Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, the beloved Porkies to many backpackers, is not only Michigan’s largest state park at 59,020 acres but it’s also the most rugged and the wildest. In the Porkies you have the state’s third highest peak, a healthy population of black bears and an area large enough to contain entire rivers, 25 miles of Lake Superior shoreline, and the only ridges rugged enough in Michigan we can possibly call mountains.
You can drive around the perimeter of the park and to its most famous viewing point, the Lake of the Clouds overlook. But to experience the heart and soul of Michigan's only state-designated wilderness you need to lace up your hiking boots, leave your vehicle behind and follow a trail into the backcountry.
The Porkies are laced with almost 110 miles of trails that wind past cascades, streams full of brook trout, 63 backcountry campsites, 18 walk-in cabins and yurts and a nearly endless number of panoramic views that rival anything seen south of the Mackinac Bridge. The hiking in the park ranges from easy dayhikes to a five-day backpacking loop where every night is spent in a different rustic cabin. But the trait all trails share is that inevitably at some point you’ll be climbing. Sometimes quite steeply. These are, after all, the Porcupine Mountains. Make sure you boots are well-worn and your pack is light.
The trail system includes the Lake Superior Trail, the park’s longest path stretching 17.1 miles along the lakeshore. The Big Carp River Trail is one of the most amazing trails in Michigan because you follow a river from start to finish. The 9.6-mile trail begins on the Escarpment where below you can look down and see the beginning of the Big Carp River, a sluggish stream pouring out of Lake of the Clouds. You eventually descend the rocky bluff to the river and in the final 4 miles follow it to where it empties into Lake Superior, one of the most remote spots in the park.
The Big Carp River Trail is often combined with the Little Carp River Trail for a four-day loop. At 11.8 miles Little Carp River is the second longest trail in the park and extends between two of the park’s most stunning lakes; Mirror Lake and Lake Superior. In between the trail skirts its namesake river, passing numerous waterfalls and cascades and winding through stands of giant old growth pines.
Dayhikes are also plentiful and include the spectacular Escarpment Trail. The Escarpment is a 4-mile point-to-point route that skirts the rocky bluff to views of Lake of the Clouds and then the Upper Carp River. All around you will be the ridges that are the Porcupine Mountains, painted in shades of autumn in late September and early October. At the west end of the park is the East and West River Trails that parallel the Presque Isle River, forming a 2.7-mile loop where boardwalks and viewing platforms place you right above the turbulence and three major waterfalls.
In the winter the Porkies is best known for its 320-acre downhill ski area whose slopes overlook Lake Superior, providing the park with the finest powder in the Midwest. Located just west of the park headquarters on M-107, the facility includes 15 groomer runs with a vertical drop of 600 feet and serviced by a triple chair lift, a double chair, a double T-bar and tow ropes. The longest run, Sunset, departs from the double chair and winds 1.2 miles through the words before returning the chalet at the base.
Fanning out from the downhill ski area is a 42-kilometer network of cross country ski trails through a terrain that ranges from rolling to very hilly. The runs are groomed and tracked and vary from Deer Yard Trail, a 4.8-kilometer loop with views of Lake Superior, to Union Spring Trail, an 19-kilometer run. The East and West Vista Trails pass a pair of 1,400-foot highpoints with stunning views of Lake Superior or Lake of the Clouds.
In the summer and fall most of the park’s cross-country ski trails are open to mountain bikers, who often combine portions of the Union Spring Trail with Log Camp and Rivers Trails for a 12-mile loop of adventurous riding. Highlights include the views from East Vista, following the Union River and the possibility of renting a rustic cabin for a night that you can ride to.
|Difficulty - Challenging|
|Difficulty - Easy|
|Difficulty - Moderate|
|Groomed Classic Skiing|
|Mountain Bike Single Track|