20210728 123458 scaled 12 Days + 1,946 Miles + 4 Campgrounds + 6 People + 1 Dog = Our 2021 Upper Peninsula Summer Adventure

12 Days + 1,946 Miles + 4 Campgrounds + 6 People + 1 Dog = Our 2021 Upper Peninsula Summer Adventure

We explored the UP once before – 2 years ago on a family vacation. We all loved it so much that we’ve been planning a return trip. And this summer, it was time!

We planned to get in as much UP as possible so our itinerary included 4 stopovers and as many adventures as we could fit in!

Our family of 6 hit the road in our Adventure Bus (which incidentally got its name on this trip, more on that below!) along with our UP-loving pup, and our hybrid camper.

In total, we spent 12 days on our trip (and truth be told, we already can’t wait to get back up and do some more!)

Day 1 – Travel Day from Home to Sault Ste Marie

We set out with our family, heading north on 127. We had a tip from our UP Travel Group that the best place to get a paper map when you are already en route is the rest area just north of Clare. So we were sure to stop there (it’s a great place to stretch our legs too!).

Pro Tip: Get each of your kids their own map and let them follow along with your route as your travel! Our 8 and 9 year-olds LOVED this and it kept them super interested in the trip instead of asking us often when we were going to get there. Bonus: they really learned how to use their maps just through experience!

It was there that we found out that the Mackinac Bridge was currently closed so we dawdled and took our time to get to the bridge. Even still, it took us some time to cross with all the back-logged traffic.

We arrived at our first campground, Soo Locks Campground, where we set up camp quickly and quietly (as much as possible with a vanload of people who were ready to be done in the vehicle).

Pro Tip: Many UP campgrounds are first-come-first-served or reservations are taken by phone call only. We finalized our trip extremely last minute and we were able to make reservations by phone. It may feel less convenient but many of them had voicemails systems where, if you left a detailed message, they called back with a reservation.

Day 2 – Soo Locks

We woke up in the campground and it was light enough that we could explore and the kids could get out on their bikes which is the ultimate thrill of camping – riding round and round the campground.

The Soo Locks Campground had clean bathrooms, very hot showers, and complimentary coffee. There was also a little camp store, a game room, and a dock. But my favorite amenity after the hot showers with good water pressure was the laundry room.

I mean, I don’t want to do laundry on vacation but with kids, being able to do laundry easily on vacation is my fave. So an onsite laundry mat made me super happy.

The Soo Locks Campground is located very close to the Famous Soo Locks Boat Tours, Valley Camp, and the Lock View strip. It has many spots available on the water, just off the water, and near the dock which I would call water adjacent. It’s super cool to watch the freighters go past and it’s great to be super close to the happenings in the Soo.

Pro Tip: You can see the freighters pass on the St. Mary’s River from the Soo Locks Campground and for most people, I would say that’s the appeal. If you’re traveling as a family, I recommend spot #18 – it’s on the end so you get more space, it’s not directly on the water so you don’t have to worry about that, and you can still see the freighters down the way. If 18 isn’t available, any spot in that part of the campground is great for families and a little extra space.

Once everyone had feasted on their breakfast of Lucky Charms (our first day of camping tradition), we headed to the Famous Soo Locks Boat Tour. This was a bucket list experience on our #MIAwesomeList in the summer of 2021, and one we were excited to explore as a family.

We chose the Locks Tour, although the lighthouse tour sounded amazing! (albeit 2 hours longer). Check out the different tours so you know which tour works best for you.

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Look for the yellow and blue boats for your Famous Soo Locks Boat Tour!

We arrived at Dock 2 where you can purchase tickets in person if you haven’t already purchased them online (I like to buy tickets in person since there are a lot of variables in our family on exact times, but buying tickets in advance means you have a spot reserved for you – which is important for more popular days or more popular tours and for Famous Soo Locks Tours means you save $2 a ticket which adds up pretty quickly).

Pro Tip: Famous Soo Locks Boat Tours and their neighbor, Valley Camp, make it easier to travel with your dog by providing kennels where your dog can hang out while you complete a tour. Be sure to BYOP – bring your own padlock.

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Matt and Leah at the Famous Soo Locks Boat Tour.

Then we boarded the yellow and blue Famous Soo Locks Boat and headed straight to the top.

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The kids enamored with being in the locks.

We pulled away from the dock and headed into the locks. It was super cool to watch the water level rising and the locks up close! The kids loved seeing the water line move. There are helpful measuring lines on the walls.

I don’t know that I could really feel the boat moving, although our oldest said she could feel it, so maybe it’s just one of those different effects on different people kind of things.

Pro Tip: If you’re not much of a boat person or if you get seasick, there is an observation deck where you can watch boats pass in the locks. To get a general idea on time, you can call 906-253-9290 which has an updated list twice a day. Of course, these are always best estimates and patience will serve you well.

In the locks with us was another small boat, but once we got out to the other side of the river, a large freighter entered the locks. This is a much longer process and it was SUPER cool to watch. It did mean that we got an extra-long tour, at no additional charge ;).

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The freighter that we waited on while it passed through the locks.

There was a narrator on the boat the entire time, letting us know what we were seeing along the shore, giving us information on the ships we were seeing, and telling us historical people and events from the area. Ours was named Michelle and she was fantastic!

And, while we were out in the St. Mary’s River, our kiddos were invited into the Captain’s area of the boat and they even got a chance to steer!

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Our kids really loved being able to get a different view on the whole experience!

Since we chose a late morning tour and it went a little longer while we waited for the freighter, we were thankful there was a snack bar in the lower level.

Pro Tip: The snack bar onboard only takes cash.

It was an excellent tour, which I would definitely do again when we’re back in the Soo.

After the Famous Soo Locks Boat Tour, we headed to the Valley Camp. They are basically across the parking lot from each other. If you aren’t familiar, the Valley Camp is a ship that used to pass along the St. Mary’s River and has now been decommissioned and turned into a museum.

My husband visited the Valley Camp when he was a child and he was really excited to share it with our kids.

The Valley Camp has fantastic displays throughout the ship, where you can both see ways the ship functioned in its hay-day, like the living quarters, the coal shoot, the mechanical area, and the hold where iron ore pellets or other shipments would have been held.

But it also holds displays and memorabilia from the vast shipping history of the area. There is an aquarium that houses fish native to the Great Lakes waterways, boats fashioned by Native Americans, buoys that have been crushed by water pressure, and you can even pick up a scavenger hunt on the way in – but you will definitely need to read all of the displays very thoroughly to get all of the answers.

Pro Tip: Curious about why the locks are important and how much of a difference there is in the Great Lakes and other waterways? There is an excellent model that shows this from a side view and it really puts the whole thing into perspective, especially if you’ve just been on a Famous Soo Locks Boat Tour!

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The upper deck of the Valley Camp where you can see the living quarters of the crew.

Pro Tip: We saved the Valley Camp for the afternoon thinking a hot afternoon would be a good time for a museum trip. However, the Valley Camp is not air-conditioned.

There is also lot of specific information concerning the Edmund Fitzgerald. You can watch an informative video throughout the day, see lifeboats and a piece of life preserver from the wreckage, read the timeline of events, and learn more about the crew, ship, and more.

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After the day’s adventures, we wanted to check out a great restaurant. The Famous Soo Locks staff gave us several recommendations. We decided on Lock View Restaurant, where, you guessed it, we could see the Locks while we ate dinner.

Matt is the ultimate reader of reviews, looking for great recommendations from people who have gone before us. The most often recommended dish in the reviews was the White Fish Chowder. Well, it must have been popular because they didn’t have any left – or so we thought.

Our waitress double-checked and brought us the LAST cup of White Fish Chowder in the place. And oh boy, was it good. Our 5 year old asked for it repeatedly on our trip (no other place served it) and it made her like fish and order it every chance she got.

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White Fish Chowder I would literally drive back to the Soo for.

We also decided to order and split several baskets so we could try more things. All seafood came our way and it was all excellent. White Fish, Perch, and Shrimp. I’m sorry if I’m making you hungry. I’m getting hungry just thinking about this meal.

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All while eating, we were able to watch the biggest freighter we saw all day going through the Locks. It was enormous! I couldn’t believe it. And when it started moving – it took so long to get going. It truly does not get old to watch the freighters!

After dinner, we took a walk along the main strip. There are a lot of shops and there are some street instruments for the kiddos to play. We had a goal, however, and that goal was ice cream. So we headed to Zak and Mac’s Chocolate Haus which has both ice cream and fudge. Yes, it is heavenly. Just the smell was delightful. Yum. (I have no photos of this because the kids ate their ice cream too quickly to get a picture.)

Then, it was time for bed after a full, full day and lots of fun!

Day 3 – Travel Day + Tahquamenon Falls

Then, it was time to break camp and head to our next stop. (Not before a load of laundry at the Soo Locks Campgrounds laundry facility…ahem.)

We hit the road by late morning, heading west towards our next destination – Seney Heights – which we used as a great location from which to explore for the next couple of days. Even on travel days, we wanted to make sure to get out and stretch our legs, so we took a slight detour and headed to Tahquamenon Falls.

When we arrived at the entrance to the State Park for the Lower Falls, the line of cars was out onto the road. We quickly discussed whether we wanted to wait in line for the lower falls (canoe trip is the plus here) or the Upper Falls (more wow factor for the kids).

We chose the Upper Falls, and headed to that entrance of the State Park.

Pro-Tip: The entrance fee to Tahquamenon Falls is your state park passport which you can renew with your license plates if you are a Michigan resident. If you aren’t currently getting your state park passport, we highly recommend it! It was so helpful on this particular trip. If you are a non-resident, a day pass to Tahquamenon is $9 per vehicle and includes entrance to both the Lower and the Upper Falls.

We were interested in seeing the Falls, so we jumped right on the trail and headed towards the Upper Falls. Of course, with 4 kids and a dog, there were tons of interesting things to see along the path.

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Like this super cool tree root sticking up out of the ground.
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And this stump was particularly fun for climbing and jumping off of.
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Giant trees to walk along.
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And even some land bridges to traverse.

(Don’t worry – this is a very beginner-friendly hike. The main path to the Falls themselves is actually paved. All of these were side adventures.)

And on this hike, you’re rewarded with great views early on that really spur you on to keep going and get to the Falls!

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I mean, come on. How lovely is this?
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Although, my favorite part was experiencing it with this crew. 😍

This is not a difficult hike and it is very popular. We saw people on the trail throughout our trip. But the trails are very wide and the viewing areas are very large. We never felt crowded.

Pro-Tip: Tahquamenon Falls State Park is a dog-friendly experience, as long as your dog is on a leash and you clean up after them. But there are two observation decks which you have to walk down 80+ and 100+ steps each. Our dog made it down the first one no problem but had a hard time going back up (I think because the steps are a metal grating and he could see through them which even as a human adult is a little trippy.) We saw many people carrying their dogs especially up the steps of these look-out areas. We simply chose not to take our puppers down the second one and our family took turns doing the look-out.

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From the look-out at the top of the Upper Falls trail.

We genuinely enjoyed this walk through the woods and exploring the Falls. We really wish we had been able to do the Lower Falls as well, but time didn’t allow for it.

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Pro-Tip: There is a trail that you can hike from the Upper to the Lower Falls. It’s a few miles and is marked as Difficult. It is not paved like the trails to the Falls themselves. It will likely take you a couple of hours to complete (depending on your skill level) so be sure to bring water, snacks, and what you need to complete a hike. There is a paid service available in the park that will return you to your car if you choose to do this since the trail is not a loop.

The Upper Falls had great parking for us to be able to bring the camper and have plenty of space. This was a great experience for us!

After our adventure, it was time to set up camp in Seney Heights. We were not able to find a traditional campground in the area, so we opted to use HipCamp, a service similar to VRBO or AirBNB but for camping spots on private property.

Want to try HipCamp? You can get $10 off your first booking here: hipcamp.com/en-US/i/leahha80336.

We were at Andy’s Wolf Traxx in Seney Heights. The host was excellent. The property was well thought out, including well water running right to the first spot, a solar shower, and a porta-john.

But the best part was the wild raspberries growing everywhere! And they were in season. My kids probably ate their body weight in raspberries while they were there. But you couldn’t tell because there were just so many! It was such a fun way to get out and explore our new camping site.

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After setting up camp, we headed to bed to rest up for the next day’s adventure.

Day 4 – Pictured Rocks

Up and at’em to the taste of deliciously fresh, raspberries, we decided to spend some time at Miner’s Beach before our Pictured Rock Boat Tour.

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Getting my feet in Lake Superior

Miner’s Beach was lovely. The sand was clean and perfect for playing for the kiddos. There was also some HUGE driftwood logs that my son had a fantastic time fishing out of the water (or trying to). The views were very relaxing. And the water was calm.

Pro-Tip: Be sure to buy your Pictured Rocks Boat Tour tickets in advance. We went midweek and not during peak season and we still had a hard time getting tickets for the time of day we wanted. So plan ahead.

We couldn’t believe we had been in the UP for 4 entire days without eating a pasty! Some of our kids didn’t remember what they tasted like from our last trip to the UP (*gasp*) and it was time to fix that. So we planned to stop at Muldoon’s on the way to our tour.

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We snagged several beef pasties and a few chicken pasties, and, there were dessert pasties at Muldoon’s. (These, by the way, were so good and I had only grabbed a couple, that we had to head back to Muldoon’s after the Pictured Rocks Tour so we could have some more.)

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Yum.

Our pasties were excellent, and by their original excellent design, we were able to take them with us and have a hot, delicious dinner on the go. Yum!

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Found him!

We made it to the Pictured Rocks Boat Tour just in the nick of time (good thing we had pre-purchased our tickets!) and ran onto the boat. We were able to find seats on the first level where we watched the amazing formations through the window or on the back of the boat as we went along.

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Again, we had a fantastic narrator who told us about every single formation as we went along. Our kids loved the battleship formation. Here are some pictures from our tour.

I was really glad that we chose the waterfalls tour. My understanding is that it’s a touch longer (maybe 10-15 minutes). It was so cool to see the beautiful formations along the Lake Superior shoreline.

Pro-Tip: There are a lot of ways to explore the Lake Superior shoreline and the rock formations. There are hikes, kayaking trips, the standard tours, the fast boat, and renting a boat you can take out on your own. Be sure to consider the ages of your group as well as activity levels before deciding.

We would really love to kayak this trip. One day. When everyone is older. Gosh, that means I’ll be older too. Hmm, I’ll have to think about that one.

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What a way to see the rock formations!

Day 5 – Oswald’s Bear Ranch

My husband is a trooper, honestly. We got a camper for our family adventures and I haven’t yet learned how to trailer it. So on trips, he does all the driving, all the backing, all the parking… I mean, he’s a real dreamboat in the family time department.

That being said, I try to take the driving responsibility for day trips when the camper isn’t a part of the equation. I confidently climbed in the driver’s seat, put the destination – Oswald’s Bear Ranch – into the navigational system, and followed the directions on the screen.

This drive may genuinely be one of my favorite moments from the trip. Y’all – I just blindly followed the directions going from a paved road, to a dirt road, to a deeply pitted dirt road, to a two-track.

Our 15 passenger van wasn’t the vehicle I thought I’d be bouncing down the backroads of the UP in, but that’s where I found myself. Our van finally earned its name – the Adventure Bus. I’m extremely proud of myself and in the end, we made it to Oswald’s Bear Ranch.

Pro-Tip: It is possible to use a credit or debit card for some things at Oswald’s Bear Ranch but cash is easier. And it’s the only way to get apples to feed the bears. Be sure to plan accordingly.

I’m a big fan of experiences that have admission by vehicle or by family. Oswald’s admission rate is based on those in your vehicle. Oswald’s is a black bear rescue and guests are admitted as a way to help with the costs of running a rescue on this level. This is a family-owned and run operation who are clearly passionate about the animals in their care.

Pro-Tip: While Oswald’s doesn’t have kennels for your dog, if you let them know at the gate that your have your dog, they will direct you to a shady spot to park so that your puppers doesn’t get too hot. You cannot walk your dog around the bear ranch. However, each habitat is close enough to the parking lot that coming back to check on your pup is no problem.

At the gate, they will direct you as to where each of the different ages of bears are on the ranch. But first, you’ll want to stop and grab some apples ($3 for a Ziploc bag). The yearlings are the most fun to watch with the apples as they are far more curious.

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The females, males, yearlings, and cubs are kept separately. You can feed any of the bears (except the cubs) by throwing apples through or over the fencing or from some of the observation platforms.

The grounds are also great for a stroll. We walked all the way around the female and male bear enclosures and we even saw a few of their winter dens!

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All of the bears were really cool. The males were so big. The females were so willing to show off for food. The yearlings were so active – climbing trees and swimming.

But the babies, ooo the babies were super cute.

Plus, you can get your picture taken with one and get a chance to pet it. It’s super cute! No one believed it was a real bear in our picture because it sits really still and the photographer did such a great job.

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The gift shop at the Bear Ranch is excellent. Our kids love the penny press machines (which there is one) plus lots of great shirts, decor, stuffed animals, stickers, and lots more!

Day 6 – Heading to the Keweenaw

It was time to pack up and move again. While sad to leave the raspberries and the incredibly quiet campground, I was excited for both a change of scenery and for unlimited hot water in a bathhouse (it really is the little things when you’re camping).

We were headed from the Munising area up to the Keweenaw Peninsula.

Pro-Tip: We planned our trip really last minute. There were no campgrounds with online booking available. And first-come-first-serve camping made us nervous with kids and needing a bit of a plan (obviously not a ton since we planned the whole thing fairly last minute).

More than half of the campgrounds in the UP only had a phone number. Call them. Leave a detailed message about your set up, needs, wants, and more.

Our campground in the Keweenaw was run by a great guy who only had cell service at the top of the hill. So since I left a detailed message, we didn’t have to play phone tag for several days.

En route, we took the advice of the Upper Peninsula Travel Group and took a stopover at Canyon Falls in Baraga County to stretch our legs, and, obviously, to see a waterfall.

What an awesome hidden gem!

First, the kids had to roll down the large hill. Because, how can resist rolling when there’s a giant hill to go down?

The trail is dreamy and idyllic. It looks like you’re wandering through a magical wood – moss-covered rocks, old-growth, wide trails, and roots winding every which way.

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See what I mean?

Of course, our kids’ favorite part was that it was very easy to get in the water and play. We could literally go anywhere on vacation and our kids’ favorite part would still be anything that resembled swimming. And this did not disappoint.

We all could easily get off the main trail and step into the water. Pools were perfect and refreshing to get cool off in.

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Playing in the Sturgeon River

We decided we didn’t even need to make it to the waterfall because everyone was enjoying splashing about so much.

But, who can resist a waterfall? So my husband and I took turns up to see the falls – and I even had a couple of buddies join me to finish the trail – our 8-year-old and 4-year-old!

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Canyon Falls view before you get up to the observation area.

The trail was about 1 mile long over largely level terrain. At the end near the falls, you can climb up some stairs to an overlook of the falls, which is definitely worth the view!

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Approximately 50′ of water flowing down into a box canyon.

After we burned off some energy, we jumped back in the Adventure Bus and headed for Keweenaw! This was one of our longer drives but it was also so gorgeous to catch glimpses of Lake Superior or really, just to know it was right there the entire time we were driving along.

My husband could be heard saying throughout our trip that he felt three big exhales on this trip – the first, was getting to the Northern part of the Mitten, the second was crossing the bridge, and the third was crossing the river between Houghton and Hancock in the Keweenaw. If you’ve made this drive, you can relate!

We were camping for our stay on the East side of the Keweenaw. I would say this side is a lot quieter but we also got to explore things in our drives that were really fun, too.

Our campground, Dockside Resort, had its own breakwater on Lake Superior so we got to look out over the vastness of Lake Superior and hear the waves crashing as we drifted off to sleep.

Day 7 – Exploring the Keweenaw

Our Keweenaw must-see list was long – and got longer every day. I’m all about the food, so the Jampot was my main goal. Matt is a hidden-gems kind of guy so he had a couple of cool things in mind.

We set out and headed to the Delaware Copper Mine. A privately owned property, the Delaware Mine was bought as a labor of love to turn into a museum where one can experience the mine as it was in the mid-1800s.

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A history of the mine and its owner.

We headed into the main building which includes a cool gift shop, a model train, and a pet skunk named Snickers that you can hold and play with, where we watched an informational video about the mine.

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Snickers and I. He was super soft and very good at hanging on with his very long claws.

The video was our orientation to our self-guided tour. So we grabbed our hard hats (everyone has to wear one), headed 100 steps down into the mine, and then started our tour.

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Pro-Tip: It’s about 42 degrees all the time in the mine. We went in an unexpectedly hot week in the UP and we weren’t exactly prepared for an experience that was this chilly. You will definitely want a jacket at the very least, although I wish I had been wearing long pants as well.

The mine was SUPER interesting. There are little signs up throughout the mine that give you information about the tools, the openings you see, and other pieces of information. My favorite part of the tour was that the lights change between the first and second shafts. The lighting is changed so you can see what it what have looked like more accurately down in the mine when it was in working order. Super cool and really well thought out.

My favorite part of our tour, however, is that Matt started doing Gollum impressions in the middle and really helped our kids who were feeling a little nervous. That broke the ice and the kids had so much fun, although, not being prepared for the temp, we did get a little chilly.

So many of my pictures turned out incredibly blurry because of the lighting down there but here are a few that turned out!

The whole tour took us less than an hour. At the end, we spoke with a couple who has been there several times as well as to the other mines in the area (Quincy and Adventure). They said Delaware Mine is their favorite because you get such a real feel for what it was like and the owner is always making updates and changes. For example, the tour just opened the addition of being able to see all the way down to the third shaft.

While the Delaware Mine is considered a failed mine – meaning it never made money or produced the amount of copper that they were hoping for – the mine site was chosen because of the surface mine that was found from Indigenous People in the area. So after we came out of the underground portion of the tour, we headed over to the surface mine to have a look.

Pro-Tip: Delaware Mine is a cash-only establishment for everything from the entrance fee to the gift shop. We were prepared for the entrance fee but not for shopping in the gift shop so we didn’t get to bring anything home. The owner says he receives checks in the mail every day from people who didn’t have cash to pay the entrance fee.

After the mine we were quite famished – a journey inside the earth will do that to you, I think, so we headed to Eagle Harbor. This was obviously on our list of things to do since it’s on the #MIAwesomeList for the year and it did not disappoint!

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Our first stop was to the Eagle Harbor Inn, where honestly, we were so hungry, I barely got pics of our food. Eep. It was so good though. Matt had lake trout, I had whitefish, our oldest had a burger (the best burger she’s ever had might I add), and our younger three shared a pizza (which has been the best thing while eating out). The fish was so incredibly flavorful. Man I can still taste the very light crust and herbs. Delicious.

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Yes, the kids’ pizza was also very good. And very big!

Next, we headed to the Eagle Harbor Lighthouse. This is run by the local historical society and there are so many things to see when you’re at the lighthouse!

The lighthouse looks absolutely gorgeous and the whole horizon is just breathtaking.

Just to the left of the lighthouse and other buildings, there is a set of stairs and an overlook. We just sat there for a while, take in the expanse of it all. It was incredible.

Next up was the stop I had been (literally) salivating over our whole drive up to the Keweenaw – a stop at the Jam Pot. I had seen pictures and read posts, and I was excited.

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Now, the jam they are most well-known for is their Wild Thimbleberry. We got there just as the thimbleberries were ripening so they were out of last year’s thimbleberry jam. No worries. There were plenty of other delectable choices. We brought home Gooseberry Jam, Wild Apple Jelly, Crab Apple Jelly (which we chose because it reminded us of Anne of Green Gables), and White Cherry Jelly, a fruit they grow there at the monastery.

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Of course, we also chose something from the baked goods portion of the shop – caramels for the kids and a fruit cake for Matt and I. The reviews said the monks made their fruit cakes boozy and they weren’t lying. It was so moist and flavorful!

We had to take a little stroll up to Jacob’s Falls while we were there. Can’t miss a chance for an awesome waterfall! And, it’s right along the side of the road (although we’ve heard the hike up the falls is delightful too, I wasn’t so sure about the getting back down portion).

We were absolutely surrounded by wild thimbleberries. And of course, our kids got down in the pool created by the waterfall and I snitched some of their caramels.

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You may have caught a theme already here, but our kids LOVE the water. So, the next stop was Great Sand Bay. I mean, wow. It was gorgeous.

Pro-Tip: Parts of Great Sand Bay are private, but they are well marked, so watch for the signs.

Our kids spent hours playing in the sand, trying to move drift logs, and digging an intricate canal system from some puddles out to the lake. Meanwhile, we watched all of the “Mommy, Daddy, watch!” and took in the awesome views, including a windsurfer, which just seems like such a cool activity.

As it turns out, we had way too much fun on this particular day to watch out for things like the time, and meals. By the time we left, it was too late to cook at camp so we stopped at Glacia Tavern in Mohawk. We called ahead and ordered to-go burgers for the whole crew. They were delicious and definitely hit the spot!

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Day 8 – Montreal Falls

We had a lot of adventures on this trip, but our hike out to Montreal Falls was my absolute favorite.

Full disclosure – I wasn’t totally sure about hiking. Our kids aren’t always into it which means a lot of complaining and usually carrying them for long stretches. By Matt. Not by me. Nope, even without a pack or a kid, I am THE slowest hiker in our family. For years, I’ve had the cover of a kid on my back or holding their hand, but this summer, my kids found me out (and called me out) – I’m the slowest hiker in our family.

Now I could make a lot of excuses for this but the real reason is that I’m super clumsy. So I have to watch the ground the entire time so I don’t go down. And that, apparently, really slows someone down.

But Matt wanted to hike. The kids are older and we wanted to try something a little more challenging. And it was a gorgeous day. So we chose to hike to Montreal Falls.

Everything we read online said it would be about a 2-mile hike in which is definitely longer than we’ve done with the kids before, but again, big waterfall, the promise of water to play in, and snacks, and we were sure we could do this hike.

The reason this turned out to be my absolute favorite part of our trip was that it was full of surprises from the moment we got there.

We were driving down the Smith Fishery road to where the parking area was when all of the sudden, we came to cedar posts and a locked gate. We (and by we, I mean Matt) had to turn the Adventure Bus around. Which he successfully did and I was ever so grateful that I wasn’t the one driving.

Then we started to stroll. The path was simply full of thimbleberries and we meandered down the path at a casual pace, picking berries, and taking our sweet time.

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Yes, this is a dog-friendly trail!

We continued down this road (me, naively wondering about all the comments about roots we had read) until we came to another set of cedar posts with a gate, this time unlocked. Later, I measured this portion of the trail with my watch and got approximately 3/4 of a mile. This is when we got to actual trailhead.

As soon as we got on the actual trail, we were in the trees, on a fairly narrow trail, navigating roots and downed trees, and catching the most amazing views of Lake Superior. Since I’m super clumsy, I would put my head down and walk, and then we’d come around a turn and BOOM!

I would look up and see Lake Superior and remember we were hugging the coast the entire time we were hiking. It was absolutely breathtaking, over and over again.

One really cool feature on the trail was a tree that had a creek running right through its roots. It could have been a doorway to Narnia. It was so incredible.

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The trail was beautiful and more or less level, but there were a lot of tree roots to navigate. And there was a lot of twisting and turning. As the slowest member of our group, I would often fall behind, and think, surely, they’re just around this turn, but it was usually several turns before I caught up with my crew.

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Once the trail opened up near the end, we had wide expanses and views of Lake Superior. We hugged the coast for a while longer, then took a left at the river to the Lower Falls.

It was closer to a mile-and-a-half to the Lower Falls. We were ready to put our feet in the chilly water and cool down. OOOO it was lovely! Very rocky, so our bare feet were a little sore (or mine were) but it was excellent and the perfect reprieve after the long hike. We ate our snack and drank some water.

Then, because we had come this far, Matt headed to the Upper Falls, another half mile up the trail, while the kids and I played in the water.

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Pro-Tip: If you’re hiking as a family, bring some kind of lunch. With the new gate, the hike is almost twice as long as you may find online. You may need some extra sustenance because this hike is totally worth it! And totally doable for a family adventure day.

We loved the hike and we loved the waterfall. Plus, we loved having the shared adventure!

But we were definitely aware that the time was longer than we had thought. So we decided to clock it on the way back out. I don’t have a GPS watch so I’ll take this as an estimate. Our walk back out from the Lower Falls was about 1.5 miles and an additional .75 miles back out to the first gate, where we had parked. That made the round trip closer to 4.5 miles than the original 2 we had planned on.

I say all of this to be super honest about our experience. So I’ll also say this –

This was my favorite part of our trip! It was an absolute adventure. We weren’t super prepared for it (read: not enough snacks) but we worked together and we encouraged each other and we did it! Plus, the entire route was so lovely and the views were so breathtaking. It was absolutely awesome!

Day 9 – Bete Grise

As a former French teacher, I sometimes struggle with the names of locations in our beautiful state. Do I use the French pronunciation? Is it anglicized? And if so, how? Where?

So when the owner of our campground suggested Bete Grise (pronounced bay-duh gree), I knew it wouldn’t be spelled like it sounded. Thank goodness we saw it on a road sign on our way up to Montreal Falls so I knew how to spell it!

[Bete Grise, in case you’re wondering, means grey beast.]

After our awesome hike, we knew we needed a down day. So we decided to head to the Bete Grise Preserve – a gorgeous, sandy beach on Lake Superior. And, it was on the East side of the Keweenaw, so the wind was so much less intense than the day we had spent at Sandy Cove Beach.

Pro-Tip: There are no bathrooms at Bete Grise. There are changing rooms, which isn’t helpful when a kid has to go #2. If you head back towards Lac La Belle, there is a pit toilet at the public boat launch. Ask me how I know this….

It was just the chill day we needed to be able to recover, refresh, and enjoy the speed of the Keweenaw.

After a day at the beach, it was time for some ice cream. So we headed into Lake Linden to get dinner and ice cream from the Beakers at Dairyland.

They have broasted chicken on the menu, so we ordered a basket to share with the family.

When the chicken was gone, we got ice cream. They had a flavor with “unicorn” in its name, which was a huge hit with my kids, much like the kind with “coffee” in the title was a big hit with me.

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Cheers!

We knew we’d be sad to leave the Keweenaw but it was time to pack up and head to the last stop of our trip – Kitch-Iti-Kipi.

Day 10 – Driving to Manistique

This is probably the part of the blog post where I should pretend like we did something super cool on our drive from the Keweenaw to Manistique.

We found a cool playground in Calumet while we did some work-from-anywhere work. We stopped at Baraga State Park to *ahem* take care of business in the camper.

But mostly, I was on the phone because I messed up our reservations. Long story short, there are two campgrounds named Sandy Shores in Michigan. And I made a reservation at one – which turned out to be in Silver Lake – and not at the one I was looking at in Manistique.

After we sorted that all out, we pulled into our campground, Sandy Shores, where they have an artesian well and are located right on Indian Lake.

Unbelievably so given the mix-up, we got a spot right on the water, and immediately, our little water bugs got in the water and started splashing around.

We did, however, make it to Clyde’s for dinner. I loved reading about all of the history of the company while I waited for our food and I always see it recommended as a must-stop UP restaurant in the UP Travel Group. I saw a bison burger on the menu, and I will always get a bison burger, given the chance, and Matt went with the Big C with cheese, while the kids chose fish and burgers. I definitely get the hype and can’t wait to try all the locations.

Day 11 – Kitch-Iti-Kipi

Our last major stop was another #MIAwesomeList stop – Kitch-iti-kipi. We didn’t leave quite as early as we hoped and we were worried about a long line. We had heard stories of 3 and 4 hours waits on the weekend, which is part of the reason we wanted to go midweek.

We pulled into the state park with several other vehicles at lunchtime thinking we would be in for a line. A pleasant surprise was that we really only had to wait for 2 boat rides – approximately 15 minutes each.

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At Kitch-iti-kipi, there is a boat that has a viewing port in the bottom of it to go out over the Big Spring and see it for yourself. There are large Lake Trout in the lake, and not only can you watch them swim about and see what people have dropped accidentally in the water (yeah, it’s that clear), but you can actually see the water bubbling up from the bottom!

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The boat is on a pulley system. Our son loved helping to get the boat across the water. At first, he was the only one. By the end, many of the kids had come over to help turn the wheel. It was harder than it looked and it definitely helped to have some momentum.

It was so incredibly beautiful and super cool! Until next time, Kitch-Iti-Kipi!

We spent the rest of the day enjoying our lakeside camping spot and letting the kids swim to their hearts’ content. It was an excellent wrap-up to our trip, which was good, since it was time to head home the next morning.

Day 12 – Heading Home

We packed up camp, filled our water bottles from the artesian well, and headed out.

We stopped on the way home for Michigan-grown blueberries and peaches, something sweet to take home and enjoy while we unpacked and ran laundry. That, along with some take-home pasties, was just what we needed to bid farewell to the UP for this year.

In case you’re really wishing you could cross the Mighty Mac, I took a video as we crossed (on the grates, because it was being painted).

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