Keweenaw Peninsula

In May we had the opportunity to take a long awaited 4-day trip to the western portion of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula aka the UP (or “Yoop” in local slang). It was an amazing trip that did not disappoint, and really spiked our interest to see more of this vast region!

First place we headed was to the Porcupine Mountains.  We did a quick drive around the Wilderness State Park and cruised through to the other side to see the Lake of Clouds.  Unfortunately, it was getting late and we hadn’t eaten lunch yet (which meant hangry was right around the corner for me), and we had a fussy baby on our hands. Then we realized there was a fee to get back there, so we decided to see it another time.  I’m sure we missed an incredible picture op and view from all the descriptions and the pictures that we have seen.  But, it gave us something to have to go back for!  Headed out of the park towards Houghton, we stopped along the coastline to feed Kaylee and make some lunch in the form of carnitas tacos. They were delicious and the view was incredible!!

The one thing we noticed about Lake Superior was that it reminded us of the ocean.  It is HUGE, has the waves of the ocean, the breeze of the ocean, but lacked the smell, the salt, and crabs scurrying around.  We decided instead of pushing through we had better find somewhere nearby to camp.  We came across the Ontonagon Township Park where we were able to camp right on the beach. I highly recommend the campground if you are in the area.  We walked around, explored the beach and after making dinner, we settled by the fire and watched the sun go down.  We ended the night with smores before headed to bed. We slept like babies to the sound of the ocean lake. We didn’t even need the sound machine for Kaylee.

Lake Superior Fun Facts:

·  Lake Superior contains 10% of all the fresh water on the planet Earth.
·  It covers 82,000 square kilometers or 31,700 square miles.
·  The average depth is 147 meters or 483 feet.
·  There have been about 350 shipwrecks recorded in Lake Superior.
·  Lake Superior is, by surface area, the largest lake in the world.
·  It contains as much water as all the other Great Lakes combined, plus three extra Lake Erie’s.

The following morning we had some bacon and eggs cooked on our trusty Tembo Tusk skottle and then packed up to continue up north.  We drove through the town of Houghton where we stopped at the Suomi Café, known for Finnish food, and tried their famous Pasty and Pannukakku.  They were both scrumptious (write up of this café will be under our Good Eats section soon on our site at Lone Star Adventurer).

After stopping for our snack, we hit up the Quincy Mine across the river from Houghton in Hancock, MI, before continuing our journey to High Rock Bay.  Once again, pressed for time, we only perused the outside of the mine.  The Quincy Mine was founded in 1846 and was the country’s leading copper-producing mine from 1863-1867.  Mining operations have been closed since 1945.  On the premises, you could see remaining hoist houses, shaft houses, and even able to look down one of the mining shafts.

We left the mine and were given a tip to check out the Gratiot River County Park located off Gratiot River Shortcut Rd in Allouez, MI.  It is was trip down a couple mile long dirt road trail that suddenly opens up to a beautiful view of Lake Superior’s 8,489ft sand, slate, and cobble shoreline.  There are several dispersed campsites back here if you are lucky to nab one.  We walked the beach and found lots of interesting rocks.

After checking out the area, we backtracked to the US-41/I-26 and towards Eagle Harbor where we checked out their lighthouse.  The red brick Eagle Harbor Lighthouse sits on the rocky entrance to the harbor and is a working lighthouse as it still guides mariners across the northern edge of the Keweenaw Peninsula.  The original lighthouse was built in 1851 and was replaced in 1871.  It is said that you could occasionally see the northern lights displaying their beauty from here.

Following this, we stopped at the Jampot (a must see stop if you are in the area) which is a Catholic monastery of the Byzantine Rite operated bakery.  They offer a variety of jams, jellies, preserves, fudge, and baked goods including giant muffins, lemon cakes, delicious peanut butter & jelly brownies and one of the best fruitcakes we had ever had.  I could literally eat this every day!


We came across a few waterfalls on our travels, one of which was right before the Jampot on the right.  Leaving the Jampot, we headed even further north.  Refueling in the quaint village town of Copper Harbor, we hit the dirt trail to High Rock Bay.

With no cellular service and going off of Gaia maps and friends’ gpx tracks, we went down the trail for what seemed like over an hour until we reached the stop sign at the end of the trail.  We were going to camp right at the point, but because the wind was strong and cold off the ocean lake, we chose to go a little further back, but did manage to take in a photo op first.  We had some dinner and watched a movie on our good old iPad (peaking out the window at the beautiful view due to the freezing wind chill) and set out in the morning to walk around and explore.  Before leaving the next morning, we worked our way down another very tight trail to check out the Keweenaw Rocket Range.

The Keweenaw Rocket Range is an isolated launch pad located in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula.  It was used between 1964 and 1971 for launching rockets for meteorological data collection.  NASA, along with the University of Michigan, conducted the project to collect measurements of electron density, positive ion composition and distribution, energetic electron precipitation, solar X-rays, and Lyman alpha flux.  The collected data was later to be compared to five other sites in the US.

We knew our trip was coming to an end, but we still had one more night and we didn’t have a set plan for it.  We stopped by to check out the Gay Bar in Gay, MI that people were telling us to visit. When in Gay, you go the Bar.

We decided to work our way closer to home so that we could get back home in Illinois semi-early the next day.  We ended up stopping in the Ottawa National Forest nestled along the Sturgeon River before hitting the pavement for good.

Isle Royale II

We listened as a wolf howled, seemingly right outside our shelter the first night. Yes, there are wolves on Isle Royale, and as the days wore on we would see their scat on the trail during the day, and hear them at night. Funny how their song wasn’t scary or creepy as you might imagine it to be. Just the same, their soulful music reminded us of the struggle for life that all creatures face here on the island, ruling out any midnight bathroom breaks for the girls.

Soon the dawn came and with fresh socks, full bellies and empty bladders it was time to leave our shelter and Three Mile behind. These shelters are a happy sight for weary hikers on the island, providing a respite from bugs and inclement weather. Before moving on, we took some extra time to sweep it out and leave it better than we found it.

Once we topped off our water bottles at the dock we were on our way again with all our worldly possessions on our backs, this time hiking along the shore through forests, swamps, and rocky outcrops towards the aptly named Daisy Farm and our next night’s campsite.

We saw all manner of wildlife while we were on the island. Moose, frogs, ducks, snakes, huge rabbits, chipmunks and a variety of birds. Mosquitos and bugs in general were nowhere near as bad as we had heard they would be, and we were thankful for that especially crossing the swampy areas.

Isle Royale has a human history dating back thousands of years. The island was a common hunting ground for native peoples from nearby Minnesota and Ontario with a canoe voyage of thirteen miles just to reach the island’s west end from the mainland. In prehistoric times, large quantities of copper were mined on Isle Royale and the nearby Keweenaw Peninsula. The region is scarred by ancient mine pits and trenches up to 20 feet deep, with further exploration and mining occurring on the island until the last mining company closed in the early 1890’s. We found several old mining ruins along the way.

A Note For Families: Taking frequent breaks while hiking makes for better memories. Take time to hydrate, eat snacks and rest while on the trail, especially with children. When the smiles are gone and it gets unusually quiet, it’s probably break time. Take time to soak in all the sights and sounds around you!

Continuing on, we were met with more plank roads through sensitive areas, more sun beaten rocky areas and more shady forest paths. The vibe on Isle Royale is one of quiet loneliness, we saw very few people hiking in either direction and the occasional bird song or fish jumping was the only sound as we worked our way towards Daisy Farm. Nothing here but you, your family, and the sights and smells of the forest.

It’s amazing how your thoughts and priorities become crystal clear while hiking.

Arriving at Daisy Farm in the afternoon, the spell of the forest was broken as we ran into people and quickly realized this was a bigger campground than Three Mile, a busy “hiker hub” where many trails connected.

The land rush was on to find a suitable campsite and once we had settled into an empty shelter, it was time for some much needed rest and leisure time. We were lucky enough to score a site with a nice view of the lake, and after a quick dip in the lake (we swam every day we were here) it was time for grub.

I’ve had my trusty Jetboil since 2006 and it still works like the day I bought it. We brought a variety of different brands of hiking meals along on this trip and they all have their pros and cons. I’d recommend trying a few at home before you get out there and realize that it’s not your thing. I walked away from this trip a big fan of Backpackers Pantry and Mountain House.

The Daisy Farm site was one of the very first camps for the Civilian Conservation Corps on the island in the 1930’s. From the Michigan DNR:

“Most Michigan CCC camps were in either national or state forests. The state’s only National Park Service camps were on Isle Royale, which had been designated a national park in 1931. On 13 August 1935, an advance party of twenty men from Company 2699, led by Captain Edward S. Thomas, arrived off the island in Siskiwit Bay. Forced to wade ashore, the men cleared a living area for the remainder of the company, which arrived later that month. The 2699th completed Camp Siskiwit and performed general forestry work before returning to the mainland in October. The following spring the company returned to Isle Royale and constructed Camp Rock Harbor at present-day Daisy Farm Landing.”

At Daisy Farm we were able to really relax. A much larger dock there meant I could get a running start to jump into Lake Superior, an exhilarating experience any time of the year. Quick baths were a big hit here, and sore feet were soothed by the cool waters.

Retiring to our sleeping bags, we spent a restful night listening to the nocturnal sounds of forest and lake.

Fully rested we awoke the next day to make the trip back to Three Mile and Rock Harbor. With one more night on the island we set off again down the trail, taking frequent breaks and mostly enjoying ourselves with little regard for any schedule.

This is the best way to live life. Unplugged.

A Note on Water Purification: We pulled water every day out of Lake Superior with this Katadyn Pocket filter with zero issues. NPS recommends a filter specification of at least 0.4 microns, the Katadyn Pocket filters at 0.2 microns (!), the filter’s silver impregnated ceramic element is effective against bacteria and protozoa, and can filter up to 13,000 gallons (50,000 liters) before needing a new ceramic element, depending on fresh water source and quality. I consider all surface lake and stream water to be contaminated with pathogens and so should you. Drinking contaminated water can make you very sick. Learn more HERE about types of contamination. To be 100% safe, water collected should be filtered and then boiled at a rolling boil (Jetboil etc) for at least one minute because most filters (even this one) do not filter out viruses. Viruses are typically found in warmer climates and they must be killed via boiling, adding chemicals like chlorine, or by using UV light from a device such as the Steripen.

Arriving at Three Mile again, we scored another shelter and made ready for our last night on the island. At this point we really had a good routine going. Make camp. Eat. Swim. Relax. Once the sun goes down it’s bedtime, and we got on average of nine hours a sleep each day, something that NEVER happens at home. Early to bed and early to rise is a thing on the Rock.

Our last morning on the island meant it was time for some rewards. We were looking forward to a hot lunch at the lodge at Rock Harbor and our scheduled plane ride at 3 PM meant hot showers and clean sheets that night in Houghton. With this on our minds, we made much better time from Three Mile to Rock Harbor on the way back than we did on the way in, and we arrived there in time for lunch and a leisurely wait for the plane.

Four long days on the island and we were still smiling. It seems that life without Wi-Fi had not been the end of the world after all.

Back at the seaplane base at Tobin Harbor, it was hurry up and wait and I was in no hurry to go back to the world. I seriously considered hijacking this small boat for the short crossing to Canada, and the never-ending adventures that life on the lam would bring us, but the damn plane came along and they would have spotted us in the harbor. This time it was a Cessna flying in to get us, a Cessna 206 Super Skywagon to be exact.

Back to reality, clocks, and a phone about to blow up with emails, voicemails and messages once we reached Houghton and civilization.

And just like that, Isle Royale was behind us, a distant memory of one fine summer where we said yes to Adventure and hopped on a plane to nowhere. This was our best trip yet and we can’t wait for the next Adventure!


Full Disclosure: The travel arrangements, equipment and provisions for this trip were funded entirely by the author, and all endorsements and opinions in this article are unsolicited. #IndependentMedia