Things To Do In Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park ‘Porkies': Backcountry Yurts, Waterfalls, Bear Trails

2:31 AM

Bears do not pee. The Bear body produces urea and instead of getting washed out in the urine gets transported in their blood stream. If you find it strange - there’s crazy Bear stuff I would reveal in this post. Welcome to our journey to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park located in Upper Peninsula Michigan - where we have the highest Bear density in all of Michigan and about 90 waterfalls. 

Manabezho Falls, Presque Isle - Porkies, Michigan, USA

 Porcupine Mountains also locally known as ‘Porkies’ were named by the native Ojibwa people supposedly because of their silhouette in the shape of a Porcupine. It was the site of Copper mining in the 19th century and today home to many Black bears. Here the copper Colored hues of waterfalls come from the Copper deposits in the riverbed and the gorges. This is also known as Circle tour of Lake Superior(largest of the great lakes in North America). And this place comes after the mighty Bond Falls if you are driving from Wisconsin ( in fact I would highly suggest doing Bond Falls and O Kun De Kun falls before arriving here). Its about 6 hours from Milwaukee / 8 from Chicago.

This was our road trip of 2 days - we reached Porkies in 7 hours, and Pictured Rocks another 2 hours from Porkies, and it took  us one more day to come back to Milwaukee ; all in all it was a 3 day vacation.

 Upper Peninsula Michigan is so raw, that every time you go there, whether fall or spring, you’d be surprised as to how much is there to see. Remember Northern Lights when we drove through upper Wisconsin and to Saxon Harbor from last time?

 I agree with Visit Michigan Tagline, it says ‘Pure Michigan’ and it is!

 What transported us back to the wilderness this time was an experience of staying in a Backcountry Yurt in the middle of a forest with trails leading to it, washed over due to heavy rain on the weekend of Memorial day. We were told to park a mile ahead and walk to the Yurt. We were also told that our Yurt is along with the little union river. As we started walking on the trail , after a while , we saw the water was flowing beneath our feet, and we wondered if we actually were walking on the river. But a long walk in the puddles of water, lead us to the washroom first and then the wooden logs for fire and then the Yurt. The rain had filled even the smallest of gaps in the trail with water. Thankfully our yurt and the surrounding areas weren't as wet!

So what is a Yurt?

 a circular tent of felt or skins on a collapsible framework, used by nomads in Mongolia, Siberia, and Turkey. 

Unlike campsites, each Yurt had different location in the wilderness, and when we reached our own, it was just our own Yurt there. The visitor center closes at 6 pm and we had no choice but to be on our own post that.

 If you are in US, you must try Camping, RV’s , Backcountry in the state or national forests. It’s the closest you can get to nature. 

 Now before we begin with the circle tour around Lake Superior, here are some tips and tricks for the Porkies and lets watch my vlog:

 1) As soon as you reach, visit visitor center(opens till 6) and get acquainted with maps and events of the day.

 2) Porcupine Mountains is the rawest of raw. Cellphones don’t catch signals here.

 3) Get Bug Spray. There are many many bugs in the forests. And many people were also wearing Bug Hat but I would highly suggest Bug spray.

 4) Our Yurt was very nice but very basic, I believe that’s the idea. So it had no electricity or water for us. Though you can always carry power charging device for charging equipment if you wish to and get water from the river and boil in the wooden enclosure for cooking. There were candles in room so we did light them for a while. There are other options for stay too like cabins and campgrounds inside the park. Outside the park, you could stay in hotels such as American Lodge and Mountain View Lodge in Ontonagon county.

Me, sitting in front of my yurt..

Our cute little washroom

Fire struggling to catch up in damp woods

Inside the yurt, you can also check the availability and book the yurt , cabins or campgrounds from here

A place where utensils were kept

 5) It’s a huge park, so covering it in half a day was probably I wouldn’t advise to anyone. We could see 2 waterfalls in half a day. I would suggest staying overnight and living here for 2 days at least.

The Porkies is spread across 60,000 acres.

 6) The parking could be far from the Yurt, so ask before booking or be prepared to hike a little inside.

7) As said in my previous article on USA for first timers,  state park accommodations are not listed on aggregate sites such as, so you'd have to call them and book.

 8) The best time to visit Porkies for waterfalls would be spring thats when ice has melted and the rains are still there and the roars of waterfalls could be heard.

9) Be prepared to drive on winding roads specially to waterfalls inside the porkies.

10) Some of the roads could touch Wisconsin in parts and there would be immediate time difference of an hour. Michigan is one hour ahead of Wisconsin. For example, the distances to some of the waterfalls is close to about an hour drive. When we drove from our yurt parking to Presque Isle waterfalls, it took us about 1 hour 15 minutes due to fog and winding roads and there was a time lag at some areas on roads where Wisconsin time was showing, so we really got confused, on if we are losing or gaining time.

11) The best part about wandering in these waterfalls of Porkies and Bond falls is that the trail goes along with the waterfalls, making us walk together with the flow age of the fall.

 12) There are lot of Bears in Porkies, generally they don’t attack people because Bear hunting is allowed here and so Bear have natural fear of humans and that’s also to keep balance. Because when Bear gets habitual to people, they are not shy about coming to you for food, and that’s when nuisance or Bear attacks starts. But don’t keep food open anywhere. Also if you happen to encounter one in front of you, don’t run or turn back. Take a step back and walk back slowly. That’s what we were told at visitor center.

 13) Carry charcoal fuel for lighting wood and carry first aid kit just in case.

 14) Carry your medicines with you, and probably some food too. There were plenty of utensils in the yurts so no need to carry them.

 15) Wear proper shoes.

 There are plenty to do in Porkies. On the extreme western side , is the Presque Isle River which comprises of three or four waterfalls one after the other. The rapids are drops on the gorges and the waterfalls accessible and called Manabezho Falls, Manido Falls, Nawadaha Falls, they fall into Lake Superior. The sight from Lake of the clouds is also very beautiful, sadly for us, it was all fog, so there wasn’t much to us when we went there. Or you can also enroll in events that happen at the park like we did for the Bear Den.

Some of the programs at the park includes Astronomy ( at Lake of the Clouds Observation area, if you are lucky you can see meteors or even northern lights), Fire by Friction(creating Fire by primitive methods without matches or lighters), Arrows Away(learn the basics of bow and arrow), Wolf Hike(learn about wolves) and etc. You could get the information from the visitor center or you can check at this website.

So lets talk about how much fun we had in half a day:

 Who thought this would be a rabbit hole? Now well guys, this surprisingly is a Bear den. When we were in Porkies we got to know about the Bear Den Trail with Park Rangers at 6 pm, so we thought why not!

 We joined them and got to know some really cool facts about Bears, I wouldn’t have had otherwise known. Unfortunately or fortunately it was drizzling by that time only to end up with outburst and heavy downpour during night, and we didn’t get to see any Bears on the trail. So, Bear make dens inside of a hill, inside of a tree, inside of a cave or underground. He said he has found Bear dens inside of a big hollowed out tree and there are some which are dug inside the hillside which mostly tells its a female who is going to give birth because she then excavates hole, the size of her body and fill the hole with plant material or put it back against the hole to seal it up so that her body temperature heats up.

 Because when the Bear cubs are born, they are size of the can of coke, very very small and weigh 80 ounces. They are totally reliant on their mother to keep them cozy and warm. An adult bear weighs 150-200 pounds.

 So, this den above is kind of hybrid - a Bear has dug it out when he knew there’s a tree known as yellow birch tree growing on top. Yellow Birch tree seeds germinate really well on old decayed wood. There was a stump here, the seeds fell out and the roots went off around the stump, which is common for yellow birch tree creating a nice opening like a pre-den. So the bear had to just dig out a little bit and during winters, when there is snow, the openings are covered in snow, and its well protected and insulated. This den would house 2 Bears.

Last winter there was a female Bear and a Cub. How was it found? So there was a lady who was Deer hunting in the area, and she didn’t see any Bear the whole day but she had a weird feeling that someone was watching over. So she told her hubby and next morning they followed the Bear and her cub which led them to this spot. Unfortunately, Bears don’t use anymore because the humans disturbed the area , however, its not common for Bear to change places. In fact, they do not use their dens more than once normally during the season then they move to the next den in the next season, because they create a new site so that wolfs do not smell them. Now let’s share some interesting facts about bear by looking at its skull, This is a 150 pound black Bear skull.

What information can you get from a Bear Skull?

 1) Diet of Bears: When you look at the teeth, the back molars are flattened on top that means they are generally plant eaters. When you look at the dog skull / skull of wolf, they have pointy molars and so they are true meat eaters than plant eaters. Humans have flattened molars too so generally we are plant eaters.

 2) Eyes are Forward: So it tells us that its a predator. So predator is an animal with eyes protruding towards front because they hunt to stay alive and they need to have eyes like that so that they can pinpoint the exact point/prey. So if you think of a rabbit / deer the eyes are way out on the sides, they can’t see on front of their nose, but they can see a big sweeping circle. So if anyone is behind them, they can see a lot more. It’s said that, Eyes on the front, I like to hunt; Eyes on the side, I like to hide. Bears are very capable predators in reality. But they are extremely lazy. They spend very little time doing it, because they are very opportunistic, they eat whatever is easiest for them to eat. Majority of it (70-80%) is plant.

 3) Smell is more than Dog: By the skull, you would see a long nose and the smelling power of bear is exceptionally good. In fact many scientists that they have 1000 times more smelling power than dogs. For example, the new born baby bear has barely any odor which is to protect from its predators and that keeps them safe from Wolves , Dogs, Coyote. A Dog cannot smell and identify it but a bear can. There’s one time of the year when the bear would become a predator and hunt the baby Deer. 

4) Orientation of the body: By the skull, the orientation of head is on the front so it walks on the front of the body instead of on top.

 5) Jaws really powerful: By the skull, you would see the bear has a wide jaw like some of the strongest dogs and they can take upwards of 900 pounds of pressure/ sq inch with their bites.

 6) Brain size small but highly intelligent animals.

 7) Can you determine age from skull? Yes. It’s not that easy with the bear as it is with the deer. With deer you can determine age depending on what teeth they have, deer get different teeth through their life and you can count and say its 2.5 year old deer. But with bear, what happens is during hunting, teeth between canine and molars called premolars are used to determine their age. The bears are born with premolars and they keep them entire life. The rest of the teeth would fall off and would grow but these stay intact. Every year the animal is alive, it adds a new cementing layer to the tooth, so what they do, they take the teeth out, and put it under microscope, and they would see layers similar to tree rings. From this bear skull, we get to know that the bear was 8 year old, it was a female who gave birth twice in her life (all the spaced lines until year 5, year 5 and 6 were really close together, so that means that the female was pregnant and all her energy was going into developing bear cubs and hence there’s a small cementing layer on them. 10 years is a pretty long lived Bear. This bear usually gave birth twice between age 5 and age 7. In wild they live for 10 years. In captivity can live 20-30 years depending on how well they are fed.

 8) Are all Black Bears Black? No. Black bears in Michigan are black. However throughout the world, depending on its habitat they can be of blonde color, cinnamon color and white color too. Here the black color helps blend with the forest and bears are mostly active during night. In mountains there are very few trees so bears are either blonde or cinnamon. In glaciers, they are white, because they do a lot of fishing and color white benefits them.

 9) Black Bear Fur? Are they warm? No. Black Bear Fur in Michigan is generally black on the outside and brown on the inside. However they ain’t nice warm, it pushes off very easily and air gets very easily. So bear doesn’t rely on its fur to keep them warm during winters, but fat.

 10) Are Bear Hibernators? Scientists in two minds. So bear they go for a big sleep in their den side during winters. If its female and she is pregnant she puts on 40% of her weight for her and the cub. 75% of their diet is plant material out of which the bear looks for highly nutritious nut called egg corn - which is high in fat, very nutritious, high in carbohydrates and fat and that’s how they gain weight. They have about 20+ pounds egg corns every night. So scientists who studies the true hibernators says that the bear doesn’t match the criteria for hibernators. True hibernators are supposed to have drastic drop in body temperature as well as drastic drop in respiration / heart rate which is not true for bears. True hibernators also flush their body every two weeks which bear doesn’t do for months. What bear does is called Carnivoral lethargy. Just before the bear goes to the den side, they would eat pine needles and some glass which are too complex for their body to digest so they are bound all winter because they have this fiber stuck in their body. They don’t urinate either, their body produces urea, that gets transported in blood stream and get secreted out in saliva which they swallow again. Disgusting right? So they are not losing weight anyways. So that’s now a recent topic of discussion with scientists because the way they live their life is similar to weightless(specially the not peeing part)

 11)Are male Bear always solo? Yes. The only time male and female associate with each other is during mating which is during spring and then they go their own way. They are very territorial and they are busy in establishing territories. Sometimes you could see them with their brother, but they often part ways.


 After we were done with Bear Den Trail we spend some time on the little union river getting our feet wet and having some beer. I guess, I did get to know a lot about bears here. And I hope I didn’t bore you guys, so lets take you to Presque Isle Waterfalls by the quick pictures and blogs.

There are ample parking places (The ones listed in 'P') in the area

Walking down the Presque River Trail to the three waterfalls

It was foggy so the Lake of the clouds wasn't visible so much.. but still!

Mark your calendar for festivals. The 12th annual Porcupine Mountains Music Festival will take place on Aug 26-28, 2016 where top notch performers from all over the country and abroad will be there. You can check for details. The Friends of the Porkies is a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote and support Porcupine Mountains. You can join them as a volunteer at Membership. There is a folk school where June classes included kayak making, July classes includes creating beach treasures mirror frame, august Russian leaf bead weaving and etc..  Summer Solstice celebration happens in June and Lake Superior Day happens in July. The forest museum is considered to be the biggest and best tract of virgin northern hardwoods in North America.

Depending on how much time you have, you can cover these:
1 Day: Lake of the clouds, Summit Peak, Presque Isle River
2 Days: All of the above + lake superior + union mine trail + trap falls hike + overlook trail + lost lake
3 Days: All of the above + Mirror Lake hike +  Shining Cloud Falls Hike + remote section of Lake Superior

 All in all, it was very good and lets take you to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the next post! After that we would be venturing in moving sand dunes. Sounds exciting..

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  1. This is an amazing photo post which truly reflects the travellers experience and entices others to explore this place, truly a thrilling post.
    You can likewise explore Thailand,

  2. This is an amazing photo post which truly reflects the travellers experience and entices others to explore this place, truly a thrilling post.
    You can likewise explore Thailand,

  3. Very Beautiful! All are knows Waterfalls are a standout amongst the most astonishing manifestations that nature can offer.

  4. What a beautiful place to be in! I like it when there is a water stream nearby. THe sound and ease of use makes it even better.

    The pictures say you had an awesome time. :)

    1. Yes I did enjoy Nisha :) US is a heaven for those who want to go stay in the national or state forests..

  5. Looks like quiet an experience. Did you manage to see any porcupines?

    1. The Untourists: No, I didn't see any Porcupines.. and it was quiet an experience though.

  6. Wow ! This was a super informative post ! I had gone to a place called Bear Mountains (read that as Beer Mountain, and went with high hopes) but did not come across a lot of wilderness, it was mostly a park :) An adventure like you had here will be awesome !

  7. WO What a amazing pictures and beautiful blog.....

  8. Such a fantastically detailed post Ankita! Loved it :)

    Btw I am not sure if I said this already, but I really love the new look of the blog :) :)

  9. nice post with a detailed information about porcupine mountains with your experience


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