Menominee River State Recreation Area – Piers Gorge

I was getting a bit burned out from moving between sites quickly, and so this afternoon I decided to slow it down a bit and give myself time to take in the scenery with a bit more leisure. There was one particular spot I had in mind where I missed an easily accessible falls back in 2018 (you can view the older post by clicking here), and it made sense to check that off my list. Plus this spot is guaranteed to be a success. With no time to waste I crossed into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and made my way to the Piers Gorge Unit of the Menominee River State Recreation Area.

The trails are quite easy and I’m not going to cover them in much detail otherwise this post would be extremely long. Suffice to say it’s a nice walk through the woods along the river with minimal elevation change. I will say that the foliage colors would be better after the 1st week of October so if that’s your thing plan accordingly. Now, onwards towards what you really came to see – the falls!

First Pier: Terminal Surfer

Now in case you can’t follow the trail for some odd reason, and you can’t see/hear the river, look for the wooden posts that are carved with text like the one shown here reading “FIRST PIER”.

First feature is named Terminal Surfer, a wide recirculating hole and rapids that are near the takeout point. I didn’t take many photos on the outbound hike because the sun was at a harsh angle; more photos down belown on the inbound return. Additionally, if you want to read more about each individual falls/rapids/water feature please check out the American Whitewater page as well as this map.

Second Pier: 2 Sisters

Continuing along to Second Pier is not very far, maybe 0.25 miles or less down trail. The best way to get unobstructed views is by walking down the rocky cliff which isn’t too difficult or dangerous. At river level you can walk along the shore and get different perspectives. Here is the view from below the falls:

Here’s another view from a little bit closer to show greater detail. The falls are shaped like a big “vee” going right down the center and splitting as it falls across the rocks. Notice the large hole where it kicks back upwars on the left side of the photo (river right)? This is 1st Sister.

Looking downstream shows a better view of the holes, including 2nd Sister which is directly after 1st sister (hence the name). These are rated class III and can be quite tricky to navigate as the waters are moving with great power (watch the video linked below until the end and you’ll see why).

Third Pier: Mishicot Falls

The start of Third Pier is not far at all from Second Pier and the trails in this area are (in my opinion) some of the best in the park. Don’t rush along too fast, it’s worth spending time soaking in the forest views.

Before you reach the actual Third Pier you will have great views from high above. There is a path that leads down to the river but it does take a bit more attention to reach the bottom. Take caution if you go down, especially if conditions are wet.

And here is what it looks like down below. About the same really, just much closer to water level for more detail.

Looking downstream gives views not available from up above. There are some large exposed rocks and a couple holes in this section as well that take skill to navigate without going for a swim.

While I was distracted setting up my tripod, a lone adventure guide was ferrying his empty raft back to the landing (apparently his passengers got hurt on the previous run and decided to walk back). It’s not a good photo but I’m including it here because it illustrates how reading the river and making decisions is crucial in moving water. Which direction do you think he goes next?

Another 0.1 miles from the high elevation viewpoint you arrive at the actual Third Pier. This is called Mishicot Falls but is also sometimes spelled Misicot and/or Missicot. I can’t find a source that confirms which is correct so pick one that you like. Photo below was on the outbound trip, sun was very bright at that moment.

Here’s another view while on the return hike after the sun has gone down. It is very difficult to convey how large this falls is. The river is extremely wide here and the volume of moving water is staggering. The overall drop may not be very high, but in terms of sheer size this is one of the biggest falls you will find in the area (and possibly in both Michigan or Wisconsin).

Fourth Pier: Sand Portage Falls

On my previous journey I skipped going to the Fourth Pier because it is just shy of 1 mile extra from Third Pier and I ran out of daylight. Today I have plenty of time and frankly I’m going quite slow in hopes that the sun finally dips below the treeline. After lollygagging for just long enough I finally reached Fourth Pier and it seems I timed the lighting quite well. Notice on the right side of the photo behind the trees there are some small falls/rapids that go around a rock island – can’t reach those today but they do look nice.

Views above the falls look like a postcard. The waters are calm as there is a dam upstream creating this reservoir area. The gentle ripples give the reflecting colors an almost oil-painting like effect.

As the water drops, the river takes an “S” shaped bend and Sand Portage Falls stretch all the way across in a diagonal line. It isn’t as violent as Mishicot Falls but it might be wider. The sun is really helping those leaves pop and honestly it was much more vibrant in person than I can reproduce here.

I scrambled down the cliff for a peek at the sidestream nearest to me – nice, but nothing too big by comparison. Again, there are still more between the islands but you would need to swim or take a boat to reach them. Not in the cards today and not sure it’s worth the effort. But still an amazing and unique spot that you should definitely visit if you can spare the time.

Long Exposure

New for this trip I finally picked up a variable ND filter so I can try taking longer exposures. In the past I never understood the appeal, but after playing with it now I understand. Photos below are all single exposure adjusted in Lightroom but not Photoshop’d. Going in reverse hiking order here is Pier 4 with a 3 second exposure.

Here is Pier 3 standing directly next to it with 4 seconds exposure. This one turned out very well in my opinion and I was able to pull some great contrast.

Another view at Pier 3 from atop the cliffs with 2 seconds exposure. My longer exposures got a bit muddled from the fading sunlight but I’m not sad with this result.

This is Pier 2 from the outbound hike at 4 seconds exposure. I was fighting heavy shadows in the gorge combined with bright sun on the outbound leg. It was a difficult day for light conditions, most of the long exposures are on the return trip.

Pier 2 on the return hike at 2 seconds exposure gave a more balanced look. I learned quite a bit just from this section of river. Most important lesson: There is no one single camera setting to get this right. You have to play with it.

And finally back near the beginning at Pier 1 with a 4 second exposure. By now it was almost too dark but I still got the wispy effect on the water. Very rewarding to see not all my time playing with gadgets was wasted!


Here’s a video of my journey. I believe this is my longest video ever to this point and I feel it was worth it. Hope you enjoy, and I hope if you are seeking adventure like this that it may convince you to visit! Pro tip: If you plan to visit 1 more Michigan park in the calendar year get the annual Passport sticker.

Hiking Data

Here’s the hiking route. Not much wiggle room as the trails are very clearly defined. There are some mountain bike trails that run to the north of the hiking paths but it’s pretty easy to make them out. I actually did hike back on the bike trail just to see the forest a bit – just watch for bikes if you do the same.

Total distance just shy of 3 miles, elevation gain of 130 feet which isn’t much over that span of distance. Honestly it is a quite easy hike by my standards but I’d call it “medium” difficulty just so there is no false advertising. Seeing as it took me nearly 3.5 hours to complete I was definitely taking a relaxing pace.

Lat = 45.7595062 , Long = -87.9630203 -- Show at Google Maps

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