Following Northern Michigan’s Autumn Monarch Migration

Probably the most recognizable butterfly in North America is the monarch, with its distinguishable and vibrant black and orange color palette.

Did you know that during the summer, millions of these beautiful winged creatures (if you recall from biology class: lepidoptera from Ancient Greek lepís “scale” + pterón “wing” – the order of insects that includes butterflies and moths) spend their summers in the northern Great Lakes region around Michigan?

While the “summer” monarchs only live for only about four weeks, the migratory winter monarchs (also known as the “super generation”) are noted as the longest-living butterflies with a life span of up to mine months. These late bloomers are just now gearing up for their 2,000-mile or so migration to winter in Mexico (as the butterfly flies, from the Straits of Mackinac to central Mexico).

“This generational difference is caused by changes in weather, aging milkweed, nectar sources and shorter photo periods. With fall quickly approaching, plants are beginning to die back and milkweed, or the caterpillar food, is beginning to brown,” according to a 2018 post on the Original Butterfly House of Mackinac Island website.

“The monarchs emerging in these cooler temperatures are slightly different from their parents and grandparents. Butterflies have a gene that produces collagen which influences flight muscle structure and growth. In the super generation, this gene, produces lower levels of collagen than in the summer monarchs. Less collagen in the flight muscles, increases the endurance of migratory monarchs so they can physically make the trip to Mexico. On top of all that, when the monarchs of the super generation, emerge from their chrysalises, cold weather stunts their development and sends them into a reproductive diapause, meaning they are not sexually active. Due to this HUGE energy reserve they have the ability to live for up to nine months.”

The U.S. Forest Service in Rapid River (located at the north end of Little Bay de Noc, northeast of Escanaba reports that monarchs typically travel 50 to 100 miles a day (although the longest daily trek was recorded at 265 miles). Some, they say, take up to two months to reach their seasonal homes. This group gathers information from tagged butterflies, which provide useful information about migration patterns, timelines and successful arrivals.

According to, “each fall, hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies migrate from the United States and Canada to mountains in central Mexico where they wait out the winter until conditions favor a return flight in the spring. The monarch migration is truly one of the world’s greatest natural wonders.”

As of August 2019, there have been over 26,000 Monarch Waystation habitats in North America registered with Monarch Watch, including 1,950 in Michigan (the third highest state, behind Texas and Illinois respectively).

This migration season is a sight to see and throughout the months of August and September (depending on the weather each year), monarch sightings around northern Michigan are high.

One of the most popular viewing areas is Stonington Point in the Upper Peninsula near Escanaba (150 miles northwest of Mackinaw City), located at the southern tip of the 894,836-acre Hiawatha National Forest. Here, the tower of the Peninsula Point Lighthouse (c. 1865) stands watch over the kaleidoscope (the official designation for a group of butterflies) which at its peak amounts to more than 3,000.

In a 2018 article, writer Emily Bingham notes “because not all monarchs decide to head south at the same time, the butterflies’ migration through Michigan can take up to a month. And, because their staging points can vary based on the elements, it can be tricky to catch the pageantry of a large roost. To that end, Duke Elsner, a consumer horticulture educator with Michigan State University Extension, recommended the website a citizen-reported  tracking database for migratory animals, birds and insects, including the monarch butterfly.”

Are you seeing monarchs around the Straits of Mackinac? If so, share our photos at


PHOTO: Michigan State University Extension.

Discovering Michigan’s Majestic Waterfalls

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.