Ontonagon Scenic Drive

Visitors and residents alike make their way to the Porcupine Mountains during peak color season when the leaves set the hills ablaze for color tours. That tour usually includes a stop to drink in the view of the Lake of the Clouds and, perhaps, a drive along the south Boundary Road to visit the waterfalls at the western end of the Porkies. As beautiful as these places are, there is much, much more to be enjoyed in both summer and autumn. You could just go on a random drive, but following this route will lead to great scenery, fun destinations and a stunning scene at the end in both green seasons and color time.

norwich bluffs

The Ontonagon Color Tour begins in town. Maps of the county are available at the Historical Museum. Take M-38/M-26 toward Mass City. The scenery will be as "up north" as it gets. Approaching Mass City, watch for signs leading to the Adventure Mine. Without getting into details, suffice it to say that this place offers an authentic mine experience. A hard hat and light are required, and stout footwear and a jacket will really come in handy. The mine offers tours into areas that were inaccessible just a few years ago, and once per year, a mountain bike race passes through a section of the mine.

From Mass City follow M-26 to Rockland just a few miles south and west. Rockland is little more than a crossroads, but there are treasures to be discovered while enjoying the ride. There are three spots of note in town. The Rockland Historical Museum tells the local story including the fact that the first telephone line in Michigan was strung here. Henry's Inn is a place the snowmobile crowd knows well. If the magnificent mahogany bar could talk, it would have tales to tell. Then there is the old Rockland Depot (in former days the First National Bank of Rockland) It is a two story structure, painted red. It is now a general store and a place to get coffee or ice cream. Inside is a special feature, the Spice Vault. The vault is real, a feature from the old days. Inside, are exotic spices, many in bulk, from many regions around the globe. The proprietors can explain the uses of items that are so unusual you may never have seen them before.

Back on the road, watch for the signs pointing the way to the restored ghost town of Old Victoria. Old Victoria is an historic mining camp, restored to its original glory by the Society for the Restoration of Old Victoria. Tours are offered during the season. Regardless of whether the ghost town is open, the road out there is one of the most spectacular drives in all of Ontonagon Country. In the color season, it rivals the best anywhere.

Back in Rockland, the drive continues south on Route 45 past Bruce Crossing to Paulding. This is the way to the rightly famous Bond Falls. The roads are paved all the way, you can nearly drive right up to the falls in any season. From the parking lot, there are pathways and boardwalks that take one all around the falls and up above them. Bond Falls is the most famous but there are others nearby. Kakabika Falls is more remote but is a roaring cataract during the spring thaw. Agate falls is close by and offers a view from atop a railroad trestle, 200+ feet up
Back north of Bruce Crossing on US 45 is a small sign, O Kun De Kun Falls. This one requires some work, like a hike of more than a mile. However, when the water is flowing, you can actually walk around behind the falls.

Sometimes one wants to get out of the car and just enjoy the view. A great spot for that is the Robbins Pond Road just south of Paulding. That is also the spot where one can watch for the Mysterious Paulding Light to appear after dark.

Back at Bruce Crossing the scenic tour heads west on Route 28. The drive passes through Ewen of lumbering era fame and takes the visitor to the crossroads of Matchbox. There may not be a sign announcing Matchwood, so watch for the road sign for the Norwich Road. Take the Norwich Road north back toward Lake Superior. The road is narrow and winding, but it is paved. Drive through the farmlands and hunting camps as the road goes. About halfway to the northern end comes the reward, the Norwich Bluffs. After rolling through farmlands and white birch forests, the bluffs suddenly appear straight ahead. The cliffs tower hundreds of feet in the air surrounded by hardwood forests. It may be the best sight in the whole drive. There is a trailhead where you can park and hike around a bit. There are mining ruins here as well as prehistoric copper mining pits. The view from atop the bluffs defies description.

Drive on north until the road stops at Route M-64. Take a left and reach Silver City, go south on Route 64 to find the beautiful Bonanza Falls. Go straight and find Scott's Superior Cabins where I like to take my rest. Go right and you will be back in Ontonagon in just a few minutes. Another spot that is a rewarding side trip is the drive around Lake Gogebic. It is the largest inland lake in the Upper Peninsula, famous for fishing and beautiful color and it is just a few miles further west from Matchwood, adjacent to the town of Bergland.