Dickinson waterfalls rich in beauty, history
By BILL ZIEGLER
For The Daily News
IRON MOUNTAIN – When relatives or friends come to visit, everyone wants to show them around to see why we live here. This area has many beautiful sights, although sometimes our waterfalls get overlooked.
Dickinson County and northernmost Menominee County have 13 beautiful waterfalls and 10 are reasonably accessible. Dickinson County also has two easily accessible gorges with falls and rapids that together with the falls make a good day tour.
Rock Dam Falls is located on Pine Creek. There is a small falls on the North Branch of the West Branch of the Sturgeon River. There are five more falls on the West Branch of the Sturgeon River. Fumee Falls is located along U.S. 2 on Fumee Creek and is easily accessible.
There are four remaining waterfalls on the Menominee River. Sand Portage Falls and the Third Pier are located in Piers Gorge south of Norway and Quiver Falls and Pemenee Falls are located along the Menominee in north Menominee County just downstream from the Dickinson County border.
There is reasonable driving access to most of the falls mentioned although a walk is required for some. A four-wheel drive is not required although some are on dirt/sand roads and a pickup or SUV with adequate ground clearance is still the best way to access these falls.
A good stop on the way is the Michigan Department of Natural Resources field office in Norway or the Michigan Department of Transportation Welcome Center in Iron Mountain. Maps of Dickinson County can be observed there, as well as questions answered. The DNR office phone number is (906) 563-9247 and the Chamber number is (906) 774-2002. A Michigan County Map Guide and a Dickinson County Plat book are also good tools to help locate these scenic sites.
Pine Creek’s Rock Dam Falls is located in the state forest northeast of Iron Mountain. From Iron Mountain, head west on U.S. 2 to M-95. On M-95 go north about 1.3 miles to Carney Lake Road. Turn east (right) and travel about five miles on Carney Lake Road as it turns from asphalt to gravel road.
At about five miles and after running next to Pine Creek a trail road turns off to the east (right) goes a short distance to a turn-around. A short walking trail crosses Hosking Creek and takes you to the base of the Rock Dam Falls. This falls, large rock outcropping and small gorge is well worth visiting and has easy drive-up access.
There is an unnamed falls on the north branch of the West Branch of the Sturgeon River. It is located on state land, north of the M69 stream crossing of that same river. From the M-95 intersection with M-69 travel east about one mile to a dirt trail road that heads north (left). Travel north about 0.3 miles to a trail intersection with a trail to the right. Travel east about 0.3 miles to the trail termination at a small old quarry site. A foot trail leads north a short distance to a small twin falls. This is also the site of the remnants of an old late 1800s pine log driving dam.
There are five waterfalls on the West Branch of the Sturgeon River. Unfortunately, there is only practical legal public access to the lower set of falls.
The other falls could be accessed from the south with very difficult access through a rugged roadless area of state land. I first observed these falls from an early spring trout habitat recognizance canoe trip down the West Branch of the Sturgeon. I would strongly recommend not trying to repeat this method, since just below the upper falls the West Sturgeon’s channel disappears “underground” for about a mile through a cedar swamp. This spot is similar to the section on the Ford River below Ralph where a braided channel disappears under thousands of year of fallen cedars and peat soil. When my son, (an NCAA collegiate nordic skier who pulled the canoe most of the time in the swamp and around the falls), and I finished this eight-mile trip we were about four hours overdue and exhausted.
The falls that have practical access are located on state forest land. Access can be made by traveling to Felch on M-69 and then take Calumet Mine Road south about two miles to a trail road to the west (right). Travel northwest about 0.3 miles to a trail intersection to the southwest (left).
You can only drive a short distance to a berm blocking motorized access at a bad washout site. From there a good trail leads about 0.3 miles to the falls and an undeveloped primitive camp site.
The falls that are easiest to access and most well known are Fumee Falls. They are located about 4.5 miles east of Iron Mountain on the north side of U.S. 2. There is a roadside park and short walking trail to view the falls and Fumee Creek. A wood stairs leads to a very picturesque upper series of falls above the one that can be seen from the road.
There was a very scenic gorge, small falls and rapids re-exposed when the Sturgeon Dam was completely removed in 2007. This can be accessed by driving east from Iron Mountain on U.S. 2 about 13.2 miles to Loretto.
Turn north (left) on County Road 573 and travel about 0.5 miles to Swede Settlement Road. Turn east (right) and drive just over a mile to Dam Road. Turn northeast and travel about 0.4 miles to a WE Energies gate. There is an access road to the old dam site at the gorge, rapids and falls, with about a 0.3-mile walk.
Piers Gorge and Sand Portage Falls were recently purchased by the Michigan and Wisconsin DNRs although it had always been open to the public through cooperation with We Energies. This series of rapids and low falls is one of the most scenic areas in Dickinson County.
It can be easily accessed by driving south 1.8 miles from the intersection of U.S. 2 and U.S. 8 in Norway to Piers Gorge Road. Turn west (right) on Piers Gorge Road and travel just over a mile to a parking lot and trail head.
A good foot trail follows the Michigan bank of the river upstream about 0.5 miles along the rapids to a very scenic site. The Sand Portage Falls at the head of Piers Gorge is farther upstream about 1.3 miles from the parking area. Walking access can be made with a good trail through stands or large pine.
Two more falls in north Menominee County that are worth visiting that are not far from Dickinson County are Quiver Falls and Pemenee Falls. Both falls and rapids are located on the Menominee River on state land. Although these are both lower falls they do give some idea of the grandeur that Native Americans and early voyageurs saw as the traveled the Menominee River waterway.
Driving access to Quiver Falls is on the Wisconsin side of the Menominee River. From Iron Mountain, take U.S. 2 east to the intersection with U.S. 141. Turn south and cross the Menominee River Bridge to Niagara, Wis., and south on 141 about 15 miles to Marinette County Road R.
Turn east (left) on County R (other name Kremlin Road) and travel east just over seven miles to an intersection and railroad crossing. The intersection is not well marked but it is 0.7 miles east of the County R crossing of the North Branch of the Pemebonwon River. Turn right on the road and cross the rail road tracks, continue east on the Wisconsin DNR dirt road about a mile to a parking area at Quiver Falls.
Upstream of the rapids and falls is the remnants of the Pemebonwon Dam which was a pine log driving dam for the Menominee River Boom Company during the late 1800s.
Pemenee Falls is accessed from the Michigan side of the Menominee River although it is shorter to use Wisconsin highways from Iron Mountain to travel to the access point. Using the initial Quiver Falls access information take U.S. 141 south of Pembine about three miles to Marinette County Road Z.
Take County Road Z east (left) about 10.6 miles to the Nathan Bridge crossing the Menominee River back into Michigan. Marinette County Z becomes Menominee County Road 374; take that east 0.2 miles from the bridge to the first road – State Road V-4. Turn north (left) and drive up the road (past the Michigan DNR boat access site) to a trail road that is just over a mile north of the intersection. The trail is on the west (left) side of road and is marked with a sign for the falls.
You can park and walk a short distance on the state of Michigan land to Pemenee Falls. This falls also has the remnant of a historical logging dam, which was reportedly the first log driving dam that the Menominee River Boom Company built to drive pine logs.
If walking is a problem, the falls with easiest driving access are Fumee, Pine Creek Rock Dam, Quiver and Pemenee Falls. If you take the time to take this tour you will be well rewarded by a series of picturesque falls and impressive rapids where you often may be the only visitor. Make sure you bring a camera.