Ottawa National Forest


Approximately 200 miles of hiking and backpacking trails that vary greatly in character provide short easy walks to points of interest, such as waterfalls or historic sites, or offer the opportunity for challenging cross-country hiking.

Some of the Ottawa National Forest's most popular hiking trails are located in the Black River Harbor area where trails are very scenic with many views of cascading waterfalls. The North Country National Scenic Trail traverses the Ottawa National Forest for 118 miles in an east-west direction. The trail is challenging due to the very rugged terrain and the fact that most stream crossings are without bridges. The Ottawa National Forest also offers five interpretive trails that feature signs explaining the sights and sounds along the way. All of these trails are 1 to 2-1/2 miles in length and offer easy walking.

Black River Harbor
Some of the Forest's most popular trails are located in the Black River Harbor area; approximately 15 miles north of Bessemer and Ironwood in Gogebic County. These trails provide access to Great Conglomerate, Gorge, Potawatomi, Sandstone, and Rainbow Falls and range in length from 1/4 to 1-1/2 miles. All trails descend rather steeply from the rim of the Black River Gorge to overlook points. To ensure your safety, stay on designated trails and observe all regulations.

Because of its unique character, the trail that serves Potowatomi and Gorge Falls was designated a National Recreation Trail in 1978. Developments along it include stairways and observation platforms that overlook the Black River and the two waterfalls. A barrier-free access leading from Gorge Falls parking lot to Potowatomi Falls provides a unique viewing opportunity for people with disabilities. There is also a picnic area. Large, old growth hemlock, white pine, and hardwood timber add to the area's beauty. See the Black River Harbor or Black River Harbor Waterfalls brochure for trail information.

Gogebic Ridge Trail
An interesting side trip from the Bergland portion of the North Country Trail is the Gogebic Ridge Trail. It begins from a point along Forest Road 250, one mile north of M-28 at Merriweather, or on M-64, 3 miles north of Bergland. The trail leads east from Forest Road 250 along the north and east shore of Weary Lake to a ledge overlooking Lake Gogebic, and then northward where it intersects M-64. The trail crosses M-64 and continues east over Cookout Mountain to Old M-64. After crossing Old M-64, the trail leads to Sandhill Creek, and finally ends at its junction with the North Country Trail.

Cascade Falls Trail
This one-mile trail offers two alternative routes to reach a small waterfall on Cascade Creek. To reach the trailhead parking lot, go 7 miles northeast of Bergland on Forest Road 400 to the junction with Forest Road 468. Two routes depart from the parking lot. The scenic Twin Peaks route climbs a bluff overlooking the West Branch of the Ontonagon River and the Trap Hills. The Valley route avoids the steep path of the higher route but reaches the same destination.

Sylvania Wilderness
In addition to its canoeing and water access camping opportunities, the Sylvania Wilderness near Watersmeet contains nearly 30 miles of foot trails. These trails traverse old growth forests and the shores of several lakes. They are well suited for both day hiking and overnight trips. Overnight campers must stay at one of the area's designated wilderness camp sites. A permit for camping is required. See the Sylvania Wilderness trip planning guide for details.

Interpretive Trails
The Ottawa National Forest contains five trails that feature interpretive signs explaining the sights and sounds along the way. All are 1 to 2-1/2 miles in length and are easy walking. They are located at the Watersmeet Visitor Center in Watersmeet, the Beaver Lodge Trail at the Bob Lake Campground, the Lake Ottawa Campground in Iron River, the Deer Marsh Interpretive Trail at Lake Ste. Kathryn and a trail at the Norway Lake Campground.

Scenic Trails
Short trails to waterfalls and scenic vistas are located at Sturgeon Falls and Silver Mountain, north of Sidnaw; Wolf Mountain, east of Wakefield; Yondota Falls, north of Marenisco; and Kakabika Falls between Marenisco and Watersmeet. There are numerous other short hikes to waterfalls and vistas on the Ottawa National Forest.

The Norway Lake, Teepee Lake, Perch Lake, and Lake Ste. Kathryn campgrounds also feature short lakeshore trails. A 1/2-mile trail at Brule Lake features the Stateline Historic Treaty Tree Site. Nearby, the Ge-Che & Hagerman-Brule trail doubles as a winter cross-country ski route.

North Country National Scenic Trail
About 118 miles of the North Country National Scenic Trail crosses the Ottawa National Forest in Michigan's western Upper Peninsula. When completed, the North Country Trail will extend about 3,200 miles from the Lewis and Clark trail in North Dakota to New York, where it will meet the Appalachian Trail system.

Four parts of the trail, the Black River, Bergland, Victoria and Sturgeon River Gorge segments, have been completed and are open for use. The trail extends from the eastern boundary of the Kenton Ranger District west to Copper Peak ski hill north of Ironwood, Michigan, on the Bessemer Ranger District.

The North Country Trail is challenging. It traverses areas of very rugged topography and is often several miles from the nearest motor vehicle access point Most stream crossings are without bridges. The only developed campsites available are at the Black River Harbor campground on Lake Superior, the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park on the trail's west end, and the Bob Lake and Sturgeon River campgrounds to the east. Trailside camping is permitted.

The Black River Segment, on the Bessemer Ranger District, is located at the north end of Copper Peak Road approximately 500 feet from County Road 513, north of Bessemer, Michigan. Parking is available at the trailhead. It parallels the river for five miles with its scenic rapids and waterfalls from Copper Peak to beautiful Black River Harbor on Lake Superior. From here it crosses the foot bridge at the mouth of the Black River, then turns south and again parallels the river to a point just upstream of Rainbow Falls. It then turns eastward for five miles to Gogebic County Road 519. The trail runs north on this road into the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park and its junction with the South Boundary Road.

The Bergland Segment, on the Bergland Ranger District, picks up at the Presque Isle Campground on Lake Superior Trail and continues to its junction with Little Carp River. Continue on this trail until reaching Lily Pond Trail, which leads to Summit Peak Trail and on to the South Boundary Road. Cross the South Boundary Road and continue on the trail for approximately 13 miles to the parking lot and trailhead on M-64. This segment includes two hiking bridges across the West and Main Branches of the Big Iron River. From here it continues east across Bergland Hill through the high scenic country of the Trap Hills to the Norwich Road, for a distance of about 18 miles. The trail continues eastward along some high ridge lines for 5 miles to Victoria Road with scenic views in all directions. Follow this road for 3 miles to join with the Victoria Segment on the Ontonagon Ranger District.

The Victoria Segment, on the Ontonagon Ranger District, begins at woods road 645 and continues climbing 5 scenic miles east to the Old Victoria Townsite. Here there is a short loop trail which veers off for hikers visiting the townsite. The main trail continues east 2 miles where it meets the West Branch of the Ontonagon River. Typically low water provides easy crossing, but is subject to rapidly rising water if the gates are opened upstream at the Victoria Dam. Upper Peninsula Power Company regulates the spillgates and sounds an alarm to signal increasing water levels due to gates opening.

Follow the trail 3 miles to cross Forest Road 733 where a parking lot/trail head can be found. From Forest Road 733, it is about 2.5 miles to US-45. Crossing US-45, about 8 miles north of Bruce Crossing, the trail continues east to Gardner Road crossing trail bridges at the Baltimore River and Middle Branch of the Ontonagon River. The Baltimore River bridge provides a beautiful view of O-Kun-De-Kun Falls. From Gardner Road, the trail winds 19 miles east to the Sturgeon River. Stream crossings at Silver River, Boulder Creek, and the East Branch of the Ontonagon River may be difficult or impossible during high water. Near Bob Lake, a marked side trail connects to Bob Lake Campground and the Beaver Lodge Interpretive Trail.

The Sturgeon River Segment parallels the Sturgeon River Gorge Wilderness above and along its east side and also east of Forest Roads 2270 and 2200 for 10 miles from the Sturgeon River bridge to the eastern Forest boundary. All clearing and signing is complete on this segment. From the Forest boundary eastward, the trail continues on private land past Tibbets Falls to Plains Road.

East and West trail segment maps are available for purchase.

For information on the North Country National Scenic Trail, please see our detailed description of North Country Trail.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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