Tahquamenon Falls puts Paradise ‘On The Map’

DSCN1579Michigan is full of natural wonders, from Sleeping Bear Dunes to Petoskey stones, Pictured Rocks and Isle Royale.

One of the most visited sites is Tahquamenon Falls.

Every weekday at 2 o’clock a walking tour leaves from the parking lot at Tahquamenon Falls State Park to the upper falls.

It’s less than a mile to walk to the upper falls, with viewing platforms along the way.

“My name is Katie, I’m one of the naturalist here at Tahquamenon Falls State Park. First thing we want to make sure everyone can say Tahquamenon, so who can say Tahquamenon? It rhymes with phenomenon, because we’re phenomenal here at Tahquamenon Falls. So what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna take the hike down to the falls.”

Doing tours like this is part of Katie Brownell’s job. She also spends time in the park’s fact shack teaching visitors about the falls and about the different plants and animals that call the park home.

Katie Brownell talks about trees.

Katie Brownell talks about trees.

One thing that tourists often ask about is the brownish-orange color of the water. The answer comes from hemlock trees.

“The tree has tannins in it and what it is, is they mix it with oils and different chemicals and they use it to tan hides. It takes about a hundred pounds of hemlock tree to tan one hide of a cow,” she grabs bark from a downed tree and rubs it together in her hands. “And you can see my hands are actually stained like a brownish color.”

That tannic acid that stained Brownell’s hands and tans the hides of animals is also what gives the falls their distinctive color.

Right now around 2,000-3,000 gallons of water go over the falls every second but like leaves on the trees the water levels change with the seasons.

“I like to stop here,” Brownell said stopping at a big tree by the trail, “because this is the first time you really get to hear the falls as you can listen you can start to hear them a little bit roaring in the back. The falls are flowing around probably somewhere around 2,000 gallons a second right now. The record that it has been marked at is was 52,000 gallons a second and I’m told the ground shakes. You couldn’t even hear anybody. We’d have to do the tour from back here because that’s where you have to yell over everything.”

That high flow is reached in the spring with the snow melt.

Even though that much water is pretty spectacular, park interpreter Theresa Neal says her favorite season at the park is fall.

“My favorite season is fall because the bugs have tended to die down a bit so it’s a lot more tolerable to go out hiking around, it’s beautiful and you can still have warm days and cool nights so the fall is my favorite, the kids go back to school which is always nice too.”

Theresa Neal

Theresa Neal

Neal said she often gets asked how the falls were made. She said there’s not a good answer, the best she’s got is erosion.

“What thought to have happened for the upper falls area is that just over time the river had eroded some of the softer rock and created the big ledge,” she said. “If you look off to the sides of the waterfall there’s big sandstone cliffs.”

No matter how it got there the waterfall is breath-taking, that is if the stairs haven’t taken your breath first…

“So I can take you guys down, there’s 94 stairs to go down and view the falls right from the top. Just remember it’s 94 stairs down but it feels like 500 coming back up,” Brownell advises.

If you’re feeling extra adventurous 116 more stairs take you down to the gorge viewing platform, and a four mile hike takes you to the lower falls– or you can drive.

The lower falls.

The lower falls.

The falls aren’t the only thing at the park. Neal said people come to the park for many reasons.
“Other things folks like to do is fish and kayak and canoe, and then other people just like to go wander through the wood and look for birds or look for wildlife, signs of critters. Our park is about 50,000 acres and most people only see the upper and lower falls which, you know, they might see a thousand or so acres.”

The park is open year round. Whether you’re interested in the spring rush, a summer hike, the fall colors or the sight of the falls frozen in winter.

In a town called Paradise, Tahquamenon Falls won’t disappoint.

This natural wonder is helping put Paradise On the Map.