Otter Falls and a Muddy Rockland Venture

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On a tight time schedule Mike and Jacob head down to explore around Otter Falls and Rockland's Military Hills published on by

Smooth creamy crest

Katie and I were planning on spending the weekend down in Appleton to visit her parents (and do a bit of job hunting). The drive south was only four hours, a pleasant afternoon trip, which left the whole morning open for hunting waterfalls. I reached out to Mike and together we headed south to Pelkie for some early morning hiking.

I had two main goals in mind for this morning. First, I wanted to return to Otter Falls. I had been there there twice already this year and seen two different drops, neither of which had been too impressive. Maybe the spring melt would help out with that. The other goal was to hunt down two small waterfalls nestled within Military Hills near the Ontonagon River. Together this would make a nice loop around the center of Houghton County.

We parked at the plowed end of Tauriainen Road. On my previous visits I had tried to cut in from Hazel Swamp to the east and logging roads off Pike Lake to the west. Today there would be no subtlety. We would hike up Tauriainen, doing our best to bypass any cabins along the way, and end up right near Otter Falls.

The walk in was relatively easy. While the road was unplowed and a foot or more of snow still lay on the ground in these woods, there had been enough snowmobile traffic and repeat freezing/meltings to create a sturdy path. We quickly made our way north, passed by a small cabin, and then turned west and headed downhill to the river. It took us less than 30 minutes to cover the mile.

Swollen springtime river

Swollen springtime river

The river was full yet not impressively so. Extra water just rounded out the little drops more and masked any direct plunges. What caught our eye more was the cabin that sat right next to the river. I had suspected that there was a cabin here but didn't realize it would be so focused on the waterfall and river. Mike and I did our best to tiptoe around the fringes of the buildings.

Taller drop of Otter Falls

Taller drop of Otter Falls

After exploring the downstream section thoroughly it seemed clear that the main drop was upstream, up where Brule and Otter Rivers meet. This was where Logan and I had visited last summer and bumped into a nest of yellow jackets. Getting past a swollen tributary on the south bank was tricky, with deep water and steep forest making our path complicated, but once we got past that I got a good view of the main waterfall. The river drops five or six feet over two slanted shelves of smooth sandstone, separated by a deep pool. That pool would probably make for excellent summer swimming.

Large, underwater slab of sandstone

Large, underwater slab of sandstone

Upper drops

Upper drops

Satisfied with our explorations we turned and headed back up the snowy drive. The sun was still young in the sky, bright and not hot, and it felt like we were making good time. When we reached the car I was disappointed to see that we had used up close to two hours playing around. It would be tough to make the drive over to Rockland and return to Houghton in time.

Optimistic I sped west on M-38 and down M-26 and parked on the south side of the bridge over Ontonagon River. Mike kept a close eye on the time. We both had commitments today. I quickly led us out over the snow and down to Sandstone Creek. The snow here was softening under the warming sun, slowing our path, so I tried to cut over to the creek quickly to take advantage of the hard rock I remembered from past visits. There was no hard rock to ease our path today.

Snowy, muddy creek

Snowy, muddy creek

Sandstone Creek, normally a trickling thing over wide slabs of sandstone, was a roaring cascade of brown water that stretched wide from bank to bank. It was an amazing sight, even if it did make exploring the creek difficult. We had to inch our way upstream, hugging icy banks and avoiding the swirling waters, stopping often to capture views of the overflowing drops.

Ice and water over the rock steps

Ice and water over the rock steps

Brown angry plunges

Brown angry plunges

Overflowing Sandstone Creek Falls

Overflowing Sandstone Creek Falls

When we finally reached the main drop all three of us were wet, muddy, and happy. I had half a mind to continue upstream, in hopes of finding more drops further up in the hills, but we were very low on time. Mike led the way up the western muddy bank and we discussed our options. From here it was an hour drive up to Houghton, and we had an hour and a half left. Thirty minutes. I convinced him that we could get over to Plover Falls in thirty minutes if we ran through the woods. So we ran west through the woods, branches slapping and snow slushing away underfoot, in a crazy attempt to reach Plover Falls.

There is a lot of little hills and drops between Sandstone Creek and Plover. By the time we heard the rush of water along Plover Creek we were all out of breath, even little Logan. I glanced around quickly, judging the position, and led us down to the right. A few minutes later and we were at a gushing waterfall. It wasn't as impressive as Sandstone had been, though I'd be the thicker woods here was holding back some of the snowmelt. This afternoon maybe, or even in a few days, and this creek would be sending down just as much brown water.

Gushing Plover Falls

Gushing Plover Falls

We headed downstream, found the path, and made our way back to the car. Along the way I snuck a few looks over at the wide flow of the Ontonagon River. The extra snowmelt had turned the large river an oddly strong shade of brown, almost orange, compared to the dead grass and snow on the banks. O Kun de Kun must be a real treat to see today, as well as the mouth of this river out west. Out of time, Mike and I simply headed back to Houghton, minutes to spare before our respective engagements.

Trip Photos

  • Swollen springtime river
  • Scattered banks of snow around the falls
  • Taller drop of Otter Falls
  • Small creek flowing in from the south
  • Large, underwater slab of sandstone
  • Upper drops
  • Logan sneaking along the side of the waterfall
  • Tiny sign along the drive
  • Looking across the wide river valley
  • Snowy, muddy creek
  • Swollen creek of brown
  • Ice and water over the rock steps
  • Stacked drops along the highway
  • Smooth creamy crest
  • Mike and Logan trying to climb the soft bank
  • Overflowing Sandstone Creek Falls
  • Small drops further upstream
  • Gushing Plover Falls
  • Snowy bridge over Plover Creek
  • Swollen Ontonagon River

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