Visitor Center – Porcupine Mts.

Porkies - Visitor Center sign from Hwy 107When I left McLain State Park and headed to Porcupine Mountains State Park, for some reason I thought I would be leaving Lake Superior behind. My perception of the Porcupine Mountains was that it was really remote and high up in the mountains – which to me meant there would just be distant views of Lake Superior from above. 

Porkies - Hwy 107 roadside beach

I had fallen deeply in love with Lake Superior by now, so as I was thrilled to have her alongside me on the road as I was approaching the campground.

Porkies - Roadside - Sign to Visitor Center

I was following my Garmin GPS directions to the Union Bay Campground entrance and I could tell I was getting close.  But this sign on Hwy. 104 made me wonder if I needed to register at the Visitor Center before I got to the campground.  I couldn't make the turn by that time, so I continued on to the campground a mile further down the road. 

Later I found out that you cannot register for the campground at Union Bay at the Visitor’s Center. The registration the sign refers to is only for the rustic campgrounds (except Presque Isle).  For that or Union Bay, you register at the campground itself.

Visitors Center - Collage 1

But be sure to make the Visitor's Center a first stop once you're set up at the campground.  Check out the 12 minute video for an overview of the Upper Peninsula, including its copper and logging history. 

Free wi-fi is also available here, but I had no problem using my own Verizon aircard and cell phone worked great here and at Union Bay Campground.

I was thrilled to be in this park that had the word "Wilderness" right in its name. The film described wilderness as "places where forces of nature have control and humans are only visitors” and as “a source of inspiration.”  I couldn't argue with that and couldn't wait to heed their invitation to “walk on trails little changed since walked on by moccasins. Be in forests that have never heard the sound of a woodsman’s axe.” 

As Henry David Thoreau said, "In wilderness is the preservation of the world."

How could I pass up the chance to “sit upon shores little changed from when first voyagers arrived.”  I wanted to fully experience “visions of endless forests and waterfalls" that "embrace all the senses: touch, smell, sight."  I couldn't agree more that “the value of wilderness: a sanctuary for bio diversity, species of plants…is a precious gift to future generations."

Porkies - Visitors Center Overview

You can check out this model overview of the wilderness park to get your bearings.  At 60,000 acres, this is the largest state park in Michigan – so large that it even spans two time zones! There are more than 90 miles of trails within the park, and there are helpful signs and brochures detailing them, their level of difficulty and time it takes. 

Pick up a copy of the current newsletter, the "Porcupine Mountains Visitor."  I found this a valuable reference during my visit, with general information on the area attractions, maps, hikes and interpretive activities.

Porkies - Visitors Center help

But also be sure to take advantage of the help and advice you can get from the park staff who know these trails like the backs of their hands.  I learned this the hard way after I had already done one of the Summit Peak trails and then found out from Sunshine (at the counter) that it would have been a lot easier to reverse the order I took.

Porkies - Nature Trail sign

I started my first walk here at the Nature Trail.  The trailhead is at the side of the Visitor's Center and while it says it takes 45 minutes of walking time, it took me about double that.  I always like to take my time and enjoyed reading all the informational signs about the geology and nature of the area that pointed out such things like "Much of the forest along this pathway was logged just 60 years ago, yet it already has begun to acquire the damp and shaggy look of a mature forest.  As you hike, you will pass trees of all sizes, from tiny seedlings to towering monarchs."  And I enjoyed visiting with every one of them! 

Porkies - Nature Trail

This trail is not difficult, and just rustic enough to feel less intrusive of the surrounding nature.  I really enjoyed the little rustic wooden bridges and planks to help you cross creeks and soggy areas.

Porkies - Nature Trail rest

And I also enjoyed the chance to sit and rest occasionally and just enjoy the peace and quiet.

Porkies - Visitors Center Store

Back at the Visitor's Center, I enjoyed visiting with Dena who runs the gift shop there. She and husband Tony also run the Porcupine Mountain Outpost State Park Store right at the entrance to Union Bay campground, handle the laundry and soda concessions at the campground, as well as the Ski Center nearby. I was telling her how much I loved and appreciated Lake Superior and my frustration in trying to put down the words that could even begin to capture how special she is. 

Dena told me she was born and raised in nearby White Pine and swam in the lake all the time as a kid.  As much as she enjoyed that, she didn’t fully appreciate the lake until she moved back here as an adult and saw it every day – and still wonders about how it changes a little bit every time she drives by it on the way to work.  What a nice commute feature!  And just the start of the great people I met here in the Porcupine Mountains!

Porkies - Visitors Center Road

Leaving the Visitor's Center on S. Boundary Road heading back to Highway 107.  If you went past the Visitor's Center on this road, you'll reach Summit Peak and Presque Isle, two absolute "must-sees" while you're here.

After exploring just a few of these features, I was in perfect harmony with a remark I heard from one of my fellow campers: “The Porcupine Mountains is one of the few places that God created that we have not spoiled.  It's a little pocket of goodness in upper Michigan."  Amen!

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I'd love to hear your own experiences about places I've been - and what you think are "must-sees" - and I really value any suggestions and feedback from readers, so please let me have your 2 cents in Comments below: