8/21-8/28/21: Traverse City and Upper Peninsula

I have looked forward to this leg of the trip since we started planning! It was by happenstance this fortunately worked into some of our other plans. We knew that we were going to FROG Rally not far from the bottom of Lake Michigan, and we already planned for the bulk of September to be in Milwaukee going to various Summerfest concerts.

I was able to squeeze in a quick weekend trip to Traverse City and then Mackinac Island. Traverse City was a vibrant city with Lake Michigan as a focal point. It’s the biggest US producer of tart cherries and its known for the abundance of area wineries. As you drive through downtown, it’s all beaches and boating, sandy volleyball courts, and people out full force. We started with lunch at the Filling Station, which is a brewery in an old train building. Neither of us drink beer, but the flatbread pizza was delicious! We decided to tour the area on our motorcycle because it was a beautiful day and well, 55 miles to the gallon! (We have been averaging 11 when towing the RV).

We started by driving out to Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Most of the driving so far in Michigan has been roads lined with dense forests full of pines. There are scenic byways but our GPS is set to understand how large we are and keeps us on the best highways for towing. Their forests keep the “secrets” under wraps until you arrive to the next scenic spot, often at one of the Lakes. All the way to Bear Dunes was no different but once we were there – Wow! Gorgeous! The park is set up in a loop with various overlooks. The Ranger advised us to be sure to stop at 3, 9, and 11. He stressed not to miss 9 because it was the crown jewel of all the overlooks. I agree with him, but the wind on that one was slinging sand!

We briefly checked out the next town, Glen Arbor and stopped in at the original Cherry Republic, a specialty food store centered around the Traverse Cherries. They had everything you could imagine made with cherries and we were able to sample many of their candies and sauces. We finished by driving back to Traverse City and going up the Old Mission Peninsula. It’s about a mile wide with winery after winery. The views were nice, you could sometimes see the lake, other times you might be looking at cherry or peach orchards, and we saw at least two weddings! We finally stopped at the top where the Old Mission Lighthouse sits.

The next day, it was time to move on to the Upper Peninsula, which is joined to the mainland by the Mackinac Bridge. It is the largest suspension bridge in the Western Hemisphere, spanning 5 miles over the Straits of Mackinac, and the Lake Michigan and Huron portions of the Great Lakes Circle Tour. The first exit from the bridge was our first destination – the picturesque town of St. Ignace.

The UP has rich Native American History and our introduction to our campgrounds was a story about how it used to be a Native American Burial Ground. Before they MOVED the remains. GULP! I have obviously seen too many horror movies because in those moving the remains will result in curses, poltergeists, and other unwanted results. Despite that, it was a fine park and so far we do not seem to be cursed or haunted. In fact, we had full hookups and mama got to take some long showers! We have a continuous tank, so when I spoke about the short showers before it’s really because you don’t always have sewer hookups. So far, we haven’t more than we have.

We arrived early enough in the day to take the ferry over to Mackinac Island. The ferry ride was beautiful. We had a clear day and Lake Huron sparkled in a bright aqua color. The island itself is very quaint with much of the town being well preserved as historical sites. No cars are allowed on the island, everything is bicycle or horse and buggy. They do not allow eBikes, but it was too crowded there anyway. We checked out some of the boutiques and of course Murdock’s fudge. We were going to go up to the fort, which was probably the coolest part of the island, but it was so populated and touristy, we decided to head back to camp after just a few hours. We thought we would do the Fort another day, but didn’t find ourselves prioritizing it around Ed’s work time. We would plan things differently, and probably take in a meal at The Grand Hotel next time. (During the day of course, we aren’t carrying those kinds of dress up clothes on the RV!)

St. Ignace is a small town that curves along the lakefront of Lake Huron and a wonderful low-key spot to relax. I walked to the beach one day while Ed worked and sat and read for a couple of hours with my feet in the water, after the hustle of the last few months it was exactly what I needed. In the evenings, they had live music and we would go down and listen and walk around the park by the lake and lighthouse.

One evening, we went to a Mexican restaurant called Jose’s Cantina. Little did I realize that this meal was going to be so spectacular! Apparently, the owners were able to steal away a chef from the Grand Hotel named Roberto Gallo who has been crowned with having the best fish tacos in the state of Michigan. They are made from local whitefish caught the same day. I also didn’t realize there was a deck on back so we had a perfect beach view while feasting on perfect tacos! Seriously, I wake up thinking about them now. I also tried out the Traverse City Cherry Margarita, and I highly recommend! After that, it was our last evening so we decided to go check out the view from Castle Rock. You pay a dollar at a little tourist gift shop that reminded me of my childhood. The view was very nice and gave you a perspective of how much forest is there as well as a great view of the Lake.

Another evening we drove an hour north to Sault Ste. Marie which is across the river from a Ontario, Canada town with the same name. We primarily wanted to check out the Soo Locks. They allow shipping vessels traveling between Lake Huron and Superior to change their elevation while on the St. Mary River that joins them. It was neat to watch them flood the locks, slowly raising the vessels 21 feet so that it can continue through. Click through the slides below to see the various stages.

The next day, we set off for Tahquamenon Falls State Park just an hour away. We ventured early in the morning before Ed’s work to find the site that I had booked was an absolute no-go. We didn’t discover this until we took the RV into a place where you couldn’t turn around. I had google-earthed it when I booked, but that can be very deceiving. The registration center had told us there was a loop at the end so we could just keep driving if the site was too small. The loop was there but with the trees we couldn’t turn through it. That was an adventure, leading him out in reverse for a good half mile stretch. He was a pro though. While he was doing it another camper came up and said he was a professional truck driver and he had a lot of respect for my husband’s driving. I have to agree even if I am not always crazy about his driving! You can bet in the future we will either use the drone or one of us will bike down to sites.

I was able to scramble and get us a spot in a park not far down the road in Newberry. We were lucky because I had already scouted other parks earlier in the week for concern over internet coverage that Ed needs for his work. There were no openings within an hour radius when I had checked. I am guessing someone cancelled and we had good timing.

That all probably sounds like a nightmare, but we were pretty pleased that we navigated that well together and this is the kind of thing you have to expect out on the road. You have no real choice than either roll with the punches or decide to be miserable or panic over everything. And, really, that’s true in all of life. It’s just when you are carrying your house with you down the road, you have to expect that there are going to be all sorts of inconveniences and things that doesn’t work out like you hope. Most problems have solutions, and some you will like more than others.

We had cold weather there, it was 57 degrees and raining. It made a very nice cozy day in while Ed worked. I did find a break in the rain for a quick run but mostly hung out in my PJ’s all day.

The absolute best part of our week was in Munising to visit Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. We started the day going to the over look to Miner’s Castle. Then we headed into town and found EJ’s Diner and Dash, and had a nice lunch there. They specialize in polish food, and it was quick and delicious. We had just enough time to stop at Munising Falls before heading over to our kayak tour through Pictured Rocks Kayaking. My friend Nicole had just been and gave me the tip. (Thanks Nicole!)

The company themselves are professional, knowledgeable, have a great set up, and want you to have the most comfortable and fun time you can. This 5 mile trip along the stunning cliffs in the clear turquoise water will have your jaw dropping the entire time. I don’t think I ever stopped smiling or commenting to Ed about how much I loved it and how beautiful it was. Truly one of the best experiences I have ever had. The pictures don’t even begin to do it justice.

With only ten days to play with, I had to cut out some ideas and add them to a list for later. For example, I would have loved to have visited Isle Royal National Park. It’s on a remote island and is of the least visited National Parks. It is my understanding you can backpack across it in about 3 days, with shelters placed for stop and sleep points. We will definitely do that when we have more time!

We have enjoyed the Upper Peninsula. So much beauty and just enough quirks of rural living to make it the perfect place to relax and spend time in nature. We have a few more days to enjoy as we have just moved to Manstique today.

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