Best Hikes in Ottawa National Forest (MI)

Ottawa National Forest Overview

The almost one million acres of the Ottawa National Forest are located in the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The forest extends from the south shore of Lake Superior to the Wisconsin border.  Black River Harbor Recreation Area is one of the most popular destinations in the forest. The best hikes in Ottawa National Forest are described below. In addition to that, there are 116 miles of this National Scenic Trail that crosses the forest in an east-west direction.

Nearest Metro AreaGreen Bay, WI
Area Size993,010 acres
EstablishedJanuary 27, 1931
Hiking Trails 196 miles

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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Best Hikes in Ottawa National Forest

(*** = Best hikes in Ottawa National Forest)

Cascade Falls Trail*** – 1.8 mile loop

This loop trail offers two alternative routes to reach a small waterfall on Cascade Creek. Two routes depart from the parking lot. The scenic Twin Peaks route climbs a bluff overlooking the West Branch of the Ontonagon River and the Trap Hills. The Valley route avoids the steep path of the higher route but reaches the same destination.

O Kun de Kun Falls Trail – 3.1 miles out and back
O Kun de Kun Falls, Photo by Ottawa National Forest

Aspen and mixed hardwoods grace the gently rolling terrain along the forest trail that leads to O Kun de Kun. Keep your eyes open for frogs, squirrels, and dragonflies. Because of its distance, this trail is labeled moderately difficult.

Potawatomi and Gorge Waterfalls Trail*** – 0.5 miles out and back
Potawatomi Falls, Photo by Ottawa National Forest

This trail is easy to strenuous (series of steps). We recommend that you take the trail from Potawatomi Falls parking lot, then walk down along the river as you view the scenic river and falls.  Gorge Falls is only a short distance north of Potawatomi Falls.  An asphalt surface trail connects the parking area at Gorge Falls to the accessible viewing platform overlooking Potawatomi Falls.  This provides a unique opportunity to view one of the area’s most beautiful waterfalls. Conglomerate Falls can be hiked going south (upstream 1/2 mile) via the North Country Trail. Sandstone Falls can also be hiked going north (downstream 1/2 mile) via the North Country Trail. 

Rainbow Falls Trail – 0.5 miles out and back
Rainbow Falls, Photo by Forest Service – Eastern Region

A 1/2 mile hiking trail will take you from a paved parking lot to a stairway dropping down to an observation platform overlooking the scenic Black River and Rainbow Falls.  The falling water (40 feet) creates a mist, and sometimes with the right angle of sunlight, produces a rainbow effect, which gives the falls its name.  Rainbow Falls can also be viewed from the east side of the river.  This side will provide the photographer with a better angle of the falls. 

Sandstone Falls Trail – 0.3 miles out and back

The trail to Sandstone Falls is short but steep, with a series of steps. Although Sandstone Falls is not a large falls, the area is well worth visiting because of its varied rock formations and hollows carved out of sandstone and conglomerate rock by stream erosion over the centuries. 

Trap Hills Loop – 6.2 mile loop
Trap Hills Area, Photo by Ottawa National Forest

The Trap Hills area of the Ottawa National Forest offers scenic vistas, abundant wildlife, rare plants, a fascinating history and a wide array of recreation opportunities. Composed of large tracts of undisturbed forest, rugged slopes and ridges, streams, waterfalls and ponds, the Trap Hills area offers solitude and a sense of remoteness that is unique in the Great Lakes area. This area is home to a wide range of rare and endangered species, including Eastern Timber Wolf, Peregrine Falcon, Fairy Bells, and Braun’s Holly Fern. It’s this picturesque backdrop that makes Trap Hills one of the best choices for backpacking in the upper Midwest.

Wolf Mountain Trail*** – 0.9 miles out and back
20220917-FS-ONF-AS-001_USDA Forest Service photo by Amanda Stear.
Overlook from Wolf Mountain, Photo by Amanda Stear

This is a beautiful gradual hike through lush northern hardwood foliage. It’s rather steep as you near the end but worth the climb. A breathtaking view awaits you at the top.

Featured Image: Mink Lake Fall Colors – Ottawa National Forest, Photo by Tony Webster

Don’t forget to stock up on the essentials before you plan your next hiking or camping trip! We have recommendations on: