And there are 2 main parts of the state park.
There’s the lower falls area of the park.
And there’s the upper falls area of the park.
The first thing to know is that these different sections of Tahquamenon Falls are located in separate areas of the state park. So there’s a Lower Falls parking area and an Upper Falls parking area. The drive time between the 2 waterfalls is maybe around a 5-10 minute drive. (It’s also possible to hike between the 2 waterfalls, and more on that below.)
And so, if you have only a very short time in Tahquamenon Falls, and you are only giving yourself time to see ONE section of the waterfalls…
Lower Falls or Upper Falls, which is better?!
Well… it’s depends. 😉
But, it depends on what you want out of your waterfall visit!
You can SEE Tahquamenon Falls.
And you can EXPERIENCE Tahquamenon Falls. (And the Tahquamenon River).
In this case, “experience” means getting really close to the waterfalls and the river in which the waterfalls flow through, and possibly even getting in the river. (Be careful!)
👆 Not really recommended! There can be unexpected currents in the Tahquamenon River!
And with that…
5+ best things to do in Tahquamenon Falls State Park
1. Upper Falls walkway viewing area
For the best waterfalls to SEE in the state park, go to Upper Falls! There’s a waterfalls overlook viewing platform. Allow around 45 minutes round trip.
2. Upper Falls gorge viewing area
Another spot to see Upper Falls as you walk along a boardwalk. Allow around 45 minutes round trip. (This was closed for at least part of summer 2020 seemingly because of unsafe stairs or boardwalk issues.)
3. Lower Falls viewing area
You can also see Lower Falls from an overlook. There’s a viewing platform. Allow around 45 minutes round trip.
4. Rowboat to Tahquamenon River Island and Lower Falls
Row your own way across the Tahquamenon River to the river island! You can rent a rowboat for a fee. There is also a boat “shuttle” if you don’t want to row yourself.
5. Hike the river island trail
And the BIG reason to take a boat to the island?! To hike along the river around the island! Possibly the best way to EXPERIENCE the Tahquamenon Falls and Tahquamenon River! In the words of a Michigan state park employee: The island is the only spot where you can see “all 5 lower falls up close.” Allow around 1.5 hours to row, hike, and take in the waterfalls. Possibly longer depending on how much time you want to spend on the river!
6. Hike the River Trail
There is a hiking trail that connects lower falls and upper falls. Allow around 4-5 hours round trip. If you’re not interested in hiking the whole trail, you can still do a little bit of it. Start walking on the River Trail boardwalk from the Lower Falls overlook. And then you will find river access points so you can get close to, or even wade into, Tahquamenon River. Experience the Tahquamenon River!
Stay in the state park so you can go and see Tahquamenon Falls during the day, at sunset, and at sunrise! There is tent camping and RV camping available.
Facts about the Tahquamenon River!
According to the State of Michigan Department of Natural Resources:
Why is the Tahquamenon River brown? (and orange?)
The Tahquamenon River is brown because of tannic acid.
Along with water, organic materials work their way into the Tahquamenon River.
These materials originate from the decomposing vegetation found in the cedar, hemlock, and spruce forests found in the drainage basin.
Why is there so much foam in the Tahquamenon River?
There is a lot of foam in the Tahquamenon River because of natural reasons.
3 natural factors give rise to the foamy appearance of the Tahquamenon River:
1- The river water is naturally soft (low mineral content)
2- The decaying organic matter contains lignin protein complexes (much like egg whites)
3- The turbulent action of the falls
soft water + organic matter + turbulence = FOAM!
How to spend 24 hours in Tahquamenon Falls State Park
When you’ll be staying overnight in the park
- Arrive at Tahquamenon Falls State Park in the afternoon
- See Upper Falls from the overlook
- See Lower Falls from the overlook
- Walk the first part of the River Trail from Lower Falls, directly along the Tahquamenon River
- Camp overnight at Lower Falls campground closer to the waterfalls or at Rivermouth campground closer to Lake Superior
- The next morning, go to Lower Falls and take the boat across to the Tahquamenon River island
- Hike the loop around the island to get up close and personal with the Tahquamenon River and Lower Falls!
For more ideas on your driving route before and after Tahquamenon Falls State Park:
- Michigan waterfalls road trip route
- Things to do in Eastern Upper Peninsula
- Things to do in Pictured Rocks
- Things to do in Western Upper Peninsula
Day trip to Tahquamenon Falls
It’s also reasonable to make it a day trip to Tahquamenon Falls from other parts of the Upper Peninsula, and possibly even the Lower Peninsula if you really want to.
You could do everything that was in the 24 hour plan above in the same day.
Here are one-way driving times from popular spots around Michigan.
Drive time to Tahquamenon Falls:
- St Ignace to Tahquamenon Falls is a little less than 1.5 hours
- Sault Saint Marie to Tahquamenon Falls is around is a little less than 1.5 hours
- Munising to Tahquamenon Falls is around 1.5 hours
- Marquette to Tahquamenon Falls is a little less than 2.5 hours
- Mackinaw City to Tahquamenon Falls is around 1.5 hours
- Traverse City to Tahquamenon Falls is around 3.5 hours
Explore the map.
If you are doing an Upper Peninsula road trip, also see ideas for your circle the UP trip route with the most scenic places to visit!
In the summer, there are days where sunrise can be before 6am and sunset isn’t until after 9:30pm! So you can pack a LOT into your day… if you want to!
Best time to visit Tahquamenon Falls
Per Michigan State Parks and Recreation in 2020:
The park has seen an influx of visitors this season.
To avoid crowds and parking lots at capacity, it’s suggested that you arrive before 10am or after 4pm.
The park is open 6am to 10pm.
Right near the Lower Falls parking lot there are a number of picnic tables.
You can also hike to a river access point from the Lower Falls area and find a spot to sit right along the river too!
Cost of visiting Tahquamenon Falls
Both the Lower Falls and Upper Falls are a part of Tahquamenon Falls State Park, and it requires the Michigan recreation passport.
If you are a Michigan resident, hopefully you already have the annual recreation passport, in which case it basically makes this a FREE waterfall spot!
If you don’t have the recreation passport, or you’re from out of state, then you’ll pay the fee upon entry.
In 2020, for Michigan residents the annual pass was $17 when purchased at a state park. For out-of-state residents, the annual pass was $34 while the daily pass is around $9. See current fees here.
Picture taken in 2020.
Dogs are allowed
Tahquamenon Falls State Park is a pet-friendly Michigan state park, and dogs are allowed as long as they are on a leash. Be sure to read the open letter to your dog from the people of Tahquamenon Falls State Park.
More below about what one day in Tahquamenon Falls State Park can be like!
Here's some info on Michigan vacation prep! Top Michigan vacation spots:
- Best of Michigan's national lakeshores
- Best of Tahquamenon Falls State Park
- Best of Porcupine Mountains State Park
- Michigan waterfalls road trip
- Lake Superior lighthouse road trip
- Best of hiking in Pictured Rocks
- Get a waterproof phone case if you'll be heading out on the water!
- The perfect type of shirt for swimming in Michigan
Trail to Upper Falls viewing areas
There are 2 main overlooks to see Upper Falls that you can visit.
There is a sign where they split off, so they are basically 2 different trails. There is the “brink” viewing area, and the “gorge” viewing area. If you give yourself 1 hour, you can comfortably be in and out of the Upper Falls part of the state park without feeling rushed. This will give you time to go to at least 1 of the main overlooks, maybe 2.
MAP: Upper Falls area
Trail to Lower Falls viewing area
You will basically just follow the trail to get to the main Lower Falls viewing overlook area. Along the way, you’ll pass by some more viewing areas to see the river, and you’ll also pass the spot where you can rent a rowboat to get to the island. There’s also a gift shop too. (Along with toilets!)
MAP: Lower Falls
Tahquamenon River island: Rowboat and hike
So again, to get a boat to the Tahquamenon River island, you’ll take the same path as you would to the Lower Falls overlook. As you are walking to the Lower Falls overlook, you’ll see the boat launch.
It might take you around 5 minutes to row to the other side.
In 2020, the cost of a boat rental was $7 per person or $20 per boat.
Picture taken in 2020.
Hiking the River Trail from Lower Falls to Upper Falls
Or Upper Falls to Lower Falls
It’s possible to drive to both the Upper Falls and Lower Falls so that you will be a 10-15 minute walk away from the viewing platforms of the waterfalls.
But if you want to do a solid day hike when you are at Tahquamenon Falls State Park, then you can hike the River Trail.
Explore the map.
This is a hiking trail mostly through a forest that connects the Lower Falls and Upper Falls overlooks. This would be around 8 miles round trip.
This trail distance doesn’t include the walking to/from the parking lot, along with the walking you will do to get to the various waterfall overlooks. So you can expect to walk maybe 9-10 miles.
There is typically a hiker shuttle so you wouldn’t have to hike it both ways, but this was not operating in 2020 because of health safety reasons.
Shuttle service that normally runs between the Upper and Lower Falls to accommodate visitors hiking Tahquamenon Falls State Park’s River Trail will not operate during the 2020 season.
Check the Michigan State Park website for the hiker shuttle status in 2021.
If you want to hike from Lower Falls to Upper Falls, you will hike to the main viewing overlook of Lower Falls. Then you will see signs that lead you to the River Trail.
If you want to hike from Upper Falls to Lower Falls, you will go towards the gorge viewing area of Upper Falls. You will see the trail right in front of the stairs that goes down to the gorge.
And even if you don’t want to hike the whole trail, if you start on the trail from Lower Falls, you’ll shortly find many river access points as you will be hiking directly along the river!
Backpacking the North Country Trail
The North Country Trail is a national scenic trail that extends for 4,600 miles across many states from the midwest to the east coast. It also goes through Tahquamenon Falls State Park, and by hiking the River Trail, you will actually be on the NCT!
There are modern campgrounds and rustic campgrounds in Tahquamenon Falls State Park. There’s both tent camping and RV camping available.
There are basically 2 areas of campgrounds in Tahquamenon Falls State Park. The Lower Falls campgrounds will be closer to the waterfalls. The Rivermouth campgrounds will be closer to the mouth of the Tahquamenon River at Whitefish Bay, which is a part of Lake Superior.
Doing a camping road trip around the Upper Peninsula? Be sure to see more Michigan state park campgrounds in the UP!
Gas station near Tahquamenon Falls State Park
Do you really need to be told where the gas station is?!
In these parts, it might be helpful! Well, it might depend on where you’re going after Tahquamenon Falls. I was headed to Crisp Point Lighthouse from Tahquamenon Falls, and it was important to fill up before starting the drive there!
In this part of the Upper Peninsula, you might end up driving without knowing when you’ll see the next gas station, as they might be few and far between!
And, you never know where you’ll end up! So fill up when you can!
Local tip from a UP resident: stick to the numbered roads! (Google maps might send you onto no-name roads or non-existent roads, or worse, roads that you can get stuck in sand!) Tip from me, a UP visitor: If google maps takes you on Rabbit Patch Road, don’t go! …unless you’re looking for a true UP adventure. 😉 And definitely don’t go unless you have a 4wd.
So, it could be a good idea to gas up before you leave the Tahquamenon Falls area!
There’s a gas station near Tahquamenon Falls. When you’re coming from Upper Falls, you’ll drive in the direction of Lower Falls, and keep going.
There is a 76 gas station there, aka Genes Tahquamenon. (google maps)
And that’s a bit about a one day visit to Tahquamenon Falls State Park!
See more great things to do during your eastern UP road trip, and that includes Lake Superior lighthouses!
Explore more Michigan state parks:
- Best Upper Peninsula campgrounds (Great Lakes camping!)
- Palms Book State Park (the bubbling big spring)
- Porcupine Mountains State Park (Lake Superior and hiking with views!)
- Muskegon State Park (Lake Michigan beach, sunset, sand dunes)
Explore national lakeshore parks in Michigan:
- Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (cliffs and sand dunes)
- Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (hikes with lake views)
Chasing waterfalls in Michigan?!
Here are more great waterfalls in the UP:
- Pictured Rocks waterfalls
- Bond Falls
- Riverside trail to Porcupine Mountains waterfalls
- UP Michigan waterfalls road trip route
HAPPY SEEING TAHQUAMENON FALLS IN THE UPPER PENINSULA OF MICHIGAN!