Cascade Falls Loop

Ottawa National Forest, Michigan

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

Hike Information

Rating ★★★★★(5/5)
Overall Difficulty Moderate
Navigation Difficulty     Medium
Distance 2 miles roundtrip
Time 1 hour
Terrain Hilly
Best Seasons Spring, Summer, Fall
Family Friendly No
Dog Friendly Yes
Accessible No

Highlights

Hike Walkthrough

Cascade Falls is in a peaceful part of the Ottawa National Forest, and its seclusion and smaller stature when compared to other more easily viewed waterfalls like Agate Falls or Bond Falls means you won't have to share this sight with many people (or even anyone at all). This loop hike is short but packs a punch with scenery with long forested vistas from the top of the Bluff Trail.

The parking area doesn't look like much, and I was unsure I was in the right place until I saw the boot brushes and signs a few steps down the trail, pictured below. At those signs, you can choose to go left up the Bluff Trail or right to the Valley Trail. I highly recommend doing the Bluff Trail first since you won't feel like going uphill after you've hiked to the waterfall. If you're hiking with kids, do the Valley Trail both ways for an easier, flatter experience.

The boot brushes and trail signs let you know you're going the right way

The boot brushes and trail signs let you know you're going the right way

The Bluff Trail is less traveled, and at some points you may have difficulty locating your next steps. There are blue blazes in the trees to help guide you through most of the difficult parts to navigate, but there are still some spots where you'll have to use your own judgement to find the way. As the trail ascends the bluff, the terrain is very steep and rocky. The climb doesn't last very long though, and soon you will have impressive views of the Ottawa National Forest. Smoke from Canadian wildfires clouded my views in the two pictures below, so I can almost guarantee you'll have even better views on a clear day.
The view from the bluff looking south

The view from the bluff looking south

The view from the bluff looking west

The view from the bluff looking west

The trail winds around the top of the bluff (so much that you'll doubt you're going in the right direction despite following the blue blazes), and eventually begins to descend with terrain a little less steep than the ascent. The Bluff Trail and Valley Trail converge at the bottom and head due south until you reach Cascade Falls, pictured below. The falls are more awe-inspiring after heavy rains or in the early spring when the snow is melting -- the best pictures of Cascade Falls you can find online were probably taken during those times and often mislead people to do this hike to what they consider a "disappointment". When I arrived, the falls definitely weren't at full force, but nevertheless I enjoyed hopping around on the rocks to find the best camera angles while avoiding soaking my feet or falling in.
Cascade Falls is the final destination of this scenic hike

Cascade Falls is the final destination of this scenic hike

Turn around once your done, then turn left to take the Valley Trail on the way back. You'll enjoy the flatness and slightly shorter length of this trail now that you've thoroughly explored this area from above. This is truly a fun hike, and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes more of a wilderness feel, seclusion, and solitude -- a welcome experience if you've driven to the other crowded waterfalls in the Ottawa National Forest. Let me know what you think in the comments section below, and be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter and Instagram after your trip!

Important Information

Generally National Forests are less restricting about pets, so you can most likely have your dog off leash on this trail; whether or not that is a good idea depends on how your dog reacts to wildlife or if they're prone to wandering off into places you don't want to follow. The Bluff Trail is definitely not a family friendly trail, but if you stick to the Valley Trail both directions I think this hike would be tame enough for kids. While hiking may be possible in all four seasons, I assume the forest roads are not plowed in winter and would be impassible in the heavy Upper Peninsula snow, though you could potentially ski the 7 miles to the trailhead to see the waterfall frozen. I hiked here on a late Saturday afternoon on a gorgeous weekend and didn't see anyone else the entire time, though I passed one car as they were leaving the trailhead. You might see other hikers if you arrive closer to the middle of the day, but this waterfall is definitely off the beaten path.

Directions

The trailhead is located on a forest road approximately 7 miles from Michigan Highway 28 near Bergland. From the Ottawa National Forest Visitor Center in Watersmeet, take U.S. Highway 45 north to Bruce Crossing. Turn left on Michigan Highway 28. After about 19 miles, turn right on Forest Road 400 -- the only marker for this gravel road is a small brown trapezoidal Forest Service sign with "400" on it and an arrow pointing right, and it's pretty easy to miss. Unfortunately there aren't any major landmarks nearby to let you know the turn is coming up, but if you reach Bergland you've gone too far. Once on the gravel road, continue for about 7 miles until you see a brown sign marking the turn for the trailhead (much easier to spot than the turn for Forest Road 400). Turn right and park where the road ends.

Google Maps Directions

Parking, Fees, and Facilities

Parking is free! There are no facilities near the lot.

External Links

Nearby Hikes

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