Albert Einstein said “Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. THAT’s relativity.”
Well I’ve got a new one for you. Drive five miles out of Iron Mountain, hike a few steps up a steep hill and you’ll feel like you’re a thousand miles from anywhere. That’s Rock Dam. (1)
And, really, this is a great example of why I started this mission, to find places like Rock Dam. I’d heard about it, but through all the years I’ve spent in the Upper Peninsula, I’d never once been there. Boy was I missing out.
It’s an off the beaten path spot, known mostly as a small set of rapids that lead down to a restful little swimming hole. But hike up the hill a bit (on a rough “unofficial” trail) and you’ll be rewarded with first class views of ginormous (it’s a real word, I checked) rock bluffs.
My wife and I did a short hike at Rock Dam this Spring. A couple small footbridges allow you to cross over the meandering Pine Creek, check out the little waterfall and head up to the trail.
The trail then climbs pretty quickly but levels off almost as quick and then runs down the edge of a rock face. This little jaunt allows several stellar views if you’re not afraid to get a little cozy with the edge.
This is all public land. 90,000 or so acres from what I’ve heard. Maybe this place will get enough attention to warrant a state sponsored viewing platform someday. Until then you’ll have to settle for steadying yourself against one of the large hardwoods that grow thick on top of the ridge. Just make sure your footing is sound! And if you fall, please don’t sue me.
And if you feel like a longer hike, well, just keep going past the spot with the pretty views. Eventually you’ll end up on the opposite rock bluff looking back at where you started.
At some point you might feel like you’re lost in the woods. Right then I’d recommend that you stop and look for the blue trail markings. The trail is marked, but it’s also a small brushy trail and easy to miss sometimes if you’re not familiar with it. If you’re prone to wandering (mind, body, spirit… whatever) you might want to bring a GPS and a compass.
The trail runs several miles until you meet up once again with the Pine Creek. At that point I usually turn around and head back. And with all the ups and downs, by the time I get back to my car I’m happy to be done but thankful for a great hike and a good workout.
Bottom Line: The Rock Dam trail is an off the beaten path “unofficial” trail that’s both challenging and rewarding. Recommended for experienced hikers only, or find someone who’s been there and use them for a guide. And after your hike, the pool formed below the falls is a great spot for a swim!
*** NOTE – Four wheel drive vehicles are recommended in the Spring as Rock Dam Road can get seriously muddy. In Summer and Fall most cars should be able to get out there.
Time Required: 20 minutes to half a day.
How to get there:
Drive East out of Iron Mountain and turn right on M-95 toward Marquette – about 3.2 miles from downtown. Drive 3.7 miles North on M-95 and then turn right on Sportsman’s Club Road. Drive 2.5 miles down Sportsman’s club road and make a right on Carney Lake Road. Drive .6 miles down Carney Lake Road then make a right on Rock Dam Road. Then drive 1.2 miles and make a left onto an unmarked road. The only marking is an old road sign post sticking out of the ground, and even that is hard to spot. Yes, you need to navigate a couple gravel roads, but it’s only 10 miles from downtown Iron Mountain.
To see Rock Dam’s location on my map of the Upper Peninsula, click here.
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1) Those of you who’ve traveled to the U.P. from the city (2) may already feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere. In that case, head to Rock Dam and you’ll feel like you’re even further removed. If you’re lucky, you might even lose cell signal.
2) Chicago, Milwaukee or anywhere large enough to have a “rush hour” (3) around 5:00.
3) A term unfamiliar to most Yoopers but quite often cause for city dwellers to curse and threaten to move “up north.”
Have you been to Rock Dam? Or does it look like someplace you might want to check out? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!