Western & Northern in Michigan

We woke up refreshed after a great night sleep at Julie’s cousin’s Erick and Bonita’s house. After a coffee and a quick breakfast we were ready to once again hit the road. For the next few days we would be on the shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. First up off of a suggestion by Erick was the town of Grand Haven. It was just to the west of where we had stayed in Grand Rapids and was on the way anyway so we thought “sure we’ll check it out”. After about an hour drive or so we had arrived. Grand Haven came as picturesque as they come. While it is not directly on Lake Michigan it is on the Grand River only a quarter mile from the lake. It almost looked like it had been pulled straight out of the 1950’s with elegant homes, manicured lawns and a main street with mom & pop shops, diners and tourist trinket shops. We walked around town thoroughly enjoying ourselves. After stopping at one of the diners for a great breakfast for lunch we hopped back into Bubbles and headed north.

The stop for the night was about 2 hours north of Grand Haven in the town of Ludington. Ludington is one of the bigger towns on the western side of the state located right on the lake. We arrived, parked Bubbles directly downtown and started to walk around. While not as charming as Grand Haven, Ludington did have one big advantage as was located on the beach and had a huge city beach. We walked from downtown through a marina and park and over to the beach. As part of the beach Ludington has a lighthouse that protects its bay. It also has a break wall, which allows you to walk directly from the beach to the lighthouse about a quarter mile out into the lake. Its pretty neat as 1., The water on the lake side is rough and wavy and just on the other side of the walkway on the bay side is glass calm and 2., The lighthouse itself was built to resemble the front of a ship! As you make your way out to the lighthouse you can also see down the coast and see the sand cliffs that make up portions of this side of the state. It’s a really neat walk. That night we stayed at a great RV park in Ludington (Poncho’s Pond RV Park if anyone is near there) and called it a night. It was a great full first day on the lake.

The next day we woke up and were very excited. We were headed to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. From the start of the trip back in mid May this one was one of the parks that I was most excited to see. For those who have never heard of this Sleeping Bear, the area of Michigan where it is located is almost entirely made up of sand dunes. Some of these reach as high as 500 feet that go almost straight up from the lake. After a few hours drive we were finally there. We stopped at the visitor’s center picking up a map as well as park information and we were off. First stop for us was a scenic highway that was located almost entirely within park boundaries. We climbed up and up the road excited to see the first view of the dunes and the lake. As the road continued however we noticed a thick fog in the trees around us and thought “hmmm that’s probably not good.”. As it turns out it wasn’t….for the views anyway. By the time we got to the top of each lookout we could only see about 10 feet in front of us. Just our luck. It was neat however to be on the top of the tallest dune with about 100 other people looking down and watching some people climb down to the lake 500 feet below and watch them disappear into the fog in no time at all. (Side note – this climb is not for all. A sign at the top of the hill says that it takes 2 hours to climb back up if you go down. Most people that we saw climb the dune did it in groups and were well prepared to make the climb). All was not lost however as we were staying until the next day so we thought that hopefully the fog would lift the next day.

From the scenic highway we drove on and surprisingly the fog lifted immediately on the north side of the park. The next stop for us was the dune climb. This was a 150 foot dune that in comparison to the massive one located right on the lake most people can easily climb. We parked Bubbles at the rapidly filling up parking lot and started the trek up. Almost immediately we found out that as easy as some people make it look, climbing a sand dune is in no way the easiest thing in the world. For every foot that you move your foot up, it goes down almost half that in the sand. The 150 foot dune while seemingly not that tall was more difficult than anticipated. We did finally reach the top and were greeted with a great view of Glen Lake located right behind us. It was beautiful. The light colored sand of the area gave the lakes a blue hue that I had not seen outside of the Caribbean before. It was really cool seeing that color so far north. We could also see on the other side of dune, more dunes. We asked a family that was there if Lake Michigan was just on the other side and they said that there was a few miles of dunes before you hit the lake. We decided to get back to the car and go to the next stop after hearing that.

Next for the day of our Sleeping Bear adventure was the now ghost town of Glen Arbor. The National Park Service ran this small “town” as it had a blacksmith shop, old dock, general store and coast guard station. We stopped by the blacksmith shop for a bit watching a demonstration before hopping on our bikes and riding down to the road to the coast guard station. Here we learned that in the 1800’s – early 1900’s many small coast guard stations dotted the great lakes as this was the only way to keep ships safe as they made their way from Chicago to Buffalo and beyond. The ships needed to stop at small towns like Glen Arbor to refuel with wood or coal as well as let any passengers stretch their legs. From the coast guard station we hopped back on our bikes and rode out to a trailhead. As the area that we were on was all made of dunes (although you would not know it as it looked like forest on the surface) the actual path through the woods was sand. It was the coolest thing. Walking on a sand path in the middle of the woods with shrubs and trees 2 feet on either side of you. We eventually made it to some dunes and after climbing over a few smaller ones made it to Lake Michigan. The view coming over the last dune was stunning. The white sand of the dune, trees lining part of the path and the different colored blue hues of the lake. This was exactly how I had envisioned this park to be. It was truly amazing. We walked down to the beach next to the lake and spent some time walking in the water and taking in the sight before heading back to our bikes and to the car. We hopped in Bubbles and drove to a nearby campsite for the night.

The next day we woke up hopeful that all the fog that had covered the scenic highway had passed. We crossed our fingers and packed up wanting to be one of the first ones there. We drove over fingers crossed and Yes! No fog today. Back up and up we went back to the views where we could not see our hands in front of our faces the day before. Everything worked out today. Not only were we one of the first there but also the views were spectacular. Some of the views looked out over miles of dunes but the most spectacular view was from the top of a 500-foot + monster of a sand dune directly next to Lake Michigan. We walked around on top of it and sat on the edge not wanting to leave. The views from the top were just that good. After about an hour of hanging out on top looking at the view and people climbing the huge dune we decided to leave and continue on our drive. The drive for the rest of the morning was spectacular. We drove to Northport then down to Traverse City. This drive took us past the blue-hued waters of Lake Michigan and the Grand Traverse Bay. We drove past more cherry orchards than we could count! Once we reached Traverse City we stopped for a few hours to check it out. For being so far north in Michigan it’s a pretty big (touristy) city. Being a touristy city isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. There were lots of shops, galleries and restaurants to explore. Julie and I both thought that this area would make for a great summer vacation spot once this entire trip was over.

We would have spent the rest of the day in Traverse City but we wanted to go and explore the Upper Peninsula or UP. In about an hour from Traverse City we were going over Michigan’s famous Mackinac Bridge. We both thought while the views were nice the Confederation Bridge connecting New Brunswick with Prince Edward Island was more spectacular. Finally though we were in the UP. Immediately we noticed a difference. Gone was the sandy soil and beaches. In its place were different types of trees and a whole new vibe to the place. You immediately felt much more in nature than you did in the southern peninsula of Michigan. We pulled into our campsite not far from the bridge and called it a night.

The next day our objective for the day was to see Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and the city of Marquette. It took a little over an hour to get to the northern side of the peninsula and the park from our campsite. The drive wasn’t much to talk about, mile after mile of straight road past thousands upon thousands of pine trees. Once we got to the park and were able to see Lake Superior it was all worth it. Back were the different blue hues that we saw in Lake Michigan. While the beaches were not as wide as near Sleeping Bear the water was crystal clear with white sand. In places pine trees grew right from the sand at the edge of the water. It was a lot of fun to walk around in the water in the beautiful scenery. We also were able to see the actual “Pictured Rock’s” as well while we were there. These are sandstone rocks that have been formed into sort of towers by the wind and water. You are able to see these by cruise or guided kayak rental but we opted to just drive to a few of the overlooks. They were really cool to see as the different browns in them represented thousands of years of history.

Last up for the day we drove to the UP’s largest city Marquette. (Just and FYI for this as we thought that Marquette University was from here and we were wrong. Marquette University is in Milwaukee) It was near the end of the day when we arrived so after walking around the town for a bit we opted for a hotel since we had been camping for quite a number a days straight. We visited a local brewery and Thai restaurant for dinner. We were pretty excited not to have to set up camp for the night. Before going to bed that night we thought about what a great time we had in Michigan and how much it really has to offer. From history in Detroit, beautiful lake scenery, a crazy good beer scene and lots and lots of friendly people; Michigan was a really good place to start the 2nd half of our journey.

Next up we drive on down to Wisconsin!

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