Encyclopedia Britannica says that the 210-mile-long Saint Joseph River rises near Hillsdale in south-central Michigan, flowing generally west with a swing south into northern Indiana through Elkhart and South Bend before reentering Michigan to empty into Lake Michigan at Saint Joseph and Benton Harbor. Check out places to access the St. Joseph on Michigan Water Trails.
Bill took this photo of the St Joseph River near the Langley Covered Bridge with his drone a couple of weeks ago. See more of the river & the bridge in his Michigan: St. Joseph County gallery on Flickr!
The high river bluff is the reason for the area’s unusual name. At the turn of the last century, lumbermen needed inexpensive ways to transport timber from the forest to the sawmills and wide-flowing rivers like the Manistee were the answer. Steep banks were used to “rollaway” the logs in a thunderous avalanche to the water where they floated to the mills. Unfortunately, the practice quickly stripped the vegetation from the river banks and, by the time the lumbermen moved on, eroding sand was clogging and narrowing the rivers. In the last 20 years, efforts have been made to stabilize the Manistee River High Banks with fieldstone terraces and replantings. The observation platform was installed in 2001 so visitors could enjoy the stunning view without damaging the fragile system.
A short distance below Great Conglomerate Falls is an awkward duplicate: Potawatomi Falls. Like its twin, Potawatomi is a split drop over a dome of conglomerate rock that creates two tall, curving waterfalls. However, this one is not split evenly. Much of the water is pushed to the eastern bank by an uneven riverbed to create a wide and multi-tiered drop. A few small streams converge for the other side and make for a smaller, but more direct, plunge.
As a bonus, it’s walkable to another beautiful waterfall, Gorge Falls.
The Manabezho Falls are part of the Presque Isle River’s spectacular final dash to Lake Superior. The entire 1 mile stretch is very beautiful, with lots of bare rock and rapids. It is easily accessible from the Presque Isle entrance off of CR-519 on the western end of the park…
Manido Falls are just short distance upstream. Nawadaha Falls is a bit farther upstream. Downstream of Manabezho the river plunges into a narrow gorge. The “falls” there have no name, but they are quite interesting.
Gabbro Falls is on the Black River and is as impressive, if not more impressive, than its more celebrated neighbors downstream along the Black River Scenic Byway. This is a largely wild waterfall with no fences or barriers of any kind. It consists of three separate drops. When the water is high there is a fourth drop that is the height of the other three combined that can only be seen from the east side of the river. The main drop falls into a narrow crevice between two large rock formations.
Bond Falls is in the western U.P. on Bond Falls Rd, east of Pauding MI. This is the most impressive waterfall in Michigan with the possible exception of Tahquamenon Falls. The main drop is 40 feet high and 100+ feet wide. Above the main falls are a series of cascades and rapids that must drop a total of 20 feet.
The water level is controlled by a dam, and a steady flow over the falls is maintained for scenic reasons. Of course during the spring melt the flow is much higher.
Bond Fall is a Michigan State Scenic Site. The site was renovated around 2003. The old parking area was upstream of the falls, and a steep concrete stairway led to the base of the falls. The new parking area is near the base of the falls, and a level boardwalk leads you to prime views of the falls. The area is not quite as wild looking as it once was, but it is accessible to everyone. The trail on the east side of the falls is still wild with some steep rocky climbs. There are other trails that go off into the woods, and there are campsites nearby.
In addition to being very picturesque, this is a very popular waterfall, and unless you visit early in the morning or in winter, you are going to have a lot of company.
The river is best known for the Tahquamenon Falls, a succession of two waterfalls in Tahquamenon Falls State Park totalling approximately 73 feet (22 m) in height. Because the headwaters of the river are located in a boreal wetland that is rich in cedar, spruce and hemlock trees, the river’s waters carry a significant amount of tannin in solution (i.e., it is a blackwater river), and are often brown or golden-brown in color. The Tahquamenon Falls are thus acclaimed as being the largest naturally dyed or colored waterfall in the United States.
The meaning of “Tahquamenon” is not known. Some called it the “River of the Head Winds” because they bucked the wind on the lower river no matter what direction they were paddling. Others called it the “River of a Hundred Bends”. Twentieth century descendants of local Chippewa translated the name to mean “river up against a hill” or “lost river island” or “river with an island part way”. In 1930 Jesuit scholar, Father William Gagnieut, concluded that the meaning of the name had been lost.