We’ve lived in Michigan for nearly 16 years now, but it wasn’t until last year that we discovered just how much natural beauty Michigan’s upper peninsula has to offer – and I’m talking beauty comparable to the mountains and country I knew as a kid growing up in California. Even though we’ve come to love this place because of Lake Michigan, it wasn’t until that summer, after spending a week exploring the Picture Rocks area in the U.P., that I felt that genuine deep-down kind of pride to be a Michigander. In fact, we loved it so much and had such a fantastic time we decided it needed to become an annual tradition. So we did it again this summer, hitting some of the same places and adding a few new sights to the list.
But first the highlights from Summer 2013:
We camped in Munising, on the southern shore of Lake Superior. Clearly one of the boys was more jazzed about it than the other. It rained for much of the week that we were there, but we didn’t let it dampen our spirits too much.
The rain broke long enough for us to enjoy our tour of Pictured Rocks by boat.
If I remember correctly, this is called Battleship Row.
This awesome feature is called Chapel Rock. Notice the roots linking the tree to its life source.
Two little boys and a big rock.
The beautiful root beer-colored Tahquamenon Falls.
We visited the shipwreck museum at Whitefish Point.
Fantastic rock formations and beautifully clear water.
We even stopped and toured the Soo Locks.
And, of course, we managed to do a little fly fishing – but not a lot of catching.
This summer (2014) we enjoyed significantly improved accommodations during our trip north thanks to the acquisition of a Jayco pop-up trailer. This little beauty was given to us by some friends and, after camping in the rain last summer, it promised a more refined experience (not that we’re opposed to tent camping, but let’s be honest…wet and tent don’t go together well).
Since I had spent most of the summer wrapping up ESL certification (yes, more summer classes – ugh!), Carrie took charge of the trip itinerary and lined up a tantalizing list of sights. Once I’d finished up my last exam, we loaded up and headed north.
U.P. here we come!
First campground. First night in the pop up.
We stayed at a campground just a couple of hours north of home.
Our first breakfast in the pop up. Yes, plush, I know.
Officially entering the north country! Crossing the Mackinac Bridge and the Straits of Mackinac.
Our first stop in the U.P. was the Indian Lake campground near Manistique. Upon arriving, I was a bit put off by all of the weekend-warriors with their fifth-wheels, ski boats, generators, and noisy groups – I much prefer a rustic campground over full electrical hookups and hot showers – but the weekend crowd quickly thinned out by the next morning (a Monday).
Living large in the Jayco!
And cooking is so much easier. CJ’s happy.
Ain’t nothing better than brothers.
First night at Indian Lake.
Part of the reason Carrie chose the Indian Lake campground was because it was close to Kitch-iti-kipi (did that from memory…now to check Google for spelling. Yes, got it right!). Kitch-iti-kipi, which means “The Big Spring,” is just that: Michigan’s largest freshwater spring. Not only is the water amazingly and beautifully clear, but it’s also home to a healthy trout population. And for a fly fisherman like me, who fishes more than he catches, seeing all those beautiful fish was torture – and pretty darn cool.
Visitors to the spring can crank themselves across the deep pool on a floating observation deck that allows a birds eye view of the springs and fish.
The floating observation “ferry” is a sort of chain ferry that visitors crank across the pool and back.
Obligatory family pic.
Look at all those fish!
Back at the campground we wasted no time trying out our new Sea Eagle inflatable kayaks. Some other friends of ours told us we “had” to buy one, so I went online, ordered one at closeout pricing, then ordered another when my parents decided they wanted one too. I’m glad we had two on the trip. Although we crammed all four of us into one, it wasn’t comfortable.
The Sea Eagles and their crew.
Indian Lake has an average depth of about 8′ and is only 15′ deep at its deepest. It’s a great place to swim, float, and relax.
Paddling with my boy.
Our next stop was to the north, once again back in the Pictured Rocks lakeshore. Carrie had originally hoped to camp along the shore of Lake Superior at 12-mile campground, but we arrived there late and just missed the last available site. (We quickly learned that getting a campsite in the Pictured Rocks area can be a cutthroat, no-holds-barred event). We continued on down the road to a campground not too far away and were fortunate enough to find an empty spot, which we quickly snatched up. The next day we site hopped and set up camp in a prime spot overlooking a small lake. The spot was so beautiful we changed our plans and stayed there for several days, making day-trips to the various sights along the lakeshore.
The water was beautiful; the leeches not so much.
Enjoying a lazy paddle with my wife.
Rub-a-dub-dub, four peeps in an inflatable kayak.
The boys had a blast catching frogs along the shore.
Josh’s new buddy.
Little fisherman Jake honing his fly rod skills while mommy lazily paddles around the lake.
Josh and I stalked a few fish along the shore – mostly little perch and bluegill. Although we did score a bass or two.
I admire Jake’s persistence. He got pretty good at casting the fly rod.
Life is good!
The weather couldn’t have been better during our time in the UP – it was positively perfect! We spent one day hiking along the Superior shore out to the Au Sable light station. The trail parallels the beach, so there are several opportunities to climb down and hike along the rocks and sand.
The Au Sable light trail starts at the mouth of Hurricane Creek. The view is typical of Superior beauty.
We had enough time left in the afternoon to drive to the Log Slide, which got its name from the lumbering days when large logs were slid down the dune to lake, bound together and floated to harbor. If you’ve been to Sleeping Bear Dunes and made the run down to the water and the long, tiring hike back to the top of the dune, you have an idea of the Log Slide. Perhaps the most noticeable difference between the two places, however, is the sign at the top of the Log Slide warning visitors that the nearest emergency response team is a long way away and cell phone coverage is spotty enough that there are no guarantees a call will go through in the event of an emergency. With the day coming to an end, we opted to enjoy the view from the top of the slide.
As it turned out, we arrived just in time to witness a “rescue.” An older woman had hiked down with her son and pooped out during her climb back to the top. We watched from the top of the dune as a Sheriff’s boat sped from the harbor in Grand Marais, met the woman at the base of the dune, loaded her up and took her back to Grand Marais, where her husband would have to pick her up. Thankfully everyone was okay.
The introduction to the Pictured Rocks shoreline by boat the previous year was grand and breathtaking, but we wanted a different perspective and experience this year, so we decided to hike the Chapel Creek trail to Chapel Falls and, ultimately, to Chapel Rock right on the Superior shore. What a fantastic experience! Swimming with my boys in Lake Superior for the first time will be one of the high points in my life. Eating lunch perched on a ledge next to Chapel Rock, overlooking the turquoise water of Lake Superior, as tourists were ferried by in the tour boats and a little chipmunk scampered around chattering at us, was absolutely sublime. There, at that moment, it was clear why people love the U.P. so much and how the north country can lay hold of your heart, calling you back year after year.
Since this trip was the beginning of a new tradition, we decided to start a sticker collection on the Jayco to mark our travels.
We passed by Tahquamenon Falls on our drive back toward the Mackinac Bridge, so we decided to stop and see the falls again. Carrie and I remarked to each other that there seemed to be a lot less color to the falls this year. Comparing this year’s picture to one from last year, we realized why: there was significantly more water going over the falls this time last year, which would make sense since it rained almost the whole week last year.
One of our last stops was Oswald’s Bear Ranch. Roar! Of course we picked up another sticker for the trailer.
Leaving the north country behind us…until next year.