7 Best Things to Do at Tahquamenon Falls State Park

Stand in awe next to a root beer-colored thundering waterfall as millions of gallons of water cascade over a 50ft drop of the Michigan Upper Peninsula escarpment.

Then go see how clear that tan water actually is as you wade in the eddies and watch the Lower Falls gently hop, skip, and jump their way around a river island before continuing on their way to Lake Superior.

It makes for a lovely stop on a UP road trip, which is how I first came to visit.

The waterfalls are impressive and a must-see, but that’s not the only thing to do at Tahquamenon Falls State Park!

Go for a hike, kayak the river, or spend a peaceful weekend camping in this beautiful corner of the Michigan UP.

There are plenty of things to do at Tahquamenon Falls State Park! Let’s check it out!

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What’s So Special About Tahquamenon Falls?

Tahquamenon Falls (tuh-KWA-muh-non, rhymes with phenomenon) is a beautiful and popular pair of waterfalls in the eastern end of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP).

While this is a wonderful spot to camp out, many people visit Tahquamenon Falls State Park as a day trip from further afield. That’s how I first visited, as a day trip from Sault Ste Marie, part of a 3 day road trip around the Michigan UP.

The show stoppers at this Michigan state park are the waterfalls, of course. They are the second largest falls east of the Mississippi River by volume, dwarfed only by Niagara Falls in New York.

A mix of white and tan water cascades over a 50ft cliff at Upper Tahquamenon Falls in Michigan

The water is also a unique shade of brown, a chemical reaction from decomposing forest leaves, which has earned the nickname Root Beer Falls. I’ve also heard Dr Pepper Falls, Café au Lait Falls, and Iced Tea Falls.

Tahquamenon Falls Practical Info and FAQs

  • Entry Fee: $11 daily for nonresidents or included in your Recreation Passport
  • Open year round. Yes, even in the winter. Michiganders know how to play in the snow. Snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing trails are popular up here.

>> How to Get to Tahquamenon Falls State Park?

Driving is the only way to get to Tahquamenon Falls. The park is about 1.5 hours from Munising, Sault Ste Marie, or Mackinaw City where most visitors’ day trips begin.

If Whitefish Point is also on your Michigan UP bucket list, I suggest you add it to the same day trip as Tahquamenon Falls. Whitefish Point is only 30 minutes from Tahquamenon Falls State Park.

>> How Far is Tahquamenon Falls from Pictured Rocks?

Tahquamenon Falls is about 1.5 hours from both Grand Marais and Munising, the bookend towns for Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

>> Can You Day Trip to Tahquamenon Falls?

Absolutely! It’s a 1.5 hour drive, give or take, from Sault Ste Marie, Mackinaw City, Grand Marais, or Munising. You could also combine Tahquamenon Falls into a day trip with nearby Whitefish Point.

Tan-colored water of the Tahquamenon River is clear enough to reveal objects lying on the riverbed, like an old tree and small rocks

7 Things to Do at Tahquamenon Falls in the Summer

See the Lower Falls

Lower Tahquamenon Falls is actually a series of five falls that divide around an island in the river.

Tan and white frothy water is frozen in time as it falls at one of the Lower Tahquamenon Falls rapids.

The viewing platforms at the Lower Falls are easy to reach, with paved paths and boardwalks all the way out to the new metal pedestrian bridge access for the island. On the island, a gravel & dirt path circles the perimeter.

Wooden viewing platforms are in three different locations.

  1. The first viewpoint for the Lower Falls is from the paved path near the parking lot and amenity center.
  2. Continuing down the boardwalk along the banks of the river, two more viewing decks provide up-close views of the falls on the west side of the island.
  3. Cross the pedestrian bridge to the island. A gravel and dirt loop trail circles the island, with one more wooden viewing platform on the far side of the island and several unofficial view spots along the path.

Visit the Lower Falls Island

You’ll notice waders in the summer in the calmer sections of the Lower Falls. To do this, cross to the Lower Falls river island and walk the perimeter. You’ll find plenty of spots to safely wade around the island.

You are strongly encouraged to keep a close eye on your kids and pets as the flow from the larger sections of falls still creates dangerous conditions. There are plenty of signs warning you about deadly undercurrents and drownings that have happened here.

Brown wooden sign titled "Beautiful but Treacherous" warns Tahquamenon Falls visitors to be careful in the waters of the lower falls

Still, you can get some really cool photos and videos without getting in the water.

Also take note of signs warning you from straying from the path. The park is combating erosion in several spots on the island. Don’t go off path here. Respect their work to keep this resource safe for you and future visitors.

It used to be that the only way to access the Lower Falls island was to rent a rowboat. Not anymore! While that certainly is its own adventure, not everyone can enjoy it.

So, in September 2021, a metal pedestrian bridge was installed on the west side of the island, making it possible for everyone, no matter their abilities, to access the island and enjoy its additional views and fun.

A bright chrome steel pedestrian bridge crosses the Tahquamenon River, providing access to Lower Tahquamenon Falls' river island for people of all abilities

You can still rent a rowboat to cross the river at a safe spot below Lower Falls and jump out and explore the island on the other side. It’s a fun novelty you should try at least once!

I wasn’t able to take a rowboat because the Lower Falls amenities area was being refurbished during my visit, but it’s back now and on my list for my next visit!

The park has an all-terrain motorized wheelchair available for those whose regular wheelchairs cannot navigate the gravel or dirt (or snow) sections of the park. This amazing amenity can handle dirt, snow, and several inches of water.

Reserve ahead of time (year-round) or available on a first come, first served basis from the Upper Falls Fact Shack (June to September).

Hike the River Trail Between the Falls

If you’re looking for a moderate, 4 mile hike (one way), the River Trail is perfect.

It winds along the bank of the Tahquamenon River and connects the paved path of the Upper Falls viewing area to the boardwalk of the Lower Falls viewing area.

Don’t worry: if you don’t want to double your mileage by hiking the River Trail twice, back to your car, there is a private shuttle service that operates in the warmer months between the two falls’ parking areas.

Look for the sign in either falls’ parking area for pick up times and cost.

A white and green folding sign on the sidewalk at Lower Tahquamenon Falls details the cost and schedule for a hiker shuttle service between the Tahquamenon Falls parking lots
The River Trail Shuttle Service info from 2022

See the Upper Falls

The Upper Tahquamenon Falls is like a mini-Horseshoe Falls at Niagara Falls. It’s a 200ft wide by 50ft, semi-circular drop that looks gorgeous from three different angles at each of its viewpoints.

Fair warning here: two of the three viewpoints require walking down (and back up) metal stairs.

These are the best views, though, so just take your time and go for it! It’s amazing to stand next to this enormous natural feature as 50,000 gallons of water pass you every second!

Walking from the parking area, you’ll pass the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery & Pub and the Upper Falls Fact Shack and restrooms before the paved path leads to a T-intersection at the forested cliff above the river.

I recommend you go left first. This leads to the Falls Gorge View, which requires a jaunt down 181 stairs. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Just take your time.

The view at the end is just above river level, looking straight at the Upper Falls. Beautiful!

Tan-colored water falls over a sandstone cliff at Upper Tahquamenon Falls State Park as visitors at a viewpoint look on

After you walk back up to the paved path, retrace your steps to the T-intersection. This time, continue along the paved path to the Falls Vista Point, an ok aerial view of the falls.

Worth a quick picture, but the 3rd and final viewpoint is the best.

The Falls Brink Viewpoint requires a few more metal stairs, but you’re rewarded with views on the brink of the thundering Upper Tahquamenon Falls.

You can feel the vibration in your feet as you stand just steps away from all that water!

Surrounded by green forest, tan-colored Upper Tahquamenon Falls cascades over a cliff creating foam in the water

This was my favorite view in the park! I understand if you want to skip Falls Gorge view because of all the stairs, but don’t skip the Brink!

Go for a Hike

The River Trail hike is the most popular hike at Tahquamenon Falls, but maybe you’re looking for another moderately serious hike away from the crowds.

Other potential hikes, all away from the crowds at the falls, include:

  • Clark Lake Loop Trail, 5.2 miles roundtrip, has its own parking away from the falls
  • Giant Pines Loop Trail, 3.8 miles roundtrip, in the Upper Falls area
  • Wilderness Loop Trail, 7 miles roundtrip, attaches to the Clark Lake Loop & Giant Pines Loop
  • North Country Trail, 16 miles total within the park limits, ties together several park trails

Several of these trails become snowshoeing or cross-country skiing routes in the winter.

A blue field with a yellow 8-pointed star in a rounded triangle marks the North Country National Scenic Trail on a fencepost at Tahquamenon Falls State Park in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Camp at the Rivermouth Campground near Lake Superior

Spend a weekend enjoying a completely different part of the 50,000 acres that make up Tahquamenon Falls State Park.

Everyone flocks to the Upper and Lower Falls, but the true secret is Rivermouth, where the Tahquamenon River meets Lake Superior. This area is great for viewing wildlife and kayaking the river.

Pro Tip: Kayaking on the calm Tahquamenon River is NOT the same as kayaking on Lake Superior. The Great Lakes are more like inland seas and can be rough and unpredictable. Do not take a normal kayak out on the lake; it’s not equipped to handle those conditions.

Even if you don’t have the time for camping, there’s a beautiful picnic area right on the lakeshore just north of the campground, perfect for a lunch stop!

Eat at the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery & Pub

Stop for lunch or dinner at this convenient restaurant at the Upper Falls Parking Area. It’s not often that remote state parks have such good food options!

The menu is decidedly hearty fare. Think beer battered fish, fries, burgers, fried seafood, and pork medallions. You can even get a traditional pasty!

There are a few lighter options, like salads and pastas, but that is not the purpose of this menu.

Open Spring through Fall, 7 days a week. Winter hours vary. Check their hours and menu on their website.

A brown and white sign says "Take nothing but pictures, Leave nothing but footprints" reminding Tahquamenon Falls visitors to leave no trace at the park.

What to Expect at Tahquamenon Falls

The majority of the hiking trails at Tahquamenon Falls State Park are not by the falls. The River Trail is the one exception.

I also don’t really consider the paths to and from the parking areas to the falls to be hikes, but I do have some warnings for each so you know what to expect.

But the question I always get asked first:

Which is Better: Upper or Lower Tahquamenon Falls?

The Upper Falls is taller and more Niagara Falls-esque. The Lower Falls are more accessible and kid-friendly for wading.

If you can’t physically handle stairs but are ok to walk, you’ll like Lower Falls better. You can still see Upper Falls without going down any stairs, but you’ll be able to get much closer to Lower Falls.

Both Upper and Lower Tahquamenon Falls are worth a visit. If you only have an hour or so, still stop at both. Viewing platforms not far from the parking lots make that very doable.

What to Expect at Upper Tahquamenon Falls

  • One large waterfall
  • Three views at the Upper Falls: river level, aerial, and at the brink
  • Paths are paved and mostly flat.
  • Be ready for metal stairs at two of the three views.
  • Cannot get in the water here

What to Expect at Lower Tahquamenon Falls

  • Five smaller sets of waterfalls
  • Four official views at the Lower Falls: down river, west side falls, west side river, and island east side falls
  • Several unofficial viewpoints around the perimeter of the island
  • Rowboats are an optional adventure to access the island
  • Accessible site! Pedestrian bridge provides access from the river bank to the island
  • Safe spots for wading in the water
Closeup of a small, gentle waterfall creating very little foam at Lower Tahquamenon Falls

One Day Itinerary for Tahquamenon Falls

A visit to Tahquamenon Falls can take as little time as an hour or two or as much time as a full day.

If you really want to slow travel, opt to camp at this beautiful state park for a long weekend away. You could even camp here for a week and use it as your home base while exploring more of the eastern end of the UP.

If you’re not an early morning person, even on vacation, here’s our suggested one day itinerary for Tahquamenon Falls. It assumes you need drive time to get to the park from elsewhere and you don’t get on the road until 9 or 10AM.

  • Start at the Upper Falls. View all three vistas. Knock out those stairs early!
  • Eat lunch at the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery & Pub at the Upper Falls parking lot.
  • Hike the River Trail to Lower Falls (or drive there). If you drive, this itinerary won’t fill up a whole day.
  • Explore Lower Falls & its island. The River Trail connects to the Lower Falls trails at the new pedestrian bridge that connects to the island.

Pro Tip: Take the pedestrian bridge across the water, turn right onto the island, and around a couple bends in the path you’ll see a wide, flat, rock shelf that extends into the river. This is the perfect spot to sit and recover for a bit from your hike.

  • Relax in or near the water on Lower Falls. There are several different viewpoints here as well as spots to get pictures up close and personal with the falls.
  • If you hiked to Lower Falls, you can either hike back the way you came OR catch a shuttle from the Lower Falls parking lot back to your car at the Upper Falls parking lot.
  • End the day at the lakeside picnic area near Rivermouth Campground.
A couple walks through the shallow water of the Tahquamenon River near the first small rapids that make up Lower Tahquamenon Falls, Michigan

One of Michigan’s Best Waterfalls, Tahquamenon Falls is worth a visit!

Whether you’ve got a weekend to spend camping and exploring or just an hour or two to view the falls, Tahquamenon Falls State Park is worth a stop on your next trip to the Upper Peninsula.

Come see these beautiful root beer-colored waterfalls for yourself!

Other Things to Do in the Michigan Upper Peninsula

Happy travels!

Headshot of Rachel Means at Clingmans Dome in Smoky Mountains

About the Author: Rachel Means

With six-figure student loan debt and only 10 PTO days per year, Rachel started traveling the world. A decade later, she’s paid off her loans, changed careers, and been to 38 US states and 17 countries. She’s an expert at planning and budgeting for travel and loves to help others do it, too! Read her full story here.

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Collage of a trail marker sign, a couple wading in a river, and Upper Tahquamenon Falls with text "Fun Things to Do at Tahquamenon Falls"
A picture of tan-colored Upper Tahquamenon Falls from the Brink view with an inset picture of the Lower Falls, with text "Hiking Tahquamenon Falls: Stand on the Brink & Feel It!"
7 Best Things to Do at Tahquamenon Falls State Park7 Best Things to Do at Tahquamenon Falls State Park