The Awesome Mitten - Tahquamenon Falls State Park

Tips for Visiting Tahquamenon Falls | My First Time at Tahquamenon Falls

Visiting Tahquamenon Falls is clearly a popular thing to do. When we arrived our first time, the Tahquamenon Falls parking lot was packed.

Over 750,000 people visit the Midwest’s largest waterfall each year. And besides being an impressive sight to see, it’s surrounded by a terrific trail system, has paddling and fishing opportunities at the lower falls, and is abutted by several scenic campgrounds. Did I mention there’s a fantastic brewpub right on site?

And that’s just the start of it. But despite all this, even though I’ve lived in the Upper Peninsula for the majority of my life, I didn’t make it to the falls until last summer, when I was 32 years old.

Call me a late bloomer.

At any rate, my first visit to Tahquamenon Falls, though cool, was definitely a good learning experience so I thought I’d share what I learned.

Plan Plenty of Time to Explore the Tahquamenon Falls

Little did I know, Tahquamenon Falls is actually made up of two separate waterfalls. There are the “upper” falls (which most Midwest travelers have heard of) and the “lower” falls, which are equally cool but not nearly as large. The biggest mistake we made on this trip was trying to do too much in too little time.

We tentatively planned on seeing Tahquamenon Falls, Whitefish Point, and Pictured Rocks all on the same day. Bad idea. I Was Too Optimistic.

I knew at the time that it was a good hour and a half drive from Tahquamenon Falls to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, but thought we’d have enough time to at least drive over for the sunset boat cruise before heading back to our campground.  I was wrong.

We drove up to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point in the morning, then had lunch at Brown’s Fish House, and then stopped at Lower Tahquamenon Falls for a bit before heading to the upper falls.

An Upper Peninsula Road Trip - The Tahquamenon Scenic Byway - The Awesome Mitten
Photo courtesy of Aaron Cruz

Stairs leading to the upper falls

By the time we were done, we were exhausted, we didn’t get to spend as much time as we would have liked at Tahquamenon Falls, and after a beer sampler at the brewery (I had to!), we definitely didn’t have time to catch the Pictured Rocks sunset tour. Instead, we drove to Grand Marais and had a killer pizza at Lake Superior Brewing.

New Pedestrian Bridge at Lower Tahquamenon Falls [Fall 2021]

Visitors to Michigan’s famous Tahquamenon Falls will soon be able to see the Lower Falls more easily thanks to the construction of a 142-foot-long pedestrian bridge. The bridge has been under construction at the state park, and it is scheduled to open in October 2021 after inspections.

While the Upper Falls is one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi, measuring more than 200 feet across and dropping nearly 50 feet, the Lower Falls provides a unique experience.

The Lower Falls are a group of five smaller falls around a small island about four miles downstream of the Upper Falls. Visitors can rent a rowboat and explore the island and its falls by taking a short trip across the water.

A 350-foot-long boardwalk will be built on top of the 6-foot-wide fabricated aluminum bridge, connecting the mainland to the bridge abutment location. The entire $1.28 million project is being paid for with capital outlay funding from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Parks and Recreation Division.

“This bridge will allow for easier park staff and emergency services access to help maintain and keep the island safe,” said Tahquamenon Falls State Park manager Kevin Dennis

In addition to making it easier to access the island around the Lower Falls, a public survey in 2017 found that 80 percent of 634 respondents said they would be more likely to visit the island if there was an accessible bridge.

We’re excited to go visit soon!

Must-Do Activities at Tahquamenon Falls State Park

There are two main things I wished we’d made time for while at the falls:

  1. For about $10 you can rent a rowboat and paddle around below the lower falls to get a closer look. That would’ve been cool. Next time we’ll do that.
  2. We should have made time to hike the trail between the Upper and Lower Falls. The trail affords great views of both falls, and not many people (as a percentage of visitors) do the whole hike.

So, that’s what we did wrong. Here’s what we did right.

An Upper Peninsula Road Trip - The Tahquamenon Scenic Byway - The Awesome Mitten
Photo courtesy of Aaron Cruz

Tahquamenon Falls, circa 2011

Things to Explore Near the Tahquamenon Falls

Though we hadn’t planned on it, visiting the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum ended up being pretty cool mainly because we spent a good amount of time on the beach at Whitefish Point. My wife and I walked along the beach, stumbled upon some shipwreck remains, admired the thousands of awesome Lake Superior stones, and gazed across the lake at Canada. Once we got away from the museum, we had the whole beach to ourselves. It was awesome.

Where to Eat Near Tahquamenon Falls

Just days before we left for our Tahquamenon Falls trip, one of my Twitter followers mentioned something about Brown’s Fish House. She thought it was amazing. I’d never heard of the place. So, we decided to check it out.

Brown Fisheries Jesse1 Tips for Visiting Tahquamenon Falls | My First Time at Tahquamenon Falls

Our first visit to Tahquamenon Falls. Looking forward to getting back there!

And after enduring the subtle seething of a hungry pregnant woman as my wife and I waited for them to open (she was several months pregnant at the time), Brown’s did not disappoint. It’s near impossible to get “same day” fresh fish at a restaurant if you don’t live near an ocean, but Brown’s delivers big time with some of the freshest fish you’ll ever eat. There’s a reason this little “hole in the wall” has been featured in the New York Times and on the Cooking Channel. I’m glad we found it!

Where to Stay Near Tahquamenon Falls

We could have opted to stay in a B&B, cabin, or cottage, but I’m glad we pitched a tent. Since all the main campgrounds near Pictured Rocks were full, we ended up driving east of Grand Marais and camped at the Blind Sucker #2 state campground. It’s a cool little campground on a small flowage, and it was my wife’s first time rustic camping with me, which made it all the better.

All in all, I’d call our first trip to Tahquamenon Falls a success. We learned a lot about the area and definitely picked up some great travel tips. Next time we won’t rush it, we’ll stay right in the Tahquamenon Falls area, and we won’t try to see Pictured Rocks and Tahquamenon Falls on the same day!

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