Porcupine Mountains 101: Fun facts you might not know

Whether you’re planning your first visit to the Porcupine Mountains and Ontonagon County or getting ready for yet another return trip, there’s always more to see and learn about in this can’t-miss corner of the western Upper Peninsula. Here are a few fun facts about the area, its history and the natural wonders it holds.


  • Ontonagon County is the site of the oldest permanent settlement on the south shore of Lake Superior
  • English fur trader Alexander Henry first discovered the area’s rich copper deposits in 1765, and returned to establish the first mining operation in the county in 1771
  • Miners took an incredible amount of copper from the region, with the White Pine mine site (in operation from 1952 to 1995) producing more than 4 billion pounds of copper
  • In 1843, a 3,700-pound copper boulder—known as the “Ontonagon Boulder”—was discovered in the Ontonagon River; the boulder now resides at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of Natural Science in Washington, D.C.
  • The Ontonagon Lighthouse, which is open for tours through the Ontonagon Historical Society, is the oldest mainland lighthouse still standing in the western U.P.
  • Lighthouse keepers and their families lived in the lighthouse from its opening in 1866 until it was deactivated in 1963

The state park

  • The Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is Michigan’s largest, covering 60,000 acres
  • Of those 60,000 acres, nearly 35,000 are old-growth forest, accounting for one of the largest remaining tracts in North America
  • The park was established in 1945
  • Where did the name come from? Legend has it that the native Ojibwe people thought the silhouette of the hills and valleys resembled the back of a porcupine
  • The Porcupine Mountains were formed 2 billion years ago and are a section of one of the oldest mountain chains in the world
  • The park is home to nearly 100 miles of hiking trails (many of which are used as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails in the winter)

Waterfalls, rivers and lakes

  • Ontonagon County is home to more than 1,200 miles of rivers and streams and dozens of waterfalls
  • Bond Falls and Lake of the Clouds are among the Upper Peninsula’s most visited (and most photographed natural attractions)
  • The middle branch of the Ontonagon River drops about 50 feet over a thick belt of broken rock at Bond Falls, an easily accessible waterfall located about an hour south of the Porcupine Mountains
  • On the western edge of the Porcupine Mountains State Park, visitors will find a series of three waterfalls (Manabezho, Manido and Nawadaha) along the Presque Isle River as it travels toward Lake Superior; Manabezho Falls is the largest, with a 25-foot drop
  • If you spread all of the water in Lake Superior across North and South America, both continents would be underneath a foot of water

Learn more about the Porcupine Mountains and Ontonagon County by planning your next trip today. Find great lodging options here.

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