Porcupine Mountains – Hiking Summit Peak – Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Lately I’ve been covering my trip to the Porcupine Mountains in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I’ve covered a bunch of waterfalls (Presque Isle Waterfalls, Union Mine Trail Waterfalls, Overlooked and Greenstone Waterfalls). I’ve also covered a gorgeous lake and a ridge hike. Despite covering all of that, I haven’t covered anything resembling a mountain. The area is called the Porcupine Mountains, after all.

At this point you might be saying, “but the Midwest doesn’t have any mountains.” While it’s true that the Midwest is not home to any of the more impressive peaks, smaller mountains are everywhere, depending on your definition. I’m prefacing this by saying that I am not a geologist, but it turns out there is no universally accepted definition of a common term like a “mountain” or “hill.” Until the 1970’s, the US used the definition that a mountain was land differentiated by 1,000 feet of local relief. I’ve also seen organizations that define a mountain as anything above 2,000 feet of local relief or more, and others that consider the angles and definitions of the slope and peak. So basically, whatever you define a mountain as is both right and wrong!

Anyway, back to the Porcupine Mountains. This stretch of land contains several peaks, with the lowest being 1325 feet, and the highest being 1958 feet. The highest peak, Summit Peak, is the one we will focus on today. Considering the lack of consensus on what makes a mountain, I’ll let you decide if at 1950 ft., Summit Peak is a mountain peak or not. Like I said, I’m not a geologist, I’m just here for the hiking!

Where are we? Summit Peak can be accessed via Summit Peak Road from one of the main roads in the park, South Boundary Road. No matter which direction you are coming from, Summit Peak Road is about half way to the other side of the park.

Zooming in on the Summit Peak Area, you can see two parking areas denoted by the large letter “P’s.” We didn’t park at either of these. If you continue driving up Summit Peak Road, the road will turn into a circular parking area near the peak. (That tiny circle at the end of the road.) This is where we started from. You can make whatever length and adventure you want.

Summit Peak Loop:

Distance: 5 mile loop
Difficulty: Moderate – except some hills and some narrow plank bridges
Description: This wooded trail brings hikers to the Summit Peak overlook, down to Mirror Lake, and back up.

Before you start hiking this trail, you have a decision to make. (If you’re following my path, that is.) Will you start or end with Summit Peak and the observation tower? We started by visiting the tower, so our hiking direction was parking lot to Summit Peak, Summit Peak to Mirror Lake Trail/Mirror Lake, then south on the Little Carp River Trail, and returning on the Beaver Creek Trail.

If you aren’t much of a hiker and just want to stop and visit the peak, expect a short 1/2 mile out and 1/2 mile back walk. While it’s short, be advised that it isn’t as easy as some of the other scenic overlook sites. The trail starts by climbing a large hill before turning into wooden stairs. It’s a decent amount of elevation, but the views are so worth the climb.

Even if you don’t plan on hiking anything else, a visit to Summit Peak is a “must do” while in the park. It is the highest point in a park with “mountains” in the name, after all!

Before you reach the observation tower, there is a lower deck to enjoy the view. Honestly, the views from this deck and the higher tower are very similar. If you can handle the climb to this deck, but the thought of climbing the tower seems daunting, enjoying the view only from the observation deck is a great alternative.

Even if you are planning to hike the tower, stop and enjoy the first views at this lower deck. Just above the tree line, you can see all the way to Lake Superior.

This vantage point also lets you see some of the hilly landscape that’s hard to observe from the ground floor.

After enjoying the first view, continue on to the tower. A sign here reminds you of the elevation, 1958 feet. Another sign offers a helpful reminder about weather in the Porkies. Thunderstorms can pop up and roll in fast.

Climb the 50 foot tower for a 365 degree view above the trees. (That’s primarily what you miss from the lower observation deck, a full circle view.)

According to the park, on a clear day you can see all the way to the Apostle Islands to the northwest (30 miles away) and all the way to Isle Royale to the northeast (80 miles away.)

Here’s a panoramic.

Enjoy the views while catching your breath before you head back down the tower to continue on with the hike towards Mirror Lake.

As the trail makes its way to the lake, it travels up and down the hilly landscape. Sometimes the trail itself is a hill, sometimes stairs aid in the climb or descent. The trail is primarily in the woods.

Depending on the time of year you hike, be prepared for some mud and water. Some areas are more consistently muddy than others, and wooden planks have been placed to aid in some spots.

As you near the lake, the land becomes wetter and more swampy. The wooden planks you saw earlier turn into bridges that help you span swampy/pondy areas. Sometimes the planks are narrow (2 boards wide) and test your balance. This part was especially tricky with our black lab who wholeheartedly wanted to take a swim. If you don’t have a 70 pound half dog/half duck trying to pull you in the water, you should be fine.

Eventually you reach peaceful Mirror Lake.

If you follow the path we hiked, this is about the halfway point and is a great spot to take a break and enjoy the calm waters and sounds of birds.

At mirror lake, we turned off of the Mirror Lake Trail and onto the Little Carp River Trail.

Continuing on, you will pass directly behind a few hike-in campsites. There was nobody at these sites when we were there but had there been, we would have walked right next to their site.

The site had a few logs for sitting and a fire ring. This one was overlooking a ridge with a creek below.

We turned from the Little Carp River Trail onto the Beaver Creek Trail. This segment was probably my favorite part of this hike. After walking through woods for almost the entirety of the hike, the trail suddenly opens up to a clearing. The dirt path turns to wooden plank as it makes its way to a bridge over Beaver Creek.

We stopped on the bridge and took a seat. The clearing was large, peaceful, and picture perfect.

A small dam in the creek created the sound of running water to mix with the natural sounds of birds and the wind in the trees.

We took a break on the bridge, enjoying this peaceful moment.

After the clearing, the trail continues on towards the parking lot. It climbs in elevation and passes by several gullies and their streams.

Overall, this hike was pleasant. We only saw one other group while we were on the trail, so it felt very secluded. There were a few focal points (the lake and the clearing,) otherwise the trail was mostly surrounded by woods. If you plan a trip to the Porkies, seeing Summit Peak is probably a “must do,” especially for the low investment of a 1 mile hike. If you have more time, and want to make more of a stop out of Summit Peak, then I recommend adding this trail to your plans.

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