Wandering through this vast tract of virgin timber, it is hard to believe it is the 21st century. It is perhaps these woods, framed by the rocky shores of Gitche Gumee, that make the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park a particularly refreshing place to renew the soul.
Fondly called the "Porkies," the park on the Lake Superior shoreline in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan gets its name from the Porcupine Mountains, which vaguely take the shape of the quill-covered animal. The park, which covers more than 60,000 acres, is known for being home to the largest tract of old-growth hardwood forest west of the Adirondacks.
Upon arrival, visitors should check out the park's headquarters and pay an $8 daily admission fee (33303 Headquarters Road, Ontonagon; 1-906-885-5275; www.startribune.com/a590). There, you can get a map and the lay of the park.
The park is extremely spread out, with only two main arteries to drive along. It's impossible to get lost on the road, but easy to get disoriented on the Porkies' endless trails.
Put on the hiking boots
The trail system is impressive. In total, more than 80 miles of trails zigzag through the park, with options to suit more leisurely hikers as well as those looking for an intense weekend or weeklong trip.
A good place to start is the park's most popular spot and one of the most photographed locations in Michigan -- Lake of the Clouds. The lake, which is best viewed from a wheelchair-accessible overlook, is framed by vivid green trees that turn gradient shades of crimson, gold and yellow come fall.
Another must-do hike follows the Presque Isle River, the largest river in the park, for about a mile, and provides several spots where you can hike down and view spectacular waterfalls. The trail ends where the Presque Isle River flows into Lake Superior.
The more serious hiker will appreciate the Lake Superior Trail, which follows the shoreline. It is by far the longest, most challenging and rugged trail within the park's boundaries. There are several spots to access the more than 16-mile trail.
Also of note is the Union Mile Trail, an interpretive trail that showcases the rich mining history of the region and the park itself. The park was home to the Union Mine in the mid-1800s, and the trail includes remnants of the site.
Explore the water
If hiking isn't your thing, consider renting a kayak or canoe from a nearby outfitter and spending the day on Lake Superior or any one of several lakes or rivers within the park. The Porcupine Mountains Ontonagon Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (www.porcu pinemountains.com; 1-906-884-2047) provides a listing of local outfitters. Besides Lake Superior, the Big Carp River is a popular fishing spot.
The Superior shoreline also provides several choice spots to enjoy a quiet picnic while soaking in the view of the bright blue water. Whether on the water or on land, be sure to bring heavy-duty bug spray to fend off the biting black flies in the summer.
At the end of a long day of activity, visitors will delight at the range of sleeping accommodations within park boundaries. For those who want to sleep outside, choices include backcountry sites and campsites with and without electricity. Many of the sites sit on Superior, providing a bird's eye view of the Big Lake. For those who like a roof over their heads, yurts and rustic, cozy cabins are also located throughout the park. (Rustic sites start at $12 per night; modern sites start at $16, $25 for electrical; cabins/yurts $60. Reserve online at www.midnr reservations.com.)
If you long for the comforts of home, just outside the park is an AmericInn (120 Lincoln Av., Silver City, Mich.; 1-906-885-5311), perched on the shore of Superior.
One last note, the border of the Central and Eastern Time Zones runs through the park, allowing those traveling westbound to take a step back in time -- literally. We couldn't help but notice how fitting this seems for a place that marks time not by endless schedules, but instead by golden sunrises and evening shows of countless stars and the northern lights.
Beth Probst is a freelance writer in Iron River, Wis.