Last weekend we went on an amazing trip up to the U.P. (Upper Peninsula for those of you who don’t know) of Michigan to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. It was a delightful trip full of adventure and fun.
Kristen was actually able to get Friday off of work (due to aging another year) and so dark and early, at 5:00 AM, my house was filled with the sounds of beeping as our alarms stabbed our ear drums awake. It wasn’t the healthy choice, but after getting on the road, we stopped at Steak N Shake for some tasty breakfast tacos. They were delicious and cheap and we ate way too many of them. (Almost) no regrets.
We were checking the weather frequently on our way up, because it kept changing it’s mind about how rainy the weekend was going to be and we were valiantly hoping for a break in the clouds. While crossing the Mackinac Bridge into the U.P., the clouds were as dark and ominous as they had been, which didn’t bode well.
After some internet research, we chose the Hurricane River campground, the lower site so as to be closer to the mouth of the river (which happened to empty into Lake Superior). We were surprised to find that there wasn’t an office to pay our site fees at, instead there was a just a happy bulletin board with information and instructions on paying and reserving your site through the clever use of cash money and paper envelopes that are deposited into a metal lock box. After filling out the requisite paperwork and giving them our money, we wandered off to find our home for the next few days. We picked a site on the edge of the campground where we could hear the waves of Lake Superior playing on the shore. Magical.
The site was pretty simple; a boxed off sandy area to put up the tent, a picnic table and small fire pit with a grill grate over it. We also enjoyed the enclosed vault toilets. Despite being a glorified port-a-potty, sometimes it’s nice to sit down when it’s business time instead of having to squat.
We got our site set up pretty quickly and went wandering off into the woods around the campground looking for fallen deadwood to gather for our fire, (don’t worry, the bulletin board told us it was okay to burn and gather it). Unfortunately the woods were picked very clean. We were able to scavenge some old deadwood, but it was fairly rotten and so not very dry, but it would have to do.
We were finally set to explore our surroundings! Nearby was the Au Sable Light Station so we started there with a hike through the woods, which ran parallel to the lake. It was pretty cloudy but luckily, it rained very little.
We went back to our campsite around 5pm (we think?? Neither of us wears a watch and the phones were in airplane mode in the tent) and started trying to get a fire going. After burning through a ton of newspaper and almost all of the kindling we could scrounge up, but we just could not get that fire hot enough to dry out the wood we did manage to find. The sweet couple at the neighboring campsite apparently took pity on us after hearing us tear up paper over and over again to feed our sad, smoldering attempts at a fire. They wandered over with some dry kindling as an offering and pointed out a few ways we could rearrange our fire to help it burn better. While our pride was hurt at first (and we were a little embarrassed that we needed help in the first place), we learned an important lesson about bringing firewood with us when at a site. Their kindling helped for a moment, but just wasn’t enough to get the momentum that we needed. It got dark, we were freezing and decided to forgo our original plan of star gazing on the beach and instead chose to just turn ourselves into sleepy burritos.
Our tent was super warm and we learned our lesson last time! We layered on some thermal long underwear and zipped into our sleeping bags this time, and both of us slept toasty warm.
Saturday morning we headed into town. We needed to pick up more cash for the next night at our campsite, as well as loads of dry firewood from a little place that our friendly neighbors told us about. They were on day 7 of their 10 day stay there and seemed like an authority on the matter.
While on our way, we decided to stop for breakfast at a little place called the Bear Trap. Our karafe of coffee was an adorable little penguin with googly eyes on it, which set the tone for our meal. The place was very rustic and charming, but let me pause a moment to tell you about their breakfast potatoes.
Seriously you guys.
Go to the U.P. Go to the Bear Trap. Eat your weight in their American fries. They’re cooked with onions and some secret seasoning that the waitress wouldn’t give up. Cooked perfectly, seasoned with care, they are so freaking good. Definitely not to be missed!
So we got our firewood and stopped and made a very important side trip to pick up an air mattress. Our old one had a leak so we didn’t bother to bring it, or replace it, thinking that some blankets and yoga mats would do the trick. Turns out, when you’re 30 you can’t do that shit any more. Our backs were killing us and cried out for some comfort for night 2. It was the best $30 I ever spent, absolutely the right decision.
Since we were out and about, we took a small detour over to Miners Falls, followed by Pictured Rocks Cliffs. Let me tell you, it very breathtakingly beautiful, especially since the leaves were at their pique colors for the fall season. I always forget how mountainous that area is, which is so different than below the bridge. We wound up doing a bunch of short (under 1 mile each way) hikes out to various waterfalls in the area, admiring all of the happy trees. (I’m only a little sad that I didn’t see one bear or moose on the trip)
When we made our way back to camp we got a ROARING fire going. I was just so excited to have such good wood that I went a little overboard for what we needed (don’t worry, safety first. We kept it all contained in the fire pit with a sharp eye out for stray sparks).
After chilling at the campsite for a bit, we went out wandering to the Hurricane River and hiked along it each way and then spent some time where the river empties into Lake Superior. Kristen eventually had to drag me away, because I could have spent forever sitting out there watching the river play with the waves from the lake.
We ate some sandwiches and settled ourselves in around the fire. We lamented our laziness in not packing some cook wear and more interesting food choices other than sandwich fixin’s, but in all fairness, we usually backwoods camp with minimal supplies. This was the first time we decided to stay in a campground and we both agree it was worth the money to have the vault toilets and the grill over the fire pit, even though you do give up the privacy and isolation. But now we know for next time so we can make an informed decision about which we’d rather.
We were having a good time around the fire and since I’d overbought firewood in a fit of compensation for Friday, we kept the fire going strong until fairly late. Buuut then all that rain that had been threatening since our trip began finally hit and the sky opened up. We hurriedly put what we needed in the car and curled up on our new air mattress (seriously a good investment).
I woke up right around dawn on Sunday morning, because my bladder would not be ignored. After getting bundled up (and trying to not wake Kristen up, a considerable feat I must say) I decided it was still dark enough to just squat next to the campsite, because it was a long, cold walk to the bathrooms. I tried to go back to sleep but alas, no more rest for me. I tried to get the fire going again with some wood that we still had in the car, but the base of the fire pit was simply too damp and the sky was spitting at me, just to be difficult. After a couple of hours, Kristen finally woke up and we struggled a little longer with the fire before deciding to just pack everything up and head out. We left all of our extra firewood under the picnic table, to hopefully stay (somewhat) dry for the next campers.
We went back to the Bear Trap to get more of those insane potatoes and had a stressful morning of trying to find a gas station, as we had no cell reception and a very low tank of gas (probably should have done something about that while we were in town on Saturday). Luck was with us, though and we found a small general store with 1 little pump out front. Crisis averted.
After breakfast we wandered out to a few more waterfalls and the log slide, which is a big cliff-side hill where the timber industry used to slide the logs down to the ships below in Lake Superior. There were a ton of warnings about not going down the log slide because it’s really hard to rescue you and most people can’t climb back up like they think they can. We didn’t risk it and stayed up at the top.
After being thoroughly rained on and out of neat things to go see in Pictured Rocks that we knew we wanted to hit, we started making our way back home.
Overall, we figured we hiked about 6-7 miles all together, adding up the short paths we did and estimating distance on those that either weren’t marked or we couldn’t remember. I’d love to go back sometime, it’s a beautiful area and I’d love to see it in sunnier weather, instead of the clouds and rain that we were treated to. But still a fantastic weekend in nature.
PS. Want to see more of our pictures from the trip? Check us out on Facebook!