Difficulty IV-V
Length 4.1 Miles
Flow Range 500 - 2000 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 1 hour ago 374 [CFS] ℹ️
Reach Info Last Updated 04/02/2019 10:28 am

River Description

Billed as "the second largest falls east of the Mississippi" (behind Niagara, of course), and "third most voluminous vertical waterfall east of the Mississippi River, after Niagara Falls and Cohoes Falls, both in New York State", Tahquamenon Falls State Park hosts two areas of falls in what is otherwise a flatwater river. This seldom gets run because it lies 'in the middle of nowhere' (no other good whitewater rivers known within 80 miles).

Upper Falls is a wide, sheer-vertical drop (in the neighborhood of 50 feet tall and 200 feet wide) which has been run by a few 'big cajones' boaters. (Most mere-mortal boaters will be content to enjoy the view of this impressive falls, and will boat only the lower falls.)

The following is a video of Marcelo Galizio running the falls in 2012. (The video starts with awesome footage of many other locations. Footage in the U.P. starts about three minutes in, and those who wish to see just the Tahquamenon footage may wish to skip in to 5:25.)


Lower Falls occurs 3.6 flatwater miles downstream.  You can put-in below the Upper Falls and paddle down to the Lower or just park-and-play at the Lower.  An island splits the river at the Lower, so routes are possible on both sides.  Behind the Lower parking lot picnic area, there are stairs down to the river.  Put in, paddle over to the island, and hike your boat to the top of the island.

Just upstream of the island there is a river wide, shallow ledge that does have a few small play waves on river left. This is also the deepest water to run the ledge if you paddle to shore and portage 50' to get above the ledge.

River-right around the island are two ledge drops of about 6 to 8 feet which land hard on bedrock, one right after the other.  Flows will need to be somewhere in excess of 1000 cfs to provide enough cushion to launch and land a good 'boof'.

River-left around the island also has two ledge drops of about 6 to 8, but they are seperated by about 200 feet. The first is a 6' river wide ledge that can be run in more than one place. The best run is probably on the right side where the ledge comes to a slight point.  If you go off the point, you end up far enough out from the hole that you don't get sucked back in.  This is a nice boof drop, though at lower levels the water above the drop can be shallow.

The second ledge is more fun. You run to the left of the second small island by the falls viewing platform. You can also run the second ledge to the right of the small island, but it is shallow. To the left of the small island, the river narrows and there is kind-of-a-tongue on the right. No boof is needed here as the water just washes you through.  Below this ledge there are some shallows that you have to pick and bump through, but then paddle over to the row boat landing on the island and do it all again.

This reach is usually runnable from May 1 thru about mid-July. Be warned though, that the bugs are vicious from about mid-May to mid-June. The park is pretty empty at this time of year because of the mosquitos and black flies. Wear full gear with gloves. You'll be sorry if you wear shorts!  The water is up other times of the year, though frozen in winter.

Note: The listed coordinates (Lat/Lng) for the put-in above Upper Falls is intentionally incorrect. It reflects the parking area for the Upper Falls (rather than the actual put-in location), so that the automatic mapping features (shuttle route) work correctly. Follow signage and paths from the parking to the falls.

Rapid Descriptions

Upper Falls

Class - 5.3 Mile - 0.1

Fifty foot falls.  If you dare, run river right on the toungue at the point.

Minor ledge/wave/shoals

Class - N/A Mile - 2.98
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

(Via GoogleMaps aerial view) There appears to be a minor ledge/wave/shoals here, which may (at some flows) create minor entertainment (play).

Beginning of Lower Falls Sequence

Class - N/A Mile - 3.46
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

The Lower Falls Sequence begins with a couple of small ledge/waves, and builds nicely as you proceed down from here.

River Wide Ledge

Class - II+ Mile - 3.8

This is a river-wide shallow ledge, just upstream from the main island of the lower falls. It can probably be run anywhere, if you don't mind sliding over the rocks. River left, near shore, provides the best chute.

River Wide Ledge Playspot

Class - I Mile - 3.81

Just above the island on the lower falls is a river wide ledge.  On river left, there is a playspot just below the ledge.  Not much, but it's something.

Tom's Challenge

Class - IV Mile - 3.9

River left of big island, the first drop is a 6' to 8' ledge. This can be run in more than one location. The photo and video shows probably the best route over a point that is right of center. In the video, the second paddler (Tom) tried it a little too far right and got caught in the backwash. It wasn't too difficult to get him to the island to bail out. It's fairly shallow and not a strong current before the next drop.

Viewing Platform

Class - IV Mile - 4

River left of big island, the second drop is another 6' to 8' ledge. A small island that splits the river again, and you can run on either side of the island, but the river-right side is a bit bony. The photo and video show the river-left side. There is really only one route which is on the right side, maybe 10' out from the island. Too far left and you'll run into the rock outcrop that the viewing platform is built on. The river really narrows here and there is kind of a tongue on the river right (you can see the smooth water in the photo). No boof is needed here as the water just washes you right through.

Run Out Rapid

Class - II Mile - 4.1

Below the viewing platform are a few small ledges and some rock garden.    

Double Drop

Class - IV+ Mile - 4.2

River right of big island is a double drop consisting of two 6' ledges. (This isn't really at 4.2 miles, but after you run river left, you can take-out at the end of the island, portage back to the other end, and run river right.) Flow needs to be over 1,000 cfs to run this -- at flows lower than that, it is just too shallow (you'll 'grunge out' on the approach, and land hard -- boat/body abuse).


default user thumbnail
Matt Jackson
1 year ago

Curious what makes it a 5.3? Looks like a clean approach with landmarks into a rolling lip into a large pool

Gage Descriptions

This is a large river (790 square miles drainage area at the gauge) and can flow over 6,000 cfs in spring. Best levels for running the upper falls are unknown, since it is only a select few boaters who will huck this drop. River left of the island on the lower falls can be run at 500cfs or more. River right of the island needs to be at least over 1,000cfs.

'Recommended Minimum' reflects a level below which the Lower Falls can't be run.

'Recommended Maximum' is a guess at when the run might be uncomfortable.

The gauge lies not far upstream of the upper falls, so will be very reliable at depicting flows for this reach.

Gauge/flow analysis (based on data from 1953-08-07 to 2008-06-01):
Drainage area at gauge: 790 sq.mi.
Minimum mean daily flow during stated period: 131 cfs (2007.08.17-22)
90% of time flow exceeds: 288 cfs
10% of time flow exceeds: 1880 cfs
Maximum mean daily flow during stated period: 6,820 cfs (1960.05.10)
10/90 ratio: 6.53 ('flashy-ness': under 3 is fairly steady, over 10 is quite 'flashy')

Directions Description

You'll need a Michigan DNR Park vehicle permit for the parking lots.

Upper Falls: There is a parking lot about 1/4 mile from the river and 3/8 mile from the falls. There is a paved walkway and steps to the falls. There is also a paved pathway, steps and a boardwalk that take you near the bottom of the falls.

Flatwater: To paddle the flatwater section below the Upper Falls, park in the back of the Upper Falls parking lot (away from the buildings, in the third parking area). There is an unpaved trail that goes to the steps to the boardwalk to the river. This is also the location of a trail that goes from the Upper to the Lower falls; an 8 mile round trip hike. You should be able to put-in here. There is also a large, year round rest room with indoor plumbing next to the parking lot for changing.

Lower Falls: There is a picnic area next to the Lower Falls parking lot. At the back of the picnic area there are steps down to the river. Put-in here. This is also the take-out if you come down from the Upper Falls. Note that there is a campground loop just off this parking lot. The campground loop has a shower/restroom building with indoor plumbing; a good place to change. To run just the Lower Falls, paddle over to the island and take-out at the row boat ramp. Hike your boat to the other end of the island to run either left or right of the island. Also, up stream of the island there is a river wide ledge that can be run, but is shallow. There is also a small play spot on river left below the ledge. To run the river wide ledge and the play spot, paddle upstream from the island to river left where the Upper to Lower Falls trail is at the river bank just below the river wide ledge. Take out here, hike 100' upstream and put-in.

No Accident Reports




Matt Muir


Doug Heym




Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1194869 11/15/08 n/a n/a
1198395 10/13/10 Doug Heym Updated description.
1198574 11/06/10 Doug Heym Updated Double Drop description
1198573 11/06/10 Doug Heym Updated description
1198575 11/06/10 Doug Heym Updated flow description and levels.
1202283 06/05/13 Doug Heym Inserted Vimeo link
1202284 06/05/13 Doug Heym Updated flow descriptions
1205700 12/24/15 Rob change vimeo link to embed
1208650 01/02/18 Rob remove table from gauge description, putting info into simple statement/paragraph form.
1211780 04/02/19 Rob updated image position