Elevations on the Ottawa National Forest range from 600' at the Lake Superior shoreline to more than 1800' in the Sylvania Wilderness. The most dramatic changes are noted near Lake Superior where the upward shift of the land with its exposed bedrock and resulting bluffs provide homes for cliff nesting Peregrine Falcons. There are several Alpine Ski areas along the northern portions of the forest.
The water resources play an important role in the natural appeal of the Ottawa National Forest. In addition to many miles of Lake Superior shoreline, the forest contains many lakes, both large and small, and a wide variety of rivers and streams that provide canoeing and kayaking opportunities, prime trout fishing, plus spectacular waterfall viewing.
Large towns and cities are notably absent in the Upper Peninsula, except around the "fringes", which are all harbor cities along Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. The largest city at the forests' edge is Ironwood, with a population of about 9,000. Next in size is Iron River with 5,000, Bessemer with 2,500 and Ontonagon with a population of about 2,000. The visitor gets an immediate perception of wildness/remoteness when entering the Ottawa National Forest and will experience miles of beautiful roadways with continuous natural scenery.
Portions of the Ottawa National Forest receive over 200" of snow annually. Referred to as "Big Snow Country", winter sports enthusiasts will find Alpine and Nordic skiing, snowmobiling, dog-sledding, and ice fishing for several months of the year. There are over 485 miles of groomed snowmobile trails and numerous cross-country ski trails.
The Ottawa has over 50,000 acres in three wildernesses. They are about equal in size, but each has unique features.
Although there are exceptions, many of the camping areas are lightly used compared to other national forests in this region. All camping is on a first-come, first-serve basis. Reservations are taken for the Marion Lake group camping facility and Black River Harbor Day Use Picnic Pavilion by calling (877) 444-6777 or by going to the National Recreation Reservation Service website.
The Ottawa National Forest has upgraded many of the facilities and administrative sites to provide informational, recreational, and educational opportunities for people with disabilities. Currently the Supervisors Office, District Offices, and the Ottawa Visitor Center are fully accessible. Other district offices are partially accessible. All administrative sites have TTY phones. Many of the forest's developed campgrounds and picnic areas are accessible and all construction and reconstruction projects are planned with an emphasis on providing access for people with disabilities. There is an accessible fishing pier at Henry Lake. The Potawatomi Falls trailhead and trail is fully accessible.
The Ottawa Visitor Center is located at the junction of US 2 and US 45 in Watersmeet, Michigan. The center is fully accessible and features exhibits, an interpretive association sales outlet, and a nature trail. Special interpretive programs are held on Thursday evenings beginning in June. There is no charge at this facility.
The Black River National Forest Scenic Byway comprises 12 miles of Black River Harbor Road from Bessemer to Black River Harbor, Michigan. This byway was approved in July, 1992 and dedicated in October, 1992. This byway is a very popular travel route because of the scenic beauty of the area including the numerous waterfalls on the national Wild and Scenic Black River, old growth Eastern White Pine and Hemlock stands, and the Historic Black River Harbor Village. There is ample opportunity for hiking the North Country Scenic Trail and camping along this route. Black River Harbor provides charter fishing opportunities in Lake Superior.
Over 500 named lakes and nearly 2,000 miles of rivers and streams await the angler on the Ottawa National Forest. Stream fishing is available throughout the forest and lake fishing is concentrated on Lake Superior and in the southern half of the forest. There are numerous developed and undeveloped boat launch facilities as well as numerous walk-in lakes to provide for a wide variety of fishing experiences.
The area is rich in wildlife. There are numerous opportunities to see deer, fox, snowshoe hare, bald eagles, loons, and songbirds. Bear, coyotes, fisher, wolves, and others are plentiful but may require more patience to see.