North Shore Rugged ~ A Taste of Minnesota

Known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes, Minnesota’s name originates from the Dakota Sioux Indian word for “clear water” or “sky-tinted water”.  We came to tour the North Shore, to bask in the vastness of Lake Superior and hike some of the beautiful trails we had read about along this stretch of Minnesota.  In our woefully limited time we saw a few of her flowing rivers and lakes and found the name given by the natives well-suited.


Lake Superior, sometimes smooth as glass, sometimes raging in a Nor’easter, has stunning rugged cliffs tumbling to pebble beaches laden with agates and driftwood and is the main attraction along Scenic Hwy. 61, which runs the length of the North Shore. With plans to hike and to check another national park off our list we found ourselves traversing this scenic roadway daily.  If you are not a hiker there is still so much to do here that you could arrive mid-summer and stay through the fall colors and never want for interesting activities.

The only downside to this stretch of road is the lack of big-rig friendly campgrounds. We settled for three days at Knife River Campground which had a handful of sites to accommodate us.  It was none too exciting but we spent little time there and Randy, who manages the park, provided wonderful tips for restaurants.   We found some of the best sugar-cured smoked trout and salmon at Russ Kendall’s Smokehouse, such melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness that we just had to go back a second time to take some on the road with us.

If hiking through dense forests of fir, cypress, and birch, along rushing river gorges sounds heavenly, this slice of Minnesota is for you.   Many of the hiking trails find you walking sections of the Superior Hiking Trail, 296 miles of ridgeline overlooking Lake Superior from Duluth to the Canadian border.

A few fun facts about Lake Superior:

  • biggest of the Great Lakes at 350 miles long by 160 miles wide
  • contains 10% of the world’s fresh water
  • average depth of 439 feet with its deepest at 1333 feet
  • average water temp of 42º F
  • largest recorded wave height of 31 feet
  • over 350 shipwrecks with more than 1000 lost

There are so many quaint little towns along this scenic drive, with great little restaurants, breathtaking views of Lake Superior, roaring waterfalls, cascading rivers, lovely lighthouses, so very much to delight your senses.  If you have only three days to visit the North Shore like us, stop into the Superior Hiking Trail Association store in the little town of Two Harbors for trail maps if you are looking to experience some off-road excitement.  The staff recommended the 5-mile Split Rock River Loop Trail and 7-mile Bean and Bear Lakes Loop Trail and we enjoyed both.

Split Rock River Loop Trail views:

Bean and Bear Lakes Loop Trail views:

The most visited spot on the North Shore is the Split Rock Lighthouse, majestically sitting on a 130-foot cliff at Lake Superior’s edge, near the town of Beaver Bay.  Put into service after 29 ships were damaged during the infamous storm of November 1905, this light station was in use until 1969.  What was once a beacon of safety for passing ships is now an icon for visitors to the North Shore.  Watch for the “Thousand Footers” (ore boats) coming into the harbor near Beaver Bay.  The crowds were so deep when we arrived at the Visitor’s Center that we opted to enjoy this beauty from the overlook on Hwy. 61 instead.


Final destination for our Minnesota coastal tour is Grand Portage, gateway to Isle Royale National Park, six miles shy of the Canadian border.  Stay tuned for my next post on this roadless land of wild creatures and unspoiled forests.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore ~ #2

Advice from a Waterfall:  Go with the flow/Roar with excitement/Let your cares fall away/Create your own music/Immerse yourself in nature/Stay active/Make a splash!  ~(c) Ilan Shamir

Another day of fun in the sun.  Well, not quite today, but it wasn’t raining and we did not have to don parkas so off we went to do some more exploring.  Unfortunately, overcast days don’t work so well for taking photos but I told Terry to give it his best shot.

We headed off to the east part of the park today and our first stop was down the beach about 1.5 miles from Au Sable Light Station.  There was a great path that wound through the woods but we opted instead to walk along the beach, which took us all the way out to the lighthouse.  It was much more picturesque, we thought, with the lake breeze in our face and the waves lapping up on shore.

This stretch of beach lines Au Sable Point (French for “with sand”), which as early as 1622 was recognized as a hazard for mariners.  When the lake traffic began to boom in the 19th century with the opening of the Soo Canal, Au Sable Point was particularly dangerous. Many vessels would become victim to its sandstone reef, which is one-half mile wide and stretches out from the shoreline for a mile, lying no more than six feet below the surface is some spots.  Besides the offshore sandstone reef, the region was infamous for its thick fog as well.  Many a ship went aground here and with the weight of the wooden boats and the small engines used at the time, there was no way for them to recover.

We saw evidence of three shipwrecks, all built in the late 1800’s, on this short stretch of beach.  The picture above is that of the Sitka, which went down about a mile offshore in heavy fog and high winds in October, 1904.  She was 272′ feet in length and her bones now lie on the shore at Au Sable Point.

Mariners felt that “in all navigation of Lake Superior, there is none more dreaded by the mariner than that from Whitefish Point to Grand Island”.  Congress took action in 1872, building a lighthouse on Au Sable Point, which was completed in August, 1874.  It is the most remote lighthouse in the Upper Peninsula.

Au Sable Lighthouse from the Beach

We were fortunate to make the decision to tour the lighthouse today as we learned that tomorrow is the last day of the season for doing so and busloads of tourists are brought out for the day.  We had the place almost to ourselves and, although the park ranger was not available to give a tour, Harold was kind enough to do so.  We learned later that the park ranger is Harold’s daughter and he has been volunteering at Au Sable for the past several years.  His daughter completed her thesis on the lighthouse and has gathered extensive data for the on-site museum.

Au Sable Lighthouse from Land

The beacon for the lighthouse projects 18 miles out to sea and is now powered by a photovoltaic system instead of the original Fresnel lens, which still resides at the lighthouse.  In 1968 the Au Sable Light Station was transferred to the National Park Service, although the Coast Guard continues to maintain the beacon and solar panel that charges the storage battery.

A few miles down the road is the Log Slide, part of the Grand Sable Dunes.  These dunes are believed to have developed during the melting of glacial ice about 9500 years ago.

The picture above is where the Log Slide was during the days of the white pine lumber era in the 1880’s.  Logs were hauled to this point by horse teams then slid down a dry log flume to Lake Superior.  They were loaded onto boats and taken to the Grand Marais sawmills.  Although this sandy hill looks more like a gentle slope, it is a 500′ drop to the bottom, with overhangs hidden at the bottom.  We did not venture far down the slope, given the warnings posted.

From here we took a short hike down to Sable Falls, a 75′ waterfall that tumbles over several cliffs until it reaches Lake Superior.

Sable Falls

We had wanted to take some pictures of the changing colors, as it seems the trees are changing color before our very eyes.  We have been waiting for a summer day and the sun peered out when we were heading back to the campground.  This is not the peak season yet but the trees are spectacular.  Enjoy the colors!

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore ~ #1

Advice from a Lake:  Be clear/Make positive ripples/Look beneath the surface/Stay calm/Shore up friendships/Take time to reflect/Be full of life ~ (c) Ilan Shamir

Fall has announced her arrival to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  While not at their peak yet, the trees are changing color daily.

Pictured Rocks was our destination and we arrived Monday afternoon at the City of Munising Tourist Park.  There was no one at the campground office so we perused the sites, grabbed one on the lake, paid our fee and settled in.  Later that afternoon Terry walked back to the office to ensure all was well and was told by the attendant that we had chosen the best site in the park.  Maybe she says this to everyone but we certainly think we got lucky.  Stepping out our door, we are literally 20 yards from Lake Superior.  Full hook-ups and right on the water.  Life is good!

It was a little blustery when we arrived but was still warm enough to walk along the beach.  We felt like we were walking along the ocean instead of a lake, watching the waves lapping the shore.  We can walk a mile in either direction and the views from our living room windows are amazing!

Sunset over Lake Superior

Tuesday morning we decided to get the lay of the land.  Our first stop was to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Visitor Center, where we picked up literature on available activities in the area.  I learned that Michigan has more waterfalls than any other state in the U.S. and more shoreline than any state besides Alaska.

From here it was time to do some exploring.  Our first stop was to Munising Falls, a 50′ drop into a sandstone canyon.  Lovely and right within the city of Munising.

Munising Falls

Just a few miles down the road is Sand Point, a picturesque little cove just begging to be photographed.

Sandstone cliffs 5 miles from Munising Falls are known as Miners Castle, for the turret-shaped rock caused by wind and water erosion.  This 9-story rock formation is one of Pictured Rocks most popular attractions.

Kayakers Enjoying the Views of Miners Castle
View from the top of Miners Castle

A one-mile hike through a beech and maple forest and we were rewarded with a view of one of the lakeshore’s most spectacular sights – Miners Falls.  The falls of the Miners River cascade over a 60-foot precipice of sandstone and they were stunning.

Miners Falls

The weather predictions have been for clouds and the possibility of rain over the next couple of days but we refused to let that deter us.  Today we ventured out to get a good day hike in.  It proved to be a sunny day instead and we settled on the Chapel Basin hike.

This is a 10 mile hike weaving through dense beech and maple forests, opening up onto sandy beaches, with Pictured Rock views from almost every turn, and the “cherry on top” was a great waterfall.  Normally a hike of this length would not keep us out 6 hours but today that is just what we did.  There was just too much to see and we wanted to take advantage of the great weather as we know our days of sunshine may be numbered.

The first leg of our journey took us through forest to Mosquito Beach, with gorgeous views of Lake Superior.  The photo below is looking east across the beach.  Notice what the wave action has done to the sandstone formation.

Mosquito Beach

Looking to the west on Mosquito Beach are caves known as the Caves of the Bloody Chiefs, which legend says were used by ancient chiefs to tie captives and let Lake Superior batter them to death.  A rather gruesome story but a lovely sight nonetheless.

View of Caves of the Bloody Chiefs on Mosquito Beach

Three miles further down the trail we saw a breathtaking sight I am sure has captured many a photographer’s eye, Grand Portal Point.  Until September 16, 1900, it contained a massive arch through which a small ship could sail.  Kayakers could still paddle through a small archway until Grand Portal suffered a second collapse in late 1999, inhibiting all boat activity.

The colors and textures that presented themselves along this trail were too numerous to count.

Another 1.5 miles down the trail and we arrived at Chapel Beach and the beautiful Chapel Rock formation.

First View of Chapel Rock
Stunning Up-Close View of Chapel Rock

Back on the trail and we were shocked to see that the tree sitting atop Chapel Rock still has its lifeline on the mainland.  Notice how the root system is suspended over the chasm.

 Although dense, we were surprised at how far into the forest we could see from the trail.  The canopy was high above us and the forest floor was covered mainly with ferns.

Last but not least was a stop at Chapel Falls, the final stunner for this hike.  It has a 60′ cascade and flows down to the base of Chapel Rock.

Terry and I have done our fair share of hiking and feel that today’s hike is at the top of our list of favorite forays into the wilderness.  We can’t wait to continue our UP exploration.

Our Rig at Dusk

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore ~ #2

Apples and Berries and Veggies – Oh My!

The ability to eat local sustainable foods is something we relish so we were delighted to see so many orchards and farms in the Bayfield area.  We set aside one day to orchard hop and found some terrific buys.  Grass-fed beef, smoked Lake Superior whitefish, heirloom tomatoes, dragon-tongue beans, and the most delicious apples that I promptly cooked down into some scrumptious applesauce were just a few of our finds.  Couple that with the artesian well right outside our door and we are in heaven!  Not to mention that the weather has been darn near perfect.

Each orchard or farm that we stopped at seemed to have their signature product.

Blue Vista Farm was a charming property, with colorful gardens filled with pumpkins, gourds, and sunflowers, and a striking barn which was used as their store.  Here are a few pictures of their farm.

Homestead Gardens was a funky little property which did not appear to offer up much promise but was such a surprising find for grass-fed beef, organic vegetables and a store chock full of organic grains, nuts, seeds, spices and oils.

Erickson’s Orchard & Country Store specializes in apple cider donuts.  We do not regularly indulge in this treat but the smell when we walked in the door and the knowledge that these sugary treats had just been pulled from the oven was just too provocative to pass up.  Erickson’s apples provided the start for some pretty tasty applesauce as well.

Hauser Superior View Farm sold perennials and bedding plants, as well as various fruit jams and butters.  The focal point of this property was the historic barn, a 1928 Sears barn purchased for $895.

We visited several other orchards and farms that offered their own specialties.  It was a wonderful day that was a feast for the senses.

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore ~ #1

We have settled for a week at the Thompson West End City Park in Washburn, WI, looking out onto the majestic Lake Superior.  This lovely park sits on the outskirts of Bayfield, the doorway to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.  It is a great city park, big-rig friendly with 50 amp service and cable TV.  There are several artesian wells within the surrounding area and one of them is flowing right at the park.  Cold, clear delicious artesian water is just a few steps away!

The is my first visit to Lake Superior so I thought I would provide a few interesting facts:

Surface Area:  *31,700 square miles          Avg. Water Temp:  40° F

East-West:  382 miles                                  North-South:  160 miles

Volume:  3,000,000,000,000,000 (quadrillion) gallons of water

Lake Superior has more water in it than all the other Great Lakes combined.  It is the largest freshwater lake in the world based on surface area*.

Immediately upon settling into our site, we saw a beautiful large bird in the tree next to us, with a most unusual sound.  We were treated to the greeting of a pileated woodpecker.

The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is a group of islands sitting within Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin.  The name was given to these islands by the historian Franςois Xavier de Charlevoix, who named them after the 12 apostles, even though there are 22 of them!  The islands are the spiritual home of the Lake Superior Chippewa.

Madeline Island Ferry

We decided to take a trip over to Madeline Island but before hopping on the ferry, we were able to spend a little time exploring the town of Bayfield.  It is home of the headquarters for the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and was constructed from rock quarried from the islands before they were made into a park.  The local Holy Family church was built from this same brownstone.

The Rittenhouse Inn, Wisconsin’s first B&B, built in 1975, is an elegant structure, having the reputation as one of the great Country Inns of North America.  It has a huge wraparound veranda and views of Bayfield Harbor and the Apostle Islands beyond.

Bayfield Harbor with Rittenhouse Inn in Background

The seasonal festivals in Bayfield are ranked among the nation’s finest, particularly the Bayfield Apple Festival, drawing roughly 40,000 visitors annually.  This year, October 7-9 they are celebrating their 50th anniversary and we wish we could be here for the festivities.  This festival is listed as one of the Top Ten Autumn Festivals in North America by the Society of American Travel Writers.  Other highly supported festivals occur here year-round.

Madeline Island, largest of the Apostle Islands archipelago, was named after Madeline Cadotte, daughter of Chief White Crane and wife of fur trader Michael Cadotte.  It has been inhabited by Native Americans, missionaries, and fur traders, and has flown the flag of three nations over the past 400 years.  The town of La Pointe, population of 272, occupies a space on this island, as well as Big Bay State Park.

Madeline Island View from Ferry
Terry on Madeline Island Beach
Funky Restaurant in La Pointe

Bayfield, the berry capital of Wisconsin, is home to the largest organic blueberry farm in the state, the largest raspberry producer in the state, and offers the biggest variety of berries that you will find most anywhere.  We were too late for the berry season but just in time for apple season.  With more than a dozen orchards/farms around the Bayfield area, we spent a day touring the countryside and many of the orchards.  We also scheduled a tour to the Raspberry Island Lighthouse and took a hike that gave us some great views of the sea caves.   I will talk about these in upcoming posts.