Tahquamenon - Upper Falls to Lower Falls (4.1 miles)

Tahquamenon, Michigan, US


Upper Falls to Lower Falls (4.1 miles)

Usual Difficulty IV-V (for normal flows)
Length 4.1 Miles
Avg. Gradient 20 fpm
Max Gradient 50 fpm

Tahquamenon Falls

Tahquamenon Falls
Photo by Sujit Kumar taken 10/06/07 @ 520 cfs

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-04045500 500 - 2000 cfs IV-V 01h13m 596 cfs (running)
Adequate for main falls and left side of lower falls. Gauge (790 sq.mi. drainage) is less than a mile upstream of listed put-in, thus very accurately indicates actual flow in this reach.

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.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2018-01-02 21:17:34


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.1Upper Falls5.3Waterfall Photo
3.0Minor ledge/wave/shoalsN/APlayspot
3.5Beginning of Lower Falls SequenceN/A
3.8River Wide LedgeII+Playspot Photo
3.8River Wide Ledge PlayspotIPlayspot Photo
3.9Tom's ChallengeIVWaterfall Photo Video
4.0Viewing PlatformIVWaterfall Photo Video
4.1Run Out RapidIIPlayspot Photo Video
4.2Double DropIV+Waterfall Photo

Rapid Descriptions

Upper Falls (Class 5.3, Mile 0.1)

Running the Upper Falls

Running the Upper Falls
Photo of Marcelo Galizio by Aerial Vantage Productions taken 11/16/12 @ 500 cfs

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

Minor ledge/wave/shoals (Class N/A, Mile 3.0)

(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 3.5)

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)

Lower Falls, River Wide Ledge

Lower Falls, River Wide Ledge
Photo of Tom Tucker and Doug Heym by Eike Schnabel taken 06/08/08 @ 600 cfs

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 3.8)

Lower Falls, River Wide Ledge Playspot

Lower Falls, River Wide Ledge Playspot
Photo of Doug Heym by Eike Schnabel taken 06/08/08 @ 600 cfs

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)
Click Here For Video

Lower Falls, River Left, Tom's Challenge

Lower Falls, River Left, Tom's Challenge
Photo of Doug Heym by BikerBar taken 06/08/08 @ 600 cfs

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 4.0)
Click Here For Video

Lower Falls, Viewing Platform Rapid

Lower Falls, Viewing Platform Rapid
Photo by BikerBar taken 06/08/08 @ 600 cfs

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)
Click Here For Video

Lower Falls, Run Out Rapid

Lower Falls, Run Out Rapid
Photo of Tom Tucker & Doug Heym by Eike Schnabel taken 06/08/08 @ 600 cfs

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

Double Drop (Class IV+, Mile 4.2)

Lower Falls, Double Drop

Lower Falls, Double Drop
Photo by BikerBar taken 06/08/08 @ 600 cfs

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).

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
August 24 2018 (147 days ago)
mjackson8 (156896)
Curious what makes it a 5.3? Looks like a clean approach with landmarks into a rolling lip into a
large pool