Exploring Kitch-iti-kipi, Michigan’s Big Spring

While on the Pictured Rocks Boat Cruise I met a lady who shared photos from her phone of a park she had recently visited and really enjoyed. She asked me if I had been to “Kitch-iti–kipi,” a spring fed pond south of the Pictured Rocks area. I had seen it listed on tourist information, but hadn’t researched or read about it. When I checked online I noted reviews from visitors that loved their visit there. It was also touted as one of the Upper Peninsula’s top attractions. It sounded like a place I would want to see before we moved on to the Keweenaw Peninsula. Mark declined an interest in going so one day I drove about an hour south toward Lake Michigan to Palms Book State Park near the town of Manistique where the “Big Spring” is located.

The “Big Spring” has a legend that involves a young Native American chieftain and his girlfriend. When he told her that he loved her more than any other maidens she insisted that he prove it. To test his devotion, she would leap from an overhanging branch and he would catch her from his canoe, proving his love. The chieftain took his fragile canoe onto the icy waters looking for her. The canoe tipped over and he drowned. The young maiden was actually back at her village with the other maidens laughing about his silly quest. The spring was named “Kitch-iti-kipi” in memory of the young Chippewa chieftain who went to his death in the icy waters. In the 1920’s a man named John Bellaire fell in love with the spring and arranged for it and additional acres be sold through the Palm Book Land Company to the State of Michigan for $10.00. The land was to be used for a state park. Mr. Bellaire enjoyed showing visitors the spring and eventually confessed that he and a poet made up this Indian legend.

Self-propelled raft on the spring fed pond
Observation area on the raft – many large trout live in the spring

This is Michigan’s largest freshwater spring and is 200 feet across, 40 feet deep with over 10,000 gallons a minute gushing out throughout the year from limestone fissures. The water is a constant 45 degrees and so crystal clear you can see all the way to the bottom. The highlight is a self propelled observation raft that can be moved across the pond by a cable in order to see into the spring fed pond.

Raft moved across the pond by way of a cable

The raft holds quite a few people and has an open viewing area in the middle to see the many large trout that live here. At certain places you can also see clouds of sand in motion where the springs come out. I rode the raft twice and each time there were people willing to work the wheel that moves the raft along a cable. Besides being so clear, the water is also a lovely green color, even during an overcast day.

Gushing springs and moving sand can be seen from the raft

To add to the mysteriousness of this place there are many ancient tree trunks and mineral crusted branches near the edge of the pond.

The drive to the park was interesting as my phone navigation took me on miles of dirt roads with thick forests in the middle of no where. I couldn’t believe there were no continual paved roads to Palms Book State Park and figured I must not have chosen the best route. On the way back I made sure I chose a different one and found myself driving in an even more remote area. Just like on my way down to the Park, if I had broken down it would have meant miles of walking along a lonely dirt road to get some help. Our truck is very reliable and has never broken down, but nonetheless, I felt a little vulnerable. I decided to just relax and enjoy all the beautiful trees on one of the more isolated routes I have traveled.

Long drive home from the Spring on a narrow dirt road

Now for something completely different in the small town of Grand Marais which is a gateway for Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The Pickle Barrel House is on the National Register of Historic Places and a quirky form of architecture I had never seen before. It is crafted as a typical barrel would have been except on a much larger scale. The main barrel contains a living area on the first floor and a bedroom on the second. A pantry connected this barrel to a smaller, single-story one, which housed a kitchen.

It was built in 1926 for William Donahey, a cartoonist for the Chicago Tribune who developed the Teenies Weenies cartoon feature. The cartoon characters were two inches tall and lived under a rose bush in a pickle barrel. Mr. Donahey and his wife used the barrel cottage for a summer home. Today it is a museum and visitors can tour all the rooms of this tiny home. Unfortunately, it was already closed for the day when we arrived. I was able to peek in the windows and front door to get a little idea of the interior.

Side view of the pickle barrel house.

I will close with a Lake Superior view at sunset. This was a great viewpoint not too far from our campsite that I visited a few times during our stay. In the next post we move on to Michigan’s copper country.

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