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Accessible Trail Opens Michigan’s Ocqueoc Falls to All

Ocqueoc Falls Bicentennial Pathway leads visitors to the only publicly owned waterfall in Michigan's Lower Peninsula.

by Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation Division, Iron Belle Trail Coordinator

Ocqueoc Falls Bicentennial Pathway leads visitors to the only publicly owned waterfall in Michigan's Lower Peninsula. Access to the falls, however, was limited to visitors who were able to scramble across the uneven, wooded landscape and then descend the 14-foot high rocky incline to the river’s edge. Individuals with physical limitations or families with young children were often not up to these challenges.

The Michigan Parks and Recreation Division worked with the Accessibility Advisory Council of the Department of Natural Resources to make the falls area available to people of all abilities. With grants from the Recreational Trails Program, the Michigan Natural Resource Trust Fund, and the Recreation Improvement Fund, renovation work was planned with the goal of making the falls accessible.

When designers saw how people were “climbing down” to Ocqueoc Falls, they saw an opportunity to use Universal Design principles while connecting people with nature in a challenging, fun and memorable way. In addition to the accessible ramp paralleling the wooded embankment, a tiered climbing wall with strategically placed transfer stations allows anyone of any age to enjoy this new challenge. Now visitors have multiple means of navigating the bluff. The result is that Ocqueoc Falls is the first truly universally accessible waterfall in the nation.

The start of the tiered climbing wall with strategically placed transfer stations

The start of the tiered climbing wall with strategically placed transfer stations

The paved trail from the parking lot to the waterfall area was widened to comfortably allow groups of travelers— including people who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices— to pass through. Two picnic areas were surfaced with compacted crushed limestone and outfitted with accessible-designed picnic tables. And the benches along the pathway are complete with accessible clear space, which are cement pads next to them, to allow for side-by-side seating of a person using a wheelchair and someone who is not.

A recycled-plastic, decked ramp provides the easiest route to the river. At the end of the ramp is a transfer station— a series of tiered flat rocks that allow someone to transfer from a wheelchair, down the rocks, to the water's edge and into the water. Along the path is a platform to allow for viewing of the falls.

New accessible picnic areas are located within the woods and along the bluff, offering guests a variety of scenic picnicking options. The picnic areas were surfaced with compacted crushed limestone and outfitted with accessible- designed picnic tables.

The redesigned parking lot improves traffic flow and provides parking for recreation vehicles and vehicles pulling trailers. The lot accommodates approximately 50 vehicles and has barrier-free spaces for both cars and cars with trailers. An accessible path leads guests from the parking lot to the campground and includes road crossing identification for motorists and pedestrians.

Overlook above the climbing wall down to the water

Overlook above the climbing wall down to the water

The Ocqueoc Falls Bicentennial Pathway was recognized by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in 2013 and received the da Vinci Award, under the “environmental adaption for working and daily living” category, by providing assistive and adaptive technologies.

According to the Department of Natural Resources, “Ocqueoc Falls is now a place where children (and adults) can ex- perience the joy of nature on an intimate level, where all their senses are engaged through sight, sound, touch, and smell. It is a place where the imagination is freed, where castles can be climbed, or rivers forded to reach foreign shores. It is an area where young and old can explore together.”

With its accompanying state forest campground and Ocqueoc Falls Bicentennial Pathway ( — consisting of four loops of scenic trails ranging from 2.85 miles to 6 miles long, perfect for hiking and biking— Ocqueoc Falls is becoming a popular vacation destination.

For more information

For more information about Ocqueoc Falls’ development, view the video “Ocqueoc Falls: Welcoming waters with universal appeal” at

For more information on Michigan's trail system, visit

Published September 2015

About the Author

We are committed to the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state's natural and cultural resources for current and future generations. We strive to protect natural and cultural resources, ensure sustainable recreation use and enjoyment, enable strong natural resource-based economies, improve and build strong relationships and partnerships, and foster effective business practices and good governance

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