The sun had barely reason on this brisk fall morning when I stepped out of my car. I debated throwing on a fleece under my worn-thin jean jacket but decided that a quick-paced hike would keep me warm enough. Today would be started off with a visit to the familiar Dead River Falls, which had been closed off for penstock repair for the better part of a year. Not only was I curious about the construction that had closed off this popular spot but I also wanted to get some good photos of the waterfalls - my previous visits had been marred by mishaps, poor weather, and access issues.
There was some modifications immediately visible. After parking in a small parking loop you have to climb up a steep hill to get to the falls. While the climb remains the same, the path up had a slight weave and better foundation to lessen the slope. A cool new marker was also set up in case anyone gets confused where they are.
Once I reached the top of the hill I could make out some of the new penstock in the distance, near where Holyoke Creek flows into the Dead River, but everything else looked about the same. I cut off the new gravel path at the normal spot (there used to be a marking on the rusty penstock here, now there's another carved wooden stuff with an arrow) and headed into the woods. A short distance from the path with a slight downhill trend led me to the river, and I curved downstream from memory around an outcropping that bumps into the river. On the downstream side of this outcropping are a few cracks that allowed me to get close to water level with a good view of the first falls - a scattered drop over a small ledge.
The rest of the waterfalls are upstream from this first small drop, so I headed westward along the myriad of paths, over Holyoke Creek (which widens out to a sizable puddle right before entering Dead River) and around a huge outcropping. You can climb over the outcropping on several well-trod paths but once on the other side it is difficult to get back to the river's level again. Instead I just followed the river around, skipping from one stone to the next, until the river opened up into a large, murky pool at the base of a clogged waterfall squeezed into a towering canyon.
I spent a little bit of time here remembering one of my previous visits to these falls. It was on this river bank that a good friend of mine took a spill over some rocks, hurting his back pretty bad in the process. We all made it out okay, but it was a somber reminder that even an area as well-traveled as the Dead River Falls can be dangerous. I carefully made my way around the overly intimate rocks and past the canyon.
Just past the canyon is the first real impressive drop on this stretch of the river, a two-tiered waterfall over solid rock. The lower part is difficult to view, as it flows very close to the canyon's mouth, but the second tier is pretty impressive. The river splits just above this waterfall, so there is also a smaller set of rapids flowing into the falls area from the left... Overall the effect is pretty beautiful, especially when all the chutes are running.
By the time I climbed up to the top of this waterfall I was almost as high as the canyon's rim downstream. I cut over to one of the paths and followed it a short distance upstream to a large oxbow-like bend in the river. In high waters I can easily imagine this being completely flooded, as the water is only a few feet below most of the land in the middle of the bend. From the western edge you get an amazing view of the next waterfall, one I've heard called Stoney Mill Falls. This is probably the most recognizable drop on the river.
Stoney Mill Falls has two large tiers with several chutes apiece and a few smaller drops right above it. I slowly climbed up the dull basaltic rock and was greeted by a large, picturesque pool with a small waterfall on the far side. The path slowly wound around the right bank and I enjoyed the calmness of the scene compared to the harsh rock from the first part of the hike. After the pond things got real interesting - the Dead River is squeezed into a tight channel and dropped a good fifteen or twenty feet onto hard rock. This is by far the coolest drop and was totally worth the tricky descent back to the water's edge.
The path from this point on narrows considerably. Most people turn around at here, thinking that there is no more waterfalls and being content with the impressive drop. There is one more fall, though. Above the tall drop is a huge, calm pool and some minor rapids. While most of the falls here are within view and earshot of one another, the uppermost waterfall is a decent walk around the pool and past the rapids along a small footpath. I heard it before seeing it, a rocky drop around some large outcroppings. I really enjoy the relative remoteness of this last drop, even if there are power lines running over the river beyond it and Marquette is only a few miles away.
I turned around and headed back to my car, happy to finally visit and photograph all of the drops. My first visit ended abruptly with that accident near the canyon and second had several feet of snow draped over all of the features. Finally publicly accessible again, the Dead River Falls was a great early morning hike and I'd highly recommend it to anyone in the Marquette area interested in a relatively easy stroll and some awesome waterfalls.