At the U.P.’s largest inland lake

‘A wilderness spirit still prevails’

Bond Falls, located on the Middle Branch of the Ontonagon River, is one of the state-managed waterfalls within an hour’s drive of Lake Gogebic State Park. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources photo)

Stretching across portions of two time zones and two Michigan counties, the namesake of Lake Gogebic State Park, at 15 miles in length, is the Upper Peninsula’s largest inland lake.

Home to jumbo perch, northern pike, smallmouth bass and especially walleye, Lake Gogebic has been a destination point for anglers and others for well over a century, since the Milwaukee, Lakeshore and Western Railroad came to the area and built a hotel resort on the south end in 1884.

According to an interpretive sign at the state park, the name of the lake is derived from the local Ojibwa who called it “Akogib.” “Akogibing” referred to someone or something at, from or to lake Akogib.

With white settlement of the region, Akogibing gradually became the English word “Agogebic,” and finally Gogebic. The state park was established at the southwest end of the lake on Big Bear Bay in 1926. It opened to the public four years later.

“What we commonly see here is that the park visitors are either focused on fishing for walleye, or that they are using the park as a base camp to explore the area, which usually means waterfalls,” said James Peace, lead ranger for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources at the park.

The beach at Lake Gogebic State Park has been a popular place to swim for decades. In this photo, park visitors enjoy the water in 1950. (Michigan Natural Resources photo)

Within an hour’s drive of the park are Bond Falls and Agate Falls, both on the Middle Branch of the Ontonagon River, and the spectacular series of waterfalls near the mouth of the Presque Isle River at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.

All these sites are managed by the DNR. DNR staffers manage 15 boating access sites from the park, which are situated in Iron, Ontonagon and Gogebic counties.

“A few of the interesting ones are the Cisco Chain of Lakes, of which, we operate launches on Thousand Island, Cisco and Clearwater lakes,” Peace said. “The Cisco Chain is the headwaters of the Ontonagon River Cisco Branch, which later becomes the South Branch, and marks the boundary of the Lake Superior watershed and the Wisconsin River, flowing to the St. Lawrence Seaway and Gulf of Mexico, respectively.”

Lake Gogebic State Park lies within the nearly 1-million-acre Ottawa National Forest, which is managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service.

In an article by Clifford Allen, as part of a series produced by the Works Progress Administration on several parks, the area was described this way:

“In the Gogebic-Ontonagon country of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, despite the civilizing influences of generations, a wilderness spirit still prevails. Forest darkness covers great hills and broken valleys.

From the highlands of the interior turbulent streams course northward between steep hills and break sharply over rock ledges to reach Lake Superior’s forbidding shore. Centered in this area, like a huge blue gem in a vast green setting is Lake Gogebic, one of the state’s largest inland waters.”

In fact, the lake measures 14,781 surface acres of water.

The true meaning of “Gogebic” has been debated for decades and may never be known with certainty. Some of the interpretations have included Smooth Rock, Place of the Falling Leaves, Body of Water Hanging on High, Green Lake and Place Where Trout Rise to the Surface, Creating Ripples on the Water.

In addition to the fishing and the waterfalling in the area, Lake Gogebic State Park offers access to numerous hiking, hunting, sightseeing, photography and wildlife viewing opportunities.

Within the park, the Lake Gogebic-Forest Trail runs for 2 miles. There is also swimming, geocaching, paddle sports and metal detecting. Camping sites are located on the lakefront or within 100 yards from the water, nestled among the trees.

There is also a boat launch. The park is found along M-64 between M-28 and U.S. 2 in Gogebic County.

As is the case with many of the state parks in the Upper Peninsula, visitors often use the 360-acre Lake Gogebic State Park as a jumping off point to recreational, historical and natural destinations located nearby.

The town of Bergland is located at the north end of the lake, offering gas, food and lodging. Other towns with similar amenities not too far afield include Watersmeet, Marenisco, Wakefield and Bruce Crossing. Several resorts operate in the area.

Whether it’s kayaking on the lake after a great day of hiking, or fishing for some fresh walleye for dinner, Lake Gogebic State Park is a great place to visit and to stay.

“Drawn to this country because of its scenic beauty, fishing, hunting and unusual waters, many visitors return each year,” Allen wrote. “Even before the automobile came into common use, railroads ran special fish trains to Gogebic station, from which fishing parties took to horse-drawn coaches to Lake Gogebic resorts.”

Today, the wilderness spirit Allen described still exists in the area surrounding the park, where a visitor might hear a wolf howling, while walking a quiet forest path to a hidden trout water among the pines.

The door to adventure is ajar.