Saturday, September 26, 2020

Fall Color Trip 2020 (Michigan's U.P.)

It has been a long, lost summer as far as camping goes- only one very short trip to northern Minnesota in August. Otherwise we stayed close to home. We had managed to stay healthy and with the arrival of September we decided we needed to go camping. A road trip to Michigan's Upper Peninsula would provide a needed dose of nature with fall color and allow us to escape the quarantine for a bit.

We headed for the Ottawa National Forest's Black River Harbor campground on Lake Superior north of Bessemer, Michigan

The campground sits high above Lake Superior just west of the harbor park and has 40 nicely spaced campsites of which 23 are first-come-first-served. There is no running water or electricity and 2 well-maintained pit toilets. There are paths to overlooks and a steep and eroded old road down to the long sand beach- great for rock-hunting and gazing at the big lake.
We arrived in late-afternoon to find plenty of open sites. We picked one on the Lake Superior side and registered. A strong wind from the south was blowing with gusts up to 30 mph but our site was protected by the forest of trees surrounding us.

After setting up camp, we made dinner. We set up our Clam screen room, anticipating bugs but the strong wind kept the bugs away. We would appreciate it later in our stay. We collected some of the abundant dead fall for a campfire, which is allowed in the national forest. We followed the steep trail down to the beach to watch the sunset, which was filtered through the smoke from western forest fires.
Note: click on the photos for a larger version.

Campsite through the trees


Sunset through the smoke

Message on the beach

Overlooking Lake Superior from the campground

Evening campfires are part of our camping ritual


The next day we explored the surroundings, visiting nearby waterfalls and enjoying walks in the woods. We returned to camp in the afternoon to relax, read our books and gather more firewood. 

The Black River drops 200 feet in the last two miles before reaching Lake Superior. There are 5 waterfalls along this stretch, with trails and overlooks for sightseeing. Water levels were low compared to the spring runoff, but the waterfalls were still beautiful.

Potawatomi Falls
Kathy at Potawatomi Falls
Nice walk in the woods

Fall color is coming

Conglomerate Falls

Downstream from Conglomerate Falls

Rainbow Falls

Downstream from Rainbow Falls

Lots of steps up from Rainbow Falls


Scenes from woodland walks:












Interesting mushroom











The next day we decided to do some back country exploring to find our way to the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. As usual, our DeLorme map book did not match the roads on the ground. The GPS was not much help. We followed small forest roads to many gates and dead ends, and had fun doing it.

Exploring back roads

Eventually we resorted to the main roads. Along the way we enjoyed the fall colors. We guessed we were a few days before peak color but it was beautiful nonetheless.

Roadside fall color

We came around a bend in the road to see an unusual construction reaching for the sky. What is that? We decided to check it out. It turned out to be the Copper Peak- reported to be the only ski flying hill outside of Europe. Ski flying events have not been held there since 1994, but plans are in the works to bring them back. Now, chairlift rides up the hill can be had in the summer, with an elevator to the top of the jump. You have to walk the final 8 stories to get the view from the very top- 26 stories up in the air. I can't imagine sliding off that thing on skis. We did not take the ride but you can see photos here:

What is that?

View from the parking lot below

The landing hill

Along the way we passed several trailheads for the North Country Trail, which follows the Black River on its way from North Dakota to Vermont.

Signpost at North Country Trail

The main attraction for us at Porcupine Mountains this trip was the overlook to Lake of the Clouds. We anticipated a great view of the fall colors and were not disappointed. Granite cliffs, Lake of the Clouds and the Presque Isle River were framed by wonderful fall foliage.

Lake of the Clouds

Presque Isle River

River and mountains

River, mountains and granite


Before heading to the Porcupine Mountains we explored the Black River Harbor park. An old fishing boat that had seen better days was displayed with some information about its life in the old days.

At the harbor there is an interesting suspension bridge over the river which allow access to a fine Lake Superior sand beach. The bridge was originally built by the CCC in 1938-39 and reconstructed by the USFS in 1968. We enjoyed walking across the bridge, checking out the construction details and feeling it respond to our movements.

Signpost at suspension bridge

Entrance to the bridge

Bridge from the walkway below

The harbor walkway

Another view of the bridge tower

Cable detail

Another cable detail

Plaque from 1968 rebuild

Stone anchor block

Cable connection

View of Black River from bridge

Black River Harbor entrance

View of Lake Superior at harbor jetty

Beach driftwood

Looking to the harbor from the bridge

With commitments at home we had to end our stay at Black River Harbor. The drive home was sweet with the fall display in full swing. Spectacular vistas of forested hills and sparkling lakes kept us entertained and provided a fitting conclusion to a fine trip.

Wisconsin lunch spot on the drive home


  1. Al, this looks like such a relaxing and fun adventure! What intriguing landscape topped with fall colors. Thanks for allowing us to share the good times!

  2. Al thanks for refreshing my memories of our visit
    to the Lake Superior area back in 2012.
    Boy we sure miss getting out.

  3. Hi Al, Stunning photos, loved the brilliant red leaves. Very cool to revisit Potawatami, Conglomerate and Rainbow Falls from our hikes there in the 70s on our way to see friends in Copper Harbor.