Exploring the Keweenaw Peninsula

The Keweenaw Peninsula is the northernmost part of Michigan, which extends into Lake Superior, giving it multiple access points to see the lake. The northernmost part of Keweenaw Peninsula is Copper Harbor, named for the industry that flourished in the area many years ago.

We started our day by driving to Houghton and getting breakfast at a Finnish breakfast place called Suomi. Their “pannukakku” was HEAVENLY—it’s like a custard tart but the base is a cross between a pancake and a crepe. I still think about it sometimes. (I forgot to take a picture of it because I was too excited to eat it, but please do yourself a favor a google a recipe!)

Waterfront in Houghton, right next to Michigan Tech
View of the Portage Canal Lift Bridge

We continued driving to Eagle Harbor where we came across a pebble beach. The entire beach was lined with the most beautiful rust-colored pebbles, glistening as the waves break. There is something about beaches like this that gives me peace.

Reminds me of home, kind of

After staying there for a while and enjoying the breeze and fresh air, we drove further north to the lighthouse to check out the scenic overlook.

Our first hike of the day was at Estivant Pines. I believe it was a piece of land bought by a private individual so that it can be preserved. While there wasn’t much view as a reward, the trees and fresh air was quite nice.

We also did the Bare Bluff trail, or at least part of it. The whole trail is a loop, which if done clockwise starts easy and will bring you to the clearings which offer views of Lake Superior, then down a steep rockfall onto the lower part of the trail back to the start. I wasn’t feeling very confident with my strength that day, so we skipped the downhill part and just went to the bluffs.

There were three clearings, each not too far away from the other. The views are magnificent! The big blue expanse of Lake Superior against the big blue expanse of the sky is just magical. Facing east, this must be a good place to watch the sun rise.

Going to the Keweenaw Peninsula isn’t complete without visiting the Porcupine Mountains, or “Porkies” as they call it. After paying the $9/day/vehicle fee, we did the three recommended easy hikes: Presque Isle River, Summit Peak, and Lake of the Clouds. Because these were the most popular hikes, most of the trail is on boardwalk. We saw beautiful waterfalls and great views!

We ended the day with taking a dip at a pebble beach close to the “Porkies”. Lake Superior is just the best!

It was a great week in the Keweenaw Peninsula and a great stay with our lovely hosts A&M. Hanging out in the farm, chatting around the campfire, hiking the trails, dipping in the lake, and enjoying the views—I think we made the most of our time here.

A sky full of stars

Driving to our next destination was more adventurous than we expected. Google maps presented us with two options of routes, with one shorter than the other. We took the shorter one, because of course why would we want to drive longer? Turns out there’s a good reason. The shorter route brought us to logging roads, which were just rough and narrow dirt roads and trees. It was so bumpy we were sure we would open up the camper to broken plates or glasses.

Thankfully after 20 miles of anxiety, we were back on paved roads!

Our next destination finds us at Pelkie, MI where we stayed at Constellation Farmstead. We were their first Boondockers Welcome guests, and they were excellent hosts. We parked in front of their barn, which was also in front of their house. They toured us around their property, where we got to meet their bunnies, chickens, and pigs. The pigs and chickens (or “pickens” as the kids called it) were sharing the same space, foraging the land.

The bunnies were of the Silver Fox kind, with the softest fur ever.

The hosts needed help with some farm work, and we gladly offered our time. They are building trails through their property, so we helped put down logs and branches to mark the trails while our host was mowing the grass (with a scythe!).

In the evening they invited us to a campfire, where we had a couple of beers and a couple of roasted marshmallows, and hours and hours of conversation.

The next couple of days were spent hiking around the Keweenaw Peninsula. We checked out Canyon Falls, which was recommended to us by a lady we met while hiking in Wisconsin. It was a pretty short and easy walk, pretty busy but the trail is well established.

Not too far is the Ogemaw Falls. It’s not a well advertised falls, but we saw it on AllTrails and decided to check it out. It was not easy to spot—we drove past the trailhead and started hiking what we thought was the trail. We saw another couple trying to find the trailhead as well, and we all decided to walk down the road until we find it. It was just before the corner where we turned, with the trailhead sign kind of hidden behind foliage. The walk was short though the trails were narrow. The falls was pretty small and quaint, but not something to drive far for. I think I even forgot to take pictures, lol.

Our host suggested going to Mt. Arvon, Michigan’s highest point. It was within view from their farm, and overall just about an hour away. We accidentally took the “scenic route” again, because it seems like Google Maps likes testing Jake’s 4×4. It had us take two river crossings, and through some really tight dirt roads. Meanwhile, info about Mt. Arvon says that the roads should be wide, even though it’s gravel.

(Small) River crossing that we’re pretty sure isn’t the main road to Mt. Arvon

Either way, we made it to the top. It was short walk from the parking lot to the sign that says highest point. There is a trail that goes for 2 miles, which starts at a small parking lot a little bit further down. We skipped it because I didn’t feel like getting eaten by mosquitos that day. At the top there is also a register / guest book inside a mailbox where people can sign or leave notes.

The view was very limited because the vegetation was a bit overgrown, so I think I forgot to take pictures again. However, it was nice up there so it was fine. At least we didn’t climb 2 miles for it.

We were looking for other things to do on Google Maps, and saw this point of interest called Point Abbaye. It was the furthest point of the little peninsula next to Keweenaw Peninsula. and it was quite a drive to get there. The roads are not paved, so it was also a slow drive, but wow was the destination worth it. It’s a nice secluded beach, a nice place to listen to the waves.

At this point in the week, I was needing a little rest, so I took the day off to rest. No hikes, just resting and lounging around in the camper. Jake didn’t feel like resting, so he helped around the farm some more. In the evening, we all sat around the campfire again into the dark of the night. The skies were full of stars, the clearest it’s been since we got there. The white cloudy band of the Milky Way was also very visible in all its glory.

A sky full of stars

I tried to take a picture of it a couple of times, but trying to dial in my camera to get the best setting in the cold was not very easy, so we were only able to take a few. I didn’t realize this one is a bit blurry, but oh well, it was a fun exercise.

The small town of Big Bay

The original plan heading to UP was to go to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. We drove to Munising, MI in hopes of finding a camping spot in one of the State Parks. We stopped by the Pictured Rocks Visitor Center in Munising, which is at the trailhead of Munising Falls. The trail was very developed, as everyone who visits the visitor center walks that trail. There are stairs to the different viewing areas, and the topmost viewing area gives the prettiest view.

Afterwards we headed out to look for campsites. We didn’t really pre-book anything for this trip, because we wanted flexibility and also the possibility of staying at the cheaper campsites in state parks. But it turns out that July is the peakest of peak season! After several hours of searching for campsites, we found that EVERYWHERE is full. Even the pricey RV campgrounds were fully booked. So we decided to skip it entirely and head west instead. We drove 1.5 hrs west to Perkins Park RV campground at Big Bay, MI where we were able to book 2 nights of camping.

The campground was right at Independence Lake. While our spot isn’t exactly lakeside, we were still just a few steps away from the beach. We got there at around 6pm, set up camp, and had PB&J and cereals for dinner.

It was still bright outside after dinner, so we checked out the beach. It was pretty cool—long stretch of shallow water going into the lake. Lake Independence is a pretty shallow lake, with a maximum depth of 30 ft!

The next day we went to the Big Bay lighthouse. It’s now a private bed and breakfast so we didn’t get to go inside, but there were walking paths around it, which leads to views of Lake Superior.

Big Bay Lighthouse that is now a bed & breakfast. I think the rooms cost upwards of $200 per night.

The paths start out in an open field, which leads to narrow but well-marked paths.

We spent probably about an hour just taking in the fresh lake air and the views.

A few minutes away was the Squaw Beach, which is probably the best lake beach i’ve seen (so far!). Fine sand, shallow waters, cool and clear water—just perfection. I could have stayed there for the rest of the day. We tried to get Maggie to get into the water, but she was hesitant. An old couple handed us a piece of sausage to use as a treat for Maggie to get her to dip her paws, and it worked 🙂

A short drive and a quick hike then brought us to Thomas Rock Scenic Overlook, with a view facing the Independence Lake. From there we had a better look at Big Bay, which looks like a sandbar separating Independence Lake from Lake Superior.

View from the Thomas Rock Scenic Overlook

The rest of the afternoon was spent just relaxing and chilling by the beach. Surprisingly, there weren’t many others at the beach. We took a little dip,

While we missed seeing Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, we were happy to avoid the crowds and have some good peace and relaxation in Big Bay.

We left the next day to head to our next Boondockers Welcome host, but not before grabbing some Pasties for lunch!

Trails, Lakes, and Falls

After a week of spending time with family, we are off once again! We headed north to Pembine, WI which is pretty close to the border of Wisconsin and Michigan (Upper Peninsula a.k.a UP). Along the way we stopped at a laundromat to wash our clothes, and had to pay $2 per load, which was pretty steep in our books. We decided to not pay more and wait longer to use the dryer, and just hang-dry our clothes at the next site. We did bring a drying rack and a clothesline anyway, and the weather was just perfect.

Air-drying our laundry because it’s free (and better for the environment!)

We stayed at our second Boondockers Welcome host (R&S), who welcomed us as soon as we pulled into their driveway. They allowed us to park in their property, and they had a great spot for us. We set up our camper, reheated some leftovers, and rested for the night.

The next day we went to check out the trails to the falls that R&S suggested. First we went to Pier’s Gorge (part of the Menominee River) for a 3 mi (~4.8 km) hike. It seems like a popular hiking spot, since we saw a bunch of cars in the parking lot and also a lot of people along the trail.

Along the way we saw a snake, people doing white water rafting, and mountain bikers. Since it was a quick hike and it was still early, we headed to Long Slide Falls in Niagara, WI.

Long Slide Falls from the stop part
Long Slide Falls from the bottom part

A little bit more upstream is the Smalley Falls, which lived up to its name.

Since we had time, we wanted to check out a 3rd waterfall, so we went to Quiver Falls. However, when we got there, we didn’t really see any trailhead. We asked the only other people there who were just setting up to go rafting, and they said it’s not really a trail but just an overlook. They did recommend heading up north to L’Anse, MI to check out Canyon Falls, so we took note of that and set that as our next destination.

There were no hiking paths at Quiver Falls, so we just took a picture 🙂

That night R&S invited us for a campfire. We shared stories and talked way into the night! They were such nice hosts, we would be happy if we ran into them during travels and catch up.

Campfire stories with R&S

The next day we took our bikes and road around Fumee Lake. We did the big lake loop, about 4 miles around (~6.4 km). Jake was on his mountain bike, and I was on my old road bike—totally not appropriate for the terrain but I had no choice.

Entrance to the trail around Fumee Lake
Quick stop by the water
This is the nicest part of the trail. Flat, smooth-ish, and wide
A nice bonus at the end of the trail! The best tasting water after a bike ride.
After bike snack!

After the bike ride we headed back and rested. We got a severe thunderstorm warning, so we pulled back the awning to prevent it from being a kite and carrying us away. The strong winds kept us up a bit, as we were watching the radar. Thankfully the radar showed that the strong part missed us!

Line of thunderstorms splitting right where we were!

The next day we were headed to the UP but stopped at the nearby Norway Spring to get some fresh water. Nothing like fresh spring water!

The /Vacation/

Every year Jake’s extended family heads to a lake beach resort in Wisconsin for vacation. It’s a week-long affair, where people go swimming, kayaking, canoeing, boating, playing games (card games, board games, bags (a.k.a. cornhole)), eating, cooking, and hanging out.

Since we’re meeting with the rest of the family in Wisconsin that weekend for vacation, we decided to spend a night close to the area. We booked a place through Boondockers Welcome (Thank you Dianne for gifting the membership fee <3), and got to stay in a farm in Wisconsin Dells. Our host was incredibly nice! We parked in their field and headed out to the Dells of the Wisconsin River trail nearby.

It was so nice to see a forest again, after seeing only corn and soy for a long time. At the end of the trail is a wide portion of the river, which is part of the Dells of the Wisconsin River. The Dells are “glacially formed gorge that features striking sandstone formations along the banks of the Wisconsin River“.

After a couple of hours of hiking, we headed back to the RV. I was telling Jake how we always found the campers phrase “Home is where you park it” kinda cheesy, but going “home” to the RV at the end of the day is literally going back to where you parked it. So there is some truth to that cheesiness.

The next day we had the entire morning until after lunch to spare before we need to go to the family vacation spot in Montello, WI. We headed to the Devil’s Lake State Park, which was a popular place to visit in the area. However, it was apparently a little too popular, and there were more people than we thought. It was a weekend afterall. The parking lots were full, and we weren’t able to get a visitors pass, so we decided to skip it. We quickly learned that weekends are probably going to be errand days. If we want to avoid the large crowds, we could stick to weekdays for hiking and going around. But since we were already out, we decided to head to Mirror Lake State Park. A bit smaller, but it was not as crowded. We were still able to get a couple hikes in, all is good.

After our hike we headed out to Montello, which was about an hour drive. We got to town and stopped by the candy shop to get some ice cream. We got the Maple Sugar + Walnuts and the Malted Chocolate, which were both spectacular. We enjoyed our ice cream as we drove to the resort. After some troubles with finding a spot to park the RV, we joined the family in the cabin and commenced vacation.

During the week we went swimming in the lake, played board games, cooked together (our group made burgers and sweet potato salad), ate together, played rock-paper-scissors (Rory is this year’s winner), kayaked, played card games, and did many more things that big families do together.

We ended the week with a short boat ride and a meal of tasty leftovers from the week’s dinners.

What’s Happenin in Hennepin

And we’re off!

Finally, after a year of daydreaming, 2 months of searching for a camper, and 3 months of preparation, we are off to start our mini-retirement trip. We read a book talking about having several mini-retirements (i.e. long vacations) throughout one’s life as opposed to waiting for the big retirement. Essentially, they are saying why not take several breaks while we’re still young and able to enjoy life. It made sense for us, and even though there’s so much uncertainty amidst the adventure, we jumped in and crossed our fingers!

Day of departure. Quick stop at the bank to get some cash for small transactions along the way.

First stop: the Hennepin Canal State Park.

We drove about 2 hours west of Manhattan, IL to get to Wyanet, IL the closest town to the Hennepin Canal locks. The canal hosts a series of locks, and we stayed at the campground near Lock 21.

The campground fee was only $8/night (as of 2021), which is not bad at all. We got there on a weekday, and we were the only ones there, plus a flock of geese and whole lot of flies. Not too surprising, since it’s a dry camping situation—no water hookups and electricity hookups, which limits the campers to self-contained ones. We originally planned on camping there several weeks ago to test our solar setup and see how we do boondocking, until the truck decided otherwise.

Anyway, as we were approaching the park, the skies were getting dark. We checked the weather forecast and there was a thunderstorm approaching—great. It was pouring when we arrived at the park, so we parked the camper in a spot and waited until the rain let up. After about half and hour, we were finally able to setup.

To celebrate our first night of the trip, we brought steaks and peppers for grilling. The sun came out and we got a bit of a breeze—it was just perfect.

Bonus heart inside the tomato!

The next day we hit up the trails, which run parallel to the canal. It was an easy walk, pretty flat, and the trail was well defined. We did probably close to 5 miles (8 kilometers), until we reached the next lock, then we turned back. The air was super muggy (read: humid), which is really the only difficult part. Otherwise, it was a pleasant walk. We saw the locks, a bunch of lilies, a couple of herons. Maggie enjoyed it too!

We ended the evening with having some leftovers and an early bedtime.

When shakedowns shake back

Everything seems good to go, or at least at the bare minimum to camp dry (without electricity or water supply) for a couple of days. We planned to go for a trial run of camping for 2 nights, just to see how things will go, and to find out what supplies and other things we prefer to have with us.

The plan was to set up in the campground near the Hennepin Canal Lock 21. It’s a 2-hour drive from home, close enough so that if things go wrong, it’d be easy to turn back.

The day before we set off, we went grocery shopping for a couple days worth of food and snacks, got sunscreen and meds, filled up the water jugs, tested the instant pot if it can cook an entire meal using only solar (it can!)—all the preparation we can think of.

Next day, we did some errands in the morning and then we set off to Hennepin! We got there and drove up to the information board to read the camp ground rules. At first we thought alcohol wasn’t allowed at state parks, but the board says only minors are not allowed. Just as we were headed to town to get some beers, the truck would not start!

Jake looked under the hood and found that the battery has discharged, NOT GOOD. But Jake being a problem solver, he came up with a solution by connecting the RV battery to the truck battery to give it some juice for it to start. That worked, but it’s only a temporary solution. The battery discharged because the alternator seemed to have failed. We headed to the car parts store to get a replacement alternator, but after inspection and some more fixing, Jake decided that the problem is more than a faulty alternator and would require more time than we have to fix it.

With a heavy heart, we decided to turn around and head back home. We wanted to get home before sunset because with the battery draining as we drive, we probably won’t have enough power to use the headlights.

Anyway, we made it home before dark. Jake was able to fix the problem with the truck (turns out it wasn’t the alternator afterall but a broken wire somewhere).

In the end, it’s what the trial run was for. To see what things would immediately cause issues, so that we can solve it before the big trip. For now, we are back in the parents’ driveway until the next trial run.


Links:

Official site for Hennepin Canal State Park