I thought I knew Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP) pretty well. I’d been on a couple of waterfall “tours, ” guiding myself with an atlas. But, this summer, I was asked if I’d been to Bond Falls, supposedly the most beautiful of all, except for the amazing Tahquamenon Falls. Shocked! that’s how I’d have to describe my reaction. I couldn’t believe there was a falls so outstanding that I’d missed, that I’d never even heard of!
On the way home from the conference where I was so challenged, I decided I’d better go hunt up Bond Falls, and see it for myself. I finally located it on a map, about halfway between Watersmeet and Bruce Crossing, off US 45, in the western UP.
I pulled into the rather small parking area, and started walking down a paved trail, not knowing what to expect. After all, nothing surpasses Tahquamenon Falls, except for the mighty Niagara in New York. Agate Falls has stunning lacy beauty as it cascades down its angled face. Laughing Whitefish Falls is an amazingly long, angled waterslide. Spray Falls pours from the overhung Pictured Rocks, 70 feet into Lake Superior. The list can go on and on... the UP has over 300 waterfalls, each with a charm of its own. I’ve seen a lot of them. How good could this be?
I came around a corner on the trail, and had one of those moments when my breath is truly taken away. I had not come with a picture in my head of what to expect, since I’d never known about Bond Falls, and I think that’s the best possible way that I could have been introduced!
I was literally stunned. Roaring rivulets of white water poured over black volcanic rock, working their way around multiple knobs and shoulders. What was a glassy sheet of water at the top became a macrame weaving in constant motion, as it made its way down, 50 vertical feet over the rocks, to again reach the placid waters of the Middle Branch of the Ontonagon River.
The trail extended in a railed walkway out to an island beyond the base of the falls. When I reached that vantage point, I discovered that there is another entire section of the falls on the far side of the island. From this vantage point I could see that a trail also led up the bank on the west side of the falls. So I backtracked and climbed this walkway, snapping pictures every few seconds, from every possible angle. It wasn’t long before I reached the top of the falls, and then hiked a bit farther to the upper access road.
At this location, one can find picnic areas and a small gift shop/ ice cream parlor. Just a bit farther down the road, at the lake called Bond Flowage, there are more picnic sites.
I returned to the river, and noticed that there was apparently a trail returning down the east side of the falls. I took this, and learned that this route is not a developed trail. Although I didn’t have any trouble with it, someone who is not sure of foot should return on the south side. There were families enjoying this route, though, with kids having a great time playing on the rocks.
All together the trail loop was probably less than a mile long. I could have stretched the hike farther by walking along the Bond Falls Road into the picnic area by the flowage.
This would make a lovely spot for an afternoon with a family, or by oneself, to contemplate the world.
Although not a full state park, Bond Falls is designated as a Michigan Scenic Site, and is operated by the DNRE. A vehicle permit is required for parking. (As of October 2010, this is covered in Michigan license plate fees, but out-of-state residents will need to pay for a daily or yearly pass.)
Thanks to a family who was picnicking, I had a chance to learn some local history as well. At the picnic area, I met Stan and Judy Syrijla, and their grandson. Syrijla is a Finnish name: seer-YA-luh. They gave me permission to tell their story. Stan remembered coming to the lake as a boy, when it was very new. The lake was part of a 1930's water control project, primarily noted for the building of Victoria Dam. The plan was to allow water to be diverted to either of the branches of the Ontonagon River for flood control or fish management.
Stan recalled his antics as a boy, to “borrow” rowboats from the shore to visit the islands in the lake. Like many Finns his family came to the UP in the late 1800s to work the copper mines. He recalled a humorous story of his grandfather being called for jury duty to Ontonagon. He had to walk to Bruce Crossing, catch a train to Nestoria, switch to a different rail line to reach Pelkie, and then on to his required destination. While walking, he saw his first motor car, but the car never stopped to offer him a ride. A bit farther on he found the car, stuck in the mud. He, then, chose not to stop to help!
Stan concluded by saying that he wished more people would come use the site. It remains special to him.
If you travel through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, be sure to stop and experience Bond Falls for yourself.
Bond Falls Scenic Site, Michigan DNRE