Exploring the Porkies: Backpacking in Michigan’s Porcupine Mountains

Last Updated: February 2021

The Porcupine Mountains (aka the Porkies) are an excellent place for beginners to experienced backpackers alike.

Quick Guide

  • Location: Ontonagon, Michigan
  • Climate: Humid continental climate
  • Accessibility: Limited accessible features (mostly for overlooks) and family-friendly
  • Trail Conditions: Well-maintained, well-marked trails, often muddy
  • Average Hiking Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult in some areas
  • Solitude: Limited, especially near lookouts
  • Dogs/Pets: Allowed on leash
  • Permit Required: Yes, for backcountry camping
  • Best Time to Visit: Late Summer - early Fall

About the Porcupine Mountains 

The Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is Michigan's largest state park.

Bordering Lake Superior, the Porkies are home to over 31,000 acres of old-growth forest, miles of rivers, and countless lakes. The entire park is around 60,000 acres.

When you think of the Midwest, the last thing you think of is mountains. The Porcupine Mountains are a 12-mile long escarpment that rises abruptly from Lake Superior.

They follow the lakeshore for about one and a half miles and are a part of one of the world's oldest mountain chains-- the Adirondacks. 

Within the park, you have more than 90 miles of well-maintained hiking trails to choose from.

Many of the trails can be done as portions as day hikes, but they can also be linked together for longer backpacking excursions. 

No matter the amount of time you have to spend in the Porkies, there will be a beautiful vista or a peaceful hike in the woods to explore. Plus, plenty of backcountry campsites to get away from it all for a night or two.

For many in the Midwest, the Porkies are the perfect weekend getaway. But for those that don't often travel North, the Porcupine Mountains are a new landscape to be explored. 

If you're looking for a new adventure this year, add the Porkies to your list. We have all the must-know information before planning a backpacking trip in the Porcupine Mountains. 

What to Know Before You Go

Backpacking in the Porcupine Mountain Wilderness of Michigan is great for beginners and families.

Although some of the trails are more difficult than others, there are plenty of easy trails to choose from, and you can link together various trails to create hiking loops of different lengths. 

Although there are plenty of trails, there are only a limited number of backcountry campsites to choose from. You need to book these campsites in advance and get the best selection, and we recommend purchasing camping permits at least one month in advance, if not sooner.

The easier and more moderate trail campsites fill up much faster, but if you are willing to hike up and down a few steeper inclines, you will have an easier time finding a last-minute backcountry campsite. 

All of the trail intersections are well-marked, and the trails are very well-maintained. However, be prepared for plenty of mud and bugs. 

Although the trails are well-maintained, the Michigan climate is quite humid and wet. That means that when it rains, the moisture will stick around for quite a while, especially in the trail's forested areas.

This makes hiking more of an adventure in some areas, but it can also be quite pleasant as you'll be in the shade for large portions of the hike. 

Dogs are permitted on the trail, and you do not need to purchase a permit for pets. However, they need to be leashed at all times, and you are expected to clean up after them on the trail. 

Not sure if you're prepared to backpack or camp with your dog yet? We can help! Check out these practical tips for hiking and camping with your dog. 

How to Get There

The Porcupine Mountain Wilderness is located outside of Ontonagon, Michigan.

Although it would seem like Michigan is far away from most other regions in the Midwest, the Porkies are only about a 3-hour drive from Duluth, MN, and a 4-hour drive from Eau Claire, WI. 

That puts this small Midwestern mountain range on the Northwest side of Michigan and a part of the Upper Peninsula. 

When mapping to the Porcupine Mountains, be sure that you save the directions because you will have limited cell phone service anywhere in the park.

You may get some service atop a few of the lookouts and peaks, but when driving back out of the park, you'll need to know how to navigate back towards home without the help of a GPS. 

Porcupine Mountains

How to Prepare For a Trip in the Porkies

Luckily, although the Porkies are classified as mountains, the terrain isn't as difficult as one would imagine.

There are a few areas with drastic elevation changes, but the distance hiking up or down is limited. Depending on the trail you choose, you will have an easy-difficult hike. 

One of the most challenging trail loops is the Government Peak loop. This loop will cross over three of the major peaks in the park and provide varying terrain to keep the hiking interesting.

Like those along the coast of Lake Superior, other hiking trails will be much flatter but still include some fantastic views. 

There are bears in the Porcupine Mountains, so knowing how to hang a bear bag is a must. Luckily, at all of the backcountry campsites, they have tall poles to hang food bags from so you don't have to hunt for a tree. 

If you've never camped in an area with bears before, make sure that you do not keep anything with a scent with you in the tent or your backpack.

This includes food, deodorant, toothpaste, or anything else that could have a strong enough scent to attract animals. 

Backpacking treks can be broken down into short sections, so being in peak physical condition is not required.

Plus, water sources are plentiful, so you will not need to carry much water at a time while hiking. Just be sure to purify and filter your water before drinking. 

Depending on the backpacking trip you plan, having a good baseline of fitness is a good idea. However, this is a great place to start if you've never backpacked before.

The rangers are very helpful, there are tons of trail markers, so navigation is not an issue, and the terrain isn't overly difficult or dangerous. 

When to Go & Other Tips

The best time of year to visit the Porcupine Mountains is in the late summer or early Fall. This time of year will have the best weather, and hopefully, be the driest time of year to visit. 

Even if there is no rain in the forecast when packing for your trip, plan to bring some rain gear. The Upper Penisula region of Michigan does see some surprise rainstorms, and with the high humidity of the region, it will be hard to dry out if your gear gets wet. 

As mentioned earlier, be prepared for mud and bugs. The bugs are only nasty in the park's lower areas, closer to the water, but many of the backpacking trails will weave in and out of these areas.

Bring some bug spray with you and consider a bug net to cover your face. 

No matter the time of year you go, there will be muddy areas in many of the park's lower regions.

While you can avoid this in most situations because of how the trail is maintained, having waterproof shoes or water-resistant shoes is a good idea. If all else fails, at least bring a few extra pairs of socks for when your feet get wet. 

Enjoy Exploring the Porkies

The Porcupine Mountains are an excellent place for beginners to experienced backpackers alike. The park is welcoming and has well-traveled trails.

Although you are likely to see other hikers and many families visiting the overlook sections of the trail, the further into the park you get, the more solitude you will find. 

Many of the campsites do have a fair amount of privacy, and groups of up to six are allowed in camping areas.

This makes the area an excellent place for families to solo backpackers to enjoy the beauty of the old-growth forests and Lake Superior's stunning overlooks. 

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