Rising abruptly from the shoreline of Lake Superior, Bare Bluff is the most prominent landmark of the Keweenaw’s south shore.
At a peak height of nearly 600 feet above the water, The “Russell and Miriam Grinnell Memorial Nature Sanctuary at Bare Bluff” is one of the Keweenaw’s most scenic hikes. With no disrespect to the Grinnells, for brevity’s sake, I’ll refer to it as “Bare Bluff” here.
Bare Bluff is undoubtedly one of the coolest hikes in the Upper Peninsula, but it’s also one of the most remote. The parking area lies several miles down a gravel road, and the trailhead begins another three-quarters of a mile from there.
The hike itself is a three-mile loop, and recent improvements have dropped the grade to no more than 15%, down from over 30% as it was in the past, which basically means if you’re in decent shape you can probably hack it.
However, as with any backcountry adventure, any medical help would take a while to reach you should you need it. And this hike includes dangerously high cliffs, so exercise extreme caution as you stroll along the trail. A slip and fall here could mean no more birthdays for you.
My first encounter with Bare Bluff went something like this:
My friend Jim and I decided to go camping in the Keweenaw for the weekend, and one of the first orders of business was to hike Bare Bluff. Well, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to find if you haven’t been there before and don’t’ have directions. We hadn’t printed off directions (d’oh!) but Jim had been there before, albeit years prior.
So after driving a few miles on Smith Fisheries Road (which was wasn’t too rough on our trip, but I hear that can change by the season), we found the Bare Bluff parking area, clearly marked with Michigan Nature Association signs.
We parked, hiked in about three-quarters of a mile to the actual trailhead, and then ventured up the trail.
Here’s something I’d like to make clear. The hike is a loop, and you can go either way.
Counterclockwise = Difficult
Clockwise = Easier
We hiked the loop in a counterclockwise direction, which led us along the base of Bare Bluff and then up a rock slide to the summit. This section could be difficult for some people.
If I were to bring, say, my Grandpa on this hike, I’d hike the loop in a clockwise direction up to the summit, and then backtrack to the parking area, completely missing the “rock slide” stretch of trail. Got it?
Counterclockwise = Difficult
Clockwise = Easier
Technical details aside, this is truly a spectacular hike. The scents were intoxicating and the scenery was astounding.
After hiking under an evergreen canopy for a few minutes, the canopy suddenly opened up and out of nowhere Bare Bluff rose from the trail, easily a couple of hundred feet above us.
After a brief photo session, we continued along the base of the bluff to the aforementioned “rock slide” section of the trail. It was a fun, difficult, and rewarding stretch of trail that led us to the summit.
And whether or not you’re religious, the summit at Bare Bluff is just one of those spots where you can’t help but feel connected to something a little bigger than yourself. It has a sense of gravity to it that makes you want to plop your butt down for a while and enjoy the view.
To the north lies a large swath of thick, vividly green forest. And to the south lies the Caribbean-like Bete Grise Beach (pronounced BEY-duh-GREE). It’s quite the place.
Shortly after we sat down to enjoy the view, three peregrine falcons appeared and began battling each other in mid-air, yet below us. We sat for a good twenty minutes, our gaze shifting between the rare birds of prey and the eye-candy panoramic view.
Then we started our descent. The descent was easy, and this is the section of the trail (that is, the counterclockwise option) I’d recommend taking on the way up if you want the easier route.
I had no idea what to expect at Bare Bluff as I’d never even heard of it before that trip, but I can now safely say I’ll be back regularly (with my family in tow) for years to come. The Keweenaw has been full of surprises for me so far, all of them pleasant.
Bottom line: Bare Bluff is one of the coolest hikes in the Upper Peninsula. I’d highly recommend it.
Time required: A couple of hours to half a day depending on whether or not you decide to pack a lunch and how fast you move.
Other things to note: The Michigan Nature association has a great little brochure specific to Bare Bluff on their web site.
How to get there: Drive north from Houghton on US 41. Eleven miles south of Copper Harbor, turn right at the sign for Lac La Belle and Bohemia Ski Area. Drive about 5 miles to Lac La Belle, turn left on the Bete Gris Road and drive about 3 miles to the Smith Fisheries Road (unpaved) and turn left. Travel another 2.25 miles, bearing to the right, to the parking area marked with an MNA sign. The first half-mile of the hike is a logging road that takes you to the Bare Bluff trailhead sign. This is a loop trail and you may choose to hike in either direction.
~Jesse Land, Resident Yooper