This post is part of our year-long series celebrating the 100th anniversary of the state parks system in Michigan by visiting all 103 parks in 2019.
There aren’t a lot of state parks in Michigan open for camping in the winter but, luckily for us, that list includes one of our favorites: Tahquamenon Falls State Park. (tuh-KWAHM’-in-uhn)
The park is located in the northeast section of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It offers so many things to do, even in the winter. Thanks to all the snow they get in the Upper Peninsula, you can enjoy snowshoeing, cross country skiing, snowmobiling and more. The Tahquamenon Falls themselves — both the Upper and Lower falls — don’t know the seasons. They pour their water over their edges year-round. The biggest difference is the view changes dramatically in the winter months because of the ice and snow that build up around the falls and coat nearby trees.
The falls really are beautiful any time of year but especially in the winter. Seeing it frozen over is a neat experience. You get to see the true power and the beauty of nature in the wintertime.
Camping in the winter? In the Upper Peninsula?!
We produced a video about winter camping and how we prepared our Roadtrek 190 Popular to stay warm. Some people might think if you go camping in the winter in a place like Tahquamenon Falls you’re going to be stuck inside the RV all the time. Even if you’re not into outdoor activities you can stay warm. A big campfire makes a difference, and convincing a group of friends to hang out around it with you is even better! (A small market right down the road from the park entrance sells great firewood.)
This also is a special park for us because it was the first place we camped with our Roadtrek. We bought the rig in mid-December 2015. In January 2016, we were camping in the Upper Peninsula in the winter. It’s crazy to think back now — what were we thinking?! But we were meeting a group of RVers who were all headed to Tahquamenon Falls State Park. We knew we would have a built-in support system. Overall, people in the RV community like to help each other. If you have any problems or questions on your rig, your neighbors generally are there to help you out.
A variety of rig sizes can be accommodated at Tahquamenon Falls State Park in the Portage, Rivermouth, and Hemlock campgrounds at the Lower Falls. Only the Hemlock loop is open in the winter, however.
The Hemlock Campground offers some pull-through sites. We noticed many of the sites are the back-in variety though. One thing to keep in mind is that you tend to have an electric pole at the back of the site and you’re going to share it with a neighbor so there are two outlets on each of the poles. (We found 30-amp and 20-amp outlets, so check with the park if any sites are available with 50-amp service, or bring a dog bone adapter to step you down to the 30-amp outlet.) Also, because the electric hook-ups are at the rear of the site, it’s likely you’ll need a heavy-duty extension cord to reach depending on how long your rig’s built-in cord is.
One of the biggest questions people always want to know when they go to a park is what it’s like from a privacy standpoint. Many folks go camping because they want to get away from everything, including other people. So while there is a camaraderie in the RV community, there comes a time when people sometimes want to just have their privacy. In Tahquamenon, there is a little bit of a distance and they seem to be nicely sized sites overall, but there definitely isn’t a whole lot of privacy. There tends to be a lot of pine trees and they provide hardly any cover.
The sites themselves aren’t particularly level and that is another thing to keep in mind — especially if you’re in a smaller rig parking on one of the smaller sites. There are a few on a hill and have a bit more slope than some people are comfortable dealing with.
The other nice thing the park does in the winter is leave the picnic tables out. Now, depending on how much snow has fallen, you might have to do a little bit of shoveling before you can actually use the table. But we’ve been in parks where they just pile them up and lock them away in a corner and you can’t use the tables at all. So, it actually is really nice that they give you the option of having the table to use.
The Hemlock Campground has a bathroom building with showers and toilets, plus vault toilets. The main bathroom facilities are closed in the winter because the water is shut off to that building. (There is water available in a well house at the campground if you have a container to carry it in.) The vault toilets are open, although they are unheated so be warned! You can always just use the toilet in your rig and flush with RV antifreeze as we noted in our winter prep video.
We definitely recommend making reservations year-round. The winter is much quieter there and even better…no pesky bugs! But with a reservation, the rangers will make sure the snow is plowed out of your site and as level as they can get it.
Visiting the waterfalls
As we mentioned, the Hemlock Campground is in the Lower Falls area of the state park. There is a trail to the Lower Falls that connects directly to the campground. It’s a 1-mile trek out and back and includes a couple different scenic overlooks both from afar and right near the falls. A nice walk in the woods in the summer, the trail is great for snowshoeing in the winter, too. If you are not staying at the campground, there is a day parking area near the entrance from which you can walk to the Lower Falls, as well.
The Upper Falls are 4-miles away from the campground via the main road in the park. There is a large parking lot for every size vehicle. In the winter, about half of it is open only to snowmobiles, so plan to arrive early on a weekend. There is a brewery and restaurant, plus a large gift shop. Note that in the winter, the main gift shop is closed but there is a miniature version of it in the brewery. Bonus — the Upper Falls area has a bathroom building open year-round. Flush toilets, hot water and heat make this is a prime pitstop in winter! The pathway to the Upper Falls is flat and plowed, making it accessible to everyone, including strollers and wheelchairs.
Visiting Paradise and Whitefish Point
Tahquamenon Falls State Park is located about 10 miles from the town of Paradise, Michigan. It’s a small but welcoming community. In the summer there are lots of cute cottages available for rent right along the water. Not a whole lot is open in the winter, but there are the basics of groceries and fuel available. And downtown boasts one of the best restaurants in all of northern Michigan.
The Inn Gastropub and Smokehouse is basically a gourmet restaurant in the middle of nowhere. The story is that the owner was a chef whose grandparents owned the restaurant. He decided to buy it rather than have it sold outside the family. In the past five or six years, he has turned it into quite the popular establishment. The food — ranging from pub burgers to gourmet entrees — is fantastic, and all at great prices. Make sure you leave room for some of their homemade desserts — especially the carrot cake or the peanut butter pie.
If you’re up for a pretty drive to another beautiful location, consider heading north on the main road out of Paradise. After about 20 or 30 minutes, you arrive at Whitefish Point. The area includes a lighthouse and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum (closed in the winter.) If the name of the area sounds familiar, think about the Gordon Lightfoot song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” You may recall the line, “the searchers all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay if they’d put 15 more miles behind her.” (We will write another post and produce a video about our visit to Whitefish Point, so stay tuned.)
Four thumbs up
We aren’t ranking the state parks when we visit them. But some sort of indication of our enjoyment of the parks might be helpful to you. So we are providing a very unofficial and subjective thumbs up or down.
As we said, this is one of our favorite state parks, and it’s special to us. And that’s why we both give it two thumbs up for a total score of four thumbs.
There are plenty more adventures to come, so subscribe to this blog and our YouTube channel. (We have a video about Tahquamenon Falls State Park published there.) 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.