Superior Views & Yooper Trails
Recently retired and ready to spread their wings, Len and Faith Todd wanted to do more with their time than just wait for the grandkids to stack up. Avid travelers, they purchased a Toy Hauler with the expressed purpose of doing some snowmobiling in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula … but another motivation waited, unspoken. Tour Alaska. Trip of a lifetime. They waited. They researched. They prepared. In late June 2009, the trip of a lifetime began. During the trip, Faith and Len blogged about their adventures and kept a growing audience of friends and family rapt with attention and not a little bit jealous. This chapter covers August 19th – August 24th, days 51-56 of their adventure.
Wednesday we rolled out of Devils Lake and headed for the Minnesota border. Our route took us around the southwestern corner of Lake Superior. We found a campground in Two Harbors right on the shores of the Big Water.
This is the perfect time of year to camp in this part of the country. The hiking and biking trails are extensive and in great shape. Plus, there are wild berry bushes everywhere you look. We had our pick of raspberry, thimbleberry and many others. What a great reason for a long, leisurely hike! Speaking of berries, Thursday morning we took a jaunt northwards up the coast to check out Gooseberry Falls State Park and the Split Rock Lighthouse. Both of these Minnesota State Parks are, to drop a phrase, superior.
The drive up to Split Rock took us up Minnesota state highway 61, through the amazing Silver Creek Cliff Tunnel. Prior to the completion of the tunnel in 1994 cars had to drive along a very narrow stretch of road hugging a cliff overlooking Lake Superior. You can actually park your car on the east side of the tunnel and walk the old section. Spectacular, panoramic views – but, back in the truck, we were sure glad for the tunnel!
Water is the central feature here, but not just celebrated Gitche Gumee. Streams and rivers run through the parks, creating a constant, soothing soundscape. Waterfalls add a rushing and rippling percussion track to this wilderness wonderland symphony. As you continue from one place to the next, the majestic expanse of Superior and the towering bulwark of the Split Rock Light are surrounded by small, idyllic little spots, perfect for pictures, picnics and pastoral daydreams.
Our guided tour of Split Rock Park was entertaining and educational. Considering all the challenges they faced, the fact that the lighthouse was built at all is a testament to the “never say die” American spirit. A storm in 1905 had sunk 29 iron ore ships. No one argued the need for a light – how to get it built was the sticking point. Because there were no roads to the site, materials had to be brought in by boat – the very crafts the light was needed to protect – and then hoisted directly from the decks of the ships straight up the 130-foot cliff face. This incredible feat of turn-of-the-century engineering was completed in 1910 and soon became one of Minnesota’s most recognized landmarks.
The state parks continue north along the coast of Superior, each one more lush and inviting than the last. There is actually so much to see here that we ran out of time. Yes, yes, RVing is about being flexible, but we had other places on our “must see” list for this trip. So, we took advantage of one of the best features of RV living – adding destinations to our “check out later” list.
Friday we bid farewell to the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Our route continued to follow Superior as we made our way into Wisconsin. Just across the border we stopped at Amnicon Falls State Park, a beautiful state park campground in Superior, Wisconsin.
The ranger at Amnicon Falls suggested we visit Big Manitou Falls in Pattison State Park. At 165 feet, Big Manitou is the largest waterfall in the state of Wisconsin. It might not be the mountainous scale we had seen in the Rockies, but Big Manitou is still impressive. Speaking of mountains, we made reservations for the following evening at Porcupine Mountains State Park. The park is 60,000 acres of pristine wilderness, old-growth forest, rivers, streams and waterfalls.
We crossed back into Michigan at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, and it really began to sink in that our Adventure of a Lifetime was coming to a close. Still, it felt great to have the familiar soil of the Wolverine State beneath our feet! The Porkies may not be the towering purple mountains of the Wild West or the magnificent glaciers of the Great White North, but they are grand and arresting in their own right. The miles of hiking trails winding through thousands of acres of virgin hardwood stands make this place rival any other stop on our trip; but the Porkies remain somehow quieter, more intimate.
We unhooked the Hauler and set up at the Union Bay Campground, one of two campgrounds in the park. Presque Isle is the other. We selected Union Bay for the more modern services offered – every site has its own electric hookup – but, when we return here, we might just stay at Presque. Both parks are gorgeous. Union Bay has sites right along the shoreline of Lake Superior, which make for a beautiful view sunrise and sunset. The sites are a bit snug, though, compared to those at Presque Isle. That campground has fewer sites, so each RVer has a bit more room to spread out. The only downside to Presque are the more primitive facilities – no electric hookups. Still, if you fancy a view high on a bluff overlooking Lake Superior – stunning, by the way – you may be willing to make do with your generator for the night.
No matter where you stay in the Porkies, you have your pick of tons of amazing hiking trails. We hiked the East and West River Trails and the Summit Peak Tower Trail, but we found one of our favorite spots at the end of Michigan Highway 107. The Lake of the Clouds. Step out of your car and over to the lookout point, and you will immediately see why this place is one of the most popular spots in the Upper Peninsula to take a break and just “be.” The lake itself it long and lean, a knife blade cutting between peaks in the Porcupine Mountains. Fed on one side by the Carp River Inlet, the Lake of the Clouds stretches a mile long but is only fifteen feet deep. It flows back into the Carp River, eventually finding its way into Lake Superior. Along the way it provides some of the most stunning photo ops in the entire Upper Peninsula.
Only a few more days in Michigan’s “lid” and we will head for home, parking the Toy Hauler until our next adventure.