Backpacking Porcupine Mountains- Big Carp River Trail

Backpacking Porcupine Mountains- Big Carp River TrailAfter spending two days enjoying the gorgeous views, breathtaking sunsets and refreshing swimming along Lake Superior Trail in Michigan’s Porcupine Mountains State Park, it was time to head back to our car parked at the Lake Superior Trail trailhead.  Due to a last minute mishap, we decided to hike the approximately 10 mile Big Carp River Trail instead of our original plan which made a loop totaling about 22 miles.  Click here to see a map. We spent our second night backpacking Porcupine Mountains State Park, camping on the Lake Superior Trail about a mile south of the trailheads for both the Cross Trail and Big Carp River Trail and a mile north of the Little Carp River Trail. Our original plan had us taking the Little Carp River Trail to combine with other trails for a longer loop that would include stops at Mirror Lake and Summit Peak. However, that all changed after we finished a quick breakfast of oatmeal and coffee and went to use our SteriPEN Adventurer UV Water Purifier and found out it was out of batteries and I had forgotten to pack replacements. Uggh!  Luckily, I had a backup of Potable Aqua Water Treatment Tablets in the first aid kit to use for just this situation.  However, the small bottle of tablets was only enough to treat 25 Liters of water, which was not enough for six people doing two full days of hard hiking.  Since we didn’t have enough stove fuel to boil enough water for several days worth of drinking either, we decided to take the shorter trail out. Initially bummed about our changed plans, we ended up really loving this trail! Since it was July, we were hiking in prime mosquito and black fly season, but even while slapping away the multitude of buzzing carnivores, I absolutely enjoyed this trail and would jump at the chance to hike it again.

The trail rises steadily once leaving the shoreline of Lake Superior (click here for a contour map) with gorgeous views of Shining Cloud Falls, a couple of river crossings (prepare to take your shoes off or get wet!), and amazing views of the surrounding mountains as you climb the ridge line beyond Lafayette Peak. The steady elevation change made the hike somewhat challenging for sure. You are in true wilderness when Backpacking Porcupine Mountains, and we saw signs of abundant wildlife proving this including several beaver dams and chewed down trees, piles of bear scat, and tracks in the mud large enough to convince us they were made by the timber wolves present in the park and not from dogs.  We only saw a few other people throughout the entire day on a gorgeous July weekend so if you are looking for solitude, here is your place.  My only regret was that due to our Steripen being out of commission,  we were not able to camp in one of the last three backcountry sites on the trail which overlooked Lake of the Clouds.  I would have loved to watch the sunset and sunrise from up here. Just another reason for a return visit I guess.  The trail ends at the Lake of the Clouds scenic area, and we left the kids and pup to rest on one of the picnic tables in the parking area while we fetched the car parked about a mile down the hill at the Lake Superior Trailhead.  Another backpacking trek we will remember forever.  Backpacking Porcupine Mountains- Big Carp River TrailBackpacking Porcupine Mountains- Big Carp River TrailBackpacking Porcupine Mountains- Big Carp River TrailBackpacking Porcupine Mountains- Big Carp River TrailBackpacking Porcupine Mountains- Big Carp River TrailBackpacking Porcupine Mountains- Big Carp River TrailBackpacking Porcupine Mountains- Big Carp River TrailBackpacking Porcupine Mountains- Big Carp River TrailBackpacking Porcupine Mountains- Big Carp River TrailBackpacking Porcupine Mountains- Big Carp River Trail

Backpacking Porcupine Mountains- Big Carp River Trail

If you go:

Although we didn’t encounter any, bears are common when backpacking Porcupine Mountains and precautions must be taken to secure food and all scented items.  Bear poles are located at various campsites throughout the trail to easily hang food, cooking gear and toiletries.  If you decide to camp at a site without a bear pole, food and other strong smelling items must be hung at least 12 feet high. Click here for the back country map showing bear pole locations.  In addition, we made sure to carry Counter Assault Bear Deterrent Pepper Spray on the outside of Dave’s pack.  While I probably wouldn’t think this was worth the added weight if it was just Dave and I, we always are extra cautious because we are hiking with kids.

While dispersed camping is allowed, designated sites are spacious with fire rings surrounded by large sitting rocks and logs.  Sites are first come, first served, but we found plenty of availability during a beautiful weekend in July.  There are also rustic cabins located throughout the park, although the Big Carp Trail only has one of them, and it is located near Lake Superior.  These cabins can be reserved here, but no pets are allowed and since we had our pup with us, these weren’t an option.

Back country fees are $15 per night per site.  In addition, a Michigan Recreation Passport is required to enter state parks.  Passes for non-residents are $31 for the year, and can be purchased online here or in person at the state park you are visiting.

As in all wilderness areas, Leave No Trace principles should be followed. 

If you are planning on Backpacking Porcupine Mountains during the summer, bring the strongest bug spray you can tolerate.  We found that Repel 100 Insect Repellent Pump Spray with DEET worked well. During the day it wasn’t too bad and we enjoyed hiking, but sunrise and just after sunset was a mosquito and biting fly bloodbath if the repellent wore off. In addition, we all wore a Sea to Summit Mosquito Head Net when packing up each morning.  I think we would have gone crazy without them!

Dogs are allowed on the trails throughout the park but must remain on leash.  Make sure they are up to date on heartworm and tick prevention medication for obvious reasons!

Water is plentiful on the trail from the river, but should still be treated.  We used our SteriPEN Adventurer UV Water Purifier and had no issues with it until the batteries ran out. I was grateful I had the backup of Potable Aqua Water Treatment Tablets

We loved backpacking Porcupine Mountains State Park and can’t wait to visit again.  I would especially like to visit in the fall as the colors of the changing leaves would be spectacular.  I can’t wait to go back.

Happy Travels!

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I love to plan family travel adventures with our four kids. Encouraging time in nature, National Parks travel, backpacking and hiking are my passions and I love to write about them.

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