Test the Waters in Porcupine Mountains State Park

Enjoy fishing, cascades, and the Great Lakes in this Michigan wilderness.

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Sitting on the pebbly shore, Lake Superior licking my toes and the midsummer sun tickling my back, I have every reason in the world to make my camp right here. It’d be worthy of this magazine, but I’m just 3 miles into an 18.6-mile overnight and I have a hunch there’s something better ahead. That’s how it is in the Porkies: Driftwood-strewn beaches give way to leafy corridors, and hardwood forests open to rocky promenades. So I snap one more picture, strap on my pack, and keep going. It’s usually bad form to pass up a sure thing, but, luckily, the Porkies are full of them.


From the Lake Superior trailhead on Hwy 107 Descend 2.4 miles on the Lake Superior Trail to the shoreline.

Turn west (hiker’s left) and follow the lake 6.1 miles to the mouth of the Big Carp River.

Veer south onto the Big Carp River Trail and take it 1.5 miles to Shining Cloud Falls.

Back on the main trail, continue 7.5 miles along the escarpment to Lake of the Clouds Overlook on Hwy 107.

Follow the paved road 1.1 miles back to your car.


Shining Cloud Falls (mile 10)

Pitch your tent in a hemlock grove near nature’s best white-noise machine. The campground has room for half a dozen tents (first-come, first-serve) and is just a short, camp shoe-friendly walk from Shining Cloud Falls. More a flume than a vertical cascade, the Big Carp River tumbles down smooth sandstone, bending through a natural channel, its largest drop just 12 feet. If the campsite is taken, backtrack .5 mile downstream.

Gone Fishin’

Anglers will be hard-pressed to find better backcountry access for hooking a steelhead in the region than the Big Carp River. Throw your line in the 1.4- mile section between the river’s mouth at Lake Superior and Shining Cloud Falls. Brookies also hide in the pools upstream from camp.

Naming rights

The Ojibwa natives thought the forested ridgelines in this area resembled the spines of a porcupine, dubbing them the Porcupine Mountains. Yes, you can find the mountains’ namesakes in the old-growth hardwood forests—one of the largest tracts west of the Adirondacks. Also cool: the large population of black bears.

Music festival

If you’re into Americana or folk music, time your trip around the annual Porcupine Mountains Music Festival (this year: August 25 to 26). The festival is within the park boundary, so make a “basecamp” of sorts in the Union Bay Campground (starting at $18). It’s $90 for a three-day pass. Find more info at porkiesfestival.org.

DO IT Trailhead 46.811318, -89.755020; 22 miles west of Ontonagon on Hwy 107 Season May to October; August has ideal air temps, but beware the blackflies Permit Required ($15/night); obtain from visitor center.

From 2023