Thursday, November 2, 2023

Road Trip 2023 - The Cooler Weather Tour - Michigan UP through Minnesota North Shore Lake Superior

The family said their goodbyes after our week together in the AirBnB house outside Traverse City, MI. Kris and I sojourned onward into the Land of the Yoopers (UP'ers) - The Upper Peninsula of Michigan. No more nice homes to stay in for a while. This began 41 nights straight of staying in the van. The real van life portion of our trip had begun. 

lunch spot in St Ignace by the water and the Mackinac Bridge

It's a different world up here. A wild and remote place. We're touring along the south shore of Lake Superior. It's so big and deep that I could fit all the other Great Lakes in it and still have room left for 3 more Lake Eries. The water is so clear and blue.

It was during this stretch that I gave deep thought to the circle of life. We had just celebrated the birth of a beautiful baby boy. He was born to Kris's nephew and his wife, making Kris's oldest brother and his wife new grandparents. We got to  celebrate with them in Michigan. A few days later, I received the terrible news that a windsurfing/mountain biking friend in Charlotte unexpectedly passed away. Being on the road certainly makes you reflect on a lot of things. Celebrate the great moments. Make memories. Life is short. Don't put off that thing you always wanted to do. 

That's Canada, view from Sault Ste Marie, MI


paddling West Bay in Grand Marais

Around this point, it's mid July in the UP. The lows in the early mornings have been in the high 40s/low 50s. Highs during the day have been in the 60s/70s, mainly partly cloudy. Zero humidity. 

the rock covered beach at Grand Marais

at the end of the Log Chute Trail at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore 

Next was Pictured Rocks National Seashore. Sadly, dogs aren't allowed on the many trails here. I did walk the short path to Log Chute lookout while Kris and Moose hung out in the van. After that, we drove the rest of the scenic drive into Munising and took a boat tour of the Pictured Rocks cliffs. This is truly the way to see Pictured Rocks...from the water. It was worth it. And they had a complimentary dog kennel so we dropped off Moose for a couple hours while we enjoyed the boat tour. I'll let the following photos speak for themselves. 

Pictured Rocks National Seashore from WaterTurtle Media on Vimeo.

mountain biking in Marquette, MI

The world’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Superior continues to impress. After Pictured Rocks, we drove to Marquette, ate and stayed overnight for free boondocking at Barrel & Beam Brewery (had read you could stay here, asked the bartender for permission). The next morning, I got my mountain biking on at the Noquemanon South trails. Rode a nice combination of fun flowy & technical rocky single track. 

We then drove to Copper Harbor. We drove up Brockway Mountain. Kris dropped me off and I biked The Flow gravity trail downhill to our campground. We stayed at the no frills Trails End Campground at a nice campsite next to a co-op garden. The campground is co-owned by the guy who helped build the amazing mtn bike trail system in Bentonville, AR. He apparently summers in Copper Harbor. His outfit, Rock Solid Trail Builders, has built amazing trails here.

The next morning, we hiked Hunters Point and then I mountain biked the East Bluff Bike Park gravity downhill trails, then biked back to town to meet Kris, wrapping our stay with coffee and a sandwich at the waterfront Jansens Bakery & Coffee Shop.

Copper Harbor is a mountain biker’s and paddler’s dream. Quiet & remote, it’s truly at the end of the road along the southern shore of Lake Superior. It was one of the highlights of the entire road trip for me. I could easily return and spend a couple weeks here in the summer.

settling in at Trails End Campground , a great campsite next to a Co-Op garden

scenic drive along the North Shore Lake Superior 

The interesting things you don’t get to see during air travel. The places you’ve never seen before and might not see again. Driving across America really allows you to catch the little nuances you otherwise would miss flying over all these areas.

From Copper Harbor, we booked across northern Wisconsin and into Minnesota. Sorry Wisconsin, I really wish we could have checked out Bayfield & the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore…another time! We arrived in Duluth, MN in time to check out the Canal Park waterfront area (eating at Canal Park Brewing Company), then get to our Harvest Host spot for the evening - in the driveway of a lovely local couple who live up in the hills above Duluth. They were so helpful with tips for our next day’s journey along the north shore of Lake Superior. 

We made the north shore scenic drive all the way to Grand Marais and back to Duluth. It was a full day of some hiking and sightseeing. So many great spots to stop along the way and so many things to do. If I could do it over again, I would have reserved a campground site well in advance in the Grand Marais area for 1 or 2 nights and paddled and mountain biked the area. 

Lake Superior was eerily dead calm. I would love to see it in a storm state one day just to watch the waves. After a full day, we elected to stay another night back at our same Harvest Host in Duluth, who happened to have an opening for us that evening and regaled us with stories about Lake Superior waves and the 8 ft high snow drifts they had at their house last winter. 

The next morning, Kris and I along with Moose in the dog bike trailer, biked the entire Lakeshore Trail from Lester Park out along the Duluth waterfront to Canal Park and back. Such a great multi use path. Afterwards, we drove across the land of 10,000 lakes as far as Moorhead, MN just across the river from Fargo, ND and stayed overnight in the parking lot of another Harvest Host location, Junkyard Brewing. They made one of the best beers I had on the entire trip, the Pulpasauraus NE IPA. Along the way, we passed by rural farmland and lakes. Mille Lacs Lake really caught my eye for its size…I couldn’t see across to the other side.

an eerily calm Lake Superior along the North Shore in Minnesota

Biking the Lakeshore Trail in Duluth, MN

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