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Ocqueoc Falls Bicentennial Pathway
While the Upper Peninsula has hundreds of waterfalls, the Lower Peninsula has only two, with Ocqueoc Falls being the most popular and accessible one south of the Mackinac Bridge. You can rush from the parking lot to the falls in a couple of minutes, but the best way to turn this stop into an adventure is first to bike or hike a portion of the Ocqueoc Falls Pathway, a bicentennial project built in 1976.
This Mackinaw State Forest trail is shared by hikers and mountain bikers during much of the year and consists of four loops; 2.85, 3.5, 4.6 and 6 miles. More than just the falls, this is a very scenic area dominated by the river valley and forested by towering pines and hardwoods that are brilliant in early October. You hike or ride out along a ridge above the valley for some incredible views, and then return along the river, ending at the falls.
The first loop is not only the shortest but the most scenic, making it an excellent choice for families with children. But the pathway is also an excellent place for mountain bikers, particularly beginner and intermediate riders. The surface is generally hard and most of the system is easy two-track with a few segments of single track encountered.
The day-use area around the falls can be a popular place in summer and fall. But once you on the trails, you will encounter few if any people, especially in the northern half of the system that forms the 6-mile loop. Most hikers seldom venture beyond the first loop.
The trailhead is marked in the parking lot by a large display map and the pathway is numbered in a counterclockwise direction, saving the small cascade for the end. At post No. 1 head east (right) and follow an old two-track through a red pine forest along a surface that is solid for biking and usually carpeted by pine needles. At Mile 0.35 you make a short climb and then level out for the next mile as you skirt a bluff. At times you can look down into the river valley or across to the forested ridge bordering the Ocqueoc on the west side.
The pathway will cross a number of old two-tracks throughout the day but in general is well marked and easy to follow. Just keep one eye out for blue DNR Pathway triangles on the trees or faded blue blazes. You cross one of the two-tracks at Mile 0.8 and then at Mile 1.5 arrive at post No. 2. To the west (left) is a very short downhill spur to post No. 5.
The 6-Mile Loop continues to the right and within a half mile makes a sharp swing to the west and descends off the bluff. At Mile 2.1 you arrive at a “T” junction and can head left for post No. 5 and the cascade or right to continue north. Heading north you begin the two-way segment of trail, the result of the pathway being re-routed in the mid-2000s, and immediately arrive at a gate blocking motorized vehicles.
You descend to a steel bridge at Mile 2.3 to cross the scenic Little Ocqueoc River and then climb out of the ravine where you’re directed right to continue the pathway in a counter clockwise direction. There is a confusing spot with a two-track at Mile 2.4 and then post No. 3 is reached at Mile 2.6. This spot can also be confusing as it merges with a two-track but is well marked. The two-track is the crossover sput to post No. 4, The 6-Mile Loop heads left briefly to cross the two-track and then right to continue north.
At Mile 3 you enter a meadow sprinkled with large trees that can be especially beautiful in the fall and within a third of a mile arrive at a series of large boulders used to block to motorized vehicles, particularly ORVs. At this point the trail, resembling an old two-track, swings west to begin its return to the parking lot and at Mile 3.9 you emerge at what looks like forest road cul-de-sac. Nearby is a bench perched on the edge of a high bank overlooking the Ocqueoc River. It’s your first view of the river if you didn’t sneak a peak of the falls in the beginning and it’s one of the best along the trail. You’re looking down at a sharp bend in the Ocqueoc and a long stairway providing anglers access to it.
A steep downhill follows and at Mile 4.2 you arrive at post No. 4 where there is another bench and a partial view of the river. Here an old two-track heads east (left) for post No. 3 while the main trail, also as an overgrown two-track, continues right along the bluff. Within a quarter mile you arrive back at the two-way single track and use it to re-cross the Little Ocqueoc River and return to the “T” junction at Mile 4.5.
This time continue straight along the more hilly terrain for post No. 5. The junction is reached at Mile 4.75 and is followed by another descent dropping you to the floor of the river valley. You reach the Ocqueoc atMile 5 to begin the most scenic section of the trail. For the rest of the outing you remain close to the river to constantly catch views of gurgling trout stream through the trees. This stretch is one of the most beautiful river trails in the Lower Peninsula and ends with the Ocqueoc Falls, heard long before you see them.
While not big by Upper Peninsula standards, Ocqueoc Falls makes for the perfect place to end a hike or a ride, especially on a hot summer afternoon. The cascade drops 10 feet over a series of three ledges, making it easy in the summer for you to kick off the boots and wade in for a soothing massage of the feet that only Mother Nature could give. The parking lot is just 100 yards or so to the east.
At the Ocqueoc Falls day-use area there are vault toilets, a large parking area and a few picnic tables overlooking the falls. Across the road from the trailhead is Ocqueoc Falls State Forest Campground, a rustic facility (hand pump, vault toilets) of 15 sites with many of them situated on a high bank overlooking the Ocqueoc River.
The trail is open year round with backcountry skiers and snowshoers using it in the winter. There is no vehicle fee for the pathway but there is a nightly fee for Ocqueoc Falls State Forest Campground.
The day-use area for Ocqueoc Falls is well posted on Ocqueoc Falls Road, which can be reached from Rogers City by following M-68 west for 11.5 miles. When the state highway curves sharply to the south, continue straight onto Ocqueoc Falls Road to the entrance.
The best place for additional information is the DNR Gaylord Regional Office at (989) 732-3541.
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