Complete Guide to Copper Falls State Park
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Imagine spending a weekend exploring spectacular cascading waterfalls, hiking beautiful trails that offer the most fantastic views, staying in old log cabins, a chance to see the creation of ancient lava flows, hardwood forests, gorges, and cliffs in a 3,068-acre piece of land?
Copper Falls State Park in Mellen will offer you adventures and experiences that will last a lifetime. If you are planning to visit Copper Falls State Park, here’s the complete guide to help you get started.
History of Copper Falls State Park
Copper Falls State Park has a long history. It lies in the Penokee-Gogebic range, an area that was believed to contain iron ore deposits and other minerals, making it an attractive spot for speculators and miners during the civil war. Copper was one of those minerals. Between 1880 and 1900, speculators created several copper mines and when the deposits ran out, the lands were abandoned or sold out.
Efforts to improve the land at Copper Falls begin
Ashland county Land company officials, led by Amon Ruggles (an attorney-turned-mining-prospector) sold a portion of the land to other investors who were determined to turn the location into a tourist site. He sold the land after the mining prospect failed.
They build some infrastructure and improving the roads. Later on (in 1929), Wisconsin state purchased more land in the falls and started pushing for the recognition of the falls as a state park.
Copper falls became a state park!
It took the intervention of congressmen and other government officials to create the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) that would be tasked with turning this piece of land into a state park. Camping areas (including log cabins), picnic, and other recreational areas were built and several hiking trails were established.
Natural disasters would later destroy the efforts of these men but continuous reconstruction was done to retain the status and recognition the area was given. It became a protected State Park under the ownership of the CCC and the works progress Administration (WPA).
The Native Americans
Many Native Americans lived near Copper Falls State Park. The most prominent of the native tribes who used to call this place home were the Sioux and the Chippewa who possessed both Canadian and American heritage. They were hunters, gatherers, and fishermen. They also used crude technics to extract the copper minerals from the ground to make tools, weapons, and hunting gear.
Later, the French came to the region and established trade/mining concessions, changing the way of life of these Native Americans. Very few Native Americans remain here, as most moved on to settle in other areas either voluntarily or after being pushed out by the government and other hostile tribes.
The European-American prospectors
The region encompassing Copper Falls, Brownstone Falls, and Bad River was rich in copper deposits. Amon and his crew were the ones running the show in the early 1900s here. They were disappointed because they found very few copper deposits here, despite making great efforts to divert the Bad River, which was disrupting their efforts by constantly flooding the mining shafts.
They would later sell the land to local investors who wanted to turn this place into a tourist attraction site. Evidence of the mining is still present today and you will see these shafts when you explore the Doughboy’s trail.
How the falls in the park were formed
The geology in Copper falls state park is interesting. The process started thousands (possibly millions) of years ago. There were numerous granite mountains in Northern Wisconsin. Over time, these mountains eroded into plain lands and later water from the sea submerged the region to create Lake Superior.
The rivers and streams flowing into the lake collected sand and mud and deposited them into the bottom of the lake and this became the grounds for the iron minerals that were coming from the earth’s core.
Later, as a result of volcanic action, lava spread around the area, building up to become mountains, leading to the formation of the Lake Superior basin. As the lava cooled off, it cut off the flow of many streams that emptied their water into Lake Superior.
The Bad River and Tyler’s Fork River resisted carved their way through these sedimentary rocks over time. The uneven nature of these rocks created cascading waterways for the rivers, resulting in deep plunges, gorges, and beautiful waterfalls.
Mellen is located to the south of Copper Falls State Park, along the Bad River. It is only a 3.8-mile hike from Copper Falls. If you will be camping in Copper falls, you can replenish your supplies from Mellen. The town also offers great camping alternatives and beautiful resorts, as we shall see here.
Take a moment to visit the historical society museum in Mellen to learn more about how the town and how the park came to be and see artifacts that showcase how the people who lived in this region a long time ago.
Things to see or do in Copper Falls State Park
There is a ton of stuff to do and see inside the park. You are only limited by your time and your appetite for adventure. Here are some of the fun and exciting things you can do inside the Copper Falls State Park:
Camping at Copper Falls State Park
With over 50 camping sites, be assured that the fun continues even after dusk in Copper Falls. Keep your food and valuable personal items safe because animals such as deer and raccoons do not shy away from coming around to check on you.
Seriously, the raccoons have learned to open coolers, unzip tents, and more. Put your cooler and food in your car overnight and lock it. Even bears know how to open car doors now!
Black Bears come close to the campgrounds
Always be on the lookout for black bears while camping here. Keep your food and valuables safe. Black bear sightings may not be too common though. They try to keep to themselves.
The North Campground
This campground contains 32 sites. 28 of the sites have electrical hookups. There is a site that has been designed specifically for people with disabilities. It allows them to access important areas, such as restrooms.
The South Campground
There are 23 sites here. None of them have electric hookups. These are great locations for people seeking to do wild camping as they are nestled between two ridges. From this location, you can easily venture into the woods by following the well-marked trails.
If you do not reserve your site online, you may be lucky to get one of the 4 designated walk-in camping sites here.
The Group Campground
Nestled between the North and the South Campground, the group campground is a tent camping area that can accommodate groups of up to 40 people. There is a parking area close by for exclusive use of the people camping here.
This campsite is located on the northernmost end and it is the only backpack campsite in the park. It is on the banks of the Bad River, about 2 miles away from the parking lot. This is a very ideal camping location for people seeking wild/primitive forms of camping. There is only one vault toilet but you will need to carry toiletries and other amenities you may require. Water is not available as well.
Cabin for people with disabilities
There is a rustic cabin, not far from the driveway that is designed to accommodate campers with disabilities. The cabin is close to the toilet and shower building. It has a comfortable bed and smoking is not allowed in this cabin.
Camping sites during winter are accessible from the North Campground. The rest of the campgrounds are closed for skiing and snowshoeing sports. The campsites are offered on a first-come, first-served, walk-in, or online reservation basis.
Vehicles are restricted to certain areas during the winter season. To stay safe while camping during the winter season, consult the park’s office for regulations and advice.
RV camping in Copper Falls State Park
Because of the large space inside Copper Falls State Park, large rigs can be accommodated easily, without feeling too congested or having your privacy violated. Expect to have problems getting cell signals here. Both electrical and dump stations are available on location. You will need to make a reservation online before you drive your RV to the park. You will also pay a daily State Park fee.
Other camping sites near Copper Falls State Park
If you do not want to camp in the park, or are just looking to explore other camping alternatives near the park, here are some of the best camping sites to check out:
Balsam Shores on the Bad River
Unlike in the Copper Falls where you are restricted to camping at least 75 feet from the water, you can pitch your tent as close as 15 feet away here. Explore the beauty of the area by kayaking on the Bad River or take hikes to the nearby waterfalls. It is a primitive camping ground with a short hike from the parking lot, over irregular terrain. Carry all the supplies you will need for your trip.
Tranquility at Chase Creek
This is another private camping site that is nestled among the pines near Sailor Lake road. It is open, ideal for RV camping and sports such as ATV motoring. There is plenty of firewood on the site.
Activities in Copper Falls State Park
Are you looking forward to getting out into nature? Copper Falls State Park is a great place for those who love hiking, biking, backpacking, and camping. There are more than 17 miles of trails here that let you experience nature as it should be experienced: Up close and personal. Copper Falls is a beautiful sight to behold as it drops below the rocks into Copper Falls Lake.
Copper Falls State Park Water Sports
The Copper Falls are one of the most recognizable waterfalls in Copper Falls State Park. They are perhaps the reason why Copper Falls State Park is considered a major tourist destination, aside from its natural beauty and proximity to Lake Superior.
Fishing at Copper Falls State Park
There are several locations for fishing in this park. You can catch brown, rainbow, or brook trout in the Bad River or the Tyler Forks River. Panfish, largemouth bass, and northern pikes can be fished in Loon Lake.
Swimming at Copper Falls State Park
The sand beach at Loon lake is usually crowded, especially in the summer. However, there is no lifeguard on duty, so take precautions. You can easily access this beach from whichever campground you are in by following the well-marked trails.
Copper Falls is the predominant waterfall in this park. It is formed as the Bad River cascades through deep gorges and jutting rock formations. A short distance down the stream you will come across the Brownstone Falls.
We put together a Wisconsin State Parks Bucket List Free Printable for you – to keep track of all the state parks and nature areas you visit.
Copper Falls State Park Canoeing and Kayaking
There is a boat launch and access on Loon Lake for kayaks. However, the lake is only open to motorized kayaks and boats. You can explore the Bad River on a kayak but watch out for rapids and meandering sections. Kayaks and canoes are available for rental at the park’s office. Boating is popular in the other larger lakes about 10 miles from the park.
Hiking and walking trails at Copper Falls State Park
One of the best ways to enjoy the attractions this park has to offer would be by taking a hike on one of the beautiful trails scattered through the park:
Length: 1.7-mile loop
This is the most scenic trail in Copper Falls State Park. You access this trail from the Park’s cabins and the parking lot. This trail takes you through the Bad River Gorge, allowing you to view some of the most amazing sceneries in the location (including the mining shafts) and onto the Tyler Forks River.
Take your time to survey the stunning sceneries of the cascading waterfalls, the unique jugged rock formations, and the lush, pine landscape that will be surrounding you.
There are signs all along the trail and plaques that offer you great information about the history of the park and how the geological formations you come across were formed.
You will also come across the (conveniently nicknamed) Devil’s Gate, a unique arrangement of huge rocks along the Bad River. There is an observation tower along this trail and from here you will have stunning views of the lush forest and Lake Superior on the horizon in the North.
Red Granite Falls Trail
Length: 2.5 Miles
This is a moderate trail near Mellen town that offers a good alternative to the Doughboy’s trail. You will walk along the river, leading to the red granite falls. The falls themselves are not on the trail but it is just a short climb down to get fantastic views and shots. It is a well-marked, well-groomed trail that is also popular with snowshoeing during the winter season.
The North Country Trail
This trail runs parallel to the Doughboy’s trail in the North. You can easily connect to the CCC trail from here and head onto the observation tower. The North Country trail also allows you to view the copper falls, albeit from a different angle.
There are well-marked off-road bicycling and ATV trails here. The Takesson and Vahtera trails are popular with this kind of sport. The terrain is mainly level but you may encounter some rugged sections.
Picnicking at Copper Falls State Park
Bad River banks offer the most scenic picnic locations for your family. There are other areas set aside for this purpose as well, and most of them are close to the parking or camping grounds.
Picnic tables, grills, log shelters, fire rings, and playgrounds have been set in these areas. There is a pet-friendly picnic area close to the parking lot and the Bad River. Pets are not allowed in other public picnic areas.
Bird watching at Copper Falls State Park
There are numerous bird species in Copper falls state park. Some of them have made this area their habitat while others pass by temporarily following their migration patterns.
Common bird species found in this park include the northern ravens, turkey vultures, American redstarts, ovenbirds, hermit thrushes, vireos, blackburnian warblers, Canadian warblers, bald eagles, ruffed grouse, chickadees, loons (at the Loon Lake), and woodpeckers.
Other wildlife in the park
Other animals you may see occasionally in the park include deer, raccoons, chipmunks, squirrels, gray wolves, skunks, fishers, elk, and porcupines. Whenever you encounter wildlife, do not try to interfere with their natural habitat.
Reptiles, Insects, and Amphibians
There are snakes in the park, but they are not poisonous and you will be advised on which trails to avoid if you do not want to encounter them. In June and July (in the summer) you will encounter beautiful tiger swallowtail butterflies. Wood frogs are common in humid woodland trails. You may also encounter a wood turtle.
Trees, wildflowers, and other plants in the park
Pines are the predominant tree species in Copper Falls. You will also find hemlocks, yellow birch, white ash, and sugar maple growing gracefully along your hiking trails. Others including aspens, basswoods, balsam firs, white spruce, red pines, and red oaks are also present, albeit in smaller quantities.
There are numerous wildflowers, reeds, ferns, partridgeberry, blueberries, and conifers in the park as well, especially closer to bodies of water. Over 500 acres of land were set aside as designated State Natural Areas. Although you are welcome to explore and enjoy yourself, you are not permitted to tamper with the environment or collect plants or their seeds for use outside of this park.
Fall color treat at Copper Falls
The fall season is the best season to visit. The heavenly combination of tantalizing fall colors, the beautiful sunshine, and the waterfalls make for a very refreshing hike during this season. The wildflowers pop to life, decorating the atmosphere with beautiful colors.
Hunting and trapping in Copper Falls State Park
Hunting and trapping are allowed in the park during the right season. You need to check with the office to understand the regulations they have and restrictions on what kind of tools you can use.
Copper Falls State Park in Winter
Like any Wisconsin State Park, winter doesn’t signal the end of all activities! The snowfall in Copper Falls State Park averages near 100 inches annually, making it perfect for winter sports. There are over 15 miles of trails open to those who enjoy winter activities such as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The Doughboys Trail is not maintained during the winter and is closed for safety.
Cross-country skiing At Copper Falls
Copper Falls State Park is home to 13.7 miles (22 km) of classic ski trails, 6.5 miles (10.5 km) of skate-skiing trails, and various levels of difficulty for skiers that range from beginner to experienced level snow fiends. Hikers, snowshoers, and pets are not allowed on the groomed ski trails.
Pipeline/Blue Loop. Groomed for skate and classic skiing.
Featuring 7.4 km of rolling meadows, cruising downhills, and rolling, wooded terrain. This trail with the most complete skier experience for visitors to Copper Falls runs through all park sections. Viewing wildlife, beaver ponds, and tamarack stands is one of its main attractions.
Meadow/Yellow Loops. Groomed for skate and classic skiing.
Located within the 2.4-kilometer trail, an additional climbing section is also available for more adventurous powder hounds looking to get some early-season turns. This area of the park tends to get the most snow.
This skiing area has a variety of loops with short and easy distances for those who are still learning to ski. Park at the Office Lot to access this trail.
Vahterra/Orange Loops. Groomed for classic skiing only.
One of the best ways to experience this forest is to ski. This 3.2km long trail meanders through sections of Eastern hemlock that give it a snowy feel.
A longer, navigable loop features topography that is a pleasant (roller-coasting) ski with one of the more moderate hills in the park. Park at the Ballfield Lot to access this trail.
Takesson/Green Loops. Groomed for classic skiing only.
This trail takes you through northern hardwoods and boreal forest along the Bad River. The length is 3.9 km with sections of hills once skiers have some experience!
The shorter loop of Copper Falls State Park does not avoid a steep descent, unlike the longer loop. Parking is at Ballfield Lot to access this trail.
Red Granite/Red Loop.
It is possible to enjoy a skate ski in the Red Granite Falls Trail, but you need to share the trail with snow-shoers and other hikers. Pets too!
Snowshoeing at Copper Falls State Park
Copper Falls State Park has two multi-use trails, the Winter Waterfalls Trail at the north end of the park and Red Granite Falls Trail near Loon Lake.
**The Doughboys Trail is not maintained during winter and is closed for safety. Snowshoeing and winter hiking are also allowed off-trail in the park, except on the groomed ski trails.
Winter Waterfall/Purple Loop.
Snowshoe or hike from the park’s winter access lot — which can be reached by driving past a waterfall and through some trees — to the backside of the park’s namesake, Copper Falls. Continue east to the observation deck where Brownstone Falls and that canyon it flows through can be observed.
Throughout this 1-mile loop see mature hardwoods, hemlock, cedar, pine, and perhaps some wildlife tracks.
Red Granite/Red Loop.
–>This is the only winter trail open to pets. Pets must be on a leash 8 feet or shorter and under control at all times.
This 3.2-kilometer multi-use trail features wide, packed paths for skate skiing and snowshoeing. The meandering path gently leads hikers to the banks of the Bad River below.
Snowshoers and hikers can get down to the river’s edge where they will be able to view pillows of snow and ice spilling over red granite outcroppings. They will also be able to see additional outcroppings, some larger than an average home. Just before the trail winds back to the parking lot is a beautiful vista across Loon Lake. Park at the Loon Lake Lot to access this trail.
Copper Falls State Park and Dogs
Let’s start with the obvious: dogs shouldn’t be left unattended and you should pick up the poop. Waste should be disposed of in dumpsters or trash receptacles.
Dogs are allowed in most campgrounds, trails, roads, and outlying areas of the parks. They must be on a leash no longer than 8 feet at all times, if they are not under control at all times, they can be seized and subject to local laws pertaining to stray animals.
ID tags are a good idea if your dog isn’t micro-chipped. If you do lose your pet you can contact the Ashland County Humane Society at (419) 281-4722.
Rabies could be a thing as there are wild animals like raccoons your pooch could come in contact with so make sure your pooch has all current vaccinations.
Other animals like deer, chipmunks, squirrels, gray wolves, skunks, fishers, elk, and porcupines can be found there.
Pets are not allowed in the following places:
- Picnic areas and picnic shelters
- Marked Nature Trails except for the Red Granite/Red Loop.
- No Pets are allowed on the ski trails when they are snow-covered.
Of course, if your dog is a service animal, those rules do not apply.
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Restaurants near Copper Falls State Park
If you are looking for some more excitement, Mellen town has numerous beautiful restaurants you can pop into and enjoy a good time. Here are some of our favorites:
Pizza Pub Ashland
Location: 1402 Lake Shore Dr E Ashland, Wisconsin 54806
Website: Pizza Pub Ashland
This is a large restaurant capable of accommodating over 100 people in one seating. They have been in operation since 1973 and they pride themselves in using only the freshest ingredients in preparing their local delicacies. The ambiance is great here.
Four Corner Food and Spirits
Location: 30015 County Hwy E Mason, WI 54856
This is a restaurant that will make you feel at home instantly with their food choices and hospitality. They specialize in cooking local foods, using locally sourced ingredients. You can enjoy some music and a cocktail as you wait for your food to be ready.
Frontier Bar and Campground
Location: 11296 US Hwy 2, Saxon
Website: Frontier Bar and Campground
This is a bar that also couples as a campground. It would be a good place to spend a night when going to (or coming from) Copper Falls State Park. Enjoy ATV-ing, Snowmobiling, and camping and when you want to relax, cold drinks and good food will be ready for you.
Hotels near Copper Falls State Park
If you love exploring nature in luxury but aren’t into camping, you can always make a reservation at any of the amazing hotels close to the park.
Four Season’s Chalet
Distance from Copper falls Park: 17 miles
Enjoy a 3-star vacation with rooms that come complete with WIFI, flat-screen TVs, and other luxurious amenities. They also provide guided tours to all the attractions in the area around the hotel.
Best Western The Hotel Chequamegon
Distance from Copper falls Park: 21 miles
If you have ever been to a Best Western Hotel, you know they do not compromise on their luxury and quality. The Hotel Chequamegon is as luxurious as they come, allowing you to enjoy your vacation in style. Guided tours to the attractions close to the hotel are also offered here.
Whitecap Mtn Village Chalet
Distance from Copper falls Park: 13 miles
This hotel has a unique way of blending outdoor adventure and luxury. You will have a wide boarding and lodging choice, including a luxurious glamping log cabin. There are guided tours to explore the surrounding attractions and engage in exciting activities including ATV rides, snowmobiles, biking, kayaking, boating, fishing, and skiing.
You will have access to all the luxury amenities you can expect from a five-star resort. Copper Falls state park, Weber Lake, and Lake Superior are within proximity of this hotel.
Other attractions near Copper Falls State Park
Copper Falls State Park has many amazing attractions and you may want to spend all your time in the park. However, if you want to have an immersive experience, you should venture out to explore some of the other attractions near the park.
With land spanning almost a million acres, this is one of the largest forested areas in the region. There is no shortage of outdoor recreational activities you can embark in within this forest, including camping.
The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
The beaches and shoreline along Lake Superior are beautiful, clean, and sandy. The Apostle Islands are a conglomeration of 21 beautiful islands, with a wide variety of breathtaking natural features to explore. Enjoy taking a cruise on Lake Superior.
Visit the Morgan Falls St.Peter’s Dome trail
This is a great location for hikers who seek challenging trails. Every trail is well marked out and they are pet-friendly! The views on the hike to the Morgan falls are fantastic.
Northwood Zipline and Adventure tours
Take your kids to this location to enjoy adrenaline-filled adventure and ziplining. It is a theme park that is full of wonderful adventures for the whole family.
Address & Directions
The park is located at 36764 Copper Falls Road Mellen, WI 54546. It is about 2 miles northeast of Mellen. When driving, take state highway 13 in North Mellen and branch onto state highway 169 then proceed for 1.8 miles to the park’s entrance.
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