The Great Lakes are the largest body of freshwater in the world with a surface area bigger than Texas and with shorelines that pass through Ontario, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. This Great Lakes road trip was inspired by the Great Lakes Circle Tour. Our tour consisted of three legs: Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, and lastly Lake Superior. This is the final leg of our Great Lakes adventure.
Day 2 (August 11, 2018)
I slept surprisingly well that night considering I had Jack snoring like a chainsaw beside me and Piper’s nose stuffed into my ear but once the sun started to rise, we left the Seney rest area that had been our refuge for the night. We drove until we reached Munising, Michigan and stopped at Falling Rock Cafe. I walked in and noticed that half of the floor was the food service area and gift shop while the other half was tables and a bookstore. I placed my order for an americano and the breakfast burrito and was handed a small log with a number written on it. Well isn’t that clever! While I was waiting for my food, I asked the staff if there were any places that I should visit. They told me that this part of Michigan is known for the waterfalls and a few were pointed out on a map that I would have to see; after I had gone to Miners Castle that is. Not wanting to take up too much of their time, I didn’t question why I would want to go to a castle but if everyone in earshot was saying I had to go, well I had to go. I collected my order and went back out to the car and to the three pairs of eyes staring out the window. Oh you guys are pathetic. I drove down to Binsfeld Bayshore Park at the side of the lake to eat my burrito (which was excellent by the way) and walk the dogs before making the short drive to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore which was where we would find Miners Castle.
Fun fact: Pictured Rocks get their name from the bands of minerals that stain the sandstone formations.
I still wasn’t quite sure what I was going to see as we followed the trail from the lot: a castle for miners? Someone named Miner who built a castle? Then we reached a gap in the trees and I saw a large rock formation jutting out of the waters of Lake Superior. It looked just like the turret of a castle…oh…I get it (face palm). We enjoyed a leisurely walk along the trail to the upper and then lower viewing platforms. The trail and platforms had some wooden stairs but for the most part, visiting Miners Castle is an easy walk, perfect for people with limited mobility, young children, or senior dogs. The dogs wanted to explore the rocks, especially Leo who I think is part mountain goat, but then I took one look at those drops. I didn’t need the sign to tell me not to do it.
After we had our fill of Miners Castle I drove to Miners Falls, brought the dogs out of the car, walked to the trailhead, and that was when I saw that dogs aren’t allowed on the trail. Well now. That’s no good. So I had to pull the dogs back to the car as they all tried to tell me that I was going in the wrong direction. I loaded them back into the car and we drove to Munising Falls. Fortunately dogs are allowed here and the trails are wide and level, perfect for my pups. Even better, there were a few places where the dogs could walk down to a river and get their first swim of the day. The trail took us to a lovely little waterfall and we enjoyed the view and a few photos before walking back to the car.
Whew, all that morning hiking after a night of sleeping in the car and I need another coffee so we headed back to Falling Rock Cafe. We were driving right past it anyway so it just made sense to stop there. Again. Oh and the lemon poppyseed muffins looked like they would be good and they even warmed it up for me. I also wanted to thank them for suggesting we go to Miners Castle. It is definitely worth stopping there.
Hugging the shoreline as much as we could, we continued the drive west. This area was less populated than other stretches and we were able to find lots of places to park the car which meant the dogs got more chances to play in the water. As much fun as it can be to visit a town or attraction, splashing in the water and climbing over rocks is what we really love. It also gave a chance for each dog to get as much exercise as they needed since they all have different energy and fitness levels.
Eventually we had to find a better place to spend the night than the Corolla so when mid-afternoon rolled around, I told myself that I would stop at every campground we drove past to look for a site. The first park we found was Twin Lakes State Park and I was shocked to learn that they did indeed have spots available. What the heck is that about? I would expect that if every place in Michigan had been booked solid on Friday then there wouldn’t have been a hope of finding anything on Saturday. The staff were extremely helpful with picking a site and soon we were setting up our tent. Most of the spots around us were were empty and I happily got our campsite organized.
After taking the dogs for a short walk to check out the campground, I began making my dinner. You’d think that I’d be sick of ramen noodles, even with all the additional ingredients I pack to change it up but I’m not. I mixed up my spicy chicken ramen with sun-dried tomatoes, dehydrated vegetables, and a package of chicken bouillon. Then just as I started eating, I heard the roar of engines behind me and the quiet of the evening was shattered by a fleet of jeeps that suddenly surrounded me. Soon the formerly empty sites were home to a small tent city with a population to match.
Then to make matters even worse, as I was pouring boiling water into my mug to make some hot chocolate, something I have done several times before, I heard a loud thud behind me, which made me twitch and spill boiling water all over my hand. Somehow, I was able to grit my teeth and keep from moving my hand until I stopped the flow of water. Now my first instinct was to let loose a string of expletives that would put the most foul-mouthed person to shame, including my new neighbours. However, not wanting to seem like a crazy person or admit that I spilled boiling water all over my hand, I calmly wiped the water off on my pants and held one of the metal water bottles against my skin. Luckily the only sin of my inattentiveness was a slight redness that soon passed. Let this be a lesson: leave the mug on the table away from where the dogs are rather than hold it over the fire pit with your hand.
After one last stroll for the dogs, we climbed into the tent and somehow fell asleep with a party raging around us.
Day 3 (August 12, 2018)
I’m not sure when I fell asleep but the tent city was quiet when we emerged the next morning. Piper seemed to be feeling a little sore so it looked like we were going to have short walks, at least at the start of the day. Once we got back from our little morning stroll, I set the stove to boil water for coffee as I broke camp. It was the first time that I have made coffee on the road in a while but I needed it. I so desperately needed it. I have a collapsible coffee cone that fits perfectly onto a collapsible mug. All I need to do is add a small paper filter, some ground coffee, and water. I love the collapsible mug because I can keep it in a pocket which means I don’t forget it in the car like a full-sized travel mug.
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With coffee prepped and site packed, we continued our drive west. Being a Sunday I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to find many places for a bite to eat. Fortunately, we didn’t need places as we soon found one place: The Pines Cafe in Ironwood, Michigan. I skimmed the menu and then settled on the meat lover’s skillet and a coffee. As they did not have a patio, my skillet would be to go. Luckily there was a small park area next to the restaurant and I dug into that mass of heavenly goodness as Piper tried to get her nose into it to help me out (of course). When we jumped back into the car, for some reason I had forgotten that I still had coffee and drove to nearby Copper Cup for another one. It’s a small drive-thru hut that makes absolutely amazing coffee and the dogs even got cookies. Well done Copper Cup; you know the way to my heart is through my dogs. Now overly caffeinated and feeling like I was vibrating out of my skin, we pointed the car west again.
If you have a delicate constitution, you may want to skip to the next paragraph unless you really want to read about something embarrassing at my expense. In fact, this is just too embarrassing not to be shared. Naturally, after that much coffee, nature made the call that it inevitably does and we all know that is one call that cannot be put on hold. So the next time we stopped for gas, I ran into the station to use the facilities and found myself in a line-up with several people standing behind me. The ladies room was occupied but the men’s room was fair game and with only women in line, I went for it. I finished my business and leaned over to flush the toilet. Suddenly there was a geyser shooting up towards my face and I was barely able to pull away, narrowly avoiding a face full of toilet water. Toilet water. In the face. I looked around, wondering if I was going to have to wade out of the restroom and was shocked to see that even with an explosion of that magnitude, there was no water anywhere else. I’m not sure if it was an optical illusion or if my brain was on that much coffee that I was hallucinating; either way, I got the heck out of there.
As we drove along the shore of Lake Superior, it was obvious that I wasn’t the only person enjoying a beautiful Sunday in August since several of the places we stopped were rammed to the gills with cars. I tried to stop in Gooseberry Falls Park but not only were the parking spots all taken, there were even cars parked along the driveway. Luckily in Shroeder, Minnesota, we found a place for a break at Shroeder Baking Company. I wanted to take one of everything they had on display but settled on a chocolate malt and pastry. I sat outside on one of the nearby picnic tables in the shade so the dogs could have their water and I could have my malt. I got some really pointed snorts from Miss Piper when I didn’t share with her. She is so spoiled.
We stopped at Voyageur Brewing Company in Grand Marais, Minnesota and I was elated when I found out that dogs were allowed on the patio. They don’t have table service so you have to order at the bar and take a number back to your seat. I claimed a table and tied the dogs up so that they would not get in anyone’s way before going inside to order. I settled on the fish tacos and a brunette ale to wash it down then returned to the table and three dogs staring at the door. It always makes me laugh when people are oblivious to the dogs and then suddenly exclaim “Puppies!” The dogs love it too and they get all excited until their new friends leave. We even had one little boy that wanted to meet the dogs until they got close and then he didn’t want anything to do with them. In cases like that, I’ll often pick up Leo (since he’s the lightest) and hold him so that he seems less intimidating. I’ve found that if I can get them to pet his rump, it’s easy to move around to the head. Not a chance this time. Oh well. I tried. I consoled myself with some fantastic fish tacos and even better beer to wash it down. This was a far superior (hehe get it?) meal than the fish sandwich at Tahquamenon Brewery & Pub. Was that only two nights ago? Wow. I had hoped that I would be able to bring some beer home with me but they only served growlers at the brewery and as I’ve said before, I’m not ready for the level of commitment that comes with a growler. So I grabbed a beer glass instead. They had some of the coolest beer taps I have ever seen and couldn’t resist a photo.
After we left Grand Marais, I saw a perfect spot on the side of the road to stop and let the dogs swim. Piper seemed to be a little less sore and I hoped that some cold water would ease the aches in her joints or at the very least keep her happy. Jack ran to the water and sat down. I don’t know why he does that but he loves to lounge in the water which is amazing because he used to avoid it at all costs. Now he’s a die hard water dog. Leo roamed looking for sand to roll in but with only a rocket beach, he splashed in the lake instead. After they had a chance to shake off, I loaded them back in the car and we headed to the border. We passed by several campgrounds on the way north but each one of them were booked solid. I was hoping that once we got back into Canada, we’d be able to find a site for the night. While there are plenty of hotels in Thunder Bay, it was just too nice a night to be in any of them.
I have never crossed at the Pigeon River crossing before and have found that small crossings are either really quick or, since they don’t have the long lines like at busier crossings, they interrogate you. Luckily this was the former and we were soon back in Canada.
Taking advantage of cell service, I called Sleeping Giant Provincial Park and was happy to learn that they had several sites available for the night. Well that took a load off my mind. The only problem was that we would be arriving after dark and setting up a tent with no day light is an inconvenience. It’s a minor inconvenience and that is all; not enough of an inconvenience to keep us indoors.
Once we passed through Thunder Bay, there was a stop that we had to make. Usually when we pass through the area, it’s either really late at night or early in the morning and I decided that this would be the day that we made the time to stop at the Terry Fox Monument and Lookout. Terry Fox was a young man and athlete who lost his right leg to cancer. He set out to run across Canada in a “Marathon of Hope” to raise money for cancer research. After covering almost a marathon a day for 143 days, a distance of 5 737 kilometres, he was forced to stop near here when the cancer returned. I had heard the stories in school and knew of his accomplishments yet somehow, standing at the base of a bronze sculpture, he suddenly became a real person. At 23 years of age he became a household name, not because of some stupid viral video or reality TV show. He made a difference. I do have photos of the dogs with the monument but this is not the place for it. This spot belongs to Terry. I didn’t want to rush the visit and this was a good place for quiet reflection, however, the sun was continuing to sink lower. With moose and deer in the area, the last thing I wanted to be doing was a lot of driving in the dark so I brought the dogs back to the car and we kept driving to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to the park until well after the sun set. Whoops.
Fun fact: The Sleeping Giant was voted one of the Seven Wonders of Canada and was number one for votes, even beating Niagara Falls.
The hardest part about finding a spot was that they had only listed the sites that were available that night, not the ones that had people already on them. So there I was was with a list of possibly open sites creeping along in the dark, trying to find a place to spend the night. This is quite a feat when the only lights came from my headlights and the odd campfire. Eventually, we found a site and I backed onto the parking pad. Then when I got out, I realized that the car was way crooked and tried to straighten it out only to make it crooked in the opposite direction. Finally I just put it in park and figured that it’s just going to have to do. With my trusty headlamp on, I brought the dogs out for their food then pitched the the tent and brought all the bedding in. Once that was out of the way, I looked up and was brought to a standstill by the stars above me. We were in the midst of the Perseid meteor shower and I set up my camera hoping to capture a shooting star. If you look really close in the middle two photos, you can see a few streaks that may or may not be a meteor.
The dogs were impatient with me and kept trying to crawl under the fly so they could get into the tent. Finally I untied them and let them inside then finished with the photos. Naturally I had to push everyone off my sleeping bag when I eventually did climb inside with them. After some pointed snuffs from Piper and Leo climbed into my bag with me, everyone settled down to sleep.
Read about our Great Lakes adventure from the beginning here.