Ottawa National Forest
Large towns and cities are notably absent in the Upper Peninsula, except around the "fringes," which are all harbor cities along Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. The largest city at the forests' edge is Ironwood, with a population of about 15,000 (combined with Hurley, WI). Next in size are Ontonagon and Iron River, each with a population of about 4,000. The visitor gets an immediate perception of wildness/remoteness when entering the Ottawa National Forest and experiencing miles of beautiful roadways with continuous natural scenery.
The Sturgeon River Gorge area provides outstanding views for both the hiker and the motorist along Forest Road 2200. Black River Harbor, one of only two Harbors within the National Forest System, is a popular recreation area throughout the year. The harbor is about 15 miles north of Bessemer, Michigan, at the mouth of the Black River, which flows through areas of large pine, hemlock and hardwood trees, and has a series of scenic waterfalls as it drops to meet Lake Superior. On September 19, 1992, the Black River area was officially dedicated as a National Scenic Byway in recognition of its exceptional beauty and recreational opportunities. The National Scenic Byway begins on County Road 513 at its intersection with County road 204 (Airport Road) and continues north for 11 miles to Black River Harbor.
Extending 12 miles on Black River Harbor Road from Bessemer to Black River Harbor, you will tour past Big Powderhorn Mountain Village—with chalets nestled in the woods against the ski slopes of Big Powderhorn Mountain; the Royal Palm Ranch—a nationally recognized equestrian school; North Country Hiking Trail—boasting picturesque vistas and scenic waterfalls; Copper Peak—a world-class ski flying facility with the largest ski jump in the Northern Hemisphere, located at the site of an old copper mine; and Black River Harbor—a unique harbor with beautiful stretches of Lake Superior beaches, docking facilities, picnic areas and a wooden suspension bridge.
Background and History
During 1848, William A. Burt, a U.S. land surveyor, completed a survey of what today is the Black River Recreation Area. His map shows a wagon road going south from the mouth of the Black River to Chippewa Hill; what is today's Copper Peak Ski Flying Hill. Also, a supply trail led from the river's mouth to iron mines on the Gogebic Range. By 1904, the State of Michigan had built a wagon road from Bessemer to Lake Superior. This road is now the Black River Parkway.
In 1924, Gogebic County purchased the first land for Black River Harbor Park. There had been a small fishing village there since the early 1920's. The mainstay was the lake front. Reportedly, fishermen could make substantial catches by trolling with hand lines.
After acquisition by the County, villagers were required to move. Many established their homes in what is now Black River Village. Because of the increasing maintenance costs and declining revenue, in 1967 Gogebic County exchanged the area and other potential recreation sites with the United States for National Forest land. Since then, the area has been administered by the Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture as a harbor/recreation facility.
Recreation Attractions and Facilities
Black River Harbor is composed of three major recreational areas: the Harbor and adjacent picnic ground, the campground, and the waterfall observation facilities. The harbor has one of the area's few access points to Lake Superior with boating a major summertime activity. The boat ramp can accommodate almost any craft trailered in. There is no launching fee; ample parking is available.
Our concessionaire regulates those boaters requiring transient docking. Docking is on a first-come, first-served basis. The concessionaire provides fuel and sewage pumping services for boaters and provides a limited amount of supplies for boaters and picnickers during regularly scheduled hours of operation. Contact (906) 667-0261 for specific information about the concessionaire and their services, which run from Memorial Day through September annually.
Tall hemlock and pine surround the day use area. Sixty picnic tables and grills are available as well as an enclosed pavilion with fireplace and flush toilets. Upon crossing the suspension bridge, trails lead visitors to the Lake Superior beach or Rainbow Falls via the North Country National Scenic Trail. Additional North Country Scenic Trail information is available upon request.
The area has five distinct and picturesque waterfalls. All the falls are accessible by traveling County Road 513 or by hiking the North Country Trail from the Harbor parking lot. The trail provides a unique opportunity to view the river and people fishing in the falls as they go after catches of trout and coho salmon. Hiking the trails to the scenic waterfalls can be both challenging and rewarding. Additional information on the waterfalls is available upon request.
The campground is a completely modern facility with flush toilets, a sewage dumping station, pressure water system, and 40 paved camping spurs. A campground concessionaire has been available to visitors in the past providing campground maintenance and informational services.
To ensure your protection and maximum pleasure, please read and follow the regulations for occupancy and use that are posted in the area. By observing these regulations, you and other recreation users will have a safe and enjoyable experience.
Rainbow Falls: Located 14-1/2 miles north of U.S. 2 on County Road 513 (directional sign).
Access to falls: A 1/2 mile hiking trail will take you from a paved parking lot to a stairway dropping down to an observation platform overlooking the scenic Black River and Rainbow Falls. The falling water (40 feet) creates a mist, and sometimes with the right angle of sunlight, produces a rainbow effect, which gives the falls its name. Rainbow Falls can also be viewed from the east side of the river. This side will provide the photographer with a better angle of the falls. Trail access to the east side begins over the suspended foot bridge at Black River Harbor Picnic Area. This trail is 3/4 mile long via the North Country Scenic Trail.
Difficulty: Easy to strenuous (stairs and steep grades). Pace yourself and avoid overexertion.
About the area: Black River Harbor parking lot picnic area can also be hiked to from the Rainbow Falls west trail (County Road 513). In September, one can watch as the chinook and coho salmon make their upstream runs to the falls.
Conglomerate Falls: Located 12 miles north of U.S. 2 on County Road 513 (directional sign).
Access to falls: Hiking trail (3/4 mile in length) and paved parking lot at the head of the trail.
Difficulty: Trail is easy to strenuous at times. Pace yourself and avoid overexertion.
About the area: The hiking trail will drop steadily as you near the riverbank. At the falls, the river separates into two sections, failing 40 feet around an island of conglomerate rock, which gives the falls its name. Old growth hemlock and hardwoods add to the natural beauty of the area. Gorge and Potawatomi Falls can also be hiked to from Conglomerate Falls going north (downstream) along the river (1/2 mile) via the North Country Scenic Trail.
Sandstone Falls: Located 14 miles north of U.S. 2 on County Road 513 (directional sign).
Access to falls: A 1/4 mile hiking trail will take you from a paved parking lot down a series of steps to the falls.
Difficulty: Trail is short but steep (series of steps). Pace yourself and avoid overexertion.
About the area: Although Sandstone Falls is not a large falls, the area is well worth visiting because of its varied rock formations and hollows carved out of sandstone and conglomerate rock by stream erosion over the centuries. Gorge and Potawatomi Falls can also be hiked to (upstream 1/2 mile) via the North Country Scenic Trail.
Potawatomi & Gorge Falls: Located 13 miles north of U.S. 2 on County Road 513 (large directional sign).
Access to falls: Brief hiking trails will take you from a paved double-loop parking lot to a series of stairways and observation platforms overlooking beautiful Gorge and Potawatomi Falls.
Difficulty: Trail is easy to strenuous (series of steps). Pace yourself and avoid overexertion.
About the area: We recommend that you take the trail from Potawatomi Falls parking lot, then walk down along the river as you view the scenic river and tails. Gorge Falls is only a short distance north of Potawatomi Falls. An asphalt surface trail connects the parking area at Gorge Falls to the viewing platform overlooking Potawatomi Falls. A connecting platform provides direct access to the viewing platform to provide people with disabilities a unique opportunity to view one of our areas most beautiful waterfalls.
Conglomerate Falls can be hiked to going south (upstream 1/2 mile) via the North Country Scenic Trail.
Sandstone Falls can also be hiked to going north (downstream 1/2 mile) via the North Country Scenic Trail.
Picnic sites and toilets are available near the parking lots with easy access. Gorge Falls has a 29 foot width and a 24 foot drop. Potawatomi Falls has a 130 foot width and a 30 foot drop.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication