Explore Up North: Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
After making some final adjustments to my pack and quadruple checking that I have to keys to the cabin, I set off from a parking lot along South Boundary Road at the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.
My destination: Greenstone Falls Cabin.
Greenstone Falls Cabin & The Little Carp River
My drive to the State Park was a rainy one, but it stopped before I arrived and held off the entire weekend in the park.
The trail from the parking to the cabin is about a mile and a half.
The hike starts off on a gravel road that’s closed to cars, but it quickly transitions to a footpath after you cross the bridge over Little Carp River.
The rest of the hike follows the river.
It’s a fairly shallow river. Clear water makes seeing the rocky bottom easy and rock outcroppings create a picturesque scene of the water tumbling over the rocks that are covered in vibrant green moss.
Between the parking area and cabin, you’ll find two small waterfalls, both around six feet tall.
During the second weekend of September when I made the trip, the foliage was almost entirely green.
Some pops of yellows were just starting to come in.
There’s no major elevation change from the car to the cabin, just a few small hills to get up and over.
In places where its clear water gets into and creates a muddy trail, the park has built wooden planks for hikers to walk above the ground.
In about half an hour, I make it to my home for the night, Greenstone Falls Cabin.
It’s a simple one room cabin. There’s four bunks one wall, some counter tops, a wood-burning stove, and a table with some benches.
The cabin is about 20 feet from Little Carp River, just downstream of Greenstone Falls. It’s set among large moss-covered boulders in the woods.
This cabin, like the others you can rent in park, doesn’t have electricity or water.
I made sure to bring a small lantern and headlamp as well as a water filter to safely drink the water from the Little Carp River.
About a two-minute walk from the cabin is a compost toilet you share with another cabin nearby and backpackers that are camped in the area.
Being right on the trail, Greenstone Falls Cabin wasn’t the most private, but it was certainly idyllic.
Though this time of year, it’s hard to find a place in the park where you won’t run into other people.
Busiest Season in the Porkies
“I mean the porkies is popular year-round for a variety of reasons, primarily the different seasons, and fall is by far the most popular season in the park,” said Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park Manager Michael Knack.
He said some weeks the park will see upwards of 20,000 visitors.
The park regularly makes the list of 10 top places in the U.S. to visit in the fall. That draws in people from all over the country and even the world.
“We see probably the biggest increase in international tourists. We see a lot of people from Asia and Europe that come to visit the park during the fall season. So many photographers come out and want to get that photo of lake of the clouds or even just some of the smaller waterfalls off some of the smaller trails,” said Knack.
It can create long wait times for some of the more scenic parts of the park, especially Lake of the Clouds. It wasn’t very crowded during my visit, but signs along the road driving in warned of long waits.
New this year, the park has installed mounted viewers for people to get a closer look.
What makes them unique is the special lenses inside that allow people who are colorblind to see the fall foliage in all its glory.
“One in 12 men and about 1 in 200 women in the U.S. shared some degree of colorblindness. We thought that this would be a new and unique way to help people will kind of a disability or at least a disadvantage of not being able to see the vibrant greens of the maple and oak trees in the summer and spring as well as the conifers and then just the dynamic fall colors,” said Knack.
The viewers are at Lake of the Clouds, the Summit Peak observation tower, and at the top of Nawadaha Fall in the Presque Isle area of the park.
Lake of the Clouds
Lake of the Clouds is one of the most visited areas of the park, except in the winter when it’s buried under snow and the road to it goes unplowed.
The drive into the East end of the park takes you along Lake Superior. You can park at the top of the overlook.
A well-maintained boardwalk and ramp makes this section of the park accessible to most people.
The overlook offers views of the Porcupine Mountains, Lake of the Clouds, and in the Fall the forest transforms into a sea of reds, yellows, and oranges.
My visit to the park also included a visit to the other end of the park to where the Presque Isle River meets with Lake Superior.
This end of the park is not as accessible because of the change in elevation around the river and the many, many steps the park has built.
There is an accessible trail behind the ranger station to Nawadaha Falls. The lookout platforms for the other falls along this portion of the river mean going up and down stairs to get the to them.
My favorite part of this section is around the Presque Isle Suspension Bridge.
Before crossing over the bridge, steps leading down allow you access to the rocky banks of the river and an up close view unique way the river has carved out the rocks.
Going across the bridge gives you access to beaches on Lake Superior as well as better views of the river and the rock formations.
While Presque Isle and Lake of the Clouds offer some of the most stunning views of the park, all of the trails offer beautiful settings that make the hike worth it.
As I reluctantly pack up, lock up the cabin, and hike back out to civilization I take my time appreciating the beauty and peacefulness of spending time in the wilderness.
If you do plan to make a trip to the Porkies this fall, Knack suggests trying to go during the week to avoid most of the crowds.
Access to the park does require a car pass. Campsites and cabin and yurts are available to rent but reservations go quickly.
You can learn more about the park on the Michigan DNR’s website.