West Branch Falls (West Branch Yellow Dog Falls on Google Maps) are in the north half of the McCormick Wilderness, part of the Ottawa National Forest. The area is in one of the most isolated parts of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, northwest of Marquette, in the southern part of the Huron Mountains. (yes, you read that correct).
Camping in the wilderness is amazing. There are no amenities and no established campsites, other than if you sometimes see where others have camped. I prefer to follow leave no trace and make sure no one can tell where I camped. There is a good chance you won’t see another person while in the backcountry there. One of my favorite parts of Michigan.
The wilderness area is off-trail hiking for the most part however there is a trail to the falls. It’s about 1 ½ miles from the north trailhead. Getting to this trailhead can be tricky and somewhat of an adventure.
There are a few ways to reach the trailhead but this is the easiest. Take County Road 550 (Big Bay Road) about 22 miles north from Marquette towards Big Bay. Two miles before Big Bay, turn left on County Road 510. Drive southwest about 3 miles where you will stay on the paved road but it becomes Triple A (AAA) Road. 510 veers to the left going south. Go west on Triple A Road for 14 miles (passing the Eagle Mine), until it intersects with Ford Road. The road is paved until the mine entrance (makes it easier now, but not better IMO) and this is where directions get trickier. You won’t see many signs helping you out, mostly snowmobile rout signs.
Stay on Triple A road which will now be dirt but a decent road. You will come to a sometimes sandy road to the north, this is Anderson Crossing I believe. I’ve never seen a sign here. Keep going west on Triple A. Just past the crossing the road will curve to the south (left) and a little further Triple A turns back to the west (right), stay straight, which is Ford Road. Again, I’ve never seen a road sign. The trailhead is about 2 miles from here.
On Ford Road you will pass a backwoods home and a sign that asks you to go slow (if it’s still there). When you start getting 2 miles from the last intersection start looking for a 2-track road on your left. If you veer to the right and back west on Ford Road, pass a house and start going uphill you missed the 2-track.
If you found it congrats! If is been raining you might have to drive through a large water hole. I’ve driven my Ford Escape through it no problem. A couple hundred yards down the 2-track ends with a sign for the McCormick Wilderness area, a board with maps and a registration station. You know, in case you get lost back there. J
Start hiking down the trail to the right of the Wilderness sign until you reach the small river. Then hike off trail, uphill and upstream to the falls. Also if you want you can cross the river and when you get to the next branch of the river you can hike upstream to Bulldog Falls, or Yellow Dog Falls. Which is confusing because there is another waterfall back on road 510 called Yellow Dog Falls or Yellow Dog River Falls. It depends on the map, what you read and who you ask.
Now, you can get to the north trailhead from Highway 41/28 along the Peshekee Grade (County Road 607, Huron Bay Grade) that leads to the south trailhead of McCormick. I’ve done it but the drive was slow and not easy on the car. Don’t expect any road signs but expect very rough dirt roads. A high clearance truck would make things much easier.
When I used to teach a beginning photography class at Schoolcraft Community College I would always get asked, “what do you like to take pictures of?”
My first gut reaction was usually that I wasn’t sure. But my actual answer was along the lines of, “things I have never photographed before.”
That was one of the reasons I liked being a newspaper photographer. And when I started my career, at The Northville Record and Novi News, I was the only photographer so I had to shoot all the photo assignments. Sure some of those assignments were quite dull, like city council meetings, but I enjoyed most of my assignments.
In addition, I have always liked and played sports so naturally I gravitated to photographing many different sports for the papers. Early in my photo journey I would have said sports where my favorite subjects to photograph. (And I still love high school football photo assignments.) I enjoyed working to get nice action photos, but I also really liked the emotion of sports both on and off the field or court. I challenged myself to show what it “feels” like to play a sport. Small fraction of seconds of these young athletes giving their all, winning and losing.
I often had the chance to photograph things I had never seen or been involved in before. Big news stories, small slices of life, house fires, flying in a bi-plane, documenting a women’s prison or a day at the state police academy, on and on. Trying to show the readers what is was like to be in these places. Over 30 years I have photographed the same or similar things many times, yet the first time was always my favorite.
I remember photographing the electronic music festival in Detroit for the first time. (Know as D.E.M.F back then, Movement Detroit now) It was amazing! The energy of the crowd and artists, the amazing access to them both, access to the stages and photos everywhere. When I look back at those photos from that first year they are not as good as the past few years but that first year was still my favorite.
Many photographers thrive on shooting things for which they already have a love or an interest in. No difference for me and that was (still is somewhat) mountain biking. I raced mountain bikes for almost 10 years and of course I carried the camera along the way. I remember someone, I forget who it was, giving me this great compliment, “Bryan is the best mountain bike photographer you have never heard of.”
This was pre-internet the way we live with it today and no social media documenting our lives. I never promoted myself as a mountain bike photographer. That was a mistake for sure, but that’s another story. I had a staff newspaper photographer job and when my shift was over, despite enjoying shooting people mountain biking, I lived for riding and racing mountain bikes myself.
I stopped racing and I stopped shooting bike photos for a while. I never quit riding though and the last few years I’ve been shooting more mountain bike photos again. Especially of my son who rides and is quite good.
What I’ve really focused more of my photographic heart on lately is outdoor and landscape photography. Not just the big, popular scenes, although I do those, but just what I find interesting as I travel around northern Michigan. I have always been into the outdoors and camping and in the last several years I made it more a priority. Every October for the last 5 years I have been going camping in the UP of Michigan. Being in the woods and getting away are my main focus with photography being second. This has let me work on a more relaxing type of photography and I’m quite proud of what images have come out of these trips.
I still love mountain biking but being alone in the north woods of Michigan’s UP and along the Shores of Lake Superior, I don’t quite know how to describe it. Just feels right. I love photographing the UP and there is always something new. Even places I’ve been to a bunch of times.
I hope to continue making more of these images. That’s where those that follow me can come in. I’m shooting less and less newspaper assignments these days (sign of the times I suppose) which frees me up to be in nature more (still a stay at home dad as well) however making an income as a photographer has decreased.
So if you know of anyone who might find my nature photography inspiring enough to purchase a print that would help me to keep moving forward. Please send them my way. Or if you just want to follow along and let me know if an image I make moves you, or maybe you want to know more about an image you see, lease ask. That interaction would be great as well! I recently turned 51 years old and I’m looking forward to where my photography leads me now.
If you sign up for may mailing list (in the sidebar) before April 30th there will be a 40% off code for prints in the print store.