By definition, a waterfall is “a perpendicular or very steep descent of the water of a stream” or “a place where water flows over a vertical drop or a series of steep drops in the course of a stream or river.”
Many people think you need to be in the western United States to see waterfalls, but in fact, Michigan is home to more than 300—most of them in the wooded areas of the Upper Peninsula and easily accessible via a day trip from Mackinaw City.
Without question, the state’s largest and most noted waterfall is Tahquamenon Falls in Paradise just 80 miles from Mackinaw City. The centerpiece of the 50,000-acre Tahquamenon Falls State Park, the Upper Falls is one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi with a drop of nearly 50 feet and more than 200 feet across with a water flow of more than 50,000 gallons per second.
The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, which stretches for 42 miles along Lake Superior between Munising and Grand Marais in Alger County (120-130 miles from Mackinaw City) is home to several popular waterfalls. According to the National Park Service website, “most of the waterfalls in this area are the result of water running over a shelf or cliff of hard limey sandstone called the Au Train Formation. This geologic formation resists erosion better than the softer sandstone layers just below it.”
At Munising Falls you can walk the paved 800-foot trail up a shaded sandstone canyon along Munising Creek to the base of the falls, where two sets of stairs lead to platforms to view the 50-foot waterfall as it drops over a sandstone cliff.
The Miners Falls Nature Trail offers views of the Miners Basin and Miner Falls (pictured), which drops about 50 feet over a sandstone outcrop, creating the park’s most powerful waterfall. There are 64 steps down to the lower viewing platform at the falls.
Bridalveil Falls is viewed best from the water, but can be seen at a distance from the lower Miners Castle overlook or from the west end of Miners Beach.
Located about one mile west of Grand Marais, on Alger County Road H-58. Sable Falls tumbles 75 feet over several cliffs of Munising and Jacobsville sandstone formations on its way to Lake Superior. The first viewing platform is down a long staircase of 169 steps. The trail continues past the falls for about a half-mile down to a rock beach where Sable Creek flows into Lake Superior.
Spray Falls plunges about 70 feet over the Pictured Rocks cliffs directly into Lake Superior. This remote waterfall is best viewed from the water as there is limited viewing access from the North Country Trail. The 1856 shipwreck “Superior” lies at the base of the falls in 20 feet of water.
Laughing Whitefish Falls is considered by many to be the most spectacular of Michigan’s falls. The falls cascade through a picturesque gorge with old growth white pine and hemlock towering above. The falls can be reached by a moderate (.6 mile) hike through beech-maple forest.
Ocqueoc Falls, along the Ocqueoc River, is the only recognized waterfall in Michigan’s lower peninsula. It is also the only universally-accessible waterfall in the United States. Located 46 miles southeast of Mackinaw City (between Cheboygan and Rogers City in Presque Isle County), Ocquoec also provides approximately six miles of hiking and biking, along three marked loops. You can even swim in the falls, where the Ocqueoc River has cut a channel through the limestone bedrock that underlays the entire region.
Please use caution while hiking to waterfalls. Stay on the trails and watch for uneven footing.