When we turned off US-2 at Thompson, west of Manistique, we left Lake Michigan and the Upper Peninsula definition of civilization in our rear view mirror. Following a ribbon of pavement north for about 15 minutes, we arrived at one of Michigan’s best-hidden treasures. A bit off the beaten path but well worth the drive, Palms Book State Park is home to Kitch-iti-kipi, the Big Spring.
The Native American word Kitch-iti-kipi means big cold water, and the Indians also called it Mirror of Heaven, a fitting description of Michigan’s largest natural spring which, of course, comes with a legend or two. A popular tale tells of a young chieftain who fell in love with an Indian maiden. To prove his love, she insisted that he take his canoe out on the pond and catch her as she leapt from an overhanging conifer branch. Sadly, before he could complete his task the canoe overturned and he drowned in the frigid waters. The maiden, as the story goes, was back at the village laughing about the young chieftain’s impossible quest. It was also said that Chippewa parents would visit the spring in search of a name for their newborn child, listening to the rippling waters of the spring to hear names whispered to them.
Whether the legends are true or not, the spring is special, and we have John I. Bellaire to thank for the opportunity to visit it. In the early 1920s, Bellaire moved to the area and fell in love with the spring, which was overgrown and being used as a dump by a lumber company. In 1926 he convinced the Palms Book Land Company to sell 90 acres, including the Big Spring, to the state for the sum of $10. The deed stipulated that the property was forever to be open to the public, and would be named Palms Book State Park.
It’s a short stroll along a paved path through the woods to a bit of a fairy-tale scene: To our right, a healthy forest where woodland creatures scamper about, and to the left, the clearest body of turquoise water, reflecting the sky and the trees that rim the 200-foot- wide pond. Informational signs explain the history of the spring and the land.
We head to the raft that will take us across the water so we can see what lies beneath. Kids of all ages love to “steer” the cable-guided raft that glides across the spring. Through an observation well in the center we peer all the way to its 40-foot depth. Sand swirls and bubbles about the bottom as water gushes at a rate of 10,000 gallons a minute, year-round, from fissures in the limestone. We study the ancient tree trunks, lime-crusted tree branches, and watch fish, mainly trout, swim through the refreshing water.
When the time feels right another person grabs a hold of the wheel and pulls the raft back to shore. Intrigued by the beauty of the spring we shuttle back and forth a couple more times before saying goodbye to this enchanting jewel, tucked in the middle of the forest.
The Big Spring maintains a constant temperature of 45 degrees, and never freezes. The 388-acre park is open year-round, although in winter you may have to snowshoe, cross-country ski or snowmobile to reach the spring.
The path and raft are ADA- accessible. There’s no camping
at this park. Swimming, fishing and boating are not permitted. A concession stand is open seasonally. Dogs on leashes are allowed. A Michigan Recreation Passport is required.
Photo by Wheaty Wiethoff
This article originally appeared in the 2019 fall/winter issue of Experience Michigan magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.
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