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U.S. Forest Service

Eastern Region Viewing Area


blood root. Blood root, a Spring empheral. Photo by Ottawa National Forest.

Black River Waterfall. Black River Waterfall. Photo by Ottawa National Forest.

Jack-in-the-pulpit. Jack-in-the-pulpit. Photo by Ottawa National Forest.

Black River Harbor Area

Forest: Ottawa National Forest

District: Bessemer Ranger District

Description: About 15 miles north of Bessemer, Michigan, the Black River flows through eastern hemlock and northern hardwood forests in a series of scenic waterfalls as it drops to enter Lake Superior. Several short hiking trails lead to the waterfalls from trailheads along the Black River National Scenic Byway (County Road 513). These trails provide opportunities to view a lovely display of spring ephemerals and other wildflowers as well as the waterfalls and their conglomerate and sandstone rock formations. The area includes the harbor, Great Lakes beach, a picnic and day use area, a campground, and trails into five distinct waterfall-viewing areas.

Other Features The Black River waterfalls provide year-round attractions. Conglomerate Falls is the farthest upstream, with Potawatomi, Gorge, Sandstone, and Rainbow spread out over about two miles below. During the spring snowmelt and ice breakup period, high flows in the river provide exciting displays and the opportunity for daredevil kayakers to run the river. Catching ice-out at the harbor itself is a special treat. Winter waterfall viewing is also possible--snowshoes are usually needed and trails may be icy so visitors travel at their own risk.

Camping, river and lake fishing, picnicking, beachcombing and lake swimming are also featured at the harbor. A variety of birds may be seen, including bald eagles. There is a self-guided birding loop trail near the campground. White-tailed deer may also be seen in the harbor area.

Trails Waterfall trails begin at trailheads off County Road 513 on the west side of the river, and extend to the falls:

  • Conglomerate Falls hiking trail: ¾ mile includes stairs and observation platform.
  • Potawatomi and Gorge Falls trail: short, includes a series of stairways and observation platforms. The trail, restroom and viewing platform at Potawatomi Falls are fully accessible.
  • Sandstone Falls: ¼ mile includes stairs.
  • Rainbow Falls: ½ mile, stairs and platform.

A segment of the national North Country Trail runs parallel to the river on the west side, connecting the waterfall trails and continuing north toward the beach, crossing Black River on a suspension bridge and providing access to view Rainbow Falls from the east side before continuing away from the river.

Viewing Information: The hemlock-hardwood stands above Black River provide a variety of wildflowers to view starting in early to mid-May each year. Spring ephemerals including cutleaf and two-leaf toothworts, spring beauty, trout lily, Dutchman’s breeches, bloodroot, hepatica, nodding and great white trilliums are the first flowers to appear. Later in the spring, visitors can see blue, yellow, and white violets, starflower, blue-bead lily, buttercups, Jack-in-the-pulpit, and bellworts. While the flowers are not apparent, the lush growth of wild leeks or ramps also draws visitors. These leafy, wild relatives of the onion occur in large, aromatic patches in wetter spots. Throughout the snow-free season, ferns and club mosses are also visible on the forest floor, and a variety of shrubs may be seen. The northern hardwoods (e.g. sugar maple, yellow birch, and basswood) provide a lovely color display in the fall.

Late May and early June provide the best spring wildflower display, viewed from the various trails. Stable flies in June and July can render the beach itself an unpleasant place to be, but they do not extend inland. Parking lots are usually closed in winter and opened in the spring around May 15.

Safety First: Visitors should recognize that the trails are steep in places, and pace themselves to avoid over exertion. The waterfall viewing platforms are mostly open with wide spaces: parents should be especially careful that small children do not slip and fall off the platforms or stairways. There are steep drops to the rocks and river below. The weather at Black River is often cooler than surrounding areas, due to the presence of Lake Superior. Sturdy footgear is recommended for hikers and insect repellent may be advisable in summer. Mosquitoes, biting flies, no-see-ums, and wood and deer ticks may be present.

Directions: From Bessemer, Michigan, head north on County Road 513 (called Moore St. in town) until the harbor is reached in about 15 miles. County Road 204 (Airport Rd.) joins County Road 513 about four miles north of Bessemer, providing access from the west. From this intersection, the road is a National Scenic Byway. The road is paved to the harbor and ample parking is available. A children’s playground and restrooms are available mid-May into September.

Ownership and Management: U.S. Forest Service, Ottawa National Forest, Bessemer Ranger District. Contact the Ottawa National Forest at (906) 932-1330 for more information.

Closest Town: Bessemer, Michigan.