Porcupine Mountains Wilderness is the largest state park in Michigan. Located in the upper peninsula, the park covers 60,000 acres of forest, lakes, and rivers along the shore of Lake Superior. The Porcupine Mountains themselves form a 12-mile-long escarpment that parallels the Lake Superior Lakeshore for a distance of 1.5 miles. On a clear day, you can see 25 miles to the west from areas of this escarpment.
The park contains 90 miles of hiking trails, 2 developed campgrounds, many backpacking campsites, and some backcountry cabins (the cabins are not dog-friendly). Besides the cabins and park buildings, the park is otherwise pet friendly. However, like the majority of parks in the Midwest, dogs must be kept on a 6-foot leash and cannot be left unattended.
Here is a link to the official website, but keep reading for more information about camping and hiking options at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.
I originally heard about the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park when I was looking for new backpacking regions in the Midwest. Glia and I often frequent the Superior Hiking Trail, but recently we have spent time backpacking on the Border Route Trail in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (northern Minnesota) and at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park (Ontario, Canada).
There are 65 backcountry (primitive) campsites in the park. The campsites are number and site-specific. so you need to reserve specific campsites before you head into the wilderness to camp overnight. Backcountry campsites can be reserved online, but you need to check-in at the Park visitor center (May 15th through Oct 15th) or the Park headquarters (Oct 16th through May 14th).
Reservations open up 6 months in advance and can be made up to 72 hours before arrival. Making a reservation in advance is strongly encouraged during the busy season (May through October).
The campsites are fairly rustic. They are outfitted with a metal fire ring, but most do not have a privy. If your campsite does not have a composting privy nearby, you are required to dig a 6-inch hole and bury waste at least a quarter of a mile from any campsite, trail, or body of water.
Bear bags must be suspended at least 12 feet above the ground and far enough from the tree to prevent an animal from reaching or jumping on them. Some of the sites did have a bear bag pole.
The photos below are of the backcountry campsite near Cuyahoga Peak (ES-1).
And just as an FYI, the park indicates that dispersed winter camping is available in the backcountry once the ground is snow-covered. To take advantage of this option, you must register at park headquarters from December 1st to May 15th.
Since I went on this trip with my parents, we chose to camp a little more luxuriously in my parent’s new travel trailer. We had two campgrounds to choose from: Presque Isle and Union Bay.
Presque Isle Rustic Campground
The Presque Isle Rustic Campground is located at the western end of the park near the Presque Isle River and the shores of Lake Superior. This campground has 50 campsites, vault toilets, and hand pumps for water. There are also six walk-in sites located along the high bank of Lake Superior. The campground has two loops – one that is generator friendly and the other that is generator free.
Union Bay Modern Campground
The Union Bay Campground, located at the eastern end of the park, offers electrical sites, a modern toilet building, an RV dump station, a boat launch, and a camp store. Several of Union Bays campsites are located along the shore of Lake Superior and a sandy beach is within walking distance along M-107. Some of the campsites at this campground can accommodate larger RVs.
We stayed at Union Bay Campground during our stay. Below is a picture of our campsite (site 81). We could see Lake Superior through the trees at the back of our campsite.
The campsites weren’t very private (you can see the picnic table of the next site over behind our camper), but the campground was nice and we had a very pleasant stay.
While you can start hiking right from Union Bay Campground, the best trails typically require a short drive to get to the trailhead. And there are a LOT of trails to choose from. Just take a look at the park map (clicking the map will bring you to the official park PDF map).
With so many trails to choose from, you likely won’t have time to hike them all. The following trails with an * next to the name were recommended to us by park staff and they were all wonderful. We tried one additional trail, hiking in to see Overlooked Falls and Greenstone Falls. It was a nice trail, but the mosquitoes were near peak density (see more below).
I also asked about the Lake Superior Trail, but during our stay in mid-June of 2022, the trails were muddy and some were still flooded. The Lake Superior Trail was reported to have ankle-deep mud in numerous places. As a result, I decided to leave discovering the Lake Superior Trail for a future visit.
*Escarpment Trail to Lake of the Clouds Overlook
If you like ridgelines and grand overlooks, this trail is for you. The Escarpment Trail is 4.3 miles in length (one way). Park staff recommended parking at the Government Peak Trailhead on M-107 and walking towards the Lake of Trails. If you hike in this direction the views get better and better as you approach the Lake of the Clouds Scenic Area.
The trail was fairly quiet while we hiked it (it did rain some during our hike) until about half a mile from the Lake of the Clouds Scenic Area. Then we began to encounter more groups of hikers. The bugs weren’t too bad on the ridge and the wind kept most of them away in the forest also.
Below are some pictures that were taken along this trail, but I highly recommend you go hike this trail yourself!
*Presque Isle River Loop
We picked the Escarpment Trail as our first hike and I was a little worried that the other trails wouldn’t be as spectacular. But the Presque Isle River Loop was also wonderful, although very different.
Where the Escarpment Trail feels more remote and offers big overlooks, the Presque Isle River Loop was well-trafficked and the big overlooks were replaced with lovely waterfalls and a short stroll along the shoreline of Lake Superior.
On the west side of the Presque Isle River (which is the largest river in the park), there are boardwalk areas and viewing platforms in addition to traditional dirt trails. The east side of the trail is more rugged. If you hike the full loop you will hike ~2.3 miles.
Little Carp River Trail to Greenstone Falls
After our lovely hike on the Presque Isle River Loop, we decided to hike to a few more of the park’s lovely waterfalls and stopped at the Little Carp Road parking lot for a short hike out to Overlooked Falls and Greenstone Falls.
While the trail was lovely (quiet, felt remote, followed a lovely river), the mosquitoes were out in full force. Our picaridin wipes were only up to the task if we kept up a brisk walking pace. So consider this trail in early spring or fall when the bug population is reduced, but use caution in the late spring/summer. And if you do hike it during mosquito season, make sure are prepared. Glia wore her Insect Sheild cooling gaiter for a portion of this hike, which did help significantly.
Our fourth hike was short but steep with some stairs. The views were worth the effort though. The Summit Peak Tower Trail is only 0.5 miles in one direction, but it leads you to the highest point in the park. An observation tower built at this point provides nearly 360 views of the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness.
*Union Mine Interpretive Trail
Honestly, I would have overlooked this trail if it hadn’t been for two different park staff members recommending it. The Union Mine Interpretive Trail is a short drive from the Visitor Center and is only a mile in length. The official description for this trail is “a short interpretive trail featuring the Little Union gorge and the history of the 1846 Union Mine”
What they don’t tell you is that the Little Union gorge is magical. Lovely little cascading waterfalls, a trail that follows right along the peaceful river for much of the hike, minimal mosquitoes compared to those on the Little Carp River Trail, and fewer people (compared to Lake of the Clouds, Presque Isle, and Summit Peak).
If you are traveling to the Porcupine Mountains, don’t skip this trail.
Take a Trip to the Porcupine Mountains
All in all, we had a wonderful dog-friendly vacation in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park and I would highly recommend this park to anyone who enjoys forests and hiking.
If you are looking for other dog-friendly places to hike in Michigan’s upper peninsula, consider Sylvania Wilderness (when the bug populations are not in full force). Glia and I hiked at the Sylvania Wilderness for our first solo backpacking trip back in 2018.
Or if you are looking for places to hike along Lake Superior, check out the Superior Hiking Trail.