So Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park can be considered one of the best state parks in Michigan.
If you’re planning a trip to the UP, it can be worth considering making a stop at the Porcupine Mountains!
The town that is closest to the Porcupine Mountains is Ontonagon.
You can base yourself in Ontonagon to visit Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, or you can stay directly in the state park at one of the Porcupine Mountains campgrounds.
Best things to do in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
1. Hike to Lake of the Clouds overlook
This is one of the most popular spots in the Porcupine Mountains. It’s a short walk of maybe around 5 minutes from the parking lot to the overlook.
The escarpment ridge is possibly what the Porcupine Mountains are best known for in pictures, and the easiest way to see this is by going to the Lake of the Clouds overlook.
Basalt is the dark, fine-grained volcanic rock that caps the “escarpment” ridge overlooking Lake of the Clouds.
Basalt often contains numerous small voids created by gas bubbles trapped in the molten rock when it cooled.
The escarpment ridge, as described by the State of Michigan DNR.
2. Hike the Escarpment Trail
If you are look for just one hike to do in the Porcupine Mountains, this is it!
After you take in the views from the Lake of the Clouds overlook, you can continue on the trail to hike the Escarpment Trail for some more iconic views of the Porkies. This is an out-and-back trail of around 8 miles round trip. You can make it a shorter hike by turning around sooner.
In the summer, the “biting flies” can be really bad. It was the worst I experienced during my 2 weeks in the UP!
Backpacking the Porcupine Mountains is a thing, and instead of making it a day hike, you can also make it an overnight trip on the Escarpment Trail! Look for campsites marked ES-1 and ES-2 on the backcountry campsite map (pdf).
See more about these Porcupine Mountains activities:
3. Summit Peak
This is the highest point in the Porcupine Mountains. The elevation of Summit Peak is 1,958 ft. This is considered a high point in Michigan!
There are a few ways that you can hike to Summit Peak.
The highlands of the parks are composed of rhyolite and andesite.
Both are volcanic rocks that are often referred to as felsite.
Felsite is common to much of the park’s interior uplands and was deposited here by a large volcano that stood nearby.
Summit Peak, as described by the State of Michigan DNR.
You can hike the most direct way to Summit Peak.
It’s about a half mile hike from the parking lot to Summit Peak. You’ll climb a set of stairs at the end to reach the overlook which will give you vast views of the “wilderness” and Lake Superior!
You can also hike the Summit Peak loop trail.
If you’re looking for a longer hike, you can also loop through the forest and make your “destination” the Summit Peak. From the parking lot, to make it a loop, you’ll hike the South Mirror Lake Trail to Little Carp River Trail to Beaver Creek Trail to Summit Peak. It’s not as complicated as it may sound. Just follow the signs for the Summit Peak loop!
This is officially listed as 5.2 miles, and it’s recommended to give yourself 3-4 hours.
You can also make it an overnight backpacking trip in the area of Summit Peak. There are backcountry campsites at Mirror Lake, and there are backcountry rustic cabins nearby too! It’s around a 3 mile hike from the Summit Peak parking lot to Mirror Lake.
Look for campsites marked ML and SML on the backcountry campsite map (pdf).
4. Union Bay (Lake Superior)
Union Bay is a bay of Lake Superior, one of the Great Lakes of Michigan.
Copper Harbor Sandstone is a sedimentary rock created from waters that flowed in this region one billion years ago.
This sandstone can be seen along the shoreline near Union Bay campground.
Union Bay, as described by the State of Michigan DNR.
There are a few ways you can experience Union Bay.
Drive by it. Stop by the beach. Kayak it. Camp by it!
If you arrive to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park from the east side (like from Copper Harbor and the Keweenaw Peninsula), your welcome will be Union Bay!
You will end up on a road that will give you views of Union Bay as you are driving.
Soon after you pass the state park entrance sign, there are stairs to go down to the beach. Lake Superior does tend to be cold, although people do go swimming in summer! Otherwise, this might be more for the views!
Kayaking along the shores of the Porcupine Mountains is a thing! Bring your own kayak! Or rent a kayak at the Porcupine Mountain Outpost.
Union Bay has a campground you can drive to. It’s possible to get a lakefront campsite here! Tent camping and RV camping available. This is a modern campground with electricity, showers, and normal bathroom facilities.
And right on the shoreline in front of the campsites are layers of flat rocks that you can walk out onto for to see an epic Lake Superior sunset!
See more about the Union Bay campground.
5. Hike the Lake Superior Trail to Lone Rock
Apart from the overlook towards the beginning, the hike is mostly through a forest without views of Lake Superior.
So consider that your “destination” is Lake Superior! That would be Lone Rock, which is a “lone” rock you can see out in the lake.
There is no sign specifically for Lone Rock though, so you may have to hunt for it a little bit. The indication that you are there is if you see a sign for backcountry campsites LS-13 and LS-14.
There are a lot of complaints about the Lake Superior Trail and its lack of maintenance, though! So just manage your expectations. It seems this might be particularly muddy and messy if you hike it after it rains. When I did this hike in July 2020, there was one point that initially seemed like it was impassable because of mud/flooding but I was able to find a way around.
The hike from Lake Superior Trail to Lone Rock is officially listed as 9.8 miles round trip, and it’s recommended to give yourself 5-7 hours. You’ll start at the Lake Superior Trail trailhead on M-107, which is the road to Lake of the Clouds.
You can also choose to hike the Lake Superior Trail as an overnight trip.
There are many backcountry campsites along the trail that are lakefront campsites with Lake Superior just a few steps away!
Similarly, there are a few backcountry rustic cabins that are located a very short trail from the shores of Lake Superior. You can see Lake Superior from your cabin! As backcountry cabins, you will hike in to get to them. For example, the Buckshot Cabin (shown in pictures) is a 3 mile hike from the nearest parking lot.
You can also look for more camping spots near Lake Superior.
6. Presque Isle River waterfalls
This is in a separate area of the park from the main area, which is pretty much everything that was listed above. For reference, the Presque Isle scenic area is around a 45 minute drive from Lake of the Clouds. This would be considered a more quiet area of the park.
The Nonesuch Shale consists of layers of sedimentary rocks.
This formation also has widespread copper deposits.
See the Nonesuch formation along the Presque Isle River.
Presque Isle River, as described by the State of Michigan DNR.
The UP is where to go if you want to see waterfalls in Michigan.
You can find waterfalls in the Eastern UP (hello Tahquamenon Falls), in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (hello many Pictured Rocks waterfalls), on your drive from Munising to Marquette (hello Laughing Whitefish Falls)… and in the Porcupine Mountains! (Among other places. You can make it a Michigan waterfalls road trip!)
And the area of the Porcupine Mountains to see waterfalls is along the Presque Isle River.
The main thing to do in the Presque Isle scenic area is to see the Porcupine Mountains waterfalls. By taking the Presque Isle waterfalls loop trail, you can see all 3 waterfalls listed below. You can also make it an out-and-back waterfall hike by taking the West River Trail which will pass by the 3 waterfalls. (There is also the East River Trail on the other side of the river.)
Hike the West River Trail!
See the Nawadaha Falls!
See the Manido Falls!
See the Manabezho Falls!
Go camping at Presque Isle campground!
The Presque Isle scenic area also has a campground that you can drive to. There are a few campsites where you can get obstructed views of Lake Superior through the trees. Tent camping and RV camping available. This is a rustic campground. There is no electricity and there are no showers. There are basic no-flush toilets.
If you are looking for a quieter outdoors experience, you will likely prefer the Presque Isle campground over the Union Bay campground. At Presque Isle, there are also walk-in campsites, in which there is a small parking area and you walk a few minutes to set up camp. You will be further apart from your neighbors.
You can access Lake Superior right near the campground by taking a set of stairs down to the rocky beach. It’s possible that you might be the only one there!
See more about these Porcupine Mountains activities:
Geology of the Porcupine Mountains: Michigan has a volcano past!
It was a LONG time ago (said to be over a billion years ago), but there was volcanic activity in the area of what’s now known as the Porcupine Mountains. Remnants of this volcanic activity can be seen all around.
If you are interested in geology, definitely stop by the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park visitor center!
You can learn about what makes Michigan’s landscape that you see today, and you can also find a “field guide to the bedrock of the Porcupine Mountains.” Some of this is quoted below, as was listed by the State of Michigan Department of Natural Resources that manages Michigan state parks and recreation.
Now cloaked in a vast hardwood wilderness, this area was once the scene of explosive volcanic eruptions.
Violent eruptions from a giant volcano produced the highlands of the park’s interior.
Immense earth forces ripped apart the earth’s crust and created the escarpment ridge.
Floods and massive ice sheets shaped the land.
Michigan volcanoes, as described by the State of Michigan DNR.
If you’re interested in more of Michigan’s volcanoes, then be sure to also visit the Keweenaw Peninsula, which is also located in the western Upper Peninsula. There, it’s said that the past volcanic activity is the reason for the distinct reddish landscape.
The Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is in the eastern time zone
Now being from Michigan, this seems kind of funny that they are specifying that you are in the eastern time zone here.
Like, of course, why would I think otherwise? I’m still in Michigan!
But this is also an indication of how close you are to the central time zone!
Most of Michigan is in the eastern time zone. But Wisconsin (solidly central time zone) is not too far away, and there are even counties in Michigan that border Wisconsin that are in the central time zone.
Getting closer to Wisconsin, there are even signs on the road that say “entering central time zone” in Michigan!
Cost of visiting Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
As a Michigan state park, you are supposed to have a Michigan recreation passport when you visit.
If you’re a Michigan resident, hopefully you already have the annual recreation passport!
If you don’t have the recreation passport, or you’re from out of state, then you can make your payment for a state park pass at the visitor center when you arrive.
In 2020, for Michigan residents the annual pass is around $17 when purchased at a state park. For out-of-state residents, the annual pass is around $34 while the daily pass is around $9. See current fees here.
This does seem to be an honor system, since there’s no entry gate or anything like that. It’s up to you to go to the visitor center to get the pass. That is unless you’re camping at one of the main Porcupine Mountains campgrounds, then you can also get the state park pass when you check in.
IMPORTANT: If you're going camping, read about Michigan's campfire warning!
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What is there to do at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park?
The best things to do in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park include going to the escarpment ridge for stunning views, driving along Lake Superior, and seeing several waterfalls along the Presque Isle River.
With one day in the Porcupine Mountains, you will have time to see the escarpment ridge, drive through the Porcupine Mountains, and see the waterfalls!
1. Escarpment ridge
Short hike to the Lake of the Clouds overlook.
Hike the Escarpment Trail, possibly the best hike in the Porcupine Mountains.
2. Summit Peak
Short hike to the highest point in the Porcupine Mountains with views of Lake Superior.
3. Union Bay (Lake Superior)
4. More of Lake Superior
Hike to Lake Superior shoreline.
Backpacking the Porcupine Mountains: Backcountry camping and rustic cabins along the shores of Lake Superior.
Hike the Presque Isle River trail to see 3 waterfalls.
More for your trip to the UP beyond the Porcupine Mountains
If you’re interested in the Porcupine Mountains, then you may also be interested in these things around the UP:
- Tahquamenon Falls (map)
- Kitch-iti-kipi (the bubbling big spring of Michigan!) (map)
- Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (map)
- Presque Isle Park (map)
- Crisp Point Lighthouse (map)
- Bond Falls (map)
- Best places to visit in the Upper Peninsula (for VIEWS!)
And that’s a bit about how to spend time in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park!
Explore more of the Porcupine Mountains:
- Lake of the Clouds
- Escarpment Trail
- Union Bay campground
- Presque Isle campground
- Camping in the Porcupine Mountains
Explore ideas for your trip to the Upper Peninsula:
- Western Upper Peninsula road trip route
- Eastern Upper Peninsula road trip route
- Driving from Grand Marais to Pictured Rocks
- Things to do in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
- Driving from Munising to Marquette
- Things to do in Keweenaw Peninsula
Explore more Michigan state parks:
- Best Upper Peninsula campgrounds (Great Lakes camping!)
- McLain State Park campground (Keweenaw Peninsula)
- Fort Wilkins Historic State Park campground (Keweenaw Peninsula)
- Tahquamenon Falls State Park (get up close and personal with waterfalls!)
- Palms Book State Park (the bubbling big spring)
- Muskegon State Park (Lake Michigan beach, sunset, sand dunes)
Explore national lakeshores in Michigan:
HAPPY PLANNING A VISIT TO THE PORCUPINE MOUNTAINS!
Here are some ideas for an Upper Peninsula road trip!
The most important places in the UP to know about are Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Tahquamenon Falls State Park, and the bubbling Big Spring of Kitch-iti-kipi.
Make it a Michigan camping trip to remember by going camping near Lake Superior.
Lighthouses are also a thing, so stop by one of the Lake Superior lighthouses (or many more!), like Whitefish Point and/or Crisp Point. You can also go to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum to explore why Lake Superior has a reputation for being Shipwreck Coast and the Graveyard of the Great Lakes.
Many people don't make it over to the western part of the Upper Peninsula. But if you want to, you will want to know about Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park and the Keweenaw Peninsula.
Then, on your way back down south, you can make a detour to go to Mackinac Island (ferry required) or Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. (Or, you can do these things on your way up north!)
Read the details: Best places to visit in the Upper Peninsula
Take care when camping!
Message from the State of Michigan Department of Natural Resources:
Michigan is currently experiencing unprecedented hot and dry conditions, causing extreme fire danger.
While we desperately await some much-needed rainfall, it's important to note that you could be the difference between a campfire and a wildfire.
We strongly suggest you refrain from any outdoor burning at this time.
If you do decide to have a campfire, be sure to:
- Keep a water source next to your campfire.
- Properly extinguish your campfire when you are finished by dousing with water and stirring dirt in with a shovel.
- Use the back of your hand to detect if heat is still coming from the fire or ring. If you can feel heat, the fire is not out. Douse and stir again.
- Spray down the metal ring of your campfire. The heat from that can cause dry grass to catch fire.
- Never leave your fire unattended, not even for a minute.
Read more from the State of Michigan.
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