Bond Falls

Backroads and Waterfalls

By Jim Duke

As the seasons change and the weather warms, as the snow melts and gives way to soft ground and mud puddles, and as the snowmobile enthusiasts put away their sleds and get out their summertime toys, all thoughts turn to new and exciting adventures. Reaching out to my many snowmobiling acquaintances that also enjoy the great outdoors when the snows have melted away, I asked what other forms of recreation are of interest, taking into consideration which state they are from and what recreational opportunities exist. 

Beginning with the question of what the most popular and up-coming recreational pursuits is, the answers were quite varied, primarily due to the type of outdoor activity and whether motorized or self-powered. Topping out as the most popular in the non-motorized was mountain biking and hiking while the most popular by far in the motorized category was side-by-side ORV touring with riding quad-runners coming in a close second. I was amazed that in almost every state the trail touring to seek out waterfalls was a high priority. While there are plenty of options for a good story in any one of the categories mentioned, my preference has been touring via side-by-side and have decided to do both research on the topic and some extensive field work as well. 

Miners Falls
Miners Falls, This one will require a bit of a hike to view it, but well worth it. Located within the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore & Park, Alger County

There are literally hundreds of thousands of waterfalls across this great land, divided and spread among every one of the 50 states. Not too surprising, research reveals the three states with the most waterfalls is situated along the west coast, with Washington state being blessed with the most waterfalls, numbering more than three thousand while Oregon is second with fifteen hundred and California coming in third with just over a thousand. 

Getting a bit closer to home, I checked out the Midwestern states and found an abundance of waterfalls as well, but to list them all would be much too time consuming, however, my bucket list holds hopes of putting together a road trip to visit at least one in each state, listed in alphabetical order rather than by sequence. Since it will be much easier to do a short road trip within Michigan, that will not be included here but as a separate entity. In Illinois, one of the most popular waterfalls is Lake Falls in LaSalle County some 95 miles west of Chicago. In Indiana, it’s the upper & lower Cataract Falls, found in Jennings County in the southern part of the state. In Iowa near the town of Decorah, it would have to be Dunning’s Spring Falls, and in Minnesota, I have selected the Pidgeon River High Falls in Grand Portage near the Canadian border.

In the great state of Nebraska, the Snake River Falls near the city of Valentine is an impressive attraction while in North Dakota it is Mineral Springs Falls at Fort Ransom that made the list. Heading back east into Ohio, I found the Old Man’s Cave Falls near the city of Logan just off highway US-33 to be most interesting. In the beautiful state of South Dakota, it’s the Bridal Veil Falls in Spearfish that caught my attention, and finally, in Wisconsin the waterfall of choice is the Willow Falls in the town of Lynne, located in Oneida County in the northern central portion of the state.

Munising Falls
Munising Falls, an interesting attraction at the NPS Interpretative Center on Sand Point Road, Munising, MI

But with all the interest generated in these other states, I must confess that our own great state of Michigan holds the record (just my opinion) for the most beautiful and impressive waterfalls to be found anywhere. In doing some research on the subject, primarily for this story but partly also for a planned waterfall tour via SXS with a group of like-minded folks from the local club, I found more than 200 named waterfalls with all but one located across the wide expanse of the Upper Peninsula. There are, however, many unnamed attractions in both the lower and the upper peninsulas, some that fit the description of a waterfall and some that barely deserve to be considered a series of ripples.

The one named waterfall below the Mackinac Bridge is the Ocqueoc Falls near Onaway and is the largest to be found in the lower. It is unfortunate that in order to visit and view this impressive one must possess a recreation passport or purchase a day pass. That is because it has been designated as a state scenic site. 

There are at least nine other locations ranging from the north to the south, most of which are man-made and created by a dam or other obstructions and won’t be considered as part of this story. Instead, I’ll concentrate on a few of the most popular ones located in the Upper Peninsula, beginning in the far western part of the U.P. and look at Bond Falls, one of the most picturesque waterfalls located near Paulding just east of US Hwy-45. It‘s assessable by regular vehicular travel as well as via snowmobile and/or ORV.

Tahquamenon Falls
Tahquamenon Falls is probably one of the most popular waterfalls in the state, is actually within the state park of the same name, located in the eastern Upper Peninsula in Chippewa County.

A little further east and a bit north, we can find a series of five scenic and very impressive waterfalls and a few others that won’t receive recognition at this time. Usually known as the Waterfalls of the Black River, but actually each of the five has a name of it’s own. Beginning just north of Bessemer, the main five falls are all within the last three miles as the river makes its way toward Lake Superior, the first on the list is the Great Conglomerate Falls, followed by the Gorge Falls and then the Potawatomi Falls. It should be noted that there is a parking area for each of the falls although the second & third do share one. The final two Falls are the Sandstone Falls, located about a half-mile from the Gorge Falls and the Rainbow Falls about another half-mile further. To see these two falls will require a bit of a walk, so plan accordingly. 

In the eastern-central region of the Upper Peninsula, Alger County alone has dozens of known waterfalls and the majority of them are truly impressive but listed here are just a few that can be reached fairly easy without too much travel along backroads. In fact, the first three mentioned can be viewed quite well without leaving your vehicle. Probably the most visited annually is Alger Falls, located just outside of Munising on the east side of state highway M-28. Scott Falls can also be seen from M-28 and is located between Christmas and Au Train. Wagner Falls is found on state highway M-94 slightly south of Munising, and although it can be seen from the parking area near the roadway, it can best be viewed by a short and easy walk inward toward the falls.

Bond Falls

Of the many waterfalls in the Upper Peninsula, both those named and the several without an official name, the most popular, I believe, is the Tahquamenon Falls, located just west of Paradise, Michigan on state highway M-123, sometimes referred to as little Niagara Falls. To view this attraction, however, since it is within a state park, visitors must have a recreation passport for their vehicle or pay an entry fee. This facility has several other amenities available such as a restaurant & micro-brewery, and gift shops.

As much as most of the waterfalls listed can be visited by conventional vehicle and /or a short hike, many are also along backroads or on the state designated trails system and are popular stops for ATV riders and Off-road touring groups. In some cases, they are more assessable and easier to get to using the OHV option. Regardless of how we choose to visit these beautiful waterfalls and other attractions in our state and federal forests, the trip will be well worth the effort and highly recommended. Whether it’s via snow machine in the winter months or by ATV in the warmer ones, running the backroads and searching out waterfalls is a wonderful pastime. •

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