Head to Michigan’s largest state park in the Upper Peninsula to experience endless views for those willing to hike.

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Our group assembles along the northwestern shore of the Upper Peninsula— at the nexus of M-64 and M-107, with cold Superior for a backdrop. Facing south across 107, past the switchgrass and ferns, we can see the wooded foothills of the Porcupine Mountains. We plan to hike for five days into the interior—30 hard-earned miles upon the contours of a trail map that has long held our curiosity.

Secured in the trunks and hatchbacks of our vehicles are our packs, laden with everything necessary to remove ourselves from civilization—tents, meals, clothing, kit and rustic comforts. Final inspections completed, our group of five exchanges the asphalt of 107 for the hardpack of South Boundary Road.

After winding up the main artery, we turn onto Summit Peak Road and nose into the dirt parking lot. This is the jumping-off point. Before embarking, five tepid beers emerge from the cooler—a lukewarm farewell to simple luxuries for the better part of a week. We shoulder our packs, slip past the metal gate and enter the timbered interior of the Porcupine Mountains.

Mountain views in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Photo by Andrew VanDrie

Our itinerary is intentionally light. With a plan to cover a modest 30 miles over five days, we anticipate a pleasant amble rather than an arduous slog, factoring in time each evening for relaxation and reflection. Our route includes stays along quaint Mirror Lake, iconic Lake of the Clouds and rolling Lake Superior; we hope to enjoy glimpses of the most picturesque locales the Porkies have to offer. That includes a brief detour to Summit Peak.

Marching up S. Mirror Lake Trail, we divert southwest at the fork toward the Summit Peak observation tower. Perched at the highest point in the Porcupine Mountains, the tower overlooks the nearly 60,000 acres of the entire range. After traversing some crumbling switchbacks, we reach the tower and ascend the 50-foot height, ending at the top and only floor. Inching to the tattooed railings, our jovial chatter falls into an involuntary hush. Sprawled before us is every square inch of the Porcupine Mountains. Acre upon verdant acre rolling in a textured and layered cascade of hemlock and maple. Lofty clouds cast their Rorschach shadows upon the unblemished landscape, and gazing north, one makes out the deep drowning blue of Lake Superior—holding even the horizon in its cold grasp.

We descend and backtrack, making short work of the remaining two-plus miles to our inaugural site on the cusp of Mirror Lake. We pitch our tents among the shrugging hem- locks that ring its steeped-tea surface, and a pack stove is sparked to life. The sizzle of bratwursts provides a tantalizing percussion to the gentle harmony of crickets. We eat our meal with gusto and talk in enlivened tones, emboldened by a flask of cheap whiskey making a circuit about the fire. As the blaze dwindles to shimmering coals, one by one we slink off into the murk, worm into our sleeping bags and let the still night whisper the final word.

Hiking in the porkies in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Photo by Andrew VanDrie

Hiking in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Photo by Andrew VanDrie

Small trail in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Photo by Andrew VanDrie

Dawn arrives gray and brooding, already mounting into a low-hanging mist that threatens rain. We quickly collapse our bivouac, hoping to make some progress before the deluge.

After skirting the rim of Mirror Lake, we turn at the juncture for N. Mirror Lake Trail bound for Lake of the Clouds. The trail takes a sharp rise and then a hunched dip into a lowland flat. It’s here in this walled bottom that we first encounter what would become our lingering travel companion—mud. It squelches under our boots, sucking our high morale down into the consuming black mire.

As if sensing our discontent, the ground begins to firm up underfoot and slants upward. We’re climbing the rigid spine of the Porkies. Canting forward against the grade and pull of gravity, we huff our way up until we crest a rocky plateau and pause to rest. Spread across the high igneous plain are massive old-growth hemlocks, gnarled knuckles clinging to the crags. There’s a sense of permanence, as if these conifers have always existed and always will. They offer a more nuanced perspective of our own mud-bound suffering—that, too, will pass.

We endure the remaining two miles, slogging into our site at the southern edge of Lake of the Clouds. As the rain finally arrives, we crouch beneath a makeshift tarp shelter, held captive for nearly two hours. And then it’s over. Stretching our limbs, we gaze up toward the lake overlook.

Camping set up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Photo by Andrew VanDrie

With our packs stowed at camp, we travel quickly. We scramble upward and overtake the lip of the cliff, gaining an impeccable vantage of Lake of the Clouds. Similar to our impressive view yesterday, our vista extends unimpeded for miles. A rolling tapestry of unblemished land is punctuated by the deep azure of the lake, nestled like a brilliant sapphire set in a rugged crown.

We sit upon the overlook, gazing east—unmoving in the warming afternoon sun, watching the clouds glide listlessly overhead, the surface of the aptly named Lake of the Clouds mirroring their unhurried progress.

Once again, I’m struck with the notions of conflicting permanence and impermanence. A place that is constantly shifting, however slowly, and yet resonates with a sense of uninterrupted existence. It’s estimated that the Porcupine Mountains are two billion years old—immortal when framed within human comprehension. I gaze out at a landscape left to its own mechanisms, unmarred by mankind, and I feel overwhelming gratitude that for the briefest of moments, our two separate histories have converged.

Beach in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Photo by Andrew VanDrie

Photo(s) by Andrew VanDrie