Porcupine Mountains Hiking – Union Mine Trail – Mining History and Waterfalls

If you like waterfalls, then a trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula might be the trip for you. An area rich with waterfalls, it is home to more than 300 falls across the region. The Porcupine Mountains contain some 50+ of those.

Last time I covered the three largest falls in the park, the Presque Isle River Falls, which drop 15-25 feet in a short distance before dumping into Lake Superior. While these falls are the most impressive in the park, they are also the most photographed and the most visited. If you’re looking for something a little more private, then the waterfalls along the Union Mine Trail might be a better option.

Do you happen to also like history? More specifically, the mining history that helped build the region? If so, then this trail is really for you. (History and waterfalls in one!)

Where are we? The Union Mine Trail, technically the Union Mine Interpretive Trail, can be found on the eastern side of the park, just south of the intersection of the two main roads, South Boundary Road and Highway 107. The area is circled in red on the map.

Zooming in further shows the hiking trail itself, in green. The hiking area has a parking lot and a well marked trailhead.

Union Mine Trail

Distance: 1.1 miles loop
Difficulty: Easy to moderate – the trail has a little bit of elevation and it is more on the rustic/rugged side
Description: This trail loops through the woods as it passes several waterfalls on the Union River and old mine shafts. Signs along the way highlight the rich mining history of the area.

Immediately upon seeing the trailhead you know you’re going to learn something. The giant decorative shovel is a hint of the mining history to come. Learning while hiking? I’m digging it! (Eh? Eh??)

As you head out on the trail, you quickly come upon the Union River.

While it’s not the largest river around, it does wind through some rocky areas making for a scenic journey.

The only other people we met on the trail happened to also have a black lab. This one was a tiny adorable puppy! A short trail puppy play session ensued. As usual, Moxxi was way more into the other dog than the other dog was in to her.

Looking down the Union River, the trail follows along the bank on the right, getting very close to the water. You can see a sign on the trail in the distance. This is one of the many opportunities for learning on the trail.

Along the trail you will find several signs like this one, which provide two things, information about local history and samples from a journal, offering first hand accounts of that history.

The excerpts were taken from the journal of William W. Spaulding, a miner who moved to the region to work for the Union Mine in the 1840’s. His account details some of the daily troubles and triumphs that were typical of a miner working during the period. Some of them were quite entertaining to read.

This sign references No. 1 and No. 2 shafts, both found near the sign. No. 1 shaft was nothing more than a pile of rocks, but the remnants of the other shaft are still visible. See the opening?

Continuing on, the river starts to descend, making for more rapids and mini-waterfalls.

These become even more numerous as you continue.

This trail offered numerous opportunities to keep working on perfecting my smooth waterfall shot. I’ll keep practicing!

These rocky outcroppings (with a proud tree atop) showcase how rocky the region is. It’s no wonder there are so many falls! The trail continues up the outcropping from here.

Parts of the river look like a waterslide as it passes over flat, smoother sections of rock.

The water picks up speed as it travels down, making for a unique kind of waterfall.

Smooth shot attempt.

The river falls more dramatically in places than in others.

Continuing on, you come across a fenced in area. Luckily, there is a sign to let you know what you’re looking at.

This fenced in area contains an old mining shaft. After reading the sign, I’m grateful I didn’t work as a miner in the 1840’s. I’m also grateful for the fence. It wouldn’t be fun to be hiking along, unaware of a gaping hole in the ground.

After this section, the trail rounds back towards the river and enters the Little Union Gorge. Here the rocks are higher, making for slightly larger waterfalls.

I’ll keep trying those waterfall shots. After seeing all the falls, the trail crosses the road and loops back to the parking lot.

While this trail isn’t the most popular in the park, I really enjoyed it. It’s a neat experience to read about history in the place where it happened. The informative signs were a nice blend of general mining/region history as well as history specific to the spot I was standing. On top of all that, throw in some lovely waterfalls that you (very likely) get to experience on your own, and this trail is a winner.

While this trail isn’t an absolute “must do” for your Porcupine Mountain trip, I still highly recommend it.

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