black river waterfalls drive

 

black river road signHighway 513 runs from Route #2 at Bessemer north through the Ottawa National Forest in the western upper peninsula. The road winds along the course of the Black River, and is one of two National Scenic Byways in Michigan. At the northern end of the drive, is Lake Superior, and the Black River Harbor, one of only two harbors in the National Forest System. The Harbor is about 15 miles north of Bessemer, and is the location, of the mouth, of the Black River. The section, of the Black River, that flows here, is enclosed by pines, hardwoods, and hemlocks. This section is also graced by several scenic waterfalls that are easy to get to.

The river drops, down from the highlands, to Lake Superior. Along the way, the river forms rapids, white water, and four major waterfalls. Parking areas, for each of the major waterfalls, are right off the byway. The waterfalls, in the order you encounter them are, Conglomerate Falls, Potawatomi & Gorge Falls, Sandstone Falls and Rainbow Falls.

It is a hike of ¾ mile, along a path from the parking area, to Conglomerate Falls. There is an excellent viewing platform at the river. The waterfall flows over the hard conglomerate river bed, hence its name, forming a pool, and then a rapids. As with all of these four waterfalls, the wilderness surrounding adds to the beauty of the scene.

gorge fallsNext is the parking area for the Potawatomi and the Gorge waterfalls. There are picnic facilities at this spot. Potawotami Falls, is the easiest to reach, and has a barrier-free access trail, leading from the parking lot. Gorge Falls is 400 feet from the parking area, and you will have to deal with long stairways. It is worth it. Gorge falls is in a steep gorge, carved by the river, and is a photographers dream. Sandstone Falls is next. The sign says it is ¼ mile, from the parking area, to the waterfall. It doesn't mention that most of that is a steep stairway.

The Sandstone waterfall is completely different from the others. It is in a broad, flat section of the river, and it is possible to walk out onto the river bed in late summer. The area is wild and rugged, and the view is reminiscent of scenes, of the high country out west.

Finally, we reach Rainbow Falls. Getting to the river, requires the usual hike, and the usual stairs. The roaring waterfall, plunges into a deep, dark crater. The drop, is sufficient, to throw great quantities of mist into the air. When the sun is at the correct angle, gorgeous waterfalls form spontaneously, only to disappear in the wind.