Copper Falls State Park: power and beauty forge nature’s epic poetry

We witnessed The Master Sculptor’s supreme handiwork last week. One of her     masterpieces, Copper Falls State Park, has taken sublime form over centuries, through the heave-ho of groaning glacial motion and the incessant rush of sun-drenched waters, a dance of the elements fed by The Great Lakes. Within the sumptuous folds and rough-hewn caverns lie depths of timeless mystery.

Honestly speaking, Copper Falls is the most fascinating and glorious state park I have ever visited, in Wisconsin or elsewhere. There’s something about the power and unbridled majesty of river waters flying down waterfalls and cascading over rapids that reaches deep into my soul and fills it with wonder. And the forms they abide by give gritty artfulness new splendor.

Copper Falls in The Bad River. Photos by Ann Peterson and Kevin Lynch


A mountain of hot flapjacks and scrambled eggs provided the fuel required to embark on a quest for the hallowed ground of Copper Falls State Park.

One of the longest staircases we’ve ever encountered eventually led us to the base of the observation tower at Copper Fall. I got a sense that it’s one of the highest vantage points in Wisconsin. 

The staircase climb up to the tower got our hearts beating, and we paused only a moment, before climbing the tower. Elevation at the base of the tower is 1,198 feet. 

Here’s a shot of The Cascades, part of the sprawling splendor of Copper Falls, glistening and roaring.

Faithful gal pal Ann Peterson and your blogger took it all in gladly.

This is a northernly extension of the Bad River which runs from Lake Superior. The river actually flows into the Tyler Forks River from opposing directions. The two rivers merge into a lake outlet, not shown here. 

Here Bad River merges with Tyler Forks River and they empty to the right into an outlet.


These four shots of Brownstone Falls, the tallest of the state park’s waterfalls, convey the tremendous power the falls generate. Can you imagine a more water-logged tree than the poor trunk stuck in right in the deluge? (third photo)

Copper Falls State Park is located in northern Wisconsin near the town of Mellen, a short drive south from Ashland. The highlight of the park is a dramatic, two mile-long river gorge where the Tyler Forks River joins the Bad River in a deep and narrow, rocky gorge and plunges over several dramatic waterfalls. The main waterfalls are Copper Falls (29 feet) and Brownstone Falls (30 feet) along with a beautiful rapid called the Cascades.

Other scenic highlights include a large, conglomerate rock formation on the Bad River appropriately named “Devils Gate” and an observation tower with excellent views of the surrounding forest-covered hills and Lake Superior to the north.

Much of the development you see in the park today; wooden footbridges, log fences, and log buildings, were originally constructed in the early 1920’s by returning veterans from World War I. More work was done in the late 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Today, the original log buildings, bridges, and fencing add a great deal of rustic charm and character to the park.



We didn’t see many animals as it was a high sunny mid-day when we visited, and the water drama captivated our interest. However, at lunch time at a picnic table, a little red squirrel came right up to say “hi,” as did a big, nosy blue-jay.

However, before we arrived, we saw an amusing sight along the highway: a naughty blackbird chasing a big bald eagle around. Ann says that blackbirds are known to have enough chutzpah to bully bigger creatures.


Animals most commonly seen in the park area include deer, fishers, black bears, raccoons, chipmunks, skunks and red squirrels. Gray squirrels, gray wolves and porcupines also live in the park and may be seen. Fishers have reduced the number of porcupines. Elk were recently reintroduced west of the park.



Birdlife is abundant, with perhaps as many as 200 species living in or passing through the park in a given year. You will often hear the coarse caw of the big northern raven, you may often see a great pileated woodpecker and you will sometimes be scolded by sassy chickadees. There are ruffed grouse, eagles, turkey vultures and loons in the park.


There are five species of snakes, none of them poisonous, wood turtles, many wood frogs and a few other amphibians. Pretty banded purple and tiger swallowtail butterflies are common in June and July.



I thought it would be apt to close this post with a wise and witty extended quote from Aldo Leopold, the great pioneering Wisconsin conservationist, from his classic book A Sand County Almanac:   

Not intentionally, of course, but one can, to a degree, guess from weather reports when the snow up north will melt, and one can estimate how many days it takes for the flood to run the gauntlet of up-river cities. Thus, comes Sunday evening, one must go back to town and work, but one can’t. How sweetly the spreading waters murmur condolence for the wreckage they have inflicted on Monday morning dates! How deep and chesty the honkings of the geese as they cruise over cornfield after cornfield, each in process of becoming a lake. Every hundred yards some new goose flails the air as he struggles to lead the echelon in its morning survey of this new and watery world.

The enthusiasm of geese for high water is a subtle thing, and might be overlooked by those unfamiliar with goose-gossip, but the enthusiasm of carp is obvious and unmistakable. No sooner has the rising flood wedded the grassroots than here they come, rooting and a wallowing with the prodigious zest of pigs turned out to pasture, flashing red tails and yellow bellies, cruising the wagon tracks and cow paths, and shaking the reeds and bushes in their haste to explore what to them is an expanding universe.”




2 thoughts on “Copper Falls State Park: power and beauty forge nature’s epic poetry

  1. Kevin, I relived every moment you described of Wisconsin’s breath taking Copper Falls. Frank and I have enjoyed camping there and have shared the experience with our children. We have so much beauty in our state to explore, and one can never tire of revisiting favorite sites such as Cooper Falls, over and over again. Although I have to say at age 73, I’m not ready to take in that tower anytime soon, unless I can start climbing in the morning with a goal to be done by noon! . You have created a spark to see it at least one more time before time does not allow! Happy you had a great experience! I will be anxious to talk to Ann about it too, very soon!

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