Rock River Canyon Wilderness
Located in the Hiawatha National Forest in Michigan.
Rock River Canyon Wilderness is located in Alger County, Michigan. It is situated 25 miles east of Marquette, 15 miles west of Munising, and 4 miles northwest of State Highway M-94 at Chatham. The wilderness is bounded on the east and north by Forest Roads 2279, 2276 and 2293. The south and east sides follow section lines. Rock River Canyon Wilderness is administered as a part of the Munising Ranger District of the Hiawatha National Forest.
Nearly all of the area was cut over between the late 1800's and the 1930's. A system of travelways, including old logging roads, skid trails, and two abandoned railroad grades, criss-cross the area. Timber harvest has occurred in the past 15 years. In flatter and more accessible areas prior to the Forest Service acquisition of this land. Cut stumps will be visible for another 20 years.
Northern hardwoods cover the majority of the area. Swamp conifers and hardwoods are found along the streams and wetlands. Two canyons, Rock River and Silver Creek, lie within the area. Each canyon is about 150 feet deep. They are separated by a broad, flat ridge and are surrounded by relatively flat uplands. Elevations within the wilderness range between 680 and 1,000 feet above mean sea level.
The canyon area itself has been relatively undisturbed by humans. Little evidence of prior human activity can be found, except for an occasional old skid road or decaying stump. Dense undergrowth and brush covers most of the land. The canyons are points of interest because few such landscape features exist in the eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Foot travel is difficult along the steep walls and through the densely vegetated and wet canyon floor. High ground around the canyons is covered by northern hardwoods and is easily traveled.
At the edge of the canyons are sandstone outcrops which water and weather have transformed into caves 10 to 40 feet deep. During winter, ice curtains formed by water seeping over the canyon. Rock River Falls is a notable feature in Spring, when its waters cascade over a sandstone ledge into a pool 15 feet below.
Canyon slopes border Ginpote Lake on two sides. This shallow, secluded, 13-acre lake reflects the canyon slopes. The Rock River, which flows in and out of Ginpote Lake, is used by resident and anadromous fish. Game fish include rainbow trout, brown trout, brook trout, coho salmon, and northern pike. A total of eighteen fish species are present in the stream system.
Wildlife species of Rock River Canyon are characteristic of the northern hardwood forest. Included are whitetail deer, black bear, raccoon, pine marten, pileated woodpecker, mink, beaver, muskrat, red squirrel, snowshoe hare, and ruffed grouse.
Wilderness qualities of the area are subtle in nature. Heavy vegetation masks the topography and sandstone features from view. Rock River Canyon is valued for the opportunity to discover botanical, geological and topographical features. In the center of its botanical features, has been proposed for Candidate Research Natural Area status. Portions of this tract, undisturbed since the turn-of-the-century, support diverse flora in an infrequently encountered combination. Another area of interest for ecological study is an old growth stand of northern hardwoods which has been only slightly disturbed by human activities.
Old road 5 provide trail access into the area, although no trail system has been marked. People must generally make their own way through this wilderness. Good orientation skills are needed. Within the canyons, the degree of solitude is enhanced by steep canyon walls and the sound of the stream. Occasionally, noise from traffic on bordering roads, train whistles, and overflying aircraft may be heard.
Climbing of canyon walls and steep slopes is discouraged. These sandstone areas are fragile themselves, and they support unique plants which are sensitive to disturbance.
For more information contact: The Hiawatha National Forest
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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