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Porcupine Mountains
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Ike Jutkowitz
(Ike) - M

Locale: Central Michigan
Porcupine Mountains on 10/03/2010 15:39:38 MDT Print View

As the father of two little girls, age 2 and 4, I tend to only get away for quick overnights once every 3 weeks or so. Last week, my wife generously allowed me 5 days out, and I made the most of it with a trip to the Porcupine Mountains in the westernmost portion of the upper peninsula of Michigan. Too excited to sleep, I woke up at 2:30 am, grabbed my backpack, and began the 11 hour drive. I stopped quickly at a ranger station to get a backcountry permit and drop off my itinerary, then made it to the trailhead by about 3 pm. I started on the North Country Trail at Copper Peak.

Departing trailhead

The trail followed the Black River for 6 miles, passing numerous waterfalls.

Black River

waterfall 1

Waterfall 2

Waterfall 3

I was using a Granite Gear Virga pack which was a little too large for what I was carrying. Note the MYOG camera case attached, complete with belt loop and button and loop closure.


samh case

Finally I crossed the suspension bridge over the mouth of the Black River and began my way up the other side of the river, stopping at Rainbow Falls around 6:30 to eat dinner.

Rainbow Falls

Chicken ala king

After dinner, I walked until dark, passing some wildlife along the way.



It got dark at about 8ish and I had a fairly hard time keeping on trail with my BD ion headlamp. I lost the trail at one point and decided to call it a day. I hastily set up my poncho tarp, hung my food bag from a tree and was quickly asleep, dreaming of bears. Total distance: 8 miles.


I woke the next morning at 8:30 and started hiking.

waking up

An inability to find the blue blazed trail took my down the wrong path for quite a ways, until the realization set in that my current heading was not matching what my map showed me. I backtracked and finally found where the trail branched off, well hidden behind a huge fallen tree. Once I was back on the right track, I stopped for a warm breakfast (amazing what this does for your state of mind).


I was following the NCT East and the trail was pretty overgrown in this area. It had rained pretty hard the night before, so everything was wet, quickly soaking through my shoes.

poor trail conditions

This part of the trail was my least favorite of the trip, but the high point was some serious beaver activity.


After 6 miles, the trail headed north for another 6 miles, mostly paralleling a road. I booked through this section, which seemed mostly like a trail afterthought, finally reaching the Presque Isle River. This river was thunderous, and I got the sense that if I slipped and fell in, I would be a goner for sure.

Presque Isle 1

Presque 2

Presque 3

The Presque Isle River was breathtaking. Unfortunately, when I reached the mouth, the bridge was out and I was directed to backtrack to another bridge a mile up river, cross there, and then hike back downriver. Because of my earlier navigation error, I had already hiked 18 miles that day and was initially less than thrilled that this would penalize me a couple more miles. But, a hiker hikes, so onward I went. I followed the East River Trail to the mouth of the river, then intersected with the Lake Superior Trail, heading East once again for 6 miles toward the Porcupine Mountains. It was starting to get late (about 6 pm) so I searched my map and planned to stop at a primitive campsite along the Little Carp River. I reached the Little Carp around 7:30 and was delighted to see "coaster" brookies moving into the river from Lake Superior. These giant brook trout were chasing each other around, acting like salmon, as they prepared to spawn. This might have been one of my favorite sights of the entire trip! Too bad I didn't get a picture. I filled my water bottle and hiked on. I never did find the primitive campsite though, and ended up stealth camping along the trail when it got too dark to see. Total distance that day was about 29 miles. I was exhausted and only managed to half eat a portion of stove top stuffing before climbing into my bag. First though, I took off my wet socks, dried my feet with a nice hand sanitizer footrub, and put on my other pair of socks. I had decided to only use these for sleeping so that my feet would at least be dry overnight. I tucked my wet pair into my shirt, where they stank all night but never fully dried. Numerous bear warnings from the rangers had me just a little spooked, and I dreamed once again of bears carrying off my food bag.

I woke at 6:30, cooked breakfast while waiting for sunrise, then headed off along the Little Carp some more. Incidentally, there were no bridges at stream crossings, so my feet were once again soaked.

stream crossing

Tired from the previous day's near 30, I took it slower, stopping to fish the many pools in the Little Carp. One small waterfall after another flowed into little pools, perfect for my Tenkara rod, and I caught and released a number of decent Brook trout on my favorite soft hackled worm .


I backtracked along the Little Carp all the way back to the mouth where I tried to entice the coasters to bite, but with no luck. They were too busy chasing each other to even notice my fly. From the mouth of the Little Carp River, I headed East along the Lake Superior Trail for a little ways before deciding that I had seen enough of Lake Superior, so I turned back, reached the mouth of the Big Carp River and headed upriver.

Big Carp

Big Carp 2

Step 1: Put camera on rock. Step 2: Set timer. Step 3: Run like heck. Step 4: sit down quick and look like you've been there for a while enjoying the view.

Big Carp 3

It started raining yet again, so I put on my poncho and kept walking. The trail followed a ridge above the Big Carp and I finally got my fall foliage shot.

Big Carp 4

UL monk

The Big Carp, like the Little Carp was full of great fishing holes and waterfalls, but I was starting to feel the pressure of time and was too hurried to stop and fish again. However, this loop (Big Carp, Little Carp) was my absolute favorite part of the trip, and I would definitely come back to do it slower next time.

The rain finally stopped, and the light through the trees was magical.


I stopped to set up camp a little earlier that night, and it started raining again, hard. This time, I made a half lean-to, half A frame for a little variety and sitting room. Dinner was chili mac, apparently the most flatulent of the mountain house type meals. Total miles that day: 17-ish. Not quite sure.

Bear bag

Tarp day 3

The next morning, I followed the Lake Superior Trail back to Presque Isles and had breakfast on a rare park bench. Flat surfaces were rare and as such were always a cause for eating.

Breakfast again

Note the not particularly flattering but highly functional windshirt I pretty much wore day and night the entire trip.

More waterfalls, back 6 miles paralleling the road (rt 519), 6 miles of boring trail West to rainbow falls, once again through Black River Harbor, and I stealth camped past Conglomerate Falls (once I was sure I wouldn't see any more waterfall tourists. Total miles: 22

I returned to my car the next morning after taking the mandatory "9 lb pack hanging from pinkie once all the food was gone" picture.

base weight

I had eaten about 1500 calories a day and probably burned 5000. On the way home, I found the perfect post hike stop, where I put on an eating clinic to the amazement (and probable disgust) of the waitstaff. All in all a perfect trip.


Edited by Ike on 11/05/2012 11:46:48 MST.

Peter Treiber
(peterbt) - M

Locale: A^2
Porcupine Mountains on 10/03/2010 16:18:49 MDT Print View

Great report! Thanks for the inspiration -- can't wait to get up there...


Ike Jutkowitz
(Ike) - M

Locale: Central Michigan
Thanks on 10/03/2010 16:58:00 MDT Print View

Thanks Pete.
It's a long drive but well worth it. Some of the best scenery was actually from the car window.

Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: Porcupine Mountains on 10/03/2010 18:00:26 MDT Print View

Nice report & photos.We don't have much color here in PA yet. Looks like you saw lots of water as either river or rain.

Just a tip, if you put in some "returns" before and after each photo, it will fit into the screen much better.


Ronald Groth
(rgfooter) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
RE: porkies on 10/03/2010 18:15:45 MDT Print View

I enjoyed your trip report. My friend and I missed the same left turn coming out of the black river valley. i had to chuckle!!! Nice photos

Ike Jutkowitz
(Ike) - M

Locale: Central Michigan
Embarrassing! on 10/03/2010 18:38:02 MDT Print View

Yeah. I stayed on that 2 track a lot longer than I should have. I had backtracked the first night after not seeing the blue blazes for a while, but couldn't find an alternate route and assumed the 2 track was it. So the next morning I kept going on it, waiting for it to turn east. Never having been there before, I didn't know how well blazed the trail was. This mistake was a good part of why I hiked a 30 that day.

Tom- Thanks. I've done some editing.

Edited by Ike on 11/22/2010 12:01:12 MST.