Late Evening Hiking at Nisula

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A late afternoon trip to Nisula takes Jacob to a few overgrown and mossy drops on the West Branch Sturgeon River under a setting sun. published on by

Looking down from the tall, sandy bank

There was only a handful days left before a long Fourth of July weekend in the lower (yes, while most people head to the Upper Peninsula for vacations I was heading south). In an attempt to finish up the southern Houghton County waterfalls I drove south to Nisula after a late workday, leaving Katie and Logan behind to do some last minute packing. I was somewhat familiar with that area, having dated a young lady from that area, though it was just recently that I learned of the waterfalls in the area. Taking the back roads through Pelkie and Elo I made it to the dead end of Newberry Road in good time.

Unsure of how to reach the waterfalls I first drove straight to where the road ended on West Branch Sturgeon River. There may have been a bridge here once, letting Newberry continue south into the Ottawa National Forest, but today the road just ends with a sad little parking area. My first plan was to just follow the river downstream when I stumbled onto two crosses in the woods, one labeled 'Joe the Plumb' and the other 'Big Swede'. The chance that I may be walking over sacred ground combined with the thick overgrowth turned me away from the river, up the bank to the north, where I soon bumped into an overgrown logging road.

Cross for Big Swede

Cross for Big Swede

I had suspected that a logging road ran here after analyzing old maps, parallel to the river, and assumed this could make a decent alternative route in. There was the fear that I would walk right past the falls, though, so when the river curved north, bumping the road with it, I took the opportunity to push through some young pines and came out on top of a tall sandy bank overlooking the river.

Looking down from the tall, sandy bank

Looking down from the tall, sandy bank

As tempting as it was to just jump and slide down the sand I didn't want to leave that much destruction behind. Creeping along the edge of the bank I slowly made my way down to the riverside. I chose to continue downstream, taking a chance that I might have passed the drops already, and was soon rewarded by a small mossy drop on the calm river.

While I didn't have a good idea of the location of either Hogger or West Branch Sturgeon Falls, the two that I was hunting for today, I did see a few photos online beforehand and this drop didn't match any of them. I took some pictures and continued downstream along the riverbank. The bank varied a lot, sometimes flat and easy to follow and other times rising up in sharp rock overhangs that forced me to inch my way forward. The next drop was about the same height, maybe a foot plunge, and the third drop was a gentle slide. I was starting to lose hope on finding the named waterfalls when a roar beckoned me just a little farther to West Branch Sturgeon Falls.

Tiny cascade hiding beind logs

Tiny cascade hiding beind logs

Falls with a log

Falls with a log

The tallest waterfall so far today, this drop was split unevenly by a large chunk of rock with an old tree trunk perched on top. I spent some time poking around the falls, snapping pictures and exploring the area, and found a small camping site on the northern bank. A trail headed north from here, probably meeting up with the logging road, which means that there was a very easy way back. I didn't go that way, though. Somewhere, upstream of all of the drops I had walked past, lay Hogger Falls.

Backtracking up the river I started to get careless and worried. The sky began to darken, and even though I was less than two miles from my car I didn't want to get stuck out here in the night. Steeper sections of the bank forced me to either cross on shaky logs or just splash into the shallow river through knee-deep water. I passed the three upper drops rather quickly and made it back to the sandy bank that I had first climbed down. The sun was low, barely lighting the woods around me, and I was half tempted to just climb back to the logging road and come back another day.

I stuck to the river. Another couple of minutes and I made it to the waterfall, dimly lit and hard to make out in the waning light. Hogger Falls was a neat one, stepping stairs and steep banks, even if the photos were barely worth snapping the shutter.

Dark Hogger Falls

Dark Hogger Falls

Climbing up the rocks I cut northwest, up the river bank, and soon found the dark green logging road. It was unnerving to walk through the quiet woods after crashing along the noisy waters, soft grass swishing around my feet and a slight breeze whispering above. I made it back to the car safely and drove off, a few stars twinkling above on the way north. Two more sites were complete, even if the pictures were questionable, and July seemed to be off to an okay start.

Trip Photos

  • Cross for Big Swede
  • Looking down from the tall, sandy bank
  • Calm river below rocky outcroppings
  • Tiny cascade hiding beind logs
  • Overhanging ledge creating a small waterfall
  • Falls with a log
  • Dark Hogger Falls

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