Things to do in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula 

Looking for things to do in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in Michigan? We’re sharing everything we loved about the park, when to visit, tips for the park, and more!

While national parks get a lot of the love in the United States (including from us), there are thousands of state parks that make up the country that are worth a visit too! 

Lately we have been trying to seek out state parks and other natural areas that don’t have the national park title. We find them to be just as beautiful as the national parks, but usually without the crowds. And the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was one of the best gems we visited while in the Great Lakes!

Watch our experience hiking and seeing waterfalls in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park!

When we thought of Michigan (before our visit), we imagined sandy beaches along the blue waters of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. But what we didn’t expect was more mountainous terrain, forested rivers, and gorgeous waterfalls, which is exactly what the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park offers.

We spent one very busy day in the park, including camping overnight in our van, and had a blast exploring this beautiful area that to be honest, we had never heard of before our visit. And we’re excited to share more about the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park with you in this guide, as well as the best things to do while there!

Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!

About Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

Escarpment Trail Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

The Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is located on the western side of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, along the shore of Lake Superior. And at almost 60,000 acres, it is Michigan’s largest state park!

The “Porkies” (as they are nicknamed) may not be the tallest mountains, but with a high point of almost 2,000 feet, they definitely stand tall among the surrounding area and Lake Superior. And beyond their height, the Porcupine Mountains are also home to the most extensive stand of old growth northern hardwood forest in North America west of the Adirondack Mountains. 

While in the park you’ll find 90 miles of hiking trails, tons of waterfalls, lakes, and beautiful sandy beaches. There is no shortage of adventure to be had in the park, as well as in the surrounding area! 

For this guide, we’ll specifically be focusing on the state park, but we will include some additional things to do in the Porkies outside of the park at the end of this guide!

Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!

These seven principles include planning ahead and preparing, hiking and camping on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly (pack out what you pack in!), understanding campfire rules and always fully extinguishing your fires, respecting wildlife, and being considerate of other visitors. 

How to get to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

With its location in the western Upper Peninsula, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is pretty remote and located hours from any major city. For this reason, it’s likely a destination you’d visit while on a larger road trip or if you live in the area.

Flying to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

If you’re flying in to explore the area, here are some of the closest airports to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.

Duluth International Airport (DLH): 3 hours (138 miles)
The Duluth airport in Minnesota is pretty small, but has direct flights from Minneapolis, Chicago, Fort Myers, and Phoenix on Delta, United, and Sun Country Airlines.

Green Bay Austin Straubel International Airport (GRB): 4 hours (226 miles)
This airport in Wisconsin has nonstop flights from Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, and Minneapolis on American, Delta, Frontier, Sun Country, and United. They also have seasonal flights from Denver, Ft. Myers, Orlando, Phoenix, and Tampa. 

Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport (MSP): 5 hours (249 miles)
This is the largest of the airports listed and has nonstop flights to many destinations in the United States on the major airlines.

Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport (MKE): 5 hours, 15 minutes (324 miles)
The Milwaukee airport has nonstop flights from most major cities on all of the major airlines, plus some smaller regional airlines.

Escarpment Trail Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

Driving to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

Beyond the destinations above that you can fly into, here is how long you can expect to drive from other popular destinations near the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin: 1 hour, 45 minutes (86 miles) Watch our experience kayaking here!
Copper Harbor, Michigan: 2 hours, 15 minutes (130 miles)
Marquette, Michigan: 2 hours, 20 minutes (131 miles)
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan: 3 hours (175 miles)

Getting around Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

You will need a car to get to the Porcupine Mountains and to properly explore the area. If you have to rent a car, any type of car will work just fine!

You also have some choices of how to get into the park, with two main ways to enter. The first is to take County Road 519 to the Presque Isle River area of the park, which connects to the rest of the park via South Boundary Road. This area is closest to Ironwood, Michigan (about a 40 minute drive).  

The second way is to enter closer to Ontonagon, Michigan and take either South Boundary Road (which starts right here) through the park, ending at Presque Isle River, or you can take the 107th Engineers Memorial Highway to explore the Lake of the Clouds region of the park.

In this guide we’re sharing destinations in the Lake of the Clouds, Presque Isle River, and South Boundary Road areas of the park because we think all areas are worth exploring, and they are only about 35 minutes apart. But where you’re coming from may determine how you enter or where you want to stay (more on that soon)!

When to visit Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is a great year round destination, depending on your interests and how much you can tolerate snow. For this guide, we’re focusing solely on things to do in the late spring to early fall, when the trails are mostly snow free and accessible, but here’s what you can expect in each season in the Porkies.

Winter

When you think of Michigan winters, you likely think of very cold temperatures and lots of snow. The Porkies are no exception and receive 200 inches of snow per year, which is insane!

However, this doesn’t mean you can’t explore the area in the winter. There is still a lot to do, including snowshoeing or cross country skiing, skiing nearby at Porcupine Mountains Ski Area, snowmobiling, and more!

Note: The roads in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park (107th Engineers Memorial Highway and South Boundary Road) are closed in the winter and usually reopen in late May. You can access these areas by snowmobile though!

Spring

Spring in the Porkies usually includes more snow, but in the late spring, as the temperatures warm up and snow melts, it’s home to raging waterfalls! This will be a less busy time in the park, so if you want to avoid crowds and have access to most trails, visit in the late spring.

Presque Isle at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

Summer

Summer provides the most activities in the Porkies, from hiking on snow-free trails, seeing waterfalls, getting out on the water, and more! The temperatures are usually in the 70s-80s, but it can be pretty humid, which makes it feel muggy.

We visited the Porkies in August and with lots of sunshine, 80+ degrees, and humidity, we were pretty sweaty while hiking around. But on the plus side, it made Lake Superior feel much less brutally cold.

If visiting in the summer, expect a lot more crowds from summer vacationers, but there are still many ways to find solitude, like starting early, going for longer hikes, and visiting on weekdays.

Fall

Fall is said to be one of the best times to visit Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park because of the beautiful fall foliage that the park has. Around mid-October, the park bursts with reds, oranges, and yellows, which can best be seen from the Summit Peak Observation Tower or the Lake of the Clouds overlook.

We would LOVE to visit in the fall next time! Besides the colors, it’s also a bit cooler out, which we really enjoy. Just beware that early snow storms can occur, so if you visit in the fall, be prepared for different types of weather!

Where to stay when visiting Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

There are a handful of options when it comes to where to stay and type of accomodation. As we mentioned above, Ontonagon and Ironwood are the closest towns, depending on where you plan to enter the park. Both towns are pretty small and remote, but offer a handful of places to stay, ranging from hotels, to lodges, to Airbnbs. The park itself also has backcountry and car camping options if you want to stay within the park and don’t mind roughing it a bit.

Below are some of the best options for all types of lodging, in both areas!

Hotels 

Airbnbs

Lake Superior Cottage in Ontonagon (2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom): This Airbnb is nice inside and has a private beach, kayaks to use, and a fire pit.

The Lake House in Ontonagon (3 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms): This house is good for large groups and is right on the lake!

Simply Superior Rental in Ontonagon (3 beds, 2 bathrooms): This house is also located right on the lake and even features a sauna!

Cozy 3 Bedroom Cottage (3 bedrooms, 1 bathroom): This cottage is located just south of the eastern entrance to the park and has nice finishes inside, plus a fire pit in the backyard. 

Little House on the Trail in Ironwood (2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom): This house is beautifully redone on the inside, has a sauna and fire pit, and is located on the Iron Belle Trail, which goes across the entire state of Michigan, from the Upper Peninsula to Detroit.

Bakery Bungalow in Ironwood (2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom): This super nice bungalow is owned by bakers, who provide a bakery breakfast with your stay!

Camping at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

Campgrounds

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is home to 5 campgrounds that you can drive up to, with a total of 164 sites. Most of these campgrounds are rustic, without any amenities, but the park does have one more modern and large campground (the Union Bay Campground), with hook ups and nicer facilities. 

These campgrounds are typically open mid-May through the end of November, but are only reservable from mid-May until the end of October. You can see all of the campgrounds and check their availability here.

During our stay, we camped at the Lost Creek Outpost for one night, which only has 3 campsites, making it quieter and more secluded.

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Backcountry Camping

Backpacking is a very popular activity in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, both in the summer and in the winter! We had hoped to backpack, but by the time we had the idea and looked into it, all of the sites we wanted were taken.

There are a total of 65 backcountry campsites in the park, as well as 19 rustic cabins and 4 yurts, all of which require hiking to. You can see their availability here (make sure to click “backcountry” in the search area) and a map of their locations here.

Between May 15-October 14, reservations are highly recommended for these backcountry sites and they can be booked 6 months in advance. They book up quickly, so planning early is key! 

How much time do you need at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park?

Escarpment Trail Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

We spent one full day in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park and were able to go on three hikes and see most areas of the park, but it was a very busy day! 

We suggest spending at least two full days in the park so you can see the major highlights at a more leisurely pace, but you could easily spend more time if you want to backpack or do more things in the area (we will share some ideas in our “if you have extra time…” section).

What to bring with you to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

Summit Peak Observation Tower at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

Since your time at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park will be filled with hikes and outdoor activities, you’ll want to bring plenty of outdoor gear and clothing. To see everything we take hiking, check out our hiking gear as well as our guide about how to make a 10 essentials kit. 

But here are a couple additional items to consider bringing depending on activities you’d like to do and the month you’re visiting.

Swimsuit

If you plan to get into Lake Superior, make sure to bring a swimsuit! Lake Superior is VERY cold, but on a hot day, going for a quick dip or getting out on the water on a kayak is nice and refreshing. 

Bug Spray

In the late spring and early summer (mid-May through June), bugs can be a big problem in the Porkies, so bug spray is KEY! While we don’t recall encountering too many bugs. In areas we visited beforehand that were buggy, mosquito nets helped protect our faces. 

Things to know + tips for visiting Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

Escarpment Trail Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

Entrance fee

It costs $9 per day (for non Michigan residents, less for residents) to enter Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. However, if you plan to visit more state parks while in Michigan (or are a Michigan resident), we highly recommend getting the annual recreation passport which is $36 for non-residents and $12 for Michigan residents if purchased with their license plate registration renewal. This pass will pay for itself with 4 visits to Michigan state parks within one year.

Unlike some state parks we have visited, where they have a visitor booth you drive through and pay the fee, not every entrance to the park has one of these. If you’re entering from the south on County Road 519, there is an entrance booth before entering Presque Isle River. 

But if you’re entering from the east, you’ll need to go to the Visitor Center to pay. We didn’t realize this and got to the trailhead for our hike and had to turn around.

The park is in TWO time zones

Something VERY important to know and also a tad confusing, is that the park is in TWO time zones…Central Time and Eastern Time. The Lake of the Clouds area is in the Eastern Time zone, while the Presque Isle River area is in the Central Time zone. If you are on a tight schedule, make sure to keep track of what time zone you’re in!

Grab groceries in Ironwood beforehand

If convenient to your route, Ironwood offers the largest grocery stores, including a Walmart, which we recommend grabbing food and snack items from before entering the park. Once in the park, there is an outpost store, which has some items, but will be more limited.

Buy firewood in the park

Speaking of getting items in advance, one item you should not get in advance is firewood. The park requests that visitors buy their firewood in the park, to ensure that it is local firewood and doesn’t bring any tree killing insects or diseases. The outpost store by the eastern entrance of the park has firewood you can purchase while visiting.

Practice bear safety

There are black bears that live in the Porkies and while encountering one is rare, they can be seen in camping areas, going after food that campers have.

So if you plan to camp in the park, proper food storage is KEY to ensuring both bears and humans stay safe. As the saying goes, “a fed bear is a dead bear” and by not properly storing food and other scented items, you run the risk of bears getting into your belongings, which can put you in danger, as well as the bear, as they then become too accustomed to humans and therefore a threat.

If car camping, make sure any scented items are stored in your vehicle at night, including food, toothpaste, deodorant, etc. For backpackers, all sites have bear poles so you can hang your food. However, we prefer to use a bear canister and carry the Backpacker’s Cache Bear Proof Container.

Bear spray is not really necessary, since black bears are typically not aggressive, but we like carrying it when we know there are bears in the area, just for peace of mind. We’d rather have it and not need it, than need it and not have it!

The Best Things to do in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

Watch our experience hiking and seeing waterfalls in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park!

Escarpment Trail

Miles (roundtrip): 8.4 
Elevation Gain: 1,666 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions 

The Escarpment trail was our favorite thing we did at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park and is a MUST DO if you like to hike! 

This trail takes you along an escarpment, which is a steep slope or long cliff, overlooking a river and Lake of the Clouds, with tons of green mountains and hills surrounding. While you can see some of these views from the Lake of the Clouds Overlook (more on that next!), the views along the trail are much more expansive and it’s way less busy.

There are two main ways to do this hike, depending on how long you’d like to hike.

Option #1

Park at the Government Trail Parking and hike the trail to the Lake of the Clouds Overlook and back. This is the same as the route above, but backwards (AllTrails has you starting at the overlook). We suggest starting here instead of the overlook because the Government Trailhead is just along the side of the road, so if you were to start at the Lake of the Clouds Overlook and end here (before turning back), it would be pretty anticlimactic. 

But by starting at the Government Trailhead, you will end at the overlook and it’ll be a great reward for hiking! 

Escarpment Trail Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

Option #2

If you do not want to hike the entire distance, you could start at the Lake of the Clouds Overlook and then turn around about halfway, which is when the views are the best. This would give you all of the best views on the hike, but for less mileage. And save you from hiking to the Government Trailhead, which is mostly wooded for a bit and very steep!

Whichever option you choose, this hike is beautiful and reminds us a bit of the East scenery-wise. We kept feeling so surprised that we were in Michigan!

Lake of the Clouds Overlook

Lake of the Clouds Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

If you aren’t up for hiking, but want to experience most of the views of the Escarpment Trail, check out the Lake of the Clouds Overlook! This overlook is a short, paved walk from a large parking area and as the name implies, overlooks the Lake of the Clouds, plus the surrounding area.

There is signage here that explains a bit about the geology of the escarpment, as well as other interesting information about the area. Most of the overlooks are wheelchair accessible too!

Lake of the Clouds Trail

Miles (roundtrip): 1.8
Elevation Gain: 341 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions

You not only can see Lake of the Clouds from above, but you can hike to it as well! On this short hike, you will go downhill to the lake, where you’ll be able to see the escarpment from below, which is a unique perspective compared to the Escarpment Trail and overlook!

Big Carp River Trail

Miles (roundtrip): 16.2 
Elevation Gain: 1,423 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions 

The Big Carp River Trail is a popular backpacking route, with a handful of campsites along the way, but it can be done as a very long day hike or shortened for a day hike.

This trail takes you along the escarpment for 3.7 miles, but the opposite direction of the Escarpment Trail, so you could combine this portion with the Escarpment Trail for more views.

Along the escarpment, you have views of the Big Carp River and surrounding mountains, and as you go downhill, you’ll reach a forest, see waterfalls, and eventually make it to Lake Superior. 

Lake Superior Trail

Miles (roundtrip): 16.6
Elevation Gain: 980 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions

The Lake Superior Trail is another popular backpacking route, with a bunch of campsites once you get to Lake Superior. This trail starts near the Lake of the Clouds Overlook and goes down pretty quickly to Lake Superior, where you’ll walk in the forest along the lakeshore, with access to the lake in different spots.

This trail does meet up with the Big Carp River Trail, so combining these two into a loop would be a great backpacking trip!

Lake Superior at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

Enjoy Lake Superior

After a long hike, a great way to cool off is to go for a swim in Lake Superior. But be warned,  Lake Superior is the coldest of the 5 Great Lakes, with the surface temperature only reaching about 68 degrees in the summer and MUCH colder the other times of the year. 

We found some picnic pull offs on the side of 107th Engineers Memorial Highway, right on Lake Superior, and cooked up some lunch in our van and enjoyed it with a view, before going for a quick dip. It was pretty toasty in August and we both really enjoyed feeling the cold water for a tiny bit (and Kona loved it too)! 

Besides swimming, another way to enjoy the water is by sea kayaking or stand up paddle boarding. The Porcupine Mountains Outpost offers rentals if you do not have your own!

Union Spring

Miles (roundtrip): 7.1 
Elevation Gain: 485 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions

This hike takes you through a forest and by waterfalls, before passing the second largest natural spring in Michigan, where you can stand on a boardwalk and admire the blue water below! The trail itself goes for 7+ miles, but to go to just the spring and back, it’s only around 4 miles.

Union Mine Trail

Miles (roundtrip): 1.1
Elevation Gain: 111 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions

This trail is not only a beautiful walk through nature (the waterfalls are gorgeous after snow melt!), but also a history lesson. Along the trail there are plaques that share the history of mining in the area, which is super cool!

Summit Peak Observation Tower at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

Summit Peak Observation Tower

Miles (roundtrip): 0.9
Elevation Gain: 223 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions

The Summit Peak Observation Tower is a 50 ft tower that marks the highest point in the park at 1,958 feet above sea level. The hike to it is short, but steep, and as our final hike of our busy day, we kept thinking to ourselves “this has to be more than 0.9 miles!” because of its surprising steepness.

But once you get to the tower, you can climb the stairs and on a clear day, see the Apostle Islands to the northwest and Isle Royale. The views are stunning! And we hear it’s even better in the fall with foliage.

Presque Isle at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

Presque Isle River Waterfalls Loop

Miles (roundtrip): 1.7+
Elevation Gain: 167 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions

The Presque Isle River area of the park is known for its beautiful waterfalls and the Presque Isle River Waterfalls Loop is a great way to see the beautiful ones! 

This trail has a lot of boardwalks and stairs to walk up and along the way you’ll go by Manabezho Falls and Manido Falls, which were both more impressive than we thought they would be. After Manido Falls, we got a bit turned around trying to find Nawadaha Falls. 

The trail turned from boardwalk to an unpaved, steep, rocky and root-filled trail and this confused us a bit. So we turned back and got onto a different trail to Nawadaha Falls (here is the route we did), which worked out fine! 

Once looping back towards the trailhead, don’t forget to walk on the suspension bridge and go over to the island on the other side, which has a beach on Lake Superior! You can also see some really cool pothole formations in the river from this bridge. These were formed by sand and gravel swirling around and they are one of the most unique natual features we have seen!

Fishing

For those who like to fish, the Porkies are home to some good fishing! You can fish at Lake of the Clouds (catch and release only and only artificial lures) for bass, but keep in mind that you do have to hike down to the lake.

You can also fish on Presque Isle River, which is home to brook trout. There are also other areas outside of the park that are good for fishing in the Porkies, which you can read more about here.

If you have extra time…

The area around Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park offers a lot to do as well! So if you’re looking to spend a few more days in the area, here are some fun places and activities to check out!

Adventure Mine Tours

We are a bit mad at ourselves that we didn’t know this existed before our trip! On Adventure Mine Tours you get to experience the mine like miners did many years ago, with only a single light on our helmet. Depending on the tour, you can rappel down into a mine, go through different rooms, cross a bridge, and even eat a pasty in the mine!

Miners Revenge Mountain Bike Race

We aren’t mountain bikers, but dang the Miners Revenge Mountain Bike Race sounds fun! You ride mountain bikes through a forest and IN A MINE! This event happened in July of 2021, so keep an eye on their website for future dates.

Porcupine Mountains Ski Area

As we mentioned earlier, the Porcupine Mountains Ski Area is a great place to visit in the winter for skiing and snowmobiling! They also offer disc golf in the summer.

Copper Peak

Copper Peak is the only flying ski hill outside of Europe…how cool is that?! And you can visit it while near the Porkies! You’ll take a chair lift ride to the base of the lift and then an elevator to the top, where you can enjoy 360º views. But for the daring and not afraid of heights, you can go up even further!

Black River waterfalls

Just about 30-40 minutes from the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is the Black River National Forest Scenic Byway, where there are even more waterfalls to enjoy! Along this 15 mile stretch of road, there are 6 different falls to stop and see. You can learn more about the waterfalls here.

Visit the Keweenaw Peninsula

The Keweenaw Peninsula is the northern part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, about 1 hour from the Porkies, and is nicknamed “Copper Country” because it was the site of one of the first mineral mining rushes and the first copper boom in the United States. Check out our video we made on the Keweenaw Peninsula to see what our favorite stops were in the area!

Ready to explore the Porcupine Mountains?

Pin this list of things to do in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park to help plan your trip!

about us

Hi y’all! We’re Adam, Kathryn, and Kona, an adventurous married couple (+ pup!) living on the road in our self-converted sprinter van! You can often find us driving all around the US and Canada, scoping out the best coffee shops, eating tacos and ice cream (we’re a 5+ taco and 2+ scoop household), and enjoying nature.

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