Falling for Tahquamenon

Waterfalls, fishing and more can be found at Tahquamenon Falls, Muskallonge Lake state parks

The Upper Falls along the Tahquamenon River, said to be the most photographed waterfall in the state, is shown. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources photo)

In the land of Hiawatha, north of Newberry, the mighty Tahquamenon River twists and turns, tumbles over two sets of impressive waterfalls and then, still wide and rolling, dumps into Lake Superior at Whitefish Bay.

Along the way, there are beautiful forests and marshlands, sandy jack pine barrens and more. The countryside maintains an isolated characteristic, one that might intimidate some visitors, while enticing others.

Farther west, and to the more northern part of the county, lies a former American Indian encampment, and later, in the 1880s, the home of Deer Park, a pine lumbering community.

These two distinct areas, each at least partially situated in Luce County, comprise the state of Michigan’s parks at Tahquamenon Falls and Muskallonge Lake.

Known best for its magnificent Upper Falls — which measures 200 feet wide, with a 50-foot drop and springtime high-water flows of more than 50,000 gallons per second — Tahquamenon Falls State Park has this and so much more to offer.

The mighty Tahquamenon River takes a big bend at the Lower Falls campground, providing a great place to enjoy the river. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources photo)

Canoes may be rented to gain close-up views of the Lower Falls, while at the Rivermouth Campground, visitors can experience this large waterway just before it empties into Lake Superior. Views of the hillsides of Ontario, Canada, are impressive from here, across this narrow part of the lake.

“This is the land of Longfellow’s Hiawatha — “by the rushing Tahquamenaw — Hiawatha built his canoe,” a park brochure reads. “Long before the white man set eyes on the river, the abundance of fish in its waters and animals along its shores attracted the Ojibwa Indians, who camped, farmed, fished and trapped along its banks.

“In the late 1800s came the lumber barons and the river carried their logs by the millions to the mills. Lumberjacks, who harvested the tall timber, were among the first permanent white settlers in the area.”

From the majestic waterfalls to fall leaf colors, moose sightings and numerous recreational activities to enjoy, Tahquamenon Falls State Park — which remains open year-round — has a great deal to see and do.

The park covers nearly 40,000 acres.

Muskallonge Lake State Park offers a good place to camp to enjoy a wide range of recreation opportunities in northern Luce County. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources photo)

“During the spring and summer, camping, hiking, fishing, canoeing, nature study and photography are popular activities,” the park brochure said.

Hunting is popular in the fall, while snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are favorite wintertime visitor activities, along with viewing and photographing the ice-encased waterfalls.

Like the Tahquamenon valley, the area around Muskallonge Lake owes a good deal of its historical notoriety to the pine lumbering activity of the late 19th century.

“Muskallonge Lake was a mill pond for millions of white pine logs that were brought to it by railroad lines,” a park brochure states. “By 1900, the virgin stands of pines were depleted, the mill was closed, and the lumbering operation moved away.

“All that remains as evidence of the lumbering community are piles of sawdust and a few partly submerged logs in the lake.”

The park was also the former site of a U.S. Coast Guard Lifesaving Station.

Today, the 217-acre park is located 28 miles northwest of Newberry along Luce County Road 407, with the surrounding area well-known for its forests, lakes and streams.

The park has 170 modern campsites, a day-use area and good access to Lake Superior, where park visitors enjoy rock-picking and agate hunting.

Muskallonge Lake also has a boating access site, with anglers provided excellent opportunities to catch the park’s namesake species — smallmouth bass, perch, northern pike and walleye — with more species, including trout and salmon, available for fishing on Lake Superior.

In addition, the woods around these two parks are filled with state forest campgrounds, which provide more places to camp and experience lakes and streams noted for fishing.

There are at least 15 of these rustic campgrounds located off the Blind Sucker, Pretty Lake, Bodi Lake and Paradise pathways.

Day trips from either of the state parks include destinations easily accessible like the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum and Whitefish Point Bird Observatory north of Paradise, Brimley State Park, the quaint summertime harbor town of Grand Marais, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the Soo Locks, Seney National Wildlife Refuge and the Mackinac Bridge, Straits State Park and the Father Marquette National Memorial at St. Ignace.

The village of Newberry, located about 25 miles south of Tahquamenon Falls State Park, serves as the gateway community for these two state parks. There are shops, restaurants, a golf course, lodging and gasoline found there.

Whether it’s a night under the pines, gazing at the stars, or a sunny day float up the Tahquamenon River with a fishing rod and a shore lunch, this land of Hiawatha offers visitors dozens of reasons to return to stay longer next time.

The waters found here — either tumbling, falling, moving slowly or lying flat — will capture the imagination of those who experience them, often leaving indelible impressions and a sense of the way things must have been — back more than a century ago when pine was king in these north woods.