Voyaguers, Isle Royale and Cuyahoga Valley National Parks - the Great Lakes and the Great North Woods!
They just don’t do reservations on line and seem uncomfortable with email. Up in the “North Woods”, a phone call, not a voice mail, seems to be the only way to get a room or a ferry. And, it feels like I need to allow a little more time to “chat it up”.
Regardless, Tom and I are all set to go on Labor Day, 2017 for our great adventure to Voyageurs, Isle Royale and Cuyahoga Valley National Parks (39-42 out of 59 for us) with a little genealogy stop in Ludington, MI in route.
Day One and Two – Baptism River B & B
An uneventful, just what we like, three-hour flight gets us, and our friend Steve Jones, to Minneapolis. And, another four-hour drive along Lake Superior’s north shore gets us to Jones’ cousin’s and his wife’s beautifully designed log Baptism River B & B in Silver Bay, MN. We “hit the hay” after a nice visit with our hosts and awaken to a fabulous breakfast.
Tettegouche State Park is close by so we take a nice walk along Baptism River and the volcanic coastal cliffs and then explore town. The area has an industrial feel even though the iron ore industry, upon which Silver Bay was founded, is clearly in decline.
I eat my first Walleye, a local white fish, for dinner and enjoy another peaceful night in the lovely B & B.
Day Three and Four – Voyageurs National Park
Jones is a map guy and we rely on Liza, my Galaxy S5, so when Liza has us turn on a dirt road to avoid the major, but winding, highway one, things get a bit tense. Nonetheless, we make it in plenty of time, to Ash River Visitor Center to catch our boat out to Kettle Falls Inn, the only lodging in the Park. We get to sit outside, on the back deck of the boat, and take it all in. There are over 300 islands and 30 lakes in Voyageurs National Park, established in 1975. One island looks just like the next – endless greenery (pine, fir, spruce, birch, aspen and maple). It would be easy to get lost. Today is sunny, the water is glassy, and the sky is blue with a few cumulus clouds floating by – not many others are around.
After a fast and smooth 25-minute ride, we arrive at the “Tiltin Hilton”, renovated in the 1980’s to look just like the original (circa 1910) white with red trim Kettle Falls Inn, including the massively tilted floor in the bar.
We sit in the warm fall sun just outside the bar, after checking out our modest rooms. Missy, the colorful bartender chats with us during her smoke break. She proceeds to ask us our room numbers and then warns us, in all seriousness, that the “girls” sometimes turn the jukebox on late at night and not to be alarmed – they like to party. Per Missy, the Inn was a House of Ill Repute in addition to what the brochures say –a lumber, mining and then tourist lodge. She continues to share that the “girls” also enjoy visiting single men in #213 and #206. Jones, now laughing pretty hard, is in #213!
Kayaking is on my to do list for this Park and today is the day! Although our departure is delayed due to rain, the water remains glassy and the scenery is spectacular. We make a wrong turn which is easy to do, so Tom and Steve (they are in a canoe) get to see five juvenile otters scrambling through the wild rice grass. Beaching is limited so after a few hours we turn back toward the Inn for our final night.
Voyageurs National Park is named for the French fur traders from the early 1800’s. Their canoe route now defines the border between the US and Canada.
Day Five - Grand Portage National Monument
Another six-hour drive northeast from Ash River gets us to pleasant Grand Marais, where we gaze at Lake Superior and savor trout at the Angry Trout. An hour later, we arrive at Rock Hollow, a nice cabin right on the lake shore, just in time for the marvelous sunset. Our early morning departure comes too quickly – we wish that we had time to explore Grand Portage.
Day Six – Eight – Isle Royale National Park
Somehow, I expect more than the grass parking lot and medium size boat on a small dock at the Isle Royale departure point. As we board it’s clear that this may be an especially long eight-hour voyage on the Voyageur II, fondly called “the beer can” by locals.
The crossing takes us two hours to get to Windego Harbor. Then we follow the Isle Royale shore up and around the northern tip of the Island, prior to finally arriving in Rock Harbor, on the east side. The Island is blanketed with a green boreal forest and bordered with a rocky basalt shore. The sun appears halfway through the trip making the tiny back deck the place to be.
Bags are unloaded and taken to our cottage such as it is; excellent view of Tobin Harbor and the seaplane dock but kind of a weird floor plan. Regardless, it’s home for the three of us for four nights.
Isle Royale is actually comprised of more than 400 small islands formed by retreating glaciers. Today we follow the 4 mile well marked trail out to Point Scoville. The trail meanders through low vegetation and showcases panoramic views of the Ocean, oops I mean Lake, to the east from the exposed rugged cliffs. We enjoy a snack out of the wind once to the point and take it all in. What a spectacular introduction to this unique Isle!
Strong winds prevent kayaking on day two, so we walk in the opposite direction of yesterday along less exposed Tobin Harbor. We are desperate to see one of the ever-expanding moose population (1,600) but no luck again today. There are only two wolves remaining. The Park is looking to re-introduce wolves, so the moose don’t eat the entire Isle.
Today is the day - we finally get to kayak! As soon as we launch, right below our cabin, we sit excitedly silent and listen to all the wailing calls of the Loons – so special. Then, we paddle north down Tobin Harbor, take out and hike up to the Louis Lookout with scenic views all the way to Ontario. As we glide back to the sea plane dock, I am struck by the cabins, many abandoned and now crumbling after the Park was established in 1940.
As our visit ends, and we say goodbye to Jones (he is going back to see his cousin), Isle Royale moves to the top of the list for a remote and less traveled National Park. (It gets about the same number of visitors in an entire year as the big Parks get in a morning.)
Boarding the Ranger III, east to MI, is a blast! Built specifically for this route in the 50’s, it’s the largest vessel in the Park Service fleet. The vintage teal interior is in mint condition including the lunch counter and ole smoking lounge. After settling into the 50’s, we lose sight of land quickly as we head south. Low winds and glassy water make for a lovely ride. The last hour of our voyage takes us through the narrow Keweenaw Channel into Houghton, MI
Day Nine – Sheridan on the Lake
Back to civilization, our big adventure is over. Usually we don’t stay at B & B’s, but this trip is an exception and Sheridan on the Lake B & B in Houghton is another great recommendation from friends.
After a wonderful breakfast and good company, we take the scenic route to Ludington, MI. Our only stop gets us in the MI mood. We savor a Petoskey, the coal miners lunch, on the sandy shores of Lake Michigan.
Day Ten and Eleven – Ludington, MI
We drive down the main street in Ludington, a cute historic town on the sandy eastern shores of Lake Michigan, and turn left on James Street stopping at 502 South. A modest, well kept, white house sits on the corner – that’s it, my Norwegian family’s home from about 1890-1910! I, and Tom by default, are here to learn more about them. It’s kind of surreal. I have heard vague stories of the Oleson family and Ludington my entire life and here we are. Sunset at the Stearns Park feels just like the Pacific – but it’s a lake!
The historic Ludington House, Jamessport Brewing Company , Lakeview Cemetery, local lighthouses and the Ludington Historical Society are our haunts while in town. Gale, Tom’s fishing buddy, even comes over from Mt Pleasant to hang with us.
Day Twelve and Thirteen – Cuyahoga Valley, OH
After a three mile walk out to the Breakwater Lighthouse, I am a little sad to leave my family’s hometown. We drive south to Cuyahoga Valley National Park. A unique Park, it was originally established to preserve the valley between Cleveland and Akron, OH and restore the Cuyahoga River. Heavy use began once the horse tow path along the old Erie Canal (destroyed by a flood in 1913) became a biking and hiking trail. The National Recreation Area was promoted to a Park in 2000.
We arrive at the Inn at Brandy Wine Falls to a warm greeting from George and Katie, hosts of the Inn for over 30 years. The Inn is the former home of a prominent lumberman, and is leased from the National Parks Service. It has been lovingly renovated by our hosts and is the only place to stay in the Park.
Breakfast is simply outrageous – like a dinner party! Afterwards, we make our way to the historic Boston Store Visitor Center for the requisite movie and stamp and begin our long walk along the River amid colorful fall foliage. At mile seven we run into a crowded market, lively country music and lunch huts at Hunt Farm - sure doesn’t feel like a traditional National Park. In another two miles we wait in the cool shade for the party train on the historical tracks that takes us back to Boston Store!
We opt for our second dinner on Creekside’s deck, despite the fact that it’s somewhat humid outside, prior to sweet dreams in our spacious suite. Morning brings another gastronomical event and a five mile walk around the Brandywine Falls area.
We will never forget George, Katie and the Inn!
Day Fourteen - Home
We depart for the Cleveland Airport and then head back to Seattle albeit on a late flight due to a lightning strike – always my favorite. We have now visited 42 out of the 59 National Parks. But, what impresses us on this massive road trip (1,600 miles) is the variety in our own country, not only in geography but in people and their culture. The Great Lakes region was settled by Scandinavians, English and Irish in the early 1800’s and remains that way today. They appear to be a hardy bunch - you’d have to be to survive the winters. We enjoyed spending time around these kind folks and their territory!
Check out other National Park visits on our way to reach our goal (now 61) below:
We like to give back to the National Parks through the National Park Foundation.