Black River

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. – Romans 8:28

The mouth of the Black River is a special place indeed. An album with all the photos for Black River is here. A small introduction to the beach is required I think, and by way of introduction I mean a summary of the scenic byway, because it is what most people are interested in. Here is a google terrain map of the road heading North to the river mouth. The road heads about 15 miles North from Bessemer – Black River Harbor Parkway or CR-513. The Black River National Scenic Byway is known for its spectacular cascade of 8 (at least) waterfalls as the river drops more than 200 feet in only 2 miles. The falls range between 10 and 45 feet in height, and the most spectacular one (I believe) has a suspension bridge for viewers to walk out on. According to the most accurate and reliable reference I know of, Wikipedia:

Some of these waterfalls are easily accessible from the parallel Black River Road (Gogebic County Route 513) north of Bessemer, Michigan, while other waterfalls require a more strenuous hike to see. Roadside trails provide access to Gorge Falls and Potawatomi Falls. …The trails to two of the Black River waterfalls, Gorge and Potawatomi, have been designated National Recreation Trails due to their unique stairway designs (to provide easier access down the steep slopes) and observation platforms.

At the mouth of the river is Black River Harbor, one of only two Harbors within the National Forest System. The Black River flows through great expanses of large pine, hemlock and hardwood trees as the water scours its way down from Copper Peak to Lake Superior. On September 19, 1992, Highway 513 was officially dedicated as a National Forest Scenic Byway in recognition of its exceptional beauty and recreational opportunities. Black River Harbor started as a fishing village in the 1920’s, and today features many charter boats.

And here is an aerial photo from superior watersheds → You can see it must’ve been just after a rainfall, from all the sediment in the water.

The Black River is supposedly named for the dark color of it’s water. This is not to say it looks dirty, just abnormally dark. I would say this is partially due to the amount of shade along the river from all the tall hemlock and pine trees. However, I also hear there is a naturally occurring dye called tannin that leaches into the water from the bark of Hemlock trees. This dye was used by Native Americans and early settlers for tanning leather. A third contributing factor (to the dark water) is the blackness of the sandstone and conglomerate rock formations along the bottom.

Black River Harbor is truly a special place to spend a summer afternoon. The scenic byway, harbor, and beach are absolute treasures of the northern woods of Michigan, and UP. The beach itself is a spectacular sight. Long and sandy with a bit of rocks, tapering out into a sliver of sand as the tall, red bluffs take over the curving shoreline in the distance. The beach is nice, and the water is cool and refreshing. A bit rocky in the area I dove in though. I also dove into the river just below the suspension bridge. The suspension bridge, by the way, is part of the North Country Trail, which picks up and heads East along the shoreline toward Presque Isle River and the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness Area.

The suspension bridge was really neat too, and the walk along the docks and down the trails around the park area is really nice. There is a boat launch here too, which is difficult to see in these pictures. The park also includes a vending machine kiosk, picnic area, playground, pavilion, and campground. The Ottawa National Forest Campground (Black River Harbor Campground) has 40 well maintained and spacious wooded campsites on a bluff overlooking Lake Superior. No campsite electric service is available, but there is a waste station and fresh water. The bathrooms have no showers, but are well maintained and have flushable toilets, running water, and electricity. Hiking trails head to the park and to a secluded beach.

I should mention also that there is plenty of winter excitement as well along the Black River Scenic Byway. Copper Peak and its famous ski jump are right along the Black River Harbor Parkway, and at first glance is almost frighteningly high in the air. According to the National Scenic Byways Program:

The Copper Hill Ski area features the only ski flying ramp in the Western Hemisphere. Ski flying is ski jumping’s more extreme cousin, with standard runs sending the skier over 600 feet, or the length of two football fields. Only the best ski jumpers can participate in ski flying. The ramp at Copper Hill rises an astounding 26 stories from the top of an 800-foot hill, allowing jumps of over 450 feet. While you might not be up to ski flying, you can view most the surrounding country from the observation deck on the top of the ramp. For visitors seeking a more normal ski experience, Big Powderhorn Ski Area offers several downhill runs set in a charming Bavarian Village.

The longest jump at Copper Peak is 158 meters (518 feet) and is shared between Werner Schuster and Matthias Wallner. However, nobody has jumped since 1992 and it is closed I believe. The view from the platform would be spectacular in summer though. Anyone who is interested should Google “Copper Peak Ski Flying” and check into the results.

Here is the text from this sign (bottom left, upper middle, bottom right):

One hundred years ago, a small fishing village clung to the shores of Lake Superior at the mouth of the Black River. Each day fishermen prepared their nets, revived their tired engines, and set out into the most unforgiving of the Great Lakes.

One survivor quietly watched the little fishing village change throughout the years; the Nancy Jean. This 32 foot wooden boat served the Black River fishing fleet in the 1930’s.

It’s believed she initially worked in the commercial fishing trade until 1940, and then changed careers to work asa  charter fishing boat until the 1950’s. Abandoned in a woodlot near the old village, the recovered Nancy Jean has her own story to tell.

7 responses to “Black River

  1. Fia says:

    This is great! I grew up in Wakefield & still come back every summer. Presque Isle, Black River, Little Girl’s Point, Silver City…so many happy memories for me. Thanks!

  2. How wonderful this is! I grew up in Bessemer and have fond memories of days spent at the Mouth of the Black, as my grandmother called it. My grandfather owned one of those charter fishing boats in the early 50’s. I loved that boat! He also helped build, as part of the WPA, the suspension bridge across the river. To me, that bridge was something to conquer. Even though it is safe and always has been, it still scared me to cross it. Many a family photo was taken on that bridge. Thanks so much for helping me to remember how fortunate I was growing up as a Yooper! 🙂

    • Thank you. Neat comment that your grandfather helped construct that bridge. What a work of art! I wish the “Mouth of the Black” were closer for me to drive to. Definitely a place I intend to visit a few more times.

  3. Amy says:

    This was one of our favorite stops on our vacation last week! The picnic area was so nice and we enjoyed having lunch there. My daughter and I had to take our picture by the bridge just like the photo of your friend. We also stopped by the waterfalls on the way and they were GORGEOUS!! They are pretty close to the road so even people who don’t like to hike can see them. Well worth the walk! When you finally do get to the beach it is so BEAUTIFUL! Soft sand and pretty shoreline, even a few rocks at the water for my daughter to scavenger through. You are correct to put this beach at the top of your list!

    • Nils Markus Stenvig says:

      Great! I actually went camping here over Labor Day last year with my parents. I did hike to nearly every waterfall, and took poor quality pictures of most. Your comment reminded me that I should update this description with more photos and advice on camping and hiking.

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