If you’re looking for things to do while exploring the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, you’ll probably come across suggestions to visit the “Root Beer Falls.” More formally known as Tahquamenon Falls, there are plenty of things to do in this state park to occupy at least a couple of days.
Even though Root Beer Falls sounds more like a giant A&W attraction, Tahquamenon Falls is the second-largest state park in Michigan. The 2 separate waterfall locations are a few miles apart.
The water flowing over the falls is brown-colored due to the tannins in the water. It’s not what you think, though. We’re not talking murky, muddy brown. We’re talking about beautiful coppery brown, foaming root beer.
We can’t wait to share some of Tahquamenon Falls’ best things to do with you!
Best Tahquamenon Falls Things to Do
1. Visit the Upper Falls Viewing Decks
Visiting the Upper Tahquamenon Falls is one of the best things to do, of course, but what is the appeal? The Upper Falls are the second-largest waterfall east of the Mississippi. Only Niagara Falls is bigger!
The Upper Falls can be viewed from a very up-close brink viewing deck or further down the river from the gorge viewpoint. If you have time, visit both! We found many more people at the brink deck, but great perspectives from both.
You will get a workout in, as there are plenty of stairs leading down to both viewing decks! Prepare footwear accordingly, as even though walkways to the decks are paved, the stairs are made of metal grates.
2. Visit the Lower Falls Viewing Deck
The Lower Falls are equally great to visit and probably more versatile than the Upper Falls. Though smaller, there are a series of 5 falls split by a small island in the middle of the river. More on the island later!
There is a boardwalk to a viewing area right next to part of the falls. Get up close and personal, feel the mist from the falls, and snap some photos.
3. Rent a row boat and explore the island
Renting a rowboat might seem like an unnecessary extra expense at Tahquamenon Falls, but the island provides a different experience around the Lower Falls. In the summer, when the water is a little warmer, visitors can wade into the water and right up next to the falls.
There is a 0.5-mile hiking trail on the island, also, where you can view both the river and the various aspects of the falls. Bring water shoes to avoid sharp rocks and debris in the river.
Costs for this activity last known are $7 per person or $20 per family for a rowboat. There is a boat shuttle if you are unable or prefer not to row but still want the boating experience, which costs $10 per person.
4. Hike the River Trail between the falls
The River Trail in Tahquamenon Falls State Park is a 5-mile trail between the Upper and Lower Falls. It is part of the much larger North Country National Scenic Trail, which extends beyond this park through 9 states!
Rated as moderate, this trail travels next to the river for a stretch and offers multiple access points. Stop and wade in the river, have a picnic on the bank, or just catch a glimpse of the views on your way by.
5. Camp near the Lower Falls
If you are planning to spend the night in the area, reserve a campsite near the Lower Falls. You will be much closer to an actual waterfall, with rustic tent camping and modern RV areas.
There aren’t any campgrounds located at the Upper Falls.
6. Take a train and riverboat tour to the Upper Tahquamenon Falls
From mid-June to early October, set aside most of a day for a guided, narrated tour beginning with a narrow-gauge train ride and continuing with a riverboat cruise to the upper falls.
The boat does dock at the upper falls, and there is some time to explore from their viewing deck. The hike to the viewing deck is a little over half a mile. It is not handicap accessible.
After time to explore, hop back on the boat, return to the train, and finish the trip!
7. Grab a bite or a beer at Tahquamenon Falls Brewery & Restaurant
Located near the parking area at the Upper Falls, Tahquamenon Falls Brewery & Restaurant provides a great place to rest your feet and “rehydrate!”
We haven’t come across another State Park with its own brewery, so this felt like such a novelty and helped the taste of the beer. It’s definitely the only state park in Michigan with a brewery!
We only tried a couple of their beers at a picnic table outdoors, so we can’t comment on the food. There was live music outside, providing a great outdoor spot to hang out and take a break between exploring the falls.
8. Hike to Clark Lake via the Clark Lake Loop
To get away from masses of visitors also experiencing Tahquamenon Falls, experience some of the UP’s natural beauty on this hike to Clark Lake. The lake is larger than expected and plenty of wildlife can be found if you keep your eyes peeled.
This hike covers about 5 miles and is rated moderate on All Trails.
9. Canoe or kayak the Tahquamenon River
Rent watercraft or bring your own and drop in at multiple launches along the river. Enjoy a couple of hours or a whole day out on the water.
If floating around a lake is more your speed, there are plenty of float options in nearby lakes.
The Woods Canoe and Kayak Rental is an option for multiple pickups and delivery options, trips of various lengths, and multi-day rentals. Call ahead to ensure the availability of the watercraft. They recommend at least 24 hours ahead of time to avoid disappointment.
10. Enjoy winter scenery by snowshoeing, hiking, or cross-country ski
During the winter months, Tahquamenon Falls converts to a winter activity lover’s paradise. Trails are available and marked for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and hiking.
Enjoy a different perspective of the frozen falls, one that many fewer people ever experience! We haven’t been able to experience this yet but could see the appeal!
Bonus: 11. Drive the Tahquamenon Scenic Byway
Covering 63 miles of the Eastern UP, the Tahquamenon Scenic Byway extends to the Lake Superior shores for a scenic drive. Visit other state parks, hike more of the North Country Trail, catch a glimpse of multiple lighthouses, or take in the history at multiple museums along the way.
If you plan to stay in the UP for a few extra days, head up towards the lake!
How much time should you plan to visit Tahquamenon Falls?
Really, this depends on how much you want to experience during your visit!
You could view both the upper and lower falls from the decks in a couple of hours and be on your way.
You could certainly set aside a weekend to explore the park and everything it has to offer. Take advantage of the campground options!
Does it cost anything to visit Tahquamenon Falls?
State Parks in Michigan, including Tahquamenon Falls State Park, are not free to visit. For residents of the state, an annual pass is $13 when purchased at the time of your license plate registration renewal or $18 when purchased at a state park or other customer service location in 2023.
For non-residents and those with out-of-state license plates, both day passes and annual passes are an option, too. In 2023, the fee for daily visits is $11, and annual passes could be purchased for $39.
If you plan to visit any state parks in Michigan for more than 3 days, the annual pass would save you some cash!
Also note, these fees are per car, not per person, and are paid at the entrance into the parking lots if you don’t have an annual pass.
Visit the UP, and Tahquamenon Falls for endless things to do!
The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is a great place for a road trip, and the Tahquamenon Falls area boasts plenty of things to do! Experience the area on foot, on the water, or even a little by rail. Spend a day or a weekend taking in nature and beauty.
After you’re done exploring Tahquamenon Falls, then travel west to Pictured Rocks and beyond to some of the other great outdoor spaces in the upper half of Michigan.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a stunning stretch of lakefront with miles of hiking trails, more waterfalls, and lots of space to explore.
Although a quick stop, Kitch-iti-kipi is about an hour’s drive south of Pictured Rocks, and its colorful water seems otherworldly.
On the opposite side of the state, the Porcupine Mountains area offers different terrain and miles of trails to explore.
If you want to get really off the grid, consider paying Isle Royale National Park a visit. You can catch either a seaplane or ferry from Houghton or Copper Harbor on the Keweenaw Peninsula to reach this remote island national park in the middle of Lake Superior.
Have you taken a road trip around the UP in Michigan? Which stop was your favorite? Have you visited Tahquamenon Falls yet?