|An easy walk from the parking area, the gorge goes on for over a mile, providing lots of different dramatic views and an exciting ride for paddlers.|
Along the Wisconsin border south of Norway, the big Menominee River has cut a deep, dramatic gorge where the river, normally 300 feet wide, is constricted to a narrow 80-foot channel, creating powerful rapids of foaming water as it rushes towards Green Bay. The Menominee River and its tributary, the Brule, form the Michigan-Wisconsin border from west of Iron River to its outlet on Lake Michigan at Menominee and Marinette, the lumber towns built by logs the river carried. At Piers Gorge the river has created an extraordinarily beautiful place where steep-sided bedrock walls up to 70 feet high contain the rushing river for a mile and a half as it roars over a series of stone shelves in four distinct waterfalls.
The perspectives and views are constantly unfolding as you walk. Here you look down at steep rock walls, where rushing water undercuts islands below and tears at loose rock. Water tumbles over and smoothes smaller chunks of rock lodged in the riverbed. The changing sounds of rushing water and smells of the forest envelop you. The power of water - and of natural forces - is everywhere evident. If a wild and lonely forest spectacle like Piers Gorge were in Germany, it would have been the subject of many Romantic-era poems of contemplation and spiritual yearning.
What with the drama of the water, rock, and forest, it's easy to overlook the area's big, fish-eating birds. Bald eagles roost and occasionally nest in tall trees along shore. Eagles and osprey can sometimes be seen scouting for fish in the shallow water or soaring above. Loons frequent the quiet pools.
Despite the spectacular beauty, this isn't a big tourist spot, though local people love to ski these somewhat challenging trails. The road to the Piers Gorge parking lot is not plowed in the wintertime. Signs are few. The landowners, Champion International forest products and Wisconsin Electric Power, do provide some amenities like a parking area. And they cooperate with local groups which maintain the trail.
A relatively easy, relatively level path lets you look down at the river from the bluff's rim. It starts at the parking area, briefly passing through a fragrant cedar swamp. For part of the way wood chips are being added by a volunteer group to smooth over the small rock shelves and roots that can trip careless hikers. Farther on, roots make footing occasionally uneven, not difficult for the reasonably healthy, but not for shufflers. Short side trails branch off to the gorge's rim. The more adventurous can take trails that descend tortuously along the canyon walls to the river itself. In places it's possible to frolic in the gentler rapids - at your own risk, of course - or step across half of the wide river on the many stones and boulders lying in the riverbed. The river banks are loaded with stones of all shapes and sizes, providing plenty of ammunition for stone-skippers.
A surprising crescent of quiet beach appears after the third pier. Shortly you emerge into a clearing by a power line. Follow the red ribbons to the fourth pier, avoiding the better-worn trail made by mountain bikes and ATVs. You might prefer to skip the less spectacular fourth pier altogether. It's really more a rapids, with many fallen trees.
From U.S. 2 at Norway (that's 8 miles east of Iron Mountain) turn south onto U.S. 8 and drive 2 miles. Look for Piers Gorge Road on your right. Drive 1/2 mile to parking lot. If you cross the bridge and get to Wisconsin, you have gone too far. Go back 1/4 mile and look for Piers Gorge Road on your left. Handicap accessible: no.
Return to Norway
POINTS OF INTEREST
Downtown Norway. Check out specialty shops in the center of this pleasant town: an antique & quilt shop, Northern Expressions with many U.P. products and crafts, and a Scandinavian import shop ... more
Marion Park & Oak Crest Golf Course. A beautiful hillside park with a canopy of majestic oaks, picnic area, playground, volleyball, horseshoe courts. Next to it is a golf course and restaurant ... more