Piers Gorge and Misicot Falls – Menominee River State Recreation Area
One of the most beautiful areas in the Western Upper Peninsula is Piers Gorge, a state recreation area south of Norway that features waterfalls, hiking trails and whitewater rafting opportunities. The Menominee River forms the border between Michigan and Wisconsin and as it narrows through Piers Gorge the water speeds up as it falls over several waterfalls, providing excellent conditions for whitewater rafting. We recently made a return trip to this lovely spot and caught an incredibly busy day for rafters. The post below will share some of our favorite pictures, and detail the waterfalls and other sights that can be seen along the hiking trail.
The trail begins at a small parking area at the end of Piers Gorge Rd., and it is wide and well-maintained to start out. Within a few minutes a sign reading “First Pier” points you towards the river via a short side trail, and the first view of the powerful river.
There is a decent set of rapids here before the river widens and calms down. From here you can continue to follow a rocky, rough trail alongside the river to the next set of falls or double back to the main trail. The main trail gets steep from here on out, so it is advised that you tackle this hike in sturdy athletic shoes or hiking boots.
The next set of falls/rapids is a bit more impressive, and only a few minutes of hiking away from the first pier. A short side trail leads to this drop, but even more impressive sights are yet to come.
The next stop is Misicot Falls, the biggest drop on the river. The total drop around here is about 20 feet, although at high water levels (like the picture at the top of the post) it may be hard to tell. The river is 80-100 feet wide here, and it drops the entire way across. This is a popular spot for local whitewater rafting companies, and when we visited we were able to watch a seemingly never-ending procession of rafts tackle this intense section of river.
There are several companies in the local area that take groups over the falls as part of their excursions – Wildman Adventure Resort runs out of Wisconsin; Northwoods Adventures runs out of Iron Mountain, MI; Thornton’s Rafting Resort & Campground operates out of Wisconsin; Kosir’s Rapid Rafts is one of the oldest in the area and they operate out of Wisconsin.
There is a good sized rock just below the falls, and we watched a few of the rafts get caught up on it. This occasionally led to one or more persons going overboard, but they always ended up back in the boat safely. It looked like an exhilarating rush to shoot these rapids and the guides all seemed to be well prepared and in control, so this has definitely been added to our Michigan bucket list.
After watching rafts for about an hour, we decided to head back up to the main trail and keep on going towards the Fourth Pier and Sand Portage Falls. The trail narrows a bit after Misicot Falls, but remains well-groomed and easy to navigate. The forest is thick and colorful as the path continues on for about a mile, reaching a clearing and passing under power lines before heading back into the woods.
Sand Portage Falls is not as impressive as its counterparts downstream, but a large rock provides great vantage points of the river here as it widens and passes around an island. This is more of a rapids then a falls depending on water level, and the name comes from it being a spot where Native Americans once had to take their canoes out of the river and portage around the falls.
The return trip to the parking lot took us about a half hour, and we left in awe of just how beautiful this area is. Whitewater rafting here is something we look forward to trying in the future, but even without the added adventure we recommend this area for anyone who enjoys waterfalls, hiking, geology and/or nature.
Directions: From the intersection of US-2 and Hwy. 8 in Norway, head south on Hwy. 8 (use caution as this passes through a residential area where the 25 MPH speed limit is strictly enforced) for about 2 miles and watch for the sign for Piers Gorge on the right. Turn here on Piers Gorge road and follow it to the parking area just past the Michigan DNR booth. A MI recreation passport is required for entry.