I’ll be honest, the main reason for writing this article was to get that awful TLC song “Waterfalls” from 1994 stuck in your head for the next two weeks. Ok, just kidding. (But, it’s totally going to drive you crazy now…)
Spending time in Michigan’s upper peninsula, trying to find as many waterfalls as I could, was one of the highlights of my career covering U.S. travel. It was a mix of adventure, awe, peace and reflection. The experience of exploring the U.P. and bouncing from waterfall, to waterfall was absolutely incredible.
I produced a video detailing my journey over three and a half days, showcasing some of the highlights. I’ve been asked a lot of questions by readers and listeners who have been inspired to do a waterfall hunting trip of their own.
The good news is that there are plenty of resources to make your trip a huge success, and locals seem more than willing to help out travelers that are passing through. The state of Michigan has done an incredible job of adding signs and even parking lots and walkways to many of the waterfalls. Some are a quick walk, others require a bit of hiking. Some are harder to locate than others. Some are quite small, others are massive. Only once did I run into any parking issues where I had to pass on the opportunity to visit one of them.
My number one tip for making it a great visit is to go at the very end of summer, or very early Fall. There are fewer tourists which means lodging will be easier to come by, and crowds won’t be as bad. Mosquitoes which are a constant source of anxiety for visitors (and a frequent complaint on social media) are pretty much gone by then. I wasn’t bit once during my entire trip, and I explored multiple parks and lots of trails.
There are about 300 waterfalls in the state of Michigan – most of them are in the Upper Peninsula. My journey started from the west and continued east with a few off the beaten path detours along the way. I’ll share my lodging info at the bottom of the post to give you an idea of how to plan your own route, which may vary if you have more time than I did.
The locations of waterfalls are all pretty much documented and fairly easy to find. I’d suggest not over planning your trip as it’s much more fun to treat it like a sort of scavenger hunt once you’re up there. Most of the state parks can give you a sheet of waterfalls that are nearby. Some of the hotels produce maps that show which ones are in the area as well.
Even if you plan to only see the ones that are within a short walk from a surface lot – bring along a bottle of water, and a snack. An umbrella can be handy as well in case it starts to rain while you’re on the trail. Wear comfortable shoes, but make sure they have traction. You may want to venture a bit off the trail or off the platform – and you don’t want to risk slipping and injuring yourself. If you’re a clutz, make sure your camera or cell phone has a waterproof case on it.
Speaking of phones – there’s a good chance your phone will have no reception as you travel across the U.P. There were a lot of dead spots, mostly in the parks. That’s not always a bad thing, but it’s something to be aware of. Make sure you always have plenty of gas in your vehicle and some emergency things like a flashlight, first aid kit and some blankets – just to be safe.
The waterfalls within parks typically had some sort of an admission fee – though there wasn’t always someone there to collect it. The roadside parking lots that led to waterfalls did not have a fee.
If it does rain, don’t worry. One of my travel days was rainy and the trees that lined the trails basically kept me dry.
Most important – take your time, enjoy the sounds and sights. There is something incredibly peaceful and relaxing about being close to these beautiful waterfalls. If you follow my advice – it will be one of the best road trips you’ve done!
My journey started in the Porcupine Mountains (Locals call it “the porkies”). Check out: www.porcupineup.com for some other ideas. Then, I worked my way a bit south and over to the eastern side near Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, which is an absolute must-see.
Keep in mind, most of the waterfalls are located along rural roads and aren’t always concentrated in the bigger communities. So remember that you will wind up driving a bit out of the way if you want to see a good variety of them. Trust me – it’s worth it.
These are three hotels that I used during my trip and all of them were well run, clean and very accessible to waterfalls.
Looking for other things to do besides just chasing waterfalls? Check out the book: 100 Things To Do In The U.P. Before You Die! Written by a travel writer friend, Kath Usitalo.