Places to Go: Isle Royale

Located 56 miles from the Keweenaw Peninsula in the northwest corner of Lake Superior resides the 4th largest inland lake island in the world. It’s the second largest in the great lakes after Manitoulin Island on the Canadian side of Lake Huron in the Ontario Province. We are of course talking about the quarter pounder of islands, Isle Royale.

The Places to Go series explores adventure related points of interest in the state of Michigan. We are highlighting everything from the large to small, the known to the unknown. If it’s interesting, we might cover it, and you should visit it.

Isle Royale is classified as a national park that attracts people from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. With a total area of 206 square miles, the island is only accessible via boat or plane seasonally. The major part of the island is 45 miles long and 9 miles wide but is made up of about 450 smaller islands and waterways. These combined areas make up the whole national park.

Photo From National Park Service Website
Photo From National Park Service Website

Isle Royale, like Mackinac Island, does not permit motor vehicle usage. There aren’t even any roadways on the island itself. The park service has a few motorized vehicles, but most of the movement from the harbor area to cabins or the hotel is done with service carts.

Interestingly, the mainland area of Isle Royale contains several good-sized lakes as well. Siskiwit Lake, the largest of them, contains numerous smaller islands as well. One of these is Ryan Island, which contains Moose Flats. Moose Flats contains a seasonal bound with a boulder in it. When the water levels are high enough the boulder, named Moose Boulder, becomes the largest island in the largest lake on the largest island in the largest lake on the largest island in the largest lake in the world. We think we got that right.

Rock Harbor and Windigo are both starting points for exploring the island. These are the primary in routes for the island that offer some amenities and campgrounds for visitors. Various other campgrounds around the island that are only accessible by boat or a good hike through the island.

Photo From National Park Service Website
Photo From National Park Service Website

 

Despite its remoteness in Lake Superior, Isle Royale offers a number of different activities for anyone visiting. There are a number of hiking trails throughout the island offering varied difficulties for anyone wanting to do some backpacking. There are several day hikes that can be done, or if you’re feeling especially adventurous, you can take the two-week trek around the island.

While hiking and camping are probably the primary activities, visitors are also able to fish the lakes which contain several different species of trout and perch. Canoeing and kayaking are also allowed but may be difficult due to the islands no wheeled vehicles rule. Visitors would have to hike in their canoe or kayak.

If you enjoy diving, there are several shipwrecks around the island that can be explored. Several of them are still accessible in the waters around the island for anyone willing to brave the depths and near-freezing temperatures.

Places to Go: Drummond Island

In keeping with the island theme, we started with Beaver Island, this quarter we’re going to shed some light on Drummond Island. Drummond is pretty well known to the off-road and overland community here in Michigan. It offers a good variety of trails that range from easy to challenging.

The Places to Go series explores adventure related points of interest in the state of Michigan. Highlighting everything from the large to small, the known to the unknown. If it’s interesting we might cover it and you should visit it.

The History

Drummond Island is, interestingly enough, named after a Canadian military officer. Gordon Drummond commanded both the Canadian government and military during the 1800s. It was also the last British outpost during the war of 1812 on American soil. In 1828 the island officially became part of the United States and is the only island in the Manitoulin chain of islands to fall in U.S. territory.

The township of Drummond is part of Chippewa County, which encompasses the eastern arm of the Upper Peninsula. It has a total area of 249 square miles with most of that being split between actual land (128 square miles) and water (120 square miles). Most of the island is actually a state park and is home to a unique environment.

The island is home to a thing grassy plain on a limestone bed known as alvar. Often times flooded in the Spring and dry in the summer, these plains are home to plants and animals more often found in grasslands. The Great Lakes region is home to a good number of these alvar plains though.

What To Do

Drummond Island is accessed only via ferry from mainland Michigan in the Upper Peninsula. Once on the island, there are over 40 miles of closed loop trails available to get lost on.

Marble Head is one of the main attractions on the island. Marble Head finds itself in a unique position. It is the first spot to see the sunrise in the Upper Peninsula at its 100 feet elevation. It also offers a mix of driving and hiking in order to access the top.

The fossil ledges are another unique area to visit on Drummond Island. Made from the remains of a saltwater coral bed, the fossil ledges require a high clearance off-road vehicle to get to.

We’ve only listed two items here because Drummond Island is a place that needs to be seen rather than read about. If you’re planning an off-road, overlanding style trip in the future then consider making Drummond Island your preferred spot.

Places to Go: Beaver Island

Places To Go: Beaver Island

There are a good number of islands dotted throughout the Great Lakes. The largest of these being Drummond Island and Isle Royale, both of which are respectable adventuring spots. However, one island in Lake Michigan not far off the cost from Charlevoix has a strange history. Accessible by boat or plane, Beaver Island, has now become a favorite place for finding adventure and planning a vacation.

The Places to Go series explores adventure related points of interest in the state of Michigan. We are highlighting everything from the large to small, the known to the unknown. If it’s interesting, we might cover it, and you should visit it.

A Strange History

Coming in at 13 miles long by anywhere from 3 to 6 miles wide, Beaver Island has a mostly flat and sandy make up. Its remote location doesn’t stop it from having a strange past. A self-proclaimed king, a fist fighting priest, and Tolstoy follower all make up the island’s colorful history.

Some of The First Settlers

In 1848 a group of about 300 Mormon people moved from Voree, Wisconsin to Beaver Island. Their leader, James Strang, established the island as a religious theocracy under the banner of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite). The smaller offshoot of the larger church by the same name occupied Beaver Island for approximately ten years, with Strang declaring himself as a king.

The town of St. James is named after Strang as well as the King’s Highway. Strang also managed to get himself elected to the Michigan House of Representatives where he established a county consisting of the Beaver Island archipelago and the Manitou islands to the south. Manitou county is no longer an established county.

King Strang

The strangeness freshwater in 1850 when Strang declared himself King of his religious organization. He was crowned King Strang in a ceremony with his followers, and things seemed to go downhill from there. Clashing frequently with other patrons of the island, Strang attempted to exert his “rule” over the people who did not fall into his religious group.

Of course, the forceful taking of lands and physical violence didn’t help either. Strang died in 1856 after being lured into what seems like a  trap aboard a naval vessel. After his death, his followers were driven from the island and eventually Manitou County aforementioned into Charlevoix County.

After The King’s Death

From 1856 after Strang died up until the mid-1900s, Beaver Island was a booming place. Inheriting a sizeable Irish population, the island became known for supplying the country with freshwater fish. However, by the 1900s this had changed. Fishing and logging were the island’s central economy up until the 1940s. Most of the island’s residents left at this time until tourism took hold in the 1970s.

Two other notable people inhabited the island after Strang’s death. The first was a priest who was known for getting into a fight with one of his congregation in his chapel. Feodor Protar, the other notable inhabitant, lived on the island as a recluse but also acted as the islands doctor. Both men left lasting impacts on the island and the surrounding areas.

The Modern Beaver Island

Beaver Island has become a vacation haven for anyone wishing to get away from the mainland. Don’t let its small size fool you though, even though it relies on tourism as part of its economy there are still plenty of things to do, including several restaurants, hotels, and modern amenities. Currently, the island can be gotten to by either taking a two-hour boat ride or a 20-minute plane ride.

Lakes, Trails, and Camping

Several inland lakes and nature trails make up the interior of the island. Beaver Island is also part of the aforementioned archipelago in Lake Michigan with at least three other islands accessible by private boat. These include Garden Island, Hog Island, and High Island all of which are uninhabited.

The island is also home to two lighthouses, something every Michigander should be familiar with. The Beaver Island harbor light is on the north end of the island in St. James. The second lighthouse, named the Beaver Island Head Light, is on the south end of the island overlooking Lake Michigan.

Iron Ore Bay on Beaver Island.
Iron Ore Bay on Beaver Island. Via Wikimedia Commons

And of course what would be a proper adventure without some camping. There are two small rustic campgrounds on the island, The Saint James Township Campground and the Bill Wagner Peaine Township Campground. Both offer easy access to Lake Michigan. There is also the Beaver Island Campground, a private campground opening in summer of 2019, that gives patrons the chance to sleep in a rather large safari-style tent.

When You Leave

Once you’ve explored all there is to explore on Beaver Island you can catch a plane or boat ride back to Charlevoix. Once there, there’s still plenty more of this city and the state to adventure in. But we’ll save that for another Places to Go.

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Places to Go: Tahquamenon Falls Train and Riverboat Tours

Situated just west of Lake Superior in the eastern part of the Upper Peninsula are the two sections of Tahquamenon Falls. There is no denying that Tahquamenon Falls by itself is one of the best attractions in the state of Michigan and should be experienced on it’s own. What some might not know is that the falls can be accessed by train and riverboat.

In 1925, the idea to make the trip to the falls as a tourist destination was born and in 1927 the first trip using the train and riverboat was accomplished. It has been running since then every year. The The whole round trip excursion is a 6.5 hour ride starting with a 5.5 mile train ride through the forest where you can expect to see the natural Upper Peninsula wildlife. At the end of the train ride you board a riverboat for a 21 mile ride to just above Upper Tahquamenon Falls.

 

Places to Go: Black Rocks Cliff Diving and Swimming Hole

black rocks cliff diving

If cliff diving is your thing, keep reading. Located just outside of Marquette in the Upper Peninsula, Presque Isle Park is home to one of best swimming spots in the state of Michigan. Black Rocks offer visitors the chance to jump from its fifteen-foot cliffs into the beautiful Lake Superior water. Granted the best time to take advantage of this is during August when the hottest weather tends to grace us with its presence. The park itself is not too big and getting to Black Rocks is a matter of finding a parking spot and hiking to the northeast corner of the park.

When you’re done with Black Rocks, head into Marquette itself and find yourself a seat at the Blackrocks Brewery. Offering a variety of beers from pilsners to stouts, Blackrocks Brewery has just the beverage to help you tell the amazing story of how you concurred Marquette’s preemptive cliff diving spot. Try the Coconut Brown, it’s delicious.

Places to Go: Blissfield Murder Mystery Train

Nestled between Adrian and the Ohio border resides a small village in Lenawee County named Blissfield. With a population of roughly 3,300 people, the question might be what does Blissfield, Michigan have to offer someone looking for adventure? That question can be answered in the form of The Old Road Dinner Train.While Blissfield is in the Southern parts of Michigan an easy day trip can be made.

Overlanding is all about the journey and not necessarily the destination. I can’t think of a better way to journey than on a train. The Old Road Dinner Train offers riders the chance to ride on one of two trains, enjoy some good food, and even participate in a murder mystery show.