If there is two things to know about Tahquemenon Falls, they are:
(1) Tahquemenon kind of rhymes with Phenomenon.
(2) You have to go through Paradise to get there.
And when you do get there, this is one of the first things you’ll see, the Lower Falls.
From the campground, it’s a nice stroll over to the store (ice cream, the good stuff!) and then onto a lovely boardwalk that leads you right to the overlook for some of the Lower Falls.
There are actually five falls here, none of them particularly high, but all of them pretty to see. If you’re so inclined, you can rent a rowboat and paddle over to the island that straddles all of them, and walk around and in them. I kayaked by the bottom of the island but it was a bit crowded at the landing site, so I passed on the walking tour.
I did check out the boardwalk a few mornings before the parking lot filled up with people, so I had this view to myself one day. This is above the island and all the lower falls, where the Tahquemenon River is wide enough it’s just a beautiful river and not a set of rushing falls.
After the Lower Falls, the river calms down again, makes a right turn, and continues on to Whitefish Bay and Lake Superior. This is the viewpoint from the steps down to the river at the campground. I never got tired of this view either.
The Upper Falls are a four-mile drive or hike (I drove) from the campground. There are a series of viewpoints, but the best one is down 90 steps or so and it’s worth it. The roar of the water, the beauty of being that close to some fantastic power, I almost didn’t want to leave.
I played around with a neat iPhone app called Slow Shutter, which lets you take half-second to 8 second shots and get cool effects like this. I could have taken something like this with my big Sony if I’d lugged the tripod along for the hike, but I didn’t.
If you keep going along the path along the river gorge, there’s another set of stairs that wanders up and down and finally gets you a really nice view of the Upper Falls. These steps were also worth the work, although it’s a longer haul than the first set, and I was a bit winded by the time I hit the top.
One morning, I headed out to Whitefish Point, which features a lighthouse tour and a museum. I was pleasantly surprised by a beautiful bit of beach full of rocks and a gorgeous view of Lake Superior. It was my first time seeing Superior in a few years and so I had a moment of “wow, you’re still as big and beautiful as ever” with the lake.
Buying a ticket to the museum also gives you access to the lighthouse buildings tour. They did a good job of showing what life was like for the lighthouse keeper and family, with kitchen, work areas, bedrooms, and so on. I especially loved the old quilts on the beds.
The museum had two big attractions for me. The first was a detailed history of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank in Lake Superior on November 10, 1975. 29 sailors were lost that day, their names listed on a display inside the museum. I spent the time to silently read each name and their position, paying my respects in my own way to those long-dead sailors. I was once a sailor, and I can’t imagine what that last journey must have been like for them.
This is the actual bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald, raised from the wreckage on July 4, 1995. Every year on the anniversary of the sinking, the museum tolls the bell 29 times. (When the original bell was removed, a replica bell was installed on the pilot house as a permanent grave marker, inscribed with the names of the crew members.)
I mentioned two things in the museum were my favorites. This was the other one: a second order Fresnel light, in a design I hadn’t seen before. I couldn’t figure out how to show this to scale, so I’ll just give you some numbers: 9 feet in diameter, 3500 pounds, and 344 leaded crystal prisms. It was gorgeous. I think if I was super-rich, I’d buy something like this just so I could look at it every day.
At the beginning of this post, I said you had to go through Paradise to get to Tahquemenon Falls and I wasn’t kidding. The town of Paradise is right on the road from the lower peninsula of Michigan to here. Take a left at Paradise and keep going!
I found a different kind of paradise the afternoon before I left: paddling around the river on a gorgeous and warm afternoon. For a while, I was the only human out there, and I could imagine what this place must have been like hundreds of years ago, just the river, the trees, and the sky.
All too soon, it was time to pack up, hitch up and move on to my next spot. Once again on this tour of the Great Lakes, I’m leaving a bit of my heart in a beautiful spot.
Want to Know More?
- Tahquemenon Falls State Park
- Edmund Fitzgerald
- Edmund Fitzgerald Bell Recovery
- A bit about Fresnel lenses
Does any one know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searchers all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay
If they’d put fifteen more miles behind her.
Gordon Lightfoot, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald