Wisconsin Dells Stories and Tips

A Walk in the Park?

Montreal River lower falls Photo, Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

The trip to Montreal River Falls started innocently enough. We had seen signs around Copper Harbor advertising nature tours. We went to where the signs told us to go, and thought we had arranged a half day tour for the following Monday. We really wanted a weekend trip, but the naturalist felt there were too many tourists in the woods then, so he preferred weekday trips. Who were we to argue? Maybe we shouldn't have argued, but we should have checked out the trip a bit more. Let the buyer beware, ya know what I mean?

Monday morning, at 9 a.m., we went back to the store where we signed up, but it wasn't open. It seems they like to sleep in a bit, or take it nice and easy, like they are on vacation or something. After waiting about 15 minutes, other tourists showed up to take the trip with us. The naturalist showed up next, asking us if we had everything we needed, like water and snacks and such. If he had told us about it when we signed up, we would have been prepared. We quickly ran (as quickly as a 50-year-old fat guy can run) to a nearby store, and we were ready to go before the last of the travelers arrived. Our guide then proceeded to drive us southwest out of Copper Harbor on US 41, then southeast on a county road, and finally on an old logging trail to the northwest coast of Keweenaw Bay. We ended on a property once known as Smith Fisheries. By this time we had been on the road for most of an hour, so we stretched our legs a bit before the hike began. We went down to the old pier, looked into the old fish house, and generally nosed around before starting out on the hike.

We were led past the nice vacation home on the property (complete with newly built sauna) onto another logging trail. We paralleled the coast of the bay for about 15 minutes, until the logging trail fizzled out. Supposedly we were then on an old hiking trail, though there were a good many times we felt like we were blazing the trail. All the time we were walking beside Lake Superior's Keweenaw Bay. Mostly we were 20 feet or more above the water, on a small cliff. There were trees all around us, but surprisingly little wildlife. We heard some birds, but mostly it was the wind or the waves making noise. We saw some evidence of deer and bear around, but not even a lot of that. There weren't even many mosquitoes out. My wife, Deb, was bothered by them some, but she’s a lot sweeter than I am.

After about 45 minutes of hiking, we made it to the lower falls on the Montreal River. Our guide had worried that there might not be much water going over them, because the summer had been so dry. He did say, though, that this river usually has a good supply of water, no matter what the weather. It did have a nice flow and a picturesque waterfall. The Montreal River empties into Lake Superior at this point, and a small, rocky beach is nearby. We spent 30 minutes or so looking for rocks, getting our pictures, and generally playing tourist. The naturalist had lots to say of the beach stones, the area, and the history. By now it was getting close to noon, and he let us make the decision: move on to the middle falls, or return. All six hikers opted to move on, since he said the middle falls were 10 to 15 minutes up the hill.

Thirty minutes later, we found the middle falls. I do mean found the falls, since the trail was by no means clear, and the only real guide was the river on our right. Once the falls were found, we played tourist again with pictures and exploring a bit, and got to make another choice: press on to the upper falls (another 10 or 15 minutes further?) or return. We again opted to hike on.

Forty-five minutes later we again found the falls we were looking for. Each waterfall is relatively small, but pleasant. The hike was actually quite pleasant as well, especially since I got to spend time with my beautiful wife. The guide knew tons of stuff about the plant life, the wildlife, the geology, and the history. The only real problem was the planning.

By the time we got to the third waterfalls, it was close to 3. Naturally we didn't spend a whole lot of time there, since we knew we had a two-hour hike back to the vehicle. On the way back, the youngest couple trekked off on their own; we didn't see them until the end. The guide, the mother-daughter pair, my wife, and myself were considerable slower. The trip might have actually been done in the time limits suggested by the guide, had we all been in our teens or twenties. Our guide had had knee surgery a year earlier, and this was his first trek of any length since the surgery. The mother in the mother-daughter combination also had knee problems, and slowed the party down considerably. She also fell on the way back, giving us all another scare. No one was looking forward to carrying anyone out from the wilderness.

Once back to the vehicle, the guide drove us out on the logging trail, then took another side trip past a county park that was quite popular. That was almost the highlight of the trip, since on the turnaround we got to see a lighthouse that we probably would have missed. I actually paid enough attention to the directions to find the lighthouse again before we left the area. By then it was getting close to 6 in the evening, so we were all anxious to return. No one had even packed a lunch, since we had been led to believe it would be a half day tour.

The tour we thought we signed up for should have been about 20 dollars each. The tour we took probably should have been 50 apiece. The guide didn't really give us a set price, so we paid him $60, figuring the longer trip wasn't totally our fault or our choice. The other couples also fudged a bit on the price, too, I believe. All in all, it was a beautiful day with Deb, even though the hike was a bit trying and difficult at times. If I had a 4-wheel drive (or an old van I didn't care about, like the guide did) and a little more confidence in finding the logging trail, I would be willing to give it a go again. This time, though, I would be better prepared to really enjoy the hike.

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