Location: Lake of the Clouds, Porcupine Mountains
Lake of the Clouds resides in Ontonagon County in the Upper Peninsula region of Michigan. It’s nestled within the 58,000 acres of Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. The lake is situated in a valley between two ridges and is fed by the Carp River Inlet on the east end of the lake. It’s surrounded by a beautiful virgin old growth wilderness and is the most photographed feature in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. The lake can be viewed most easily by driving to the Lake of the Clouds Overlook at the west end of the 107th Engineers Memorial Highway (M-107). Here, you’ll find a large parking lot at the top along with a short, paved trail leading to the various lookout points along the north side of the lake. You can also hike from there along the Escarpment Trail to explore other views of the lake. Access other wonderful photo opportunities at the base level of the lake by hiking the North Mirror Lake Trail near the lookout point.
Weather In The Porcupine Mountains
Weather conditions in the Porcupine Mountains can vary greatly, from well below freezing during the winter to the warmest months averaging 70 degrees Fahrenheit and above during the day. Fall temperatures can range from the low 40s to 70s during the day. One thing I’ve learned from living in the Midwest for the past seven years is that the weather can change on a moment’s notice, so regardless of the time of year, be prepared and bring layers. Also, be aware that thunder and lightning can seemingly come out of nowhere, so pay attention to weather forecasts, especially if planning extended hiking trips in the area.
I’ve returned to photograph this location three times. Fall is the ideal time because of the beautiful foliage colors engulfing the lake. Timing is critical, and it can be hard to find both peak color and ideal weather conditions to photograph this location. My first two attempts were unsuccessful in capturing this scene as I had envisioned. The first time, I was about a week too late for the best fall color, and high winds had also taken their toll, blowing a considerable amount of leaves off the trees. The second time, I left very early from Milwaukee and actually ended up getting lost due to a lack of cell service when attempting to navigate there before sunrise. It’s important to note that cell service in the Porcupines is minimal to nonexistent, so it’s best to plan ahead and bring a map or GPS.
On my third attempt, when I captured this shot, I studied the fall color and weather reports carefully, and ended up making a last-minute decision to travel to the lake. When I arrived at the viewing platform about an hour before sunrise, I quickly noticed about 20 headlamps shining with moving figures heading toward the viewpoints. As I reached the main platform, it was completely filled with photographers already shooting in the dark. I was late, and it was very crowded. I managed to scramble below the deck and find a spot where I could set up. As I was shooting, I was so focused on technical concerns that I didn’t notice how nice the incoming cloud formations were lining up over the east end of the lake. I was pleasantly surprised when I reviewed my files.
I used a Nikon D800E and AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED lens mounted on a Really Right Stuff TVC-34L tripod and an Arca-Swiss D4 Geared Head to capture the image. The exposure settings were 1/6 sec., ƒ/16, ISO 100.
Best Times To Photograph In The Porcupine Mountains
I shot this scene in the second week of October. Typically, the peak color in the area reveals itself two weeks prior. So, it’s important to research foliage sites and monitor the weather forecasts in advance. Speaking to locals can give you more current updates on the ever-changing fall color.
The other key concerns are high winds and heavy rainstorms. If a significant storm comes through, the trees may lose too many leaves before peak color arrives. The ability to be flexible in your schedule is the key to success.
Contact: Porcupine Mountains and Ontonagon Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, porcupineup.com/lake-of-the-clouds.
See more of Jeff Stasney’s photography at jeffstasneyphotography.com.