Saturday, June 8, 2013

Canyon Falls Roadside Park

Highway rest areas aren't usually noted for their hiking opportunities, but the Upper Peninsula has several that feature more than the typical Romtec restrooms and a handicap accessible picnic table or two. Canyon Falls is one of those places.

Canyon Falls on the Sturgeon River
The trail from the parking lot isn't a long one -- maybe half a mile in to where it officially ends and you get to backtrack -- but it's a nice little walk through mixed hardwood forest. There are boardwalks over the boggy areas and a bridge over a small creek. There are some uneven areas (moderately rocky terrain, some protruding roots), but overall it would get an Easy in any hiking guide. It is not handicap accessible, but it comes close. Back when I was a Girl Scout Leader, this was one of the hikes we did when the kids were working on outdoor badges. 
The S.O. leading the way. 
The trail officially terminates at an overlook of the falls. It used to go a little farther from the parking area -- up and over the rock outcrop shown below -- but I'm guessing lack of maintenance money led to the state deciding to cut it short. The information sign in the parking lot is unintentionally funny: rather than making a whole new sign to show the abbreviated trail, the state elected to cut a piece of wood in a shape that fits neatly over where the trail used to go and then painted it to match the existing sign. 
Old trail that continues past official end of trail
You can't really tell in the photo by there were some decaying wooden hand rails to the side of the old trail. The fact the Canyon Falls trail terminates at the overlook, however, doesn't mean that's where a person has to stop. The blue blaze on the tree in the upper left of the photo screams North Country Trail loud and clear. How much of the North Country Trail is complete in this section is a mystery: official Trail maps show it as being in pieces, but I know there are segments that are totally done right down to having Adirondack shelters in place, that are not shown on the website
Sturgeon River upstream of the actual falls
We were not out to do a major hike, just enjoying a short break on the drive home, so we did not venture very far past when the end of trail sign was posted. We did, however, diverge from the current marked path a little on our way back to the parking lot. The state redid the rest area a few years ago and in the process moved the trail head. We followed what had been the old trail over toward the highway bridge. 
Old trail head; Canyon Falls has been a roadside park since the 1920s; I'm not sure when this sign dates from
The bridge is nifty one, a lovely Moderne design, and is an engineering landmark. Construction began in 1947, it was complete in 1948. It's significant for its design, steel arch bridges are rare in Michigan, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. The main span is 128 feet from pin to pin. It is a gorgeous bridge; MDOT really needs to do a book on a stick to brag about it a little.
Canyon Falls bridge on US 41
A snowmobile trail goes under the bridge (note wooden guard rail at the left side of photo); so do the blaze marks for the North Country Trail. I never really thought much about where the snowmobile trails run in this county, although I guess it makes sense to have some overlap between the hiking trail and the snowmobile/ORV trail in some places. Among other things, the snowmobile trail already has bridges over various creeks and rivers. We were tempted to walk farther along the snowmobile trail, if only to see just how far it paralleled the river, but we weren't prepared for an actual hike. We'd stopped to amble, not to hike, so that's what we did, ambled back to the car while admiring the wild flowers. 
Cowslips blooming next to Bacco Creek


Yellow violets
Update: Saw a notice in the local paper that the local North Country trail group has a guided hike planned along a section of the trail from over by the old prison camp on the Baraga Plains to Canyon Falls so it appears my assumption about the meaning of the blue blazes was dead on. They give a rough estimate of 3 to 4 miles for the distance that will be hiked. 


  1. We have trails here in western Maine. Unfortunately, because they are not well advertised, no one but the locals know about them.
    the Ol'Buzzard

  2. That looks like a lovely and doable hike. The wildflowers are wonderful.

  3. Great photos and your description is enticing enough that even I would be tempted to hike to the falls.


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