Gabbro Falls, Michigan

I visited Gabbro Falls just over two years ago during the beautiful fall colors season in the Upper Peninsula, and I was both surprised and impressed! The Black River in the westernmost county of the Upper Peninsula is one of the not-to-miss rivers. Along a portion of the National Scenic Drive, you’ll find five waterfalls within just a few miles of each other. During the fall season, it’s spectacular!

And yet, there’s another waterfall that is considerably further upstream that doesn’t get as much attention, and yet it’s equally as impressive. Gabbro Falls is only a few miles outside of Ironwood, and almost equidistant from Bessemer and Wakefield, both east of Ironwood. When I visited the Upper Peninsula in September 2010, it had just rained profusely, so much so that the waterfalls were intense, to say the least. Gabbro Falls may have been at its most voluminous. The fall colors made it a sight to behold!

I had absolutely no chance to explore whether there was a way to get to the base of the falls because of the high flow. At that time, there was virtually no option to do that, so the photographs were taken from the side and the crest.

Directions:

  1. As you’re headed east out of Ironwood along US-2, you’ll pass through Bessemer.
  2. A few miles east of Bessemer, you’ll find Blackjack Road on your left. Turn left onto Blackjack Road.
  3. Go 1.5 miles along Blackjack Road, following it to the left as it veers across the Black River.
  4. After crossing the bridge over the Black River, veer left and start going uphill (to the left of a ski area).
  5. Opposite of the building along this road is the short trail that leads to the falls. If I remember correctly, it is not extremely obvious, so it may help to open the window and listen for the rush of water. Park at the edge of the road, and hike to the falls.

Accessibility: 9/10 (easy)
Height: 40′
Length of Hike: 0.1 miles round-trip

Gabbro Falls view from the crest (September 2010)

The falls from the side

Where in the World is Gabbro Falls?

Sandstone Falls, Michigan

Sandstone Falls, which clearly gets it’s name from the surrounding sandstone rock, is the fourth of five major waterfalls along the Black River in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Out of the five waterfall, it is probably the least interesting. It’s not that it isn’t a nice waterfall to visit, it’s that the other four waterfalls are so uniquely shaped. Even so, what I love about the Black River is that the five waterfalls you can visit are all different shapes, heights, and widths. There is no repetition here.

Directions:

  1. From US-2, turn north onto Gogebic County Road 513.
  2. Head north on CR-513 for about 13 miles, where you will notice the first waterfall (the furthest upstream), Great Conglomerate Falls. You can park there to access all of the falls on one trail.
  3. Head down to the third parking area on the right, which will be the trail head to Sandstone Falls. From there, head down to the falls.

Accessibility: 7/10 (easy/moderate)
Height: 15′
Length of Hike: 0.5 miles round-trip

Sandstone Falls in August 2008

Where in the World is Sandstone Falls?

Rainbow Falls, Michigan

Rainbow Falls in August 2011

As I may have mentioned before, the Black River has one of the best groups of waterfalls to be found in Michigan. If I had to recommend just one group of waterfalls to view in Michigan, I would suggest going and seeing these 5 waterfalls. Sometimes waterfalls on the same river can have a tendency to look very similar. The Black River does not fall into that category. The five major waterfalls are extremely distinct and unique, at least compared to the others on the same river.

Rainbow Falls is one of my favorites, though it is hard to explain why. There are few other waterfalls that I have seen that have the same “drop” pattern found at Rainbow Falls. Instead of just a simple vertical drop or even a cascade, the water jettisons from the crest of the falls, which is very narrow. The water then crashes into a rock wall, takes an actual 90 degree turn, and falls into a cavernous region below. The actual view is extremely hard to explain in words. After the water pools, there is another drop, and possibly more hidden below.

The other four waterfalls are most easily accessed from their designated parking areas, but NOT Rainbow Falls. There is a parking area for Rainbow Falls, but if you follow this designated trail, it leads to one of the most unspectacular views of a waterfall I could ever imagine. At first, I was extremely disappointed, as I had just walked some distance only to have a waterfall almost completely blocked from my view.

There are two ways to remedy this situation:

  1. The river, which at some points is a hundred or more feet wide, narrows down to about three feet wide. I actually jumped over the river, which was not as easy as it sounds, since the water is moving so quickly. One poor step, and you could be pulled in.
  2. After doing this, I learned of a more sane way to get to the much, much better viewpoint. Instead of starting from the Rainbow Falls parking area, start at the Black River Harbor parking area. I guess you can cross a footbridge over the river there, and take the trail on the east side of the river instead. It might be a 3/4 to 1 mile hike one-way, but that may be the same distance hiking the other trail.

Either way, both options lead to the much better viewpoint, which is where I took the photo. It might be better to arrive earlier in the day, as I was there later in the day when the sun was almost directly behind the falls, complicating attempts to take pictures. By that point, any picture would do, since for a period of time, I thought I wasn’t going to be able to see the falls at all.

Directions:

  1. From US-2, turn north onto Gogebic County Road 513.
  2. Head north on CR-513 for about 15 miles to the end of the road to the parking area for the Black River Harbor.
  3. From here, you should be able to cross the river, and access the trail on the east side of the river, as described above.

Accessibility: 7/10 (from west side of river)
Height: 45′
Length of Hike: 0.4 miles or 1.5 miles round-trip

The falls in August 2008

Where in the World is Rainbow Falls?

Great Conglomerate Falls, Michigan

The Black River splits into two at least once during it’s journey toward Lake Superior, and this split produces Great Conglomerate Falls. The Black River is rather wide at this point, and so it is difficult to photograph the whole falls at this point. I used the panoramic mode on my one camera in order to get the complete falls as best as I could.

Great Conglomerate Falls is the first of the five major falls on the river. As I’ve mentioned before, these are five falls that could not be more distinct from each other. Great Conglomerate Falls is the only of these falls to split into two separate pieces. It is one of the wider falls on the river.

Directions:

  1. From US-2, turn north onto Gogebic County Road 513.
  2. Head north on CR-513 for about 13 miles, where you will notice the first waterfall (the furtherst upstream), Great Conglomerate Falls. You can park there to access all of the falls on one trail.
  3. Head down the trail to Great Conglomerate Falls.

Accessibility: 7/10 (easy/moderate)
Height: 30′
Length of Hike: 1.5 miles round-trip

A panoramic view of Great Conglomerate Falls in August 2008

The falls in August 2011

Where in the World is Great Conglomerate Falls?

Potawatomi Falls, Michigan

Potawatomi Falls is very close to Gorge Falls, which I just mentioned talked about. Gorge Falls is narrow. Potawatomi Falls is wildly different, even though it is less than a quarter of a mile upstream. It’s very difficult to gauge size from afar, so maybe the waterfall isn’t as wide as I think, but it’s still pretty wide. The width of the falls does vary on the time of year. In times of low flow, the waterfall is probably 25’+ wide. In high flow, the width of the falls almost triples, as the water flows over a much larger area. Here’s a picture in high flow.

There are two different ways to view the falls: park at one of the beginning or ending falls (Great Conglomerate Falls or Rainbow Falls) and take the hike past all of the falls. Roundtrip, I’m guessing that’s at least 6 miles? Or you can drive and walk to each of the falls separately (Potowatomi and Gorge are at the same parking area). This may be just as long, as some of the hikes to each separate falls are 3/4+ miles one-way.

Directions:

  1. From US-2, turn north onto Gogebic County Road 513.
  2. Head north on CR-513 for about 13 miles, where you will notice the first waterfall (the furtherst upstream), Great Conglomerate Falls. You can park there to access all of the falls on one trail.
  3. You can also pass that parking lot and head to the next parking area, which will be for both Gorge Falls and Potowatomi Falls.
  4. From the parking area, it can get a little confusing, at least it was for me. Gorge Falls is further downstream, so you should head to the left. It’s actually a rather short walk to this falls if you find the right trail quickly. You may also end up at Potowatomi Falls, like I did, which you can distinguish since it is MUCH, MUCH larger!

Accessibility: 9/10 (easy)
Height: 40′
Length of Hike: 0.3 miles round-trip

Potawatomi Falls in August 2008

Where  in the World is Potawatomi Falls?

Gorge Falls, Michigan

Gorge Falls in August 2008

The waterfalls of the Black River should be extremely high on the priority list of waterfalls to visit Michigan. If I could choose one river with multiple waterfalls to suggest visiting, this river would be the one. The Black River has at least five waterfalls of considerable size, and each of these waterfalls is very unique and distinct.

Gorge Falls clearly indicates that this waterfall is found in a gorge, and the gorge is extremely interesting. To view this waterfall, you have entered into the gorge. When I say that these waterfalls are uniquely distinct, here’s why… Gorge Falls is only about 5′ wide at most and about 35′ tall. The waterfall just upstream of it, Potawatomi Falls, is 30-35′ tall, and anywhere from 150-200′ wide, I’m guessing. In less than a quarter of a mile, the river has narrowed from about 175′ to just 5′. It’s just amazing!

There are two different ways to view the falls: park at one of the beginning or ending falls (Great Conglomerate Falls or Rainbow Falls) and take the hike past all of the falls. Round-trip, I’m guessing that’s at least 6 miles? Or you can drive and walk to each of the falls separately (Potowatomi and Gorge are at the same parking area). This may be just as long, as some of the hikes to each separate falls are 3/4+ miles one-way.

Directions:

  1. From US-2, turn north onto Gogebic County Road 513.
  2. Head north on CR-513 for about 13 miles, where you will notice the first waterfall (the furtherst upstream), Great Conglomerate Falls. You can park there to access all of the falls on one trail.
  3. You can also pass that parking lot and head to the next parking area, which will be for both Gorge Falls and Potowatomi Falls.
  4. From the parking area, it can get a little confusing, at least it was for me. Gorge Falls is further downstream, so you should head to the left. It’s actually a rather short walk to this falls if you find the right trail quickly. You may also end up at Potowatomi Falls, like I did, which you can distinguish since it is MUCH, MUCH larger!

Accessibility: 7/10 (easy/moderate)
Height: 34′
Length of Hike: 0.3 miles round-trip

Gorge Falls in August 2011

Where in the World is Gorge Falls?

East Falls, Ohio

East Falls is the brother of West Falls, both found on the Black River in downtown Elyria. East Falls has the unlucky fortune of being the less scenic of the two falls, and going to the falls seems just a little more shady, even though you’re right near a police station. Even though it’s not really that bad, the waterfall is essentially difficult to view. The viewing area is placed such that you can see the manmade portion of the drop, but the lower, natural portion is almost impossible to view completely! I’ve seen other pictures that showed a more complete falls, but I don’t see any way that you could really view the whole falls. Maybe they changed the viewing area?

Directions:

  1. Get onto OH-57 heading south. This can be accessed from the Ohio Turnpike or from other roads in the area.
  2. After a short distance, turn left onto OH-113 heading east.
  3. In just a few blocks, you will come up to West River Street. Turn right here.
  4. Continue on West River Street to Lake Avenue. Turn left onto Lake Avenue.
  5. After a short distance, Lake Avenue will veer to the right. You’re going to turn left around this area, though it’s a little confusing. I would suggest finding the police station, and then taking a left directly after the police station. The road is either Parkview Court or Cascade Street. Both roads will lead you to the parking area for the falls.

Accessibility: 10/10 (easy)
Height: 25′
Length of Hike: roadside

East Falls in August 2009

Where in the World is East Falls?