Backpacking the Porcupine Mountains

The Porcupine Mountains are located along Lake Superior, on the western end of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This translates into about a six-hour drive from Milwaukee – easily in range for a backpacking trip over the four day weekend.

I’m going to be referring to specific locations within the park, so check out THIS MAP if you care to follow along.

Allison and I left early on Thursday morning in order to arrive at the park around noon. After purchasing our backcountry permit, we departed from the Summit Peak trailhead.

Allison atop Summit Peak

We took a short one-mile excursion to Summit Peak and back, then started our trek down the Little Carp River Trail (by way of the Beaver Creek Trail).

Lily Pond

This took us past Lily Pond shortly before joining up with the North Country National Scenic Trail. Although (sadly) not true for Allison, this was actually the third National Scenic Trail I’ve hiked along in as many months (read about the other trips HERE and HERE).

North Country Trail Marker

Anyhow, our hike along the Little Carp River included a handful of crossings – some of them actually rather difficult with our fully-loaded packs (Allison’s weighing in at 29.2 lbs and mine at 33.0 lbs).

Crossing the Little Carp River

We reached our campsite for the first night with a couple hours of daylight remaining, so we had plenty of time to build a fire and enjoy the sunset over Lake Superior.

Allison on the shore of Lake Superior

Campsite #1

That first night along the lake was pretty chilly – well below freezing – so neither of us slept particularly well.

Allison building a fire

Our route for the second day took us more than ten miles northeast along the coast of Lake Superior, not including a 2.8 mile side-trip along the Big Carp River Trail to see the Shining Cloud Falls.

Allison along the Lake Superior Trail

This trail was pretty muddy, and challenged us with numerous fallen trees to climb over. When the trail ended, we walked a little over a mile along a road to reach the Lake of the Clouds overlook area.

Lake of the Clouds

Allison’s Achilles tendon was very sore at this point, so we decided to shorten our trip by ten miles or so and camp for the night near Lake of the Clouds.

Campsite #2

On the third day of the trip, our route took us along the Escarpment Trail  – probably the most scenic section of trail in the park. The morning was clear, so we were treated to sweeping views of Lake Superior to the north and Lake of the Clouds to the south.

Lake of the Clouds (left) and Lake Superior (right)

From this angle, I decided that “Lake of the Clouds” could have been more properly named “Lake Inferior”. Furthermore, “Mirror Lake” (near the middle of the park) could have been named “Lake Interior” and “Lily Pond” (near the edge of the park) could have been named “Lake Exterior”.

Thus, had I been in charge of naming the lakes, it would have been possible to hike from  Lake Exterior to Lake Interior to Lake Inferior to Lake Superior…all in a single day.

Moving on.

Trekking along the Escarpment Trail

For the rest of the morning and afternoon, we hiked along the Government Peak Trail, stopping for lunch at Trap Falls. By the time we reached Government Peak, we could see rain showers moving rapidly in from the west.

Fortunately, we were able to reach our next campsite along Mirror Lake without getting terribly wet. We were even able to build a fire and eat dinner before the rain started coming down heavily.

Campsite #3

Sometime in the middle of the night, Allison awakened me to point out that water was seeping into the bottom of the tent. In our infinite wisdom, you see, we had pitched the tent right in the middle of what would become a large puddle. So, in the total darkness and howling rain, we got to run outside, un-stake the tent, and move it several feet uphill.

Also, a few hours after that ordeal, I heard something very large crashing around outside the tent, making grunting noises.

Removing our soaked supplies from the bear pole

Whatever was making those noises, our food was still intact the next morning. Thank goodness for bear poles.

The weather had also improved by the time the sun rose, so we didn’t have to deal with any rain during the last few miles back to our car.

Mirror Lake the next morning

On the downside, Allison’s Achilles tendon problems were really giving her a rough time. I’d also woken up with some pretty bad nausea, which turned into a full-blown case of gastroenteritis during the drive home – fever and all.

But injury/illness aside, it was a really fun trip. I think we went at the perfect time of year, too, since it was late enough to avoid snow and early enough to avoid bugs. Also, since it was still considered “off-season”, we only encountered a dozen or so hikers and fishermen during the entire 3-night trip.

Approximate Total Distance: 42.9 miles

Published in: on April 8, 2012 at 10:24 pm  Comments (13)  

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13 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Beautiful country! But it sounds like you need a lesson in camp craft. Never pitch a tent in a low spot!

  2. Just to clarify, our tent was on a slope, but apparently the bottom corner was flat enough that a puddle gathered in that one spot. When we pitched the tent, we couldn’t tell that a puddle would form there.

  3. Great read once again! Maybe just maybe you will be able to name a lake Matt! 😉 As a side note: Lake of the Clouds looks gorgeous.

    I really want no NEED to go backpacking again!!!

    • You should come with us sometime!

  4. Bear on the tents exterior…spouse with pain of the inferior (Achilles) tendon…hiker with ailment of the interior (gastroenteritis)…and blog with a post that is superior!

    • Haha, thanks Dad.

      I think this proves that my sense of humor (if it qualifies as such) is genetic. 🙂

      • LOL – The acorn seldom falls far from the tree! 😉

  5. Such beautiful country. I wouldn’t mind visiting there some day. I am glad you enjoyed your trip.

  6. Great post! My wife and I honeymooned (29 years ago) briefly in the U.P. in the middle of October. Didn’t do any camping but were overwhelmed by the Fall colors! Thanks for sharing!

  7. Matt,
    Loved following along. Whenever you give me a map, I am hooked. I took my family to Copper Harbor many years ago. We didn’t backpack, but I remember visiting Lake Superior and being haunted by it. I enjoyed your trip vicariously!


  8. Looks amazing! I look forward to reading more about your adventures.

  9. I’ll send this document to my cousin. I’m confident he’s going to delight in looking at it.

  10. Thanks for your post. My husband and I are backpacking in the Porkies for a week this August. 🙂

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