Spring Trip to West Branch Sturgeon

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Planning to get some coordinates and pictures of the spring melt, Jacob heads out alone to the West Branch Sturgeon River for a long hike down unplowed roads. published on by

Left half of the flowing falls

Darkness still ruled the morning sky as I drove out of Houghton. My first destination was an easy one, a section of the Sturgeon River that I had been to several times last year. I had avoided it during the winter, even though I needed GPS coordinates of the falls, as it is kind of a hassle to reach in snowy woods. Today was the day to return to West Branch and Hogger Falls to get some GPS records and some photos of the spring melt.

When I reached Nisula the sun was beginning to break free from the eastern horizon, and by the time I reached the plowed end of Newberry Road there was a dim light filtering through the woods. Half of Newberry is an unimproved road with no houses or driveways, so half was plowed. I parked and headed south on foot. There were some sections of the road that I probably could have driven on, the snow retreating off to the shoulders, and others that were still solid banks of white.

Snow and ice over the old dirt road

Snow and ice over the old dirt road

I didn't mess around when I reached the end of the road. I had learned a lot about the forest tracks in this area from past mistakes and simply continued on to the last eastbound access road before the river, the one that starts on a bit of an angle from Newberry. This track had more snow to trudge through, though I got a lucky break. It was bitingly cold this morning, a sudden dip of temperatures to harden the previously slushy snow, and I could stride along the hard surface. It was easy walking compared to past spring hikes.

Along a snowy forest road

Along a snowy forest road

After an hour of walking along roads I finally reached the waterfall. There is an unmarked trail that leads down from the access road, one that has brush hanging over it and a few downed trees across it, but it makes a straight line down to the main West Branch Falls of Sturgeon River. There were patches of ice on the river, especially on the island that sits below the falls, and I was able to crunch my way towards a few close views of the icy, rushing waterfall.

Left half of the flowing falls

Left half of the flowing falls

Thick woods above the main falls

Thick woods above the main falls

Now it was time to head upstream. There are three to four more drops up there, plus Hogger Falls, all spread over the next mile or so. I scaled the right bank and quickly entered a crowded forest. The snow underfoot was not as packed as the roads in, letting me sink through with each step, though it wasn't deep enough to slow me down too much.

It was easy to crunch along the snowy banks and listen for the sound of rushing water to lure back down next to the river. The drops were really running today, much more than they had been during my summer visits. I wouldn't call them at flood levels, just comfortably full. It was a fun walk up the river and when I reached the sandy bank that marked the end of the this stretch of falls I was a bit sad.

Upper sliding drop

Upper sliding drop

Snow piled up below the tall sandy bank

Snow piled up below the tall sandy bank

There was still Hogger Falls waiting. I made my way up and around the sandy bank, sliding down the soft sand until I reached the far side. A short jaunt through the snowy woods later and I was standing below the gushing white water. This, this was a much better time to visit than the summer.

Snow around the stained waters

Snow around the stained waters

I took my time playing around here, getting close enough to the frothing water for water droplets to splash up my camera lens. One thing I noticed today was just how sudden the river banks were here. Hogger Falls was the start of a little canyon, complete with overhanging sandstone walls in sections, that would stretch all the way down to West Branch Falls. It's not as sudden or defined as the box canyon on Canyon River Falls, but it's something.

Walking back to the two-track and my car beyond was a tough haul. The warming morning sun was working on the deep snow, softening up the packs and letting me sink down to my knees. When I reached Newberry Road, which had sections of exposed gravel on the way in, I had to deal with puddles of meltwater and mud. By the time I reached my car I was fairly dirty and damp. I had enough time to get one more stop in, though.

The drive over to Twin Lakes took about a half hour, making the long way around towards Rockland in the west. I had only taken the shortcut up Pike Lake once in the summer and it had been a rough drive. I doubt it would even be plowed today. Anyways, I reached the golf course and headed out to Wyandotte Falls. Maybe they would be flowing today.

Falls trying to break free from the smothering snow cover

Falls trying to break free from the smothering snow cover

They were not, at least not enough to warrant the stop. Most of the creek was still encased in snow and ice. Only a few sections allowed the rushing white water to poke through. I trudged back to the car and headed up to Houghton. One of these times I'd see a real waterfall out here.

Trip Photos

  • Snow and ice over the old dirt road
  • Along a snowy forest road
  • Left half of the flowing falls
  • Snow on the main drop
  • Thick woods above the main falls
  • Frothing spring waters
  • Looking down on an even break of a drop
  • Ice forming over a low drop
  • Upper sliding drop
  • Calm river between wterfalls
  • Snow piled up below the tall sandy bank
  • Slick bridge over the river
  • Snow around the stained waters
  • Frothy stained water
  • Calm river upstream
  • Creek bubbling up through the snowy surface
  • Falls trying to break free from the smothering snow cover

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