Last weekend (April 17, 2015) Andrew and I each were free on Friday and decided to take a trip up to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It was going to be warm and sunny and seemed like a great way to get away for the weekend. At almost 60,000 acres, it’s well over 10 times as big as Governor Dodge State Park, our easily accessible Wisconsin state park less than an hour from Madison. This park is bigger than 15 US National Parks, including popular ones like Acadia National Park in Maine.
Our initial plan was to leave Madison around 9 AM (Central time), get to the Porcupine Mountains around 3 PM (Eastern time) and hike for 3 days. Our plan was to hike about 8 miles along the Big Carp River from Lake of the Clouds, camp at Shining Cloud Falls our first night, continue along the Lake Superior Trail for our second night, and return to the Lake of the Clouds Scenic area on Sunday.
Our plans definitely changed as the weekend went on. We got a late start and didn’t hit the trail until almost 5 PM Eastern. In addition, the ranger who had helped us with our permits let us know that there was a good bit of rain expected on Sunday night and that the Big Carp River had a crossing that may be muddy/unsafe due to snowmelt. We actually wound up doing an out and back on the Big Carp River Trail to the connection to the Correction Line Trail and did some day hiking and returned to Madison on Saturday night. Though we didn’t do our intended trip, it was definitely great to hit the trail again!
We started off at the Lake of the Clouds Scenic area around 5 PM. Our delay was caused by (1) a late start from Madison and (2) a few stops along the way. Side note – the drive through northern Wisconsin was absolutely beautiful.
Interestingly (to me at least), Porcupine Mountains State Park is partially in the Central time zone and partially in Eastern. The Porkies are just barely east of Madison and very significantly west of Green Bay, so although we arrived late, we still had a lot of daylight left. We were still concerned about losing the light and crossing the Big Carp River at sunset, so we decided that we would start off with an easy 5 miles to the first group of campsites actually on the Big Carp River.
The Lake of the Clouds is a beautiful lake over 120 feet over Lake Superior. The trail starts another 75 or 100 feet over the lake itself on a escarpment. For the first two miles or so, the trail is exposed the the rocky bluffs overlooking the lake and the valley below and occasional glimpses of Lake Superior. It was about 60 degrees and lightly breezy as we hiked along, perfect weather for carrying a heavy pack.
Then, the trail descends into old hardwood forests. These old growth areas were full of amazing smelling pines and fir.
We crossed over a dozen or so large fallen trees and trekked through a bit of mud as we descended to our campsite on the Big Carp River.
Each site had a fire ring, a pretty generous amount of space, and a bear pole. You could tell the river was up – it was fairly wide, but the water was moving quickly, and it looked fairly deep. The water was cold and really pleasant after being run through our filter. From what I’ve heard about the Porcupine Mountains, it is nearly impossible to avoid the bugs. This was definitely not our experience, which was a relief – I am a mosquito magnet. Moral of the story – camp before the bugs have time to hatch!
The next morning, we crossed a questionable footbridge and pushed on the trail, but quickly found it nearly impossible to navigate without gaiters. We decided to turn around after a half a mile. The blue blazes on the trees were hard to follow since we had no idea where on the ground the trail actually was – everything was mud. Our plan was to stay another night at a relatively close backcountry site, but, about a half a mile from the parking lot, I twisted my left knee just enough to make it painful to walk uphill. If anyone has any ideas on how to improve ankle or knee strength, please leave me a comment!
We regrouped and decided to check out the Presque Isle area and head back to Madison that afternoon.
The South Boundary Road was still closed, so we had to go around the park to get to Presque Isle, but it was totally worth it. The Presque Isle River was running extremely fast and full. Manabezho Falls typically has some dry spots along its span, but because of the snowmelt, this is what it looked like for us! That much water going a 25 foot drop is loud!
Trails here were well done – they had great views of all of the falls along the river. There’s also a segment of the North Country National Scenic Trail within the Porkies. There’s a really cool suspension bridge on one side of the island that connects it to the trails for the waterfalls.
On the other side of the island, instead of a bridge, there’s blue blazes painted on the rocks that take you through the river. If the water level were lower, it would be a really easy crossing. I thought that this was such a cool place for the NCT to pass through!
Overall, this was a good trip, even if we significantly changed what we hiked. The Big Carp River Trail was a great spring trail for the first 5 miles and then descended into mud. If (when) we go back, I’d like to tackle a 3 night trip. There’s over 60 established backcountry campsites and you can actually camp anywhere more than 1/4 mile away from scenic areas, trailheads, and cabins if you have a backcountry permit and hang your food. I really liked our first trip to the Porkies!