There is nothing quite like the natural beauty found in Michigan. One of the most fantastic attractions located in the Upper Peninsula is Kitch-iti-kipi. This area is often referred to as “The Big Spring” as it offers a beautiful natural water source that is 40 feet deep and 200 feet across.
Kitch-iti-kipi (aka “The Big Spring”) in Palms Book State Park is unlike any other attraction in the Upper Peninsula. The state of Michigan received the spring with accompanying land as a gift from the federal government in 1926, under the stipulation that it be turned into an official public park.
Just eleven miles north of U.S. 2 outside of Manistique, MI this 300-foot long by 40-foot deep natural spring has been a local claim to fame for more than a century.
Some of the first settlers of the area floated over the spring on a primitive raft and local residents still come here to kick back. Nowadays, though, this natural phenomenon is also the biggest tourist attraction in the area, and for good reason.
When the top layer of limestone dissolved and collapsed into the cave below due to the spring water, a small pool was formed. The result is a crystal clear pool with an emerald green bottom that shows off the mineral and lime-encrusted ancient tree trunks and plentiful trout in the waters below the surface.
The oval pool’s underlying limestone provides many fissures that keep the water rushing and at a constant temperature of 45 degrees. The Big Spring pushes more than 10,000 gallons of water a minute from narrow openings in the underlayer of limestone.
The bottom seems to glow with a light emerald green color as about 10,000 gallons of water per minute flow out from fissures in the limestone underneath the spring. As the water rushes out of the spring’s floor, sand bursts upward and then falls somewhere else, which means the floor of the spring is always changing.
The crystal clear water is filled with huge trout and as you float across the spring, with fish swimming below you and birds chirping in the surrounding trees, it almost feels like you’re on a Hollywood movie set.
The Legend of Kitch-iti-kipi
Michigan’s largest natural freshwater spring, this amazing body of water is forty feet deep and provides a water source for nearby Indian Lake. Kitch-iti-kipi was called “Mirror of Heaven” by the Ojibwe people who first lived in the area.
The most common legend has it that Kitch-iti-kipi was named in memory of a young chieftain who died in the icy waters of the big spring when his canoe overturned during an attempt to woe and impress a young Ojibwe woman.
Other proposed legends include a “love potion” made with honey and the waters of the spring, tamarack bark turning to gold, a naming ritual for infants, and even healing powers attributed to the waters.
In 2020, Carole Lynn Hare published a book titled, “The Legend of Kitch-iti-kipi,” which tells her tribe’s version of the story of the spring.
History of Kitch-iti-kipi
This Michigan spring wasn’t always this pristine. It took the passion of a local businessman named John I. Bellaire and the cooperation of the state of Michigan and the Palms Book Land Company to turn it into the wonderful state park it is today.
Interpretive signs on the shoreline show photos of what it was like “back in the day.” Here are a few excerpts from the interpretive signs at Kitch-iti-kipi that I found interesting:
When Europeans first arrived in the upper Great Lakes, the Ojibwa called the Big Spring Kitch-iti-kipi. The word is said to have many possible meanings including: The Great Water; The Blue Sky I See; The Roaring, Bubbling Spring; and others. Whatever its name, Kitch-iti-kipi has drawn curious sightseers for decades.
The Manistique Tribune reported in the spring of 1910 that “the North Shore Lumber Company of Thompson had gone to the expense of placing a big raft on the “Big Spring” capable of carrying forty people.
Mr. John I. Belaire moved to Manistique from the roaring lumber town of Seney around 1920. As a well-known and respected figure, Bellaire’s passion for the spring, and desire to see it properly cared for, earned him much of the credit for its preservation as a Michigan State Park. Bellaire later recalled:
“The first time I saw the spring it was not more than a black hole mostly covered by fallen trees. A lumber camp (Camp 22) in the vicinity threw their rubbish into it. I could have purchased the land myself, but instead I made the contacts to have the State acquire it.”
It was John M. Bush, land agent of the Cleveland Cliffs Iron Company who volunteered to approach the executors of the Book and Palms estate of Detroit with a proposal to make the Big Spring a State Park. Apparently, the deal was promoted by businessman John I. Bellaire, who ran a five-and-dime store in Manistique.
Members of the Book and Palms families eagerly fell in with the suggestion and gave the property to the state. The deal transferred almost 90 acres to the State for one dollar. The deed stipulated that the property was “to be forever used as a public park, bearing the name Palms Book State Park.
After the original 90-acre land gift from the Palms Book Land Company in 1928, the State obtained several more parcels through tax delinquency and land exchange. By 1940 Palms Book State Park protected 257 acres around Michigan’s largest natural spring.
In the early 1930’s, Jon Bellaire again became active in the park’s improvement. Up to this time, the road to the park was described by Bellaire as a “meandering pathway, wrought with hazards.” After reporting “considerable trouble with the highway department”, the present Michigan highway M-149 was constructed.
At that time, telephone poles paralleled every road, including the new M-149. Bellaire painted white rings around each pole from Manistique to the Big Spring so anyone inquiring about the spring could be told to “follow the ringed telephone poles.”
Kitch-iti-kipi Observation Raft
When you arrive at Palms Book State Park, make sure that you take the time to get on the raft that will take you across this bubbling green spring. The water is crystal clear, and you will love watching the magic of the bubbling springs and the fish swimming underneath.
There is a roof on the raft, which allows you to clearly see the fish in the cold water below without worrying about the glare from the sun.
The raft is free to ride, and you can use it as many times as you would like. It travels along a guided line, and someone will need to operate the crank. This peaceful ride is enthralling and something that should be on everyone’s Michigan bucket list.
Though you can see quite a bit from a viewing platform on the shore, the best way to experience Michigan’s biggest spring is on the large floating barge provided by the state. So, I hopped aboard.
It works like this: The raft (maybe 10’ x 20’ or so) is guided by a large metal cable, and propelled by a big wheel that someone on the barge must turn to move the raft ever so slowly forward, and then equally slowly back to the dock.
The raft is very easy to operate, but if you want to gaze into the spring the whole time I’d recommend NOT being the one turning the wheel. There will almost always be other people on the raft, though, so the polite thing to do would be to take turns so everyone gets a chance to have a look.
(I’d heard something about a park employee being on hand to “drive” the raft, but no one was there on the day I visited, and I was told by a local who knows the area well that it’s up to the park visitors to man the raft.)
Luckily, I was able to peer over the edge and take photos the whole time. I even spotted a shiny silver coin way at the bottom, forty feet below the surface. The water is crazy clear, the fish are huge, and the setting is serene.
My Visit to Michigan’s Big Spring
When I visited Kitch-iti-kipi in fall (late September), the leaves of the trees were showing a little color and there were only a couple cars in the parking lot. As I walked the short path down to the spring, it felt like I was entering a place that time forgot.
Aside from a few birds chirping and the occasional squeak of the “big wheel” on the raft, the scene was silent as a half dozen people leaned over the edge of the raft and peered into the water.
“It’s so clear,” a young girl said to her mother as we watched from the shore. “That fish is sooo huge” said her big brother. “Sshhh!” she replied and jabbed him in the ribs, “I’m trying to see.” I had to laugh at that one.
Bottom line: Kitch-iti-kipi is truly something to see. The water is so clear that you can see to the bottom of this forty-foot natural spring with ease, and the huge fish swimming around really add to the experience.
How deep is Kitch-iti-kipi?
Kitch-iti-kipi is 40 feet deep.
Where is Michigan’s largest freshwater spring?
Michigan’s largest freshwater spring is Kitch-iti-kipi which is located in Palms Book State Park in the Upper Peninsula.
How much does it cost to see Kitch-iti-kipi?
While the use of the observation raft is free, admission to Palms Book State Park requires a Michigan State Park Pass.
Does Kitch-iti-kipi ever freeze?
Kitch-iti-kipi maintains a constant 45-degree temperature year-round, however, on a very rare occasion, the surface of Michigan’s Big Spring has frozen over. The earliest report of Kitch-iti-kipi freezing over was in April 1934, and it most recent froze in March 2021.
Can you visit Kitch-iti-kipi in the winter?
Since the 45-degree water flows all year long, the spring doesn’t freeze over and can be enjoyed in winter as well as spring, summer, and fall!
How to get to Kitch-iti-kipi?
For as popular as Kitch-iti-kipi is nowadays, you would think the path to get there would be well marked all the way from the highway. It’s not.
Here’s how to get to Kitch-iti-kipi from Manistique: About 5.4 miles west of Manistique turn onto M-149 north. Drive for 2.7 miles then turn left to stay on M-149 north. Drive 1 mile then turn right on County Road 455 (The sign says “Westshore -455”). Drive 4.3 miles then turn right on Sawmill Road and follow the signs to Palms Book State Park.
Things to Do Nearby
There are many great things to see and do near Kitch-iti-kipi. Some of the best things to do in Manistique MI, include hiking on some of the many great hiking trails, visiting the boardwalk, exploring Indian Lake State Park, and going to the great lighthouse.
The boardwalk stretches for two miles along the shore and allows you to walk to town or down to the marina and Breakwater Light. You will find picnic areas, a fishing pier, and access to Breakwater Light along the boardwalk. You can walk out to the light on a calm day, but the water will splash over the breakwater when the lake is rough.
If you’re up for a short drive, Fayette Historic State Park is less than an hour away on the Garden Peninsula, just west of Manistique.
Great Restaurants in Manistique
If you’re wanting to enjoy a meal at Kitch-iti-kipi, there is a park store that sells concessions is right off the parking lot, and there are a few small picnic tables scattered under shady trees where you could have a really pleasant picnic lunch. But personally, I’d highly recommend picking up a lunch to go from The Upper Crust Deli in Manistique and then picnicking at Big Spring.
While you are in Manistique, make sure you check out some great restaurants in the area. Toby’s Dog House is one of the best restaurants in the area for some excellent American cuisine at a great price. This restaurant offers lots of great sandwiches, seafood, and other wonderful dishes that the whole family will surely enjoy.
Wheaty’s Pub is a great hole-in-the-wall bar in downtown Manistique that serves a pub-style menu for lunch and dinner year-round in a rustic UP atmosphere.
Another excellent option for dinner is the Cedar Street Café. This hidden gem offers some of the best breakfasts around. With a full espresso bar, great food, and fantastic service, the Cedar Street Café will help you start your morning off right.
If you are looking for some homemade food that will make your soul feel good, look no further than the Three Seasons Café. This fantastic family-friendly restaurant makes meals that are just like your mom would make.
Where to Stay in Manistique
For those who want to stay in the area for a few days, some great camping sites, hotels, and vacation rentals are available in the area.
For those looking to camp in Manistique, the Manistique Lakeshore Campground is one of the best options. It offers roomy campsites that allow breathtaking views of Lake Michigan.
Gerometta’s Resort is another excellent camping option in this area. With a swimming pool, lake views, great fishing spots and offers a beautiful location to take day trips throughout the region.
If you’re looking to stay in Manistique without bringing your accommodations with you, here are a few Manistique hotel and vacation rental options:
More to Explore in the Upper Peninsula
No matter when you visit Kitch-iti-kipi, there is always more to explore in the Upper Peninsula. Just a few hours’ drive from Marquette, Tahquamenon Falls, and even the Porcupine Mountains, there are plenty of things to do, see, and experience in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula!