So you took the plunge, did your planning and homework and you are ready to begin your travels through the land of Gitchee Gumee and Hiawatha. Good for you! Stuff your duffel into your rented vehicle, kiss your airplane good bye, take the airport driveway to the first intersection and turn right. About five minutes west on M-28 Highway you will find a blinker light. Turn right (north) and the new blacktop will take you straight to Newberry where you can stock up and bug spray, sun tan liquid, cold cuts, beverages, ice, etc. You got the picture. If you are truly seeking new adventures leave Newberry heading north out of town and follow the signs a few miles to Oswald’s Bear Ranch. Open only in the summer months, Oswald’s is a huge compound containing many black bears in what is the closest thing to natural habitat you can find. This is a great place to stop and learn a bit about black bears and the history of the country. You can even have your picture taken with a live and feisty black bear cub. Just keep the Fruit Loops coming and nobody gets hurt!
Heading south from Newberry you will return to M-28 and turn right (west) again. Traveling though Upper Michigan in this area you begin to see how sparse the population is. The village of McMillan soon looms ahead and you’ll wonder all the more about what you have gotten into. The only thing left operating in McMillan is the Cobblestone Inn and a blinker light. The Cobblestone is a great stop for a burger and a beer. The drinks are generous, the hospitality warm and friendly, the food is great and there is simply no reason to miss it. Be warned though the Cobblestone like many other UP landmarks is open only part time. The thrilling days of yesteryear are fading and locals hang on as long as possible and then they too are swept away by the sands of time.
Farther down the highway you will find the little village of Seney. A former rail head and remnant of the past, Seney boasts Andy’s Bar, the Fox River Motel, a bank, a small railroad museum, a couple of gas stations and Fox River Automotive; the ONLY place to get service on your vehicle for miles around should you need it. Located just a short drive south west of Seney sits the Seney National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is 149 Sq. Miles of natural habitat with a visitor’s center and both driving and walking tours. Just take M-77 south out of Seney and watch for a big sign.
The blinker light in front of the Fox River Motel in Seney is where M-77 and M-28 collide and by pointing you vehicle north onto M-77 you are taking the only major road in the UP that terminates in the heart of Grand Marais. It is now decision time. You may drive to Grand Marais to begin you trek along the lakeshore or you can continue west on M-28 and begin your adventure in Munising with the termination of your tour back in Grand Marais. The choice is yours. Same gorgeous lakeshore either way. Oh, what the heck, let’s just amble up M-77 for another 25 miles and check in at Sunset Cabins and spend a relaxing afternoon and evening in Grand Marais. We can tour tomorrow.
North up the road then you will cross the east branch of the Fox River. Fishing in nearly all of the streams in the UP will produce trout in one species or another and the area is famous for that. In fact, about half way to Grand Marais is what is believed to be an old fish hatchery that is now a gorgeous little national forest camp ground with a flowing well right on the banks of the East Branch of the Fox. It was here that Hemingway fished and hiked and found inspiration for his book “Big Two Heated River.” The story is that he rode the train to Seney and then hiked the river north to this area where he (Nick Adams) camped with berry pickers and fished the river. You can easily see why it was inspirational for him. I have camped here many times in the past and find it a most peaceful space. With the crackle of a friendly fire, the gurgle of the Fox, and the Whippoorwill’s call in the evening, you are sure to find a good night’s sleep here!
Ah, Grand Marais is just over the hill! From the top of the hill south of the village you can see the big lake trailing off to the horizon and as you descend into the village there is often a noticeable drop in the air temperature. So much so that one of the favored dress codes here has you wearing hiking boots, shorts and a sweatshirt! I have seen children trick or treating in a snow storm dressed in snowmobile suits in this place in the wilderness! You would do well to pack with layering in mind for this trip. The weather off the big lake is unpredictable and changes very rapidly. Hiking along the lake shore anywhere can find you baking one minute and shivering the next.
Main Street is but two blocks long and many never get past the first block due to the Pickle Barrel Museum. The Pickle Barrel looms on your right when you first enter the village and while scratching their heads at this sight, many people just park right there and walk around the tiny business district. Created in 1926 on the shores of nearby Sable Lake, the Pickle Barrel House has a colorful past with ties to the Chicago Tribune and a noted author of children’s books. I will leave it to you to visit the village, see the Pickle Barrel and learn its history. The Pickle Barrel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Great views of the bay and the lake are found all over the village due to its placement right on the shores of both. A stroll around town will show you most of the local attractions like the Dunes Saloon, the Grand Marais Tavern, the old Grand Marais Post Office Museum, the IGA and Hardware stores, the Light Keepers House, and more. A walking tour of the village is a great way to spend an afternoon and self-guided tour booklets are available from the Grand Marais Historical Society. Visit them at: www.historicalsociety.grandmaraismichigan.com. As you wander the small, tidy village you will find it hard to believe that this place was once a bustling and vibrant town filled with shop keepers, doctors, lawyers and banks all shored up by a boom in both lumbering and fishing. Grand Marais was literally at the end of the tracks because the only way to get there for most of its boom years other than by boat, was by a train from Seney operated by the lumber companies.
Heading west along the H-58 it is but seconds and you are in the middle of a mighty big empty. Sable Lake (pronounced “saw-bull”), the Grand Sable Dunes and Sable Falls all beckon you to stop and look and breathe. You have only begun the lakeshore trip and already you are slowing down to take it all in. What a fabulous tonic old lady nature provides us if we will just listen to her wisdom. The lake is an inland lake that was no doubt part of Gitchee Gumee ions in the past. The adjacent dunes are huge and terminate farther north at the shore of Lake Superior. (The 300 foot high dunes are spectacular if flying near to them.) Hiking the dunes here is permitted. Beware though, poison ivy loves this climate and some of the largest patches of the largest ivy I have ever seen grow in in this sandy country. If you are heeding the urge to explore all you can possibly see on this trip, it very well might be that you spend your afternoon in just this one little corner of the park hiking the dunes, following the Sable Creek past its falls all the way to the big lake, and strolling the shores of Sable lake before returning to Grand Marais to start fresh again the next morning. It has happened before.
By the mid 1800’s the growing U.S. lumber industry had used all the resources of the NE United States and so the timber companies set their sights on the Upper Michigan area. The section of the UP now included in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore was a portion of the country known for its high quantity of white pine, the building material of choice for a growing nation. Loggers moved into the area and a burgeoning industry sunk a root. Timber companies bought up huge tracts of land throughout the lakeshore areas and the lumbering boom brought civilization to the area. White pine lumber from the forests of the Grand Marais and Munising areas was responsible for a huge amount of westward expansion in the U.S. Whole autonomous lumber camps were established in the UP and as one area was harvested and ran dry, the camp would move and set to work in another timber rich area. These camps and this boom both played a great part in the establishment and longevity of the Grand Marais and Munising settlements.
Twelve miles west of Grand Marais along H-58 there is a turn to the right that will take you to the “Log Slide.” It is hard to fathom the amount of work it must have taken to bring cut timbers to this point along the coast and even harder to envision a log slide or flume where cut timbers were slid over the edge of the 300’ drop and allowed to skid all the way to the bottom of the Grand Sable Dunes down wooden gutters or “flumes.” Logs were slid down the 35 degree slope to the waiting bay below where they were rafted together and floated to Grand Marais for processing. There were several of these types of log slide built along the lakeshore in those days. The log slide area west of Grand Marais is still there and a fantastic visual experience awaits those who stop here. Modern day visitors are rewarded with a spectacular vista of the Grand Sable Dunes to the east and the Au Sable Point and its light house to the west. Caution must be used when hiking around this area as well since the poison ivy along the trail is huge and knee deep. A short walk to the top of the dunes and the reward is a view that is quite worth the risk. A hiking trail departs from the viewing area and follows the Lake Superior shoreline 2.7 miles to the Au Sable Point Light station. As tempting and beautiful as this short hike may be, the walk to the light station from Hurricane River further to the west is a mile shorter and much less strenuous. The Log Slide is an experience for all; but younger visitors are drawn to the steep sand dunes to take the challenge: Who can make it to the bottom and back to the top the fastest?
Well, down is easy right? Not really. Most people opting to take the slide to the water’s edge underestimate both the 300’ drop and the steepness of the slope. The internet is filled with stories about injuries sustained while running to the bottom of the dunes or physical distress incurred while trying to climb back up to the top. If you are not in the best shape of your life it is probably best to simply enjoy the view. For some appreciation of how far away the bottom of the dunes are, bet one of the younger members of your corps they can’t hit the water at the bottom with a rock thrown from the top.
Just another four or five miles farther west of the Log Slide you will find the Hurricane River. This river is short, only about 6.5 miles long, but the Brookie fishing here is great. The water is fast and upstream from the highway is prime “brookie” cover with blowdowns and snags forming pockets and pools ideal for brook trout cover. Hip boots can be used for fishing here but due to the cluttered nature of the stream, most of it may be fished without boots at all if you just watch where you step. The Hurricane flows into the Big Lake here and the mouth of the stream is forever changing. Long sandy beaches and a quiet and clean campground are yours for the taking. From the eastern end of the campground you can join the trail to the Au Sable Point Light Station just 1.5 miles in length. Sand beach gives way to rocky shoreline as you hike eastward and you have to decide whether to stay on the trail or venture along the water’s edge. If you choose the beach you are rewarded with several old ship wrecks grounded on such sandy beaches as there are. Either way you end your stroll at the light station. I should mention here that the U.S. Forest service failed to receive the memo about public places being dog friendly. Nearly all of the hiking trails in the area and even the entire lakeshore trail are posted as “Pets Prohibited.” I guess I can understand their thinking, but some of us have well mannered, well trained buddies who will not foul a footpath or accost another hiker or even their pooch if they have one. Seems a shame since Pappy absolutely loves to hike the shoreline!
Built in the late 1800’s the light at Au Sable Point serves as a warning for mariners about the Au Sable Point reef that has water as shallow at six feet and extends out into the lake for a mile or so. The clear water of Lake Superior makes it easy to see a good portion of the shallows from the bluff upon which the lighthouse sits. The lighthouse itself is sixteen feet at its base and eighty seven feet tall. It still serves as a navigational beacon on the lake, though these days it’s automated. In its day the station featured a light that penetrated eleven miles into the night over the lake and a fog horn as well as rescue equipment. While the station was originally designed to accommodate only one keeper, a residence was added on in the early 1900’s to accommodate an assistant. Tours are available for the lighthouse and the keeper’s house in the summer season. If you are a lighthouse buff you can visit www.nps.gov and search for the station. This hike, the lakeshore of the area, and the tour are highly recommended.
Gee, you have come this far, Twelve Mile Beach is only another four miles! The access road to Twelve Mile winds north off H-58 though a dense stand of Silver Birch trees and at the end a large campground and visitor area greets you. Twelve Mile is one of the few wide open beach areas along the lake shore and bigger than most of the rest. Camping is available at the top of the dune and water and upgraded toilets are installed. This is a great place to visit if only for a day trip or picnic. The large expanse of sandy beach gives way to millions and millions of lake stones at the shoreline. Indeed, most of the shoreline in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is littered with stones of every size and color. Agate hunting is a favorite pastime all along the lake shore and the beach in Grand Marais in front of the county park is even named “Agate Beach.” It is difficult for many of us back country airplane lovers to look at this stretch of Twelve Mile Beach and not think about how great it would be to land a Cub or a Maule on the sand here. Of course, that would be in violation of park rules. Still, I am pretty sure it has been done at least once.
Pushing ever westward you will see the country change from maple covered hills and birch covered dunes to high plains. Much of the flat country is dotted with huge old tree stumps. This is some of the white pine country of the past now gone but not forgotten. Lakes begin to break the landscape here and there with signs pointing the way off H-58 to each. Kingston Lakes Campground sits on a peninsula jutting into the middle of Kingston Lake and is located in the Kingston plains area well west of Twelve Mile Beach right on H-58. Fishing, camping, canoeing and hiking abound here as they do nearly everywhere in this land of the Hiawatha and Paul Bunyan. Distance between wonders gets a bit longer from here to Munising but the natural wonders that lie ahead inspire more “oooooh’s and ahhhhh’s.”
Beaver Basin sits well downhill from the main road (H-58) at the end of a winding access road. If you are camping be forewarned that there is a size restriction here due to the difficulty of access. Large motor homes (I don’t know what you rented!) don’t do well in this campground. Beaver Basin is a designated wilderness area within the boundaries of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and includes the waters of Little Beaver Lake, Trapper Lake, and Legion Lake as well as five cold-water streams in the area. The basin is connected to a good portion of the North Country trail and provides a beautiful short hike to the Lake Superior Shoreline. Camping is more primitive here, day tripping is possible and hiking is a must. The Lake Superior beaches and water falls near Little Beaver Lake Campground are breathtakingly gorgeous. If you are looking for solitude, the Beaver Basin would be a good place to begin your search. For some gorgeous photos and hiking tips about Beaver Basin area I recommend you visit: http://www.michigannutphotography.com/blog/2014/6/-beaver-basin-wilderness-exploring-pictured-rocks-national-lakeshore
No trip down the lakeshore would be complete without visit to the Mosquito Creek / Chapel Rock area near Melstrand about 15 miles from Munising. The road off H-58 to this area is much improved since I first located it decades ago. Day hiking would be great here if you base in Munising. The walk from the parking area to Chapel Rock, Chapel Lake, Chapel Falls and Chapel Beach is awesome with bits of it spanning the tops of the Pictured Rocks cliffs. It is a bit longer than you may like; about 6.5 miles round trip to see it all. The whole Chapel loop including the Mosquito Creek area is a bit over 10 miles. Still, good stuff never comes easy! So c’mon, lace up those hikers, drag on your cargo shorts and wiggle into that sweatshirt. The hike is worth the pictures and the memories are worth everything! You are going to want to spend some time on the shoreline once you get to it. I wager you have never seen anything like it before. Don’t forget the camera! Hope you brought a cooler full of cold drinks and snacks for after the hike because as mentioned earlier, the Melstrand Store is no more.
My how far we have come away from the civilized world. All this walking a fresh air and wilderness kinda works up a thirst and an appetite. Fear not. Civilization has come out to meet you. East of Munising where the only highway you have seen lately (H-15) intersects with H-58; sits “The Bear Trap Inn.” A large and homey place with good service, the Bear Trap features a good selection of kitchen favorites including fresh fish and those highly sought after UP Pasties! A little break here might be just what you need prior to pushing on to the west end of the lakeshore and in to Munising. This will probably be the best meal you have while touring the lakeshore because it is the only meal you will find for the entire length of the trip!
The Miners River area lies at the western edge of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. As if there weren’t enough magical things to see here, nature has also added a falls on the Miners River which is accessed via a half mile trail from a parking lot about four miles north of H-58 on Miners Castle Road and prior to getting to the lakeshore area. As with nearly everything else you see in the park, the stroll to the falls is well worth it. The Miners River flows out of the forest and down to the big lake and terminates at Miners Beach. The long and sandy stretch of beach here offers sunbathing, swimming, fishing, hiking, and a picnic area with rest rooms. There is no camping at Miner Beach. The access road for this whole area, aptly named “Miners Castle Road,” terminates at the Miners Castle which looms spectacularly above the Miners Beach area. This multicolored sandstone sentinel looms approximately 200 feet above the greenish waters of Lake Superior. The North Country trail crosses this area and continues to the east of Miners Beach along the tall rugged cliffs that are the Pictured Rocks and ultimately passes through the Chapel area. Hiking east from Miners Beach will place you at the top of numerous water falls running over the edge of the rocky cliffs and into the cold clear water of Lake Superior 200’ to 300’ below. The most notable falls in the area are Spray Falls and Bridal Veil Falls though numerous other are present. This hike is what I would term a “far piece.” It can be done in a day but you will have traveled a good bit when you finish. The National Parks Service urges you to use caution and good judgement when hiking along the trail in this area as there are no guardrails; just you, the edge of the cliff, and very cold water below.
Munising. Nestled in the bottom of the bay, Munising sits like a jewel at the edge of great expanse of Lake Superior. The end or possibly just the beginning of your upper Michigan tour. Munising is the county seat of Alger County and home to Munising bay, Grand Island, and the western gateway to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Founded in the late 1800’s, Munising was originally a bit farther west at Au Train. It was later moved east to its current location which was at that time a Chippewa Indian Village at Sand Point. As mentioned earlier this is where you want to come to if you are going to ride the boat tour down the Pictured Rocks lakeshore. Pictured Rock Cruises is for summer season visitors only so be sure to ferret out their last day of operation if you are planning to catch the fall colors on this cruise.
The rock outcroppings in the Munising area are perfect for the formation of waterfalls large and small and Mother Nature outdoes herself in the Munising area. Cruising around the area you will find several waterfalls practically in town and easily accessible with just a short stroll along an easy to find trail.
The “East Channel Light” on the South shore of Grand Island sits where it was first constructed in 1865 on the “thumb” of Grand Island nearly across from Sand Point Coast Guard Station. The original structure was commissioned by Congress after petitions from Great Lakes Mariners who complained that the harbor at Munising was one of the best ports in a storm for hundreds of miles along the lakeshore, but was made dangerous by the lack of a proper lighthouse on the south shore of Grand Island. Congress capitulated over a couple year span and eventually $16000 was approved for the construction of one or more lights in this area. The light is an unusual wooden structure and one of the oldest if not the oldest on the Great Lakes. The light operated from 1867 until 1908 when more modern lights were installed in the east channel area. The light weathered many storms over the years and was even damaged by a lightning strike. It faded with the years and fell into disrepair. In 2002 the Alger County Historical Society formed the East Channel Lighthouse Committee in order to build support for repairing the old landmark. Work on the restoration began in 2002 and major and minor repairs alike were completed in 2005. Though not in service, the East Channel Light still stands as a silent guardian reminding us of the colorful past this beautiful area possesses.
Grand Island sits roughly a half mile from the mainland just east of Munising and is accessible only by water. You may catch the ferry that runs to the island from west of downtown Munising on Munising Bay. A schedule is available from the Grand Island Ferry folk’s web site. Grand Island is a National Recreation area and is available to only 10,000 visitors per year. Reservation must be made in order to visit here.
Settlers first built a trading post on this 50 square mile hunk of rock in 1846 for trade with the Chippewa Indians of the area. The Forest Service purchased the island from the Cleveland Cliffs Mining Company in 1990 and it sits within the Hiawatha National Forest. There are some permanent home sites on the island and most of them are 100 years old or older. Visiting here is like turning back the clock. Remaining home are in “grand” condition. Trails and wildlife abound on the island but facilities are a bit sparse. If you enjoy big empty spaces surrounded with natural beauty unspoiled by civilization, Grand Island is the place for you. Hiking, swimming, hunting, fishing, camping and biking are all available on Grand Island. Two small cabins sleeping up to eight hearty hikers a night are available for rent from the Forest Service. Cabins are rustic and you will need to bring everything you need to stay here except a mattress. Mountain bikes may be rented on the island as well and are popular way to navigate the island trails. If you are a hearty soul who likes the challenge of seeing everything there is to see then you will want to hike or bike all the way to the north end of the island to see the lighthouse and cliff view offered there. For more about Grand Island access, ferry, bikes or rental cabins please visit: http://www.grandislandcabins.com/index.php
Just when you thought you couldn’t find anything more exciting to do with you time on a tour of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore you find that the Great Lakes, and the Munising area in particular, are prime wreck diving territory for the truly adventurous. Of course that Lake Superior water can be pretty damned cold so while it is true that you can successfully dive wrecks in the area, glass bottomed boat tours are also available for those of you who would rather stay warm and dry while you explore the maritime history littering the floor of the Lake Superior bays. For more on boat tours and wreck diving in the Munising area please visit: http://shipwrecktours.com/diving-charters/
My journey complete and new memories filed, I throw my duffel into the back of the Mooney, whistle up Pappy, and climb aboard. In my case it is just an hour and a half of serenity and I will be back to the hustle and bustle of everyday life. That part of my life had been pushed aside and nearly forgotten for 2-3 days while I revisited all the nooks and crannies of this beautiful, quiet portion of the Great Lakes. Level and smooth at 8000’ I cross Lake Michigan, kiss the shore over Beaver Island, and top the cloud cover at Charlevoix. A welcome tail wind joins my flight and I cruise quietly with only a bit of chatter from Minneapolis Center to distract me from my Zen like state. This is why I go “up there.” This is why I will be back.
Now, I am sure all of this is overwhelming to pilot types who just want to just want to fly off for a $100 hamburger for the day. Well, it is. However, this trip could wind up being the highlight of a summer flying vacation. It will however, require more than a day and more than just planning a cross country flight. But to be in a hurry here is to miss all the area has to offer. Once you visit the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore your love of the natural wonders of the “Mitten State” may have you returning to visit other magical places to be found here. “If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you!”
Song of Hiawatha
HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW
By the shores of Gitche Gumee, by the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis, daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.
Dark behind it rose the forest, rose the black and gloomy pine-trees,
Rose the firs with cones upon them; bright before it beat the water,
Beat the clear and sunny water, beat the shining Big-Sea-Water.
There the wrinkled old Nokomis nursed the little Hiawatha,
Rocked him in his linden cradle, bedded soft in moss and rushes,
Safely bound with reindeer sinews; stilled his fretful wail by saying,
“Hush! the Naked Bear will hear thee!” Lulled him into slumber, singing,
“Ewa-yea! My little owlet! Who is this, that lights the wigwam?
With his great eyes lights the wigwam? Ewa-yea! My little owlet!”
Many things Nokomis taught him of the stars that shine in heaven;
Showed him Ishkoodah, the comet, Ishkoodah, with fiery tresses;
Showed the Death-Dance of the spirits, warriors with their plumes and war-clubs,
Flaring far away to northward in the frosty nights of winter;
Showed the broad white road in heaven, pathway of the ghosts, the shadows,
Running straight across the heavens, crowded with the ghosts, the shadows.
At the door on summer evenings, sat the little Hiawatha;
Heard the whispering of the Pine-trees, heard the lapping of the water,
Sounds of music, words of wonder; “Minne-wawa!” said the pine-trees,
“Mudway-aushka!” said the water.
Saw the fire-fly Wah-wah-taysee, flitting through the dusk of evening,
With the twinkle of its candle lighting up the brakes and bushes,
And he sang the song of children, sang the song Nokomis taught him:
“Wah-wah-taysee, little fire-fly, little flitting, white-fire insect, little, dancing, white-fire creature,
Light me with your little candle, ere upon my bed I lay me, ere in sleep I close my eyelids!”
Saw the moon rise from the water, rippling, rounding from the water,
Saw the flecks and shadows on it, whispered, “What is that, Nokomis?”
And the good Nokomis answered: “Once a warrior, very angry, seized his grandmother, and
Threw her up into the sky at midnight; right against the moon he threw her;
‘Tis her body that you see there.”
Saw the rainbow in the heaven, in the eastern sky the rainbow,
Whispered, “What is that, Nokomis?” And the good Nokomis answered:
“ ‘Tis the heaven of flowers you see there; all the wild-flowers of the forest,
All the lilies of the prairie, when on earth they fade and perish,
Blossom in that heaven above us.”
When he heard the owls at midnight, hooting, laughing in the forest,
“What is that?” he cried in terror; “What is that,” he said, “Nokomis?”
And the good Nokomis answered: “That is but the owl and owlet,
Talking in their native language, talking, scolding at each other.”
Then the little Hiawatha learned of every bird its language,
Learned their names and all their secrets,
How they built their nests in summer, where they hid themselves in winter,
Talked with them whene’er he met them,
Called them “Hiawatha’s Chickens.”
Of all beasts he learned the language,
Learned their names and all their secrets,
How the beavers built their lodges,
Where the squirrels hid their acorns,
How the reindeer ran so swiftly,
Why the rabbit was so timid,
Talked with them whene’er he met them,
Called them “Hiawatha’s Brothers.”
** Some photos courtesy of the National Parks Service.
** East Channel Light Photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard
** Dive photo courtesy of Shipwrecktours.com
Author: Tom Speerstra
Tom Speerstra has had an enduring love affair with aviation for over 40 years. Countless adventures have been enjoyed flying students, people, paper, and parcels in everything from Champs to Citations. He has held positions as both Chief Pilot and Director of Operations for Part 135 carriers and holds an ATP, MEII, SES ratings and a Citation type rating. Tom makes his home in Michigan with his wife Elizabeth and the two dogs Hess and Pappy.