The ‘Root Beer’ Falls

Tahquamenon Falls State Park in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula surrounds the Tahquamenon River for its last twenty-four miles before it opens out into Whitefish Bay. Longfellow mentions this river in Hiawatha: “by the rushing Tahquamenaw” where Hiawatha built his birch-bark canoe. The meaning of the name ‘Tahquamenon’ has been lost in time. The Ojibwa (aka Chippewa) camped, fished, hunted and farmed along the river before the first white men arrived – the French, followed by the British and then the American colonists. In the late 1800’s, the logging industry sprang into action and the lumberjacks were some of the first permanent white settlers in the area. Today the state park remains almost totally undeveloped with only one paved road.

The Upper Falls are the first of two sections of water falls in the state park. These falls have a single drop-off of around 50 feet and have had a recorded water flow of up to 50,000 gallons per second. The highest water flow occurs late Spring, and the flow was very fast when we visited. The Upper Falls are the second most voluminous vertical water fall (behind Niagara Falls) east of the Mississippi River. This section of the falls spectacularly displays the raw power of flowing water.

The Lower Falls, four miles below the Upper Falls, includes a series of smaller vertical drops and rapids wrapping around a small island. While not exhibiting the sheer power of the Upper Falls, these falls still impress within the backdrop of the Upper Peninsula forest.

Tahquamenon Falls are known as the ‘Root Beer’ Falls due to the orange-brown color of the water. The color results as the river water upstream picks up tannins while passing through swamps of cedar, spruce and hemlock trees. Adding further to the illusion, the water is very soft and creates a frothy foam as it cascades over the rocks.

(Click on any picture to view the ‘Root Beer’ Falls gallery!)

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