Snowy Stroll Along Sturgeon River

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Jacob and Logan zip down to Baraga to temper some growing cabin fever with cold winter hiking. published on by

Ice shelf cluttering up the gorge

Less than a week had passed since Logan and I braved the deep snow to play around Hungarian Falls and cabin fever was already coursing through our veins. The plan was to wait for the spring, that the snow was too deep to continue hunting waterfalls, but we both yearned to be out in the woods. I caved on a long weekend and drove us down to Baraga. Maybe the strong waters of Sturgeon River would be enough to keep winter's ice and snow back.

We had to park on the shoulder of US-41, with the roadside park closed for the season. Judging from the tire and snowshoe tracks we weren't the first ones here this winter, even if it had been a few days since the last visitor. These tracks did little to ease our route across the open parking lot, with every footfall sinking into the crisp snow and Logan falling into step behind me.

Snow coating over the parking lot

Snow coating over the parking lot

Cold air grew sharp as we headed down the path near the river. When I first saw the river I got a little worried, the snow and ice creeping in from the shoreline and masking most of the water. A few small drops along the slate riverbed still poked through, everything else was a solid sheet of smooth snow. As we got closer to the falls my fears disappeared when I saw rising mist and heard the familiar roar of Canyon River Falls.

Snowy path winding through the woods

Snowy path winding through the woods

Icy, visible drops on the Sturgeon River

Icy, visible drops on the Sturgeon River

Getting down to the viewing slab was difficult over the slick rocks. Wet air generated by the plunging river coated layers of snow into ice, forcing me to crawl on all fours as I neared the waterfall. I did not want to fall in, not today. Logan watched me carefully from above as if he knew just how stupid my route was. I managed to get some nice photos from the edge before edging back.

Icy, snow-covered falls

Icy, snow-covered falls

There were still a few more drops along the river so we headed downstream. Most of the tracks also continued past the main drop, making it easy to follow the trail, especially on the tricky parts where you cut close to the canyon's edge. It was muffled and peaceful in the white woods, a thick pillow of snow muting everything, and after being so close to the river earlier I had adjusted to the cold temperature.

I was not able to get a good angle on the middle drop. It is hard enough to make it out during the summer, deep below the canyon's edge at the popular 'cliff jumping' spot, and the snow-slick rocks did not encourage pushing the limit. The tracks were starting to thin out by the time we reached the last waterfall, that long slide that empties Sturgeon River from the canyon. Snow and ice hid most of the waterfall from the river's edge and I was not willing to wade into the rocky waters to try for a better angle. A few quick photos and Logan and I headed back to the car.

Logan prancing in the deep snow

Logan prancing in the deep snow

Narrow channels between the snow and ice

Narrow channels between the snow and ice

There was only a slight hint of disappointment as we walked back. Of course I expected the river to have snow on it. There had been several heavy blizzards in the last few weeks and more days with snowfall than not. However, Canyon River Falls was one of the places I had placed some hope on for making it through the winter. Sturgeon River is huge in comparison to many of the creeks and streams in the Upper Peninsula. If this canyon and falls was already mostly covered, with winter just starting, then nothing was going to be visible until the spring.

On the way back to Houghton I decided to make a quick stop to a very familiar spot. I parked off of US-41 in L'Anse near Burger King and made my way down to Falls River. Not expecting to see much action through the snow I quickly headed down the path all the way to the bay without looking around much. There were a ton of tracks on the path, enough to make the walk icy, and Logan bounded around happily smelling up the past visitors. I started to notice something interesting along the walk: there was a lot less ice on this river.

Water funneling through snowy dam

Water funneling through snowy dam

This was surprising to me, as the size of Falls River is a fraction of Sturgeon. Then it sunk in. I was over six hundred feet lower in elevation. I never thought to factor elevation in to winter accumulation. Maybe some of the shoreline waterfalls would remain accessible and visible through the winter.

After we reached the plant at the base of the river I turned around and starting taking pictures of the falls. There were a few icy sections on the river thanks to exposed outcroppings, just enough to make the scenes interesting. Huge flakes of snow were starting to drop down softly, muffling the noisy town and roads around us, and at times it was easy to forget that we were in city limits.

Logan ignoring the falls for quick sniff

Logan ignoring the falls for quick sniff

Mounds of ice and snow on the lower falls

Mounds of ice and snow on the lower falls

The main drops had a lot of ice built up thanks to the multiple outcroppings on its length. I still took some time to sit at the bench here, which was barely covered in snow, and relax. Logan was a bit confused, as he thought we were heading back to the car already, and eventually settled with me and enjoyed the calming snow. It wasn't until I was starting to get a bit cold and had collected a dusting of snow that we left the bench and continued upstream.

Plunging drops around icy rocks

Plunging drops around icy rocks

Curious about how the upper drops were doing with the snow and ice I led Logan up and over the railroad trestle and under US-41's bridge. These drops were still mostly exposed, with some ice following the water's path over and down the rocky ledges, making interesting ice formations.

Finally done we went back to the car and picked up some Subway for the short drive home. Our cabin fever was cured, at least for now, and we were able to visit some familiar waterfalls. The snow continued to drift down, trying to hide the rivers and drops, and I hoped a few spots would be spared for winter hiking.

Trip Photos

  • Snow coating over the parking lot
  • Into the snow and woods
  • Snowy path winding through the woods
  • Icy, visible drops on the Sturgeon River
  • Weird ice sculptures forming across the falls
  • Icy, snow-covered falls
  • Ice shelf cluttering up the gorge
  • Logan prancing in the deep snow
  • Ice starting to overtake the cliff-jumping falls
  • Narrow channels between the snow and ice
  • Water funneling through snowy dam
  • Logan ignoring the falls for quick sniff
  • Pancake ice
  • Mounds of ice and snow on the lower falls
  • Dripping ice features on the lower falls
  • Plunging drops around icy rocks
  • Dusting of snow on the trestle
  • Falling snow flakes near the old bridge
  • A snowy upper drop
  • Huge house along the river

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