The Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in the western tip of the upper peninsula is a place with few rivals. Billed by the DNR as one of the few remaining wilderness areas in the midwest, it is comprised of 60,000 acres of pristine wilderness. It is home to one of the largest stands of old-growth northern hardwood forests in the country. The site was originally home to several copper mines. In 1945 the park was established by the State of Michigan.
Entering the park you are immediately aware you are in a special place. Home to gray wolves, fishers, martens, black bears, porcupines, deer, and foxes the wilderness area is as close to untouched as you will find on mainland Michigan. During the fall many people head to the mountains to hunt black bear and white-tailed deer. Hunting either species, do not expect to find easy success. This is some of the thickest forest and brush you will find yourself in.
There is a saying, “If you step 200 yards of a trail in the Porkies, be prepared to spend the night in the woods.” In the lower peninsula we rely on easy landmarks and the fact that if you hike 5 miles you will hit the next road. This is not the case in the wilderness. It is easy to get turned around and it can be a long way before you find your way to the next road. The trail system in the park is extensive and features hikes that range from basic to very advanced.
The summer in the park sees a large number of people coming in to hike, fish, and camp. There are several world-class trout streams throughout the park. Camping options include the modern Union Bay camping area with running water and shower facilities, several “outpost” camping areas which feature only vault toilets, and 60 or so backcountry camping sites that can only be accessed by trail. The park used to allow dispersed camping, but the modern influx of 200,000 visitors per year has prompted officials to limit the impact on the wilderness area.
There are a multitude of waterfalls, lakes, and stunning views that each on their own would be a reason to visit the park. All together they make for Michigan’s most stunning destination. From the iconic Lake of the Clouds to the falls of Presque Isle you will be hard-pressed to run out of things to see here.
Going to the Porkies is not like a trip to Mackinac. There are several small gift shops, but you can also drive for 25 miles without seeing one business. You go there to get away from people and enjoy the wilderness. If you are looking to experience true backcountry hunting, fishing, or camping you will find it in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.