the high-level smoke made it to this corner of Michigan. As a result, sunset was very hazy, with a mix of smoke and clouds. This made for a gray-blue sunset with the sun disappearing from sight before it dropped below the horizon. This was not what I was expecting, I was expecting more deep blues and oranges. The sunset was beautiful over the still mirror-like Lake Superior. Sunset here occurred around 9:30 PM (Eastern Time) and it wasn’t dark until around 10:00 PM. The late sunset during the summer in Michigan is one of my favorite things.

If you are looking for a change of scenery and adventure, prepare for a long car ride across Michigan’s natural beauty of the Upper Peninsula and head to the Porcupine Mountains.

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