Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is our all-time favorite Michigan state park. It is a spectacular tribute to Mother Nature and must be experienced in person to fully appreciate and soak up all it has to offer. From the original virgin hardwood forests to the Lake of the Clouds, and from the roaring waterfalls to the deep woods hiking trails, there is so much beauty around every bend.
Affectionately referred to as The Porkies, the state park lies in the furthest western tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It is the largest of all of Michigan’s 103 state parks at around 60,000 acres. Due to its size it sits in two counties and due to its location, it covers two time zones. Depending on where you are in the park, you will have to check whether you are in Eastern or Central time.
Creation of The Porkies
The Porcupine Mountains is a small mountain range that runs parallel to the southern shore of Lake Superior. Portions of the range began forming around 1 billion years ago from volcanic activity, with additional layers added over the millennia from sediment and glacial deposits. I found a good website that explains the full geology of the area.
The Ojibwa people named the range because it resembled a crouching porcupine. One of the most stunning features is the two huge escarpments flanking the park’s more famous feature, Lake of the Clouds. The highest point is Summit Peak at 1,958 feet. Today, more than 35,000 acres in the park are virgin hardwood forest.
In the 19th century, the Porcupine Mountains were the site of copper mining. One of these mines was the Nonesuch Mine, which operated sporadically from 1867 to 1912. Because of its copper mining history, the state park is a cooperating unit of Keweenaw National Historical Park.
In the 1920s, after the mining operations ceased, state park superintendent PJ Hoffmaster began the process of preserving the land and turning the property into a state park. Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park officially opened in 1945.
Must-Sees in the Porcupine Mountains
The Porkies is so huge it would take years to see and experience it all. We’ve been multiple times and only scratched the surface. Activities in the park include hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, boating, disc golf, waterfalls, wildlife viewing, and more. In order to learn more, I suggest checking out the video we did on the park that gets into much more detail.
As a result of its vastness, I’m going to list 5 must-sees in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park if you only have a few hours or just a couple of days.
Lake of the Clouds. The Lake of the Clouds is essentially what it sounds like…a lake high up in the mountains, often surrounded by or ensconced in clouds. It’s a magnificent sight to behold, especially in early October during peak color season. It is one of the only ADA-accessible areas in the park with a nice boardwalk from the parking lot. On a clear day you can see the famous Copper Peak Ski Jump 20 miles away to the west.
Presque Isle River corridor. At the very western edge of the park is the Presque Isle River. A 3-ish mile trail loops up and down both sides of the river providing up-close views of three magnificent waterfalls. Bring a hiking pole and sturdy shoes.
Summit Peak. The highest point in the park is marked with an Observation Tower, providing spectacular views for up to 50 miles on clear days. An access road off South Boundary Road leads to a small parking lot near the tower.
Nonesuch Mine. Off the beaten path a bit and not well marked on any map, is Nonesuch Mine and Nonesuch Falls. On the banks of the river was the site of a small copper mining community from 1867-1912. Today, you can find old stone foundations and remnants of the mine shafts and equipment. Ask a park ranger to provide directions to the unmarked parking lot off South Boundary Road.
Wilderness Visitor Center. Make one of your first stops at the Visitor Center to grab maps and directions. The rangers can point you in the direction of the best hikes and scenery depending on the amount of time you have in the park. The Visitor Center also has an auditorium and displays and dioramas of the park, local wildlife, and more. You also can check the interpreter’s activity schedule and wildlife sightings.
Hiking the Porcupine Mountains
Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is most known for its hiking trails and backcountry camping. It contains more than 90 miles of trails, many of them very steep and rugged through deep woods, rivers and bear country. There are trails of all lengths and difficulties, however, so even the most novice of hiker can find a trail or two to explore.
Due to the vast wilderness, the park is home to an abundance of wildlife large and small, including bear, moose, deer, wolf, porcupine, beaver, peregrine falcon and much more! It is common to encounter these animals while out hiking, so be sure to carry the appropriate gear and know what to do if you see one.
There are special rules if you head out to hike the longer trails and need to camp at one of the 63 designated backcountry camp sites. Since I’m not well-versed I won’t list specifics and instead direct you to visit this website for more details.
A few of the trails are open and groomed in the winter for cross-country skiing, but do your research and plan ahead as the area receives heavy snowfall and access may be limited.
Two relatively smaller hikes I would recommend if you’re short on time are the Summit Loop Trail and the Union Mine Trail.
The Union Mine Trail is around a mile long and is not too far from the visitor center. It contains interpretive signs along the way about a former copper mining operation on the site. It’s a short trail but does require climbing over roots, rocks, and uneven terrain and it may be wet, muddy, and slippery at times. This is a perfect beginner trail to learn some park history and experience the geology of the region, including a few small waterfalls.
The Summit Loop trail is actually a combination of three separate trails totaling around 5 miles that take you past Mirror Lake. The path we took included the South Mirror Lake, Little Carp River and Beaver Creek trails. This hike is a good distance that combines elevation, bog crossings, log crossings, and some steep steps. It passes through old growth forests, meadows and goes past Mirror Lake. Bring plenty of water, snacks, and bug spray, as well as a hiking pole, long sleeves, and bear spray.
If sleeping in the woods with the wildlife isn’t your thing, don’t fret, there are other camping options available in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.
The Union Bay Campground is the modern campground located in the northeast section of the state park. It has modern bath and shower facilities, including laundry. The majority of the 100 sites are in an open grassy area and packed in pretty tight. A small handful of sites are located down the hill right along the edge of Lake Superior. This campground books up fast in the summer and peak color season, especially those prime spots on the lake.
The Presque Isle Rustic Campground has 50 sites. It is located at the farthest spot west in the state park and abuts the Presque Isle River.
The campground is filled with plenty of trees with a decent amount of space between sites. There is no electricity and only vault toilets and a hand pump for amenities. Half of the campground is posted no-generators. It also includes a small handful of walk-in tent-only sites.
Other camping options scattered throughout the park include 3 smaller non-reservable rustic areas, 4 yurts, 19 cabins, and 1 lodge.
We have stayed at both Union Bay and Presque Isle campgrounds and would recommend either. They are at completely separate ends of the park, almost 40 minutes away from each other. Depending on where in the state park you plan to spend the most time it might be worth considering which place to camp so you’re not driving so far every day.
Don’t miss Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
I hope we’ve convinced you to make a trip to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. It is well worth it, no matter the season. In fact, you should visit during all four seasons to see how things change from the spring runoff to the fall colors. You won’t be disappointed.
We have plenty more adventures to come, so subscribe to this blog and our YouTube channel. We have a video about Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park here. You can follow us on Instagram, our Facebook page, and Twitter. Plus, you can see our progress as we visit each park on this interactive Google Map. You also can keep track of our activities on social media with the hashtags #hikecampgo and #mistateparks100.