Bond Falls

Ottawa National Forest, Michigan

Trip Date: Saturday, August 11th, 2018
Last Updated: Wednesday, September 12th, 2018
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★★★★(5/5)
Overall Difficulty Easy
Navigation Difficulty     Easy
Distance 1.5 miles roundtrip
Time 1 hour
Terrain A few hills
Best Seasons All
Family Friendly Yes
Dog Friendly Yes
Accessible Yes

Highlights

Hike Walkthrough

While Bond Falls is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the western part of the Upper Peninsula, it's still one of the most beautiful sights you can see in all of Michigan. The water here tumbles 50 feet over craggy rocks that create an array of cascades. Upstream from Bond Falls you'll find even more smaller waterfalls, so many that you might tire of taking pictures. Even further upstream is the vast Bond Falls Flowage, a giant reservoir with opportunities for boating, fishing, and camping along the shore.

Starting from the "official" Bond Falls Scenic Site (read more about how you can park elsewhere for free in the parking section below), follow the gently graded paved trail down to the accessible boardwalk. Almost instantly you'll have a view of the expansive Bond Falls, pictured below. Head left for more views of the falls and to find the best camera angle. Bond Falls is so wide you can't capture the entire width using a standard smartphone camera -- you can see maybe 2/3rds of the falls in the picture below with another hidden third to the right of the tree on the right side.

The majestic Bond Falls from the accessible viewing platform

The majestic Bond Falls from the accessible viewing platform

The boardwalk forms a U shape around the plunge pool of the falls. A short set of wooden stairs on the end of the left side of the boardwalk (while facing the falls) leads down to a steep use-trail that ascends the hill and gives you a different perspective of the river and falls further upstream. If you continue to the end of the boardwalk on the right side, you'll reach concrete stairs leading up to the top of the falls. These stairs are likely to be wet and slippery, so be careful (when I was there, it seemed like the waterfall was slowly claiming the steps for itself). At the top, the trail turns to dirt and continues alongside the river.

You'll pass several openings with views of smaller waterfalls like pictured in the two images below (I didn't take pictures of all of these small waterfalls, so know there are more than 2). Some of the falls are natural like in the first picture, but some are man-made like in the second picture -- can you tell the difference?
A small natural waterfall upstream from Bond Falls

A small natural waterfall upstream from Bond Falls

A man-made waterfall upstream from Bond Falls

A man-made waterfall upstream from Bond Falls

The trail heads slightly uphill before the river bends to the right. It will look like there are two trails here, one hugging the riverbank and another veering to the right. Either of these are correct, but if you stay closer to the river you will have a view of the man-made waterfall and bridge pictured below.
A man-made waterfall underneath the footbridge

A man-made waterfall underneath the footbridge

If you cross over the river on the bridge pictured above, you will reach the parking area along the road near the Bond Falls Outpost. Continue walking along the road, and you'll cross over the dam's spillway. On the right side, you'll see a stairway which you can ascend to have a view of the Bond Falls Flowage, pictured below.
The Bond Falls Flowage from the top of the dam

The Bond Falls Flowage from the top of the dam

Head back the way you came when you're done, and stop anywhere interesting you missed on the way here. Linger a moment to appreciate the giant waterfall featured here before finally heading to your next destination. Enjoy your experience and let me know what you think in the comments section below. Be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter and Instagram!

Important Information

The land is owned by the Upper Peninsula Power Company, which allows dogs on leash only on the trail and in their campgrounds. This is a perfect hike for the whole family since the first part is paved and accessible (great for strollers in addition to wheelchairs), and the ample waterfalls upriver make this hike exciting the entire duration. You can view this waterfall year round, and each season provides a unique experience: the frozen falls of winter, higher flowage from snowmelt and rain in the spring, lush greenery in the summer, and astounding foliage in fall. This is a popular destination for tourists, so expect to share this site with plenty of people.

Directions

From the Ottawa National Forest Visitor Center in Watersmeet, take U.S. Highway 45 north to Paulding. Turn right on Bond Falls Road. Turn left as indicated by the sign for the Bond Falls Scenic Site if you require the accessible trail to the falls, otherwise continue straight and park by the Bond Falls Outpost -- read the parking section below for more details about where to park.

Google Maps Directions

Parking, Fees, and Facilities

There are two options for parking here: paying at the lot for the Bond Falls Scenic Site or parking for free by the Bond Falls Outpost. The Michigan DNR really capitalized on unknowing tourists here by making their lot -- the "official" lot -- cost money when you can access the same trail from the free parking by the Bond Falls Outpost. However, the pay lot is necessary for those with accessibility needs, kids in strollers, and small children unable to do the whole hike from the top (unless you're willing to shuttle between the two lots). The pay lot also has pit toilets available year round. You don't have to be a customer of the Bond Falls Outpost to park for free since this is also the parking for a public park and access to the Bond Falls Flowage. The Bond Falls Outpost may or may not have restrooms (I didn't check myself), and there are picnic tables off the trail just by the road.

A Michigan Department of Natural Resources Recreation Passport is necessary to park in the "official" lot, more details about specific pricing are available on the Recreation Passport webpage. If you don't already have an annual passport for your vehicle -- $11 for Michigan residents at the time of license plate renewal or $16 at a Michigan State Park, or $32 for non-residents available online -- you must pay cash (bring exact change!) using the paper envelopes provided at the kiosk near the trailhead and place the stub on your dashboard. Michigan residents must purchase a $16 annual passport; non-residents must either pay $9 for a daily pass or $32 for an annual pass. Any annual pass purchased will be mailed to the address you write on the envelope, but honestly if you're planning on getting an annual pass, buy it ahead of time either at another state park or online (non-residents only).

External Links

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