Tag Archives: Tahquamenon Falls

U.P. Tradition (Warning: No sailing content)

We lived in Michigan for about 15 years before we discovered the beauty of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula three years ago. Since that discovery, we’ve made it a summer tradition to spend at least a week camping, kayaking, fishing, and exploring the beautiful wilds of northern Michigan.

While previous years emphasized the hiking and camping, this year we decided to focus on the fishing. (Read about our two prior trips to the UP). I’d purchased fly fishing equipment for Carrie and the boys last winter – including waders for all of us and vests for the boys. Primarily we were after trout, but any fish on a fly rod is a good fish.

Our first stop on our way north was the fly shop at Gates Au Sable Lodge, where we picked up a few flies and an excellent book about fly fishing Michigan. Last summer, with the acquisition of a pop up trailer, we began the tradition of collecting bumper stickers, so we added a trout sticker to the pop up before leaving Gates and heading north across the Mighty Mac.


First night in Grayling.


Saying good morning to the Au Sable River.


Josh gets the honor of placing the first sticker.


Hopefully they’ll humor me for a few more years!


Crossing the Mighty Mackinac Bridge on a beautiful day.

We’d planned to camp at a site we found last summer, but we arrived late in the afternoon and drove from campground to campground before finally finding a (semi) vacant site six miles down a dirt road. I say a “semi-vacant” site because, although the site was empty, there was a reservation tag attached to the site post, indicating that someone had paid their fees and “set up” camp. It was the absence of ANY gear or sign of occupation that prompted me to ignore the tag, set up camp, and see what happened. Admittedly, Carrie and I were a bit apprehensive, hoping that 1) no one would show up to claim the site (on a motorcycle or some self-contained camper), and 2) if they did, they would be nice and not like Sea Bass on Dumb and Dumber. Afternoon turned into evening before we heard vehicles coming down the road toward the camp. Two scruffy looking dudes in a pickup pulled up in front of our site and gave me a weird look. I approached the truck and was relieved to find that they were very polite and had accidentally put their tag on the wrong post – they were occupying sites 1 and 2, but had mistakenly placed their tags on 2 and 3. Phew! Only after I knew the site was ours could I really relax and enjoy the up north beauty.


Tough view to beat.


Finally cooked supper when we were assured the site was ours.


Fishing, naturally, followed supper!


Love this place.


Two loons and their haunting cries made this place even more beautiful.

We spent a day simply lounging around the site, kayaking, fishing, relaxing in the hammock, and cooking over the campfire – s’mores, too, of course! Jake and Josh waded along the shore and caught a fair number of pumpkinseeds, bluegill, and the occasional perch and bass.

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After a lazy day at camp, we decided we needed to head to Pictured Rocks and do some hiking, so we loaded in the car and headed to Chapel Rock. The trail out to Chapel Rock is an easy hike that passes Chapel Falls on the way to Lake Superior. Just above the falls there’s a little spot in the creek that I fished last year. I had to try my luck there again, and fortunately Carrie and the boys humored me. Like last year, I pulled a little brook trout out of a loggy area.


Such a beautiful hike to Chapel Rock.


Chapel Falls


Dreaming about trout!


Chapel Rock and Lake Superior


Carrie’s first time in Lake Superior!


Another tradition: Picture in Lake Superior with my boys.


A blurry image of my (little) brookie.


Section of the river where the brook trout was hiding.


Happy hikers. Life doesn’t get much better than this!

Since we hadn’t made any real itinerary, we made up each day as it came. Following a lazy breakfast, we headed back out to do some more hiking/sightseeing. We particularly wanted to visit a few places that we’d missed during our earlier trips, so we stopped by Miners Falls and Castle, and a silly little place called Horeshoe Falls where you can feed trout in a pond.

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My cool guidebook to fly fishing Michigan offered some tantalizing information about places elsewhere in the UP, and, eager to do more fishing, we broke camp and headed east toward Hemingway’s Two-Hearted River (yeah, I know Hemingway was really describing the Fox River, but this sounded like better fishing). After hours on washboard dirt roads, we arrived at a campground right on the bank of the Two-Hearted River. What I had hoped would be a pleasantly quiet and remote campground turned out to be occupied by several large RVs and their raucous, disrespectful, foul-mouthed owners, a fact we didn’t learn until evening when they all returned from canoeing and began speaking in ways that prompted Josh to call our remote piece of paradise an “R-rated campground.”

Eager to get away from the yahoos, we donned our fishing gear and headed for the river where it was peaceful, natural, and a whole lot more Hemingway-esque, I thought. The river is gorgeous and gave us plenty of time to relax and concentrate on our fishing. Jake and I hooked fish, but in both cases they broke our leader. It wasn’t until our second day on the river that I finally landed a pretty little rainbow. And it was on the morning of our second day, when the local-yokels broke camp and headed back to their cave, that we enjoyed the site’s true beauty, serenity, and a refreshing, cleansing dip in the river.

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The Two-Hearted River, despite the local “wildlife,” was good to us (I just hope the boys forget some of the language they learned that day), but we (well, Carrie was) were ready to try fly fishing the wide-open waters of the Au Sable River, so we loaded up and headed south, hitting one of our favorites, Tahquamenon Falls, on our way out before crossing the Mackinac Bridge.

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It’s always tough to say goodbye to the beauty up north.


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Grayling has plenty of her own beauty too, however, and gave us a proper welcome our first evening.

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The boys spent the evening learning how to shoot their newly-acquired slingshots – something every boy must have/do.

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The following morning, we stopped by Gates Fly Lodge again to get a little local information about fishing spots (and a few more flies!) and headed out to some fishing on the South Branch of the Au Sable.  This portion of the river is wide and easily waded, perfect for beginning and little fly fishers. I was hopeful that Carrie and the boys would experience the thrill of catching their first trout. As it turned out, Carrie and Jake got lucky, but poor Josh struck out. Poor little guy.


In search of trout.


Jake’s first first.


Jake’s second fish – slightly larger.


Carrie giving Josh a hand.


Lunch break.


Cute little photo bomber.


Carrie’s first trout!


My new 4wt fiberglass rod.


Jake and the scenic Au Sable.


My one and only brook trout.


Drying out on the morning of our departure.

We stopped by Cabela’s on our way home and stocked up on a few more flies and some great gear. Once again, the memories just keep getting sweeter. What a blessing to be able to do so much with the people I love SO much. Until next summer, Michigan.


Counting My Blessings – Summer Memories (or, what we do when we’re not sailing)

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.


Miners Falls.


Two little boys and a big rock.


The beautiful root beer-colored Tahquamenon Falls.


We visited the shipwreck museum at Whitefish Point.


IMG_8534 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.


Early-morning beauty.


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.


Sunset swing.


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!


Spectacular view.

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.

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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.

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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.

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Since this trip was the beginning of a new tradition, we decided to start a sticker collection on the Jayco to mark our travels.



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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.

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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.

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