Deep winter dispatch: A photographer snowshoes into the Upper Peninsula’s snow-coated Canyon Falls to bear witness to the quiet intensity winter has over a shifting landscape.

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A sharp wind bites on this properly cold day at Canyon Falls gorge, which, despite holding the spectator-seeking title of the “Grand Canyon of the Upper Peninsula,” is more out of the way than some of the U.P.’s regular hotspots. At Canyon Falls Roadside Park—10 miles south of the lakeside town of L’Anse—an unassuming trailhead leads to the spot where the Sturgeon River plunges into an ancient canyon.

A few feet of fresh snowfall over the parking lot renders shapes softer and only vaguely discernable. The volume dial has been turned down. More than just no sound, it feels like wearing earplugs. Even color shifts toward binary. Traditional wooden snowshoes make quick work of the trek—rhythmic swishing matches each stride, revealing a self-conscious feeling akin to coughing in a crowded library.

Photo by Erik Olsen

Within the mixed forest, there’s an opening in the ice and snow, revealing fast-moving water. A cardinal darts from a perch in a nearby fir. The seemingly still and monotone environment has eyes constantly roving from one spectacle to the next.

Ahead, the smooth white landscape drops away, and water charges audibly. Just past a split rail fence, the prize awaits.

Glimpses of brown and gold earth appear in the dark craggy recesses of the cavern, defined features losing their battle for light. Tentacles of ice sprout from the rushing water, reaching downward, Medusalike. The drastic relief sculpture reveals a box canyon formed from dark, flat Precambrian rocks, piled in hurried stacks and leaning in all directions, and all capped by pillowed snow. Here, finally, is the cascade of the Sturgeon charging in volume, just as it has for thousands of years.

Photo by Erik Olsen

While the gorge trail is easy to follow—keep your eyes peeled for guiding markers and boardwalks—the pathway is not maintained in the winter (but is often well-traveled). To help navigate the trail, wear snowshoes that add float and offer varying levels of traction, or consider boot chains for days when there is a well-packed path into the gorge.

For those who have visited Canyon Falls in the fairer seasons, you owe it to yourself to discover it in winter—the contrast is striking. While trekking to the snow-laden falls, remember to pause and enjoy the pine and hardwood forest, home to snowshoe hare and a variety of bird species. The journey is just as good as the destination.

Photo by Erik Olsen

Photo(s) by Erik Olsen