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Trip Report – Lake Superior Circle Tour 2015

Day 1 – Sleeping Giants Provincial Park, Ontario

We pulled out of our driveway mid morning to start our trek around the North Side of Lake Superior.  We wanted to arrive at Sleeping Giants Provincial Park by late afternoon, so we could enjoy the evening around camp and maybe even get some hiking or biking in before dark.  We intended to stop in Grand Marais, MN to grab some take out fish and chips from Dockside Fish Market next to the Angry Trout Cafe…  Lynn was reading on her phone about the border crossing and read that you could not take chicken across the border because of a potential Avian Flu outbreak.  We ended up stopping at a roadside pull off and grilling up our chicken for lunch instead of stopping for the take out.

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We made it across the border, which was uneventful and they didn’t even ask if we had chicken…  As we drove around Thunder Bay, we could see the rocky cliffs rising up out of Lake Superior that made up the peninsula where Sleeping Giants Provincial Park is located.  I couldn’t wait to get out there and check it out.  We had made reservations and found ourselves on a large pull through campsite with a half empty park!

We set up camp, unloaded the bikes and the boys and I took off to check things out.  I had a hard time finding trail maps posted, but found one in the campground store where I asked about the trail heads and which trails were bike accessible.  There seemed to be some discrepancy between the map showing bike accessible and what the park staff said were actually bike accessible.  I headed down Marie Louse Drive with my bike to find one of the trails that lead out to the what is considered the Giant’s Head.

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I missed the trail and ended up finding myself around the other side of Marie Louise Lake.  This was a nice gravel ride regardless, so I continued on my way and figured I could save the trail for the next day.  I finished my route around the lake and back to camp where I found the boys making hot laps around the campsite on their bikes and Lynn reading under the shade of the camper awning.  We finished the evening with a small campfire before retiring to our beds for the night.

Day 2 – Sleeping Giants Provincial Park, Ontario

Lynn was looking forward to a day of relaxing around camp with a book, so I took off in the morning to check out the trails.  The map was showing a bike on the legend next to the Top of the Giant trail, so I headed that way.  It was actually a bit of a hike just to get to the start of the trail that lead to the Top of the Giant.  I passed a few hikers along the way and made good time along the trail.  The trail itself is fairly uneventful and would not be that exciting of a hike.  Since I was on my bike and making good time, I took the opportunity to stop off at some of the side trails to the beach areas and backcountry campsites to take in some of the natural beauty that was surrounding me.  The trail becomes very eventful if you step off onto the beach and camp areas.  If you wanted to do some pack in camping, this would be a great place to do so.

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I eventually made it to the start of the Top of the Giant trail to find a bike rack.  This is what they meant by bike accessible.  You could ride your bike out to the start of the trail and then hike it from there.  I was prepared with a bike lock and had opted to ride with my flat pedals that day so I could hike, just in case.  I hiked / jogged up the trail to find some fantastic lookouts.  It would have been easy to turn around at the first lookout, but my curiosity always gets the best of me and I pressed on till the trail ran out.  I found myself out on a straight drop off that was amazing.  I have a hard time relaxing, but I did take a few minutes to sit down and take it all in before making my way back down the trail and back to camp.

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Now that I had a good lay of the land, the boys were ready to go for a short hike.  We had some lunch and then jumped in the truck to explore down a couple of very short trails for a little family time on some trails.  We finished off the rest of the afternoon and evening by relaxing around camp and watching the boys ride their bikes around.  We were surprised a few times when a deer came walking right through our campsite and of course the boys got a real kick out of the deer being so close.  We finished the evening off with a fire and some and pie iron cooking.

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Day 3 – Lake Superior Provincial Park, Ontario

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Since we had a good 6 hours of driving ahead of us on top of making a few stops to check out the sites along the way, we got an early start out of Sleeping Giants campground.  There is some great scenery during the first half of this drive as you stick along the shoreline and can see all the large islands rising up out of the waters of Lake Superior.  There are many roadside pulls offs along the route to stop and spend some time taking in the views.  There is something about the shorelines of the Great Lakes, especially the vast miles of untouched Lake Superior shoreline, that put me into instant relaxation and calmness.

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We stopped off in Terrace Bay for a couple of short hikes.  We pulled off at a trailhead just before Terrace Bay to find a great overlook platform to some waterfalls and a deep canyon.  It was a great way to stretch our legs.  Before passing straight thru town, we drove down to the beach area for another short little hike to a bridge over the little river and rapids.  It was nice to get out, especially at such a nice place.

We finally made our way to Rabbit Blanket Campground in Lake Superior Provincial Park to set up camp for the night.  There was rain in the forecast for the evening, but we still had plenty of time for an early campfire and some cooking over the fire before turning in for the night.

Day 4 – Lake Superior Provincial Park, Ontario

We woke up to a rainy morning and decided to bust out the Monopoly game after breakfast.  Monopoly games usually never get finished in this house.  They just keep going and going and going.  The kids love to play, but take forever to do so.  We usually end up cutting it off at a certain time and whoever has the highest asset value between cash, properties and buildings is declared the winner.  Reid, the youngest was the winner!

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After our Monopoly game, we decided to try our luck at a hike while the rain had stopped coming down.  We tried the short hike across the road that turned out to be a bit rugged for the kids and we eventually turned around at a creek crossing that required hopping very slippery rocks.  We ended up taking a short leg of a trail that wrapped around the backside of the campsites before making our way back to camp.  As luck would have it, a new storm came in and we were a bit happy that we turned around at that creek crossing or we would most likely have been caught out in the down pour.

The storm eventually blew over just in time for me to go jogging around the park.  Afterwards, Reid joined me for a walk down to the lake before the rain started coming down again.  Too bad it rained quite a bit of the time, but we still enjoyed ourselves.  Having the travel trailer has made it real nice for traveling.  We aren’t necessarily going for the full outdoor experience, but we like to get out and explore new places while still keeping ourselves comfortable and not getting burnt out from it.  We ended up with some real nice family time out of the rain storms.

Day 5 – Headed To Lower Michigan

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We headed out Thursday morning on a detour away from our Lake Superior Circle Tour toward lower Michigan to spend a few days with family.  We had a few stops to make along the way and the first was Agawa Rock Pictographs.  If you are driving through here, I highly recommend stopping by for a short hike.  Even if you don’t make your way out to the Pictographs, which are a little tough to get to, the short hike down to Lake Superior is worth the stop on its own.  The trail takes you through 2 little canyon walls and then down to Lake Superior along the bottom of a big rock cliff.  We did not take the kids down to the Pictographs, since they are along the rock cliffs that drop into Lake Superior.

Our next stop was in Sault St. Marie to see the Soo Locks.  This is a set of Locks on the St. Mary’s River that allow ships to go between Lake Superior and Lake Huron.  Lake Huron is lower than Lake Superior, so a set of locks are needed to raise and lower the ships to the different lake levels.  We were lucky enough to arrive just as a ship was pulling into the locks.  This was our last stop before making our way south across the Mackinaw Bridge for the next few days of visiting family.  We continued our camping by just setting up camp in our family’s yard for a few days.

Day 6 thru Day 9  – Lower Michigan

We spent the next few days enjoying family around nightly backyard campfires, a couple bike rides and a family reunion.  I surprised my Grandmother for a visit on one of the mornings and also enjoyed some coffee with my Mom one morning at the coffee shop.  We smoked 4 pork shoulders, a brisket and a pork loin that was darn good.  We basically had a grand old time hanging out and catching up with family!

Day 10 – Wilderness State Park, Michigan

I was excited about heading out this morning, because we would be following my parents to Wilderness State Park and we rarely have had the chance to caravan along with someone else on a trip.  After a few stops along the way, we would arrive in plenty of time to enjoy the late afternoon around the park.  We started a campfire and enjoyed some marshmallows over the fire.

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Day 11 – Wilderness State Park, Michigan

We started the morning off with our usual coffee, while getting breakfast for the kids.  I eventually jumped on my Fat Bike to check out the lay of the land and found myself down a mixed use trail where I washed out the front wheel of my bike on a wet boardwalk, slamming down on my right shoulder.  This was going to put a damper in the day.  When I returned, my Dad was ready to do some exploring via bike and we headed out with me trying to baby my shoulder.

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We made our way down some two track type trails to connect to the North Country Hiking Trail, which is also open to mountain bikes.  We went about 5 miles south down the North Country Trail before taking the Shoreline Drive back north and weaving our way down some country roads before finding another section of the North Country Trail that led us back to camp.  It was a nice 26 mile ride of exploring.

After returning to camp, we realized that we still had enough time to take a drive into Mackinaw City for a bit of tourist activity.  We wanted to check out the Mackinaw Bridge Museum that is in the 2nd floor of Mama Mia’s Pizza Parlor.  The artifacts and stories of building the bridge are pretty amazing.  I recommend stopping in, if you get the chance.  We made the usual stop down by the the water for a nice view of the bridge and then made our way back to camp for an evening campfire.

Day 12 – Wilderness State Park, Michigan

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I joined my Dad and my youngest son for a hike first thing in the morning.  Reid was pretty excited as he got to see two snakes along the trail and even had me take his picture with the one of the snakes in the background.  There wasn’t a perfect loop to hike and make our way back, but we headed down a nice hiking trail that popped us out on the road to make our way back to camp after covering 4 miles.

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The hike was just getting our day started and then my other son joined us for a trail ride on the mountain bikes.  We covered mostly two tracks and brought one of the shared use hiking trails back for a 7.5 mile ride.  Reid had all kinds of energy and just kept hammering the pedals as he would keep repeating to my Dad.  Every time he would come to a hill, he would yell out “I am going to hammer this”.  The little guy was a machine.

I wasn’t quite finished with my exercise for the day, so my Dad and I jumped on our road bikes and headed out for a spin.  We ended up riding 40 miles and made a nice loop through Carp Lake and then up near Mackinaw City before following the shoreline drive back out to the park.  It was real nice to have a couple days of riding with my Dad, while exploring some new roads and trails.

 Day 13 – McLain State Park, Michigan

We are getting really efficient at closing up the camper and headed out early to make our way to the Keweenaw Peninsula, one of my favorite places in the world.  The Keweenaw is known as The Copper Country but many people refer to it as God’s Country.  There is just a mental relaxation that comes over me as soon we get close.  As you drive along US-2, you start to realize you are only a few hours away and you just settle into the tranquil Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  We made 1 stop along US-2 for a quick break and a close up peak at Lake Michigan before making our turn north on the Seney Stretch.

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We stopped off at our relative’s place near Marquette for a break on the way thru, providing me with an opportunity to go for a trail ride on the Noquemanon South Trails that are an IMBA designated ride center.  After having rode these trails earlier in the summer, it would have been difficult for me to pass through without stopping off for a ride.  I actually dropped Lynn and the boys off at our relatives and took the trailer with me over to the trails while they went for an easier bike ride on the Iron Ore Heritage Trail, before meeting back up with me at the Noquemanon South trailhead.  There were a whole bunch of people at the trail head for some trail work or something, so I had a bit of an audience as I pulled my truck and camper into the full parking lot and had to back it in along the edge of the lot in the only space left.  I’d rather not have a big audience when I am going to solo back up the truck and trailer…  I pulled it off on the second attempt!

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After a trail ride and some lunch, we were all back together again and on our way to the Keweenaw Peninsula for the last stop on our Lake Superior Circle Tour.  After a stop at the IGA in Hancock, we arrived at McLain’s in the rain, just before dark.  We had the trailer set up quickly and everybody inside to enjoy the evening.  The kids got some games out and some of our relatives stopped by to hang out with us.  After years of driving by or through this park, we were finally going to stay here a few nights!

Day 14 – McLain State Park, Michigan

I wanted to get the kids out on a hike, so we headed out on the Bear Lake Loop Trail.  It was just over a 2 mile loop by hiking directly from our campsite.  One end of the trail leads out at the end of the park by the cabins before crossing the road, so we got to enjoy a little walk along Lake Superior on our way to the actual trail.  It was a nice wide trail that included signs in front of various trees.  My oldest son is old enough to read and really like learning what kind of trees were along the trail.  We came to what is designated as the fishing dock, which provided a nice view of Bear Lake, to find that it was a good thing we didn’t plan on fishing from it.  It is really shallow at the end of the dock and surrounded by Lily Pads and Cat Tails.

I was really wanting to get out on the mountain bike trails, but it had rained the night before and I don’t like riding on wet trails.  You may think that is crazy, because who doesn’t like getting a little muddy, but it can really mess up the trails if everybody rides on them when they are wet and the mud wreaks havoc on a bikes drivetrain.  I opted for taking my road bike out for a great little tour of the southern half of the Keweenaw through Calumet, Lake Linden, Dollar Bay and Hancock.

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I stopped and took a bunch of pictures along the way to document the ride.  I was lucky enough to see the Lift Bridge raise for the Ranger to come through and got a cool picture with my bike.  The Ranger is the boat that takes people out to Isle Royal and also has an evening cruise through the Portage Canal that is on our To-Do-List for one of our trips to the Keweenaw.

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We finished our evening with the Monster Truck show at the Houghton County Fair.  It was a small show with only 4 trucks, but the kids really enjoyed it.  This year, they had a spectator tug of war pull and there was a bit of damage from that.  They were not pulling the tension out of the rope before the trucks pulled, which resulted in ripping the hitch off of one truck with some major bumper damage and a broken driveshaft or axle on a jeep.  It was entertaining for the kids and a pretty cheap night as well.  The kids were free and it was only $7 for adults.  Pretty cheap for a Monster Truck Show!  Of course not so cheap for those in the spectator tug of war pull…

Day 15 – McLain State Park, Michigan

We started the morning off with some family time at the park.  McLain has 2 different day use areas.  One of them is right next to the campground and the other is less than a mile down the park road, where the canal dumps into Lake Superior.  If you stop through here, I recommend going down to this second park.  There is a nice picnic and beach area with a great view of the lighthouse.  I enjoy checking out the old lighthouses.

After the park, Lynn and the boys were headed to Grandma’s house while I did some mountain biking.  The Keweenaw Peninsula is a mountain bikers heaven with some great trails.  Copper Harbor is the big attraction, but there are some hidden gem trails in the Keweenaw and the Swedetown Trails in Calumet have a trail head just a few miles up the road from McLain State Park.  Lynn dropped me off at this lower trailhead before moving on to Grandma’s house while I enjoyed some great XC trail riding.

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After everybody returned to camp, we finished the evening off with a nice campfire and S’mores.  We found our own little way to make S’mores with chocolate covered cookies, instead of the traditional Graham Crackers and Hersheys, but my son decided to make the ultimate combo.  I also enjoyed a couple Oktoberfest Beers from the Frankenmuth Brewery in Frankenmuth, Michigan that I found at the local IGA.  It was the first time trying them out and they were fantastic.

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Day 16 – Home

After spending 15 nights in the camper, it was finally time to make our way home.  I have one stop that I usually like to make on our way out of Houghton and that is Roy’s.  You can’t leave the UP without having some sort of pasty, which we already had on Saturday, but making this stop before leaving town makes the trip whole.  I did change things up this time and opted for one of their breakfast pasties and it was definitely worth writing home about.  Roy’s is right down on the water front, so you can grab a pasty and coffee to enjoy at a picnic table next to the canal.  Summer only of course, as you would be sitting in 15 foot of snow in the winter…

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There are two main routes that you can take from the Keweenaw across Wisconsin.  One of them is taking US-2 that runs you along Lake Superior in Northern Wisconsin before heading south in Duluth, or take the 2 lane backroads through some National Forest and little towns.  As much as I like the lake, I was pulling the camper and not going to take advantage of the highway speeds anyways and opted for the small town 2 lane forest roads.

This decision paid off as we found a nice little day park on a small lake where we stopped for a lunch break.  The boys and I even jumped in the lake for a little swim to cool off and stretch the legs.  We found some snails and clams in the beach area also that provided some additional entertainment for the kids.  Plus, there was a nice bonus of a few wild raspberries growing next to the beach.  We eventually had to end our swim and finish the rest of our journey home.

We had a great trip and really enjoyed all of our time together.  It was a major bonus that we were also able to spend some time with family along the way!

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