Last summer I was lucky enough to spend a week hiking, camping, and exploring in the Porcupine Mountains. Located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park as it’s officially known is Michigan’s largest state park with a whopping size of 60,000 acres. If you love hiking, this destination is for you. With over 90 miles of trails in the park, there is a trail for everyone to explore.
Having covered a lot of ground (quite literally,) I’m going to spend the next few posts recapping and looking back on the hikes I did and how we camped in this stunning and massive park.
I start the adventure recap with my personal favorite hike in the park, the Escarpment Trail.
Before we set out on our weeklong trip, some research and thought went into planning which trails we wanted to complete and a hiking route that made sense geographically. Much of this plan was promptly thrown out the window upon arriving in the park and talking to a park ranger at the campsite. He was incredibly helpful and informed us that much of the ground on the Lake Superior Trail, a trail we planned to spend a large amount of time on due to it’s close proximity to the water, was completely impassable mud. Like rip the boot off your foot mud. He also told us that his favorite views in the entire park were found along the Escarpment Trail. Obviously we had to do that!
Distance: 4.3 miles one direction, 8.6 miles there and back
Difficulty: Moderate – plenty of flatter sections but numerous hills too, with a handful of steep, larger hills
Description: This stunning trail follows the ridgeline of an escarpment providing stunning views of the Lake of the Clouds and surrounding forest
From end to end, the Escarpment Trail is 4.3 miles. Since the trail is linear and has a parking lot at both ends with a few smaller access points in the middle, you have some decisions to make. If you’re lucky enough to have access to two vehicles, parking one at each end or at another access point will let you complete the trail once in one direction. If you don’t have a vehicle, you can opt for a there and back hike, to total 8.6 miles, or a there and back hike without completing the entire thing. We opted for the latter as there were a few other trails in the area we wanted to check out. We turned around at the halfway point, which is clearly marked by a sign on the trail.
We started the hike by parking at the Lake of the Clouds Scenic Area parking lot. Even if you don’t plan to hike the trail, this is an absolute must do when visiting the park. If you Google image search “Porcupine Mountains,” most of the pictures that pop up are of this lake.
The Lake of the Clouds Scenic Area is a great place to park and use the restroom before beginning your trip. Once you’re ready yo go, head to the accessible observation platform.
This well maintained platform hugs the side of the escarpment and offers a variety of views of the lake below.
It makes sense to me why this is the most photographed feature in the park. If you’re hiking the trail, this is a lake you’ll get used to seeing.
Keep walking along the platform to enjoy different views of the escarpment and lake.
You can also see the Big Carp River at the edge of the lake.
This view shows the length of the observation platform in the distance.
Once you’re done enjoying the platform, head out on the Escarpment Trail. Don’t worry about not seeing the lake again, there will be plenty of opportunities for that.
Heading east from the scenic area, the trail starts by heading into the woods and away from the views you were just enjoying. As you keep going, the trail travels up and out of the forest to hug the edge of the ridge.
The trail is primarily narrow and dirt, but a few sections later on are less clear cut, changing to wide rock with more of a “choose your own adventure” feel.
One neat feature about this trail is the ability to track where you are based on the angle of the lake you see. Since the trail is along the ridge, and the ridge is next to the lake, you can see the lake basically the entire way.
Make sure you take your time and enjoy the views, sights, and smells along the way. We stopped a number of times to have a snack and some water. Not because we had to, but because we wanted to.
While the Lake of the Clouds is certainly a focal point, make sure to look beyond the lake at the surrounding landscape. This vantage point allows for great views of the surrounding Porcupine Mountains.
Closer to the other side of the lake you can start to see the Upper Carp River.
As you get closer, you get an even better view of how the river winds through the landscape.
It’s around this point that the trail bends and travels back into the woods and meets the smaller access trail (aka bail point) and is marked as a halfway point.
The bolt marks the spot on this map!
A fun part of the trail is right around this halfway point too. Unexpectedly, the trail turns into a somewhat sheer, somewhat steep, rockface slide. It was fun on the way down, but coming up required a commitment and a running start.
This sign was our cue to turn around and enjoy it all again, but from the other direction! (Now heading west on the trail.)
Same lake, different view!
Remember to stop and enjoy the view on the way back too.
Jon and Moxxi enjoying the view.
Me enjoying the view of nature, and Moxxi enjoying the view of her favorite human.
Puppy photo shoots are important too when you’re this cute.
Happy face! All those dog acting classes are really paying off.
Heading back we enjoyed more views before arriving back at the viewing platform. One last look at the lake and it was off to the next hike.
Like I said earlier, this trail was my favorite hike in the park. While other hikes also had really cool features and scenic areas, this trail rewarded you with panoramic views pretty much the entire way. I enjoyed that it was somewhat freeform in areas, opening up to allow you to walk along large rockfaces, while remaining easy to follow.
Visiting the Lake of the Clouds is certainly a must do on your trip to the Porcupine Mountains, but if you have the chance and are able, I strongly recommend checking out this trail too. It will not disappoint.