About Agate Falls
Agate Falls was one of those elegant waterfalls that was well known in the literature thanks to a well-situated railroad bridge right above its main drop. For the longest time during my trip research, I kept mispronouncing the name of this falls as “uh-GATE” when the “Yoopers” (a resident or one with familial ties to the UP, which was short for Upper Peninsula of Michigan) we’ve spoken to set me straight and called it “AGG-it” (think “aggies” except you replace the “es” with “t”). In any case, this waterfall was said to be 40ft tall (maybe 80ft wide), and it turned out to be one of the better waterfalls that we had seen during our trip through the UP. However, getting to a spot where we could get that photo you see at the top of this page was not as trivial as our Bond Falls visit.
Apparently, in the past, there used to be a resort nearby back in 1935, and one of the signs even had a drawing of the falls with bridge showing a series of steps leading to its bottom. Yet what we noticed in our visit was that a well-developed walkway only got us to a lookout that afforded us a pretty unsatisfying top down obstructed view of Agate Falls over its brink. Naturally, we looked for ways to improve the viewing experience, and it wasn’t obvious how to do it. There was an uninviting fence below the lookout that seemed to discourage further progress, and there was another trail of use that steeply climbed the neighboring hillside up to the railroad tracks above. So our visit seemed like it was destined for disappointment.
However, I then recalled a pleasant conversation with an elderly “Yooper” from Bruce Crossing at dinner the previous night. She told me that she used to get down to the bottom of this waterfall in her younger days though she warned me that it was steep. That was essentially the hint that reminded me that there was indeed a way to get there, and it wasn’t that uncommon, but now I had to figure out the way. So when I left the overlook and started snooping around, that was when I got down to the fence and realized that it was really there to prevent would-be scramblers from going down a very dangerously steep and eroded gully to the brink of the falls. When I noticed that there was a pretty obvious trail that continued towards the right side of the fence and gently descended further downstream of the waterfall, that was when I knew I had found the correct path. There was some degree of dropoff exposure on the side closest to the Middle Branch of the Ontonagon River so that prompted me to increase the difficulty rating (despite the brevity of the hike and scramble), but we’ve seen worse. So with care on this narrow trail of use, I eventually made it to the banks of the river where I finally got the satisfying views of Agate Falls.
When Julie and Tahia eventually joined me later, that meant that they must’ve also figured out how to do it (they were well behind me and didn’t see me find the correct path). On the way back up, I noticed a very steep spur path to a tight area amongst some impressive rocks that afforded me an angled view across the main drop of Agate Falls. This spur was definitely not suitable for our daughter. But the bottom line was that getting the satisfying view of the falls was very doable. It took us about 10 minutes of walking. The rest of the 65 minutes that we had spent away from the car was pretty much head scratching (i.e. figuring out how to improve our experience) and taking photos. I really think that with the improvements made at the nearby Bond Falls, they really should improve the access to get to the bottom of this falls as well. At the very minimum, that would reduce the amount of hillside erosion from the relatively heavy foot traffic and scrambling, and it would open up the experience to even more visitors of all ages providing yet another compelling reason to tour the beautiful UP.
Agate Falls was accessed from a well-signed and fair-sized car park by the road bridge traversing the Middle Branch of the Ontonagon River. From Bruce Crossing, drive on the Hwy 28 east for just under 7 miles. Shortly after crossing the bridge over the Middle Branch of the Ontonagon River, the signposted turnoff was on the right. The Michigan Recreation Passport fees apply here.
Since we had stayed in Paulding, Michigan, we actually took the Bond Falls Road to the Hwy 28 (roughly 12 miles). Turning left onto Hwy 28, we then drove 2.7 miles to the signposted turnoff and car park for the falls on the left. This drive took us 25 minutes.
For context, Paulding was 61 miles (over an hour drive) east of Ironwood, Michigan. Ironwood was 146 miles (under 3 hours drive) west of Marquette, Michigan, 226 miles (over 4 hours drive) northeast of Minneapolis, Minnesota, 264 miles (about 4.5 hours drive) north of Madison, Wisconsin, and 404 miles (about 6.5 hours drive) northwest of Chicago, Illinois.
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