Grayling, Kalkaska, and an Awesome Lake

What follows is a long-overdue rundown of our June trip. After the shakedown that went awry in May, this trip went off with next to no problems. My buddy Marc wanted to tag along, so I picked him up from his house. We left out of metro Detroit Friday afternoon with a 3.5 to 4-hour trek up to Indian River. If you haven’t been up to Indian River, it’s a small town split between I-75 and nestled between Burt Lake and Mullet Lake. With the Indian River the bi-way between both lakes.

We stopped off at a bar on the river to meet up with one of Marc’s friend Mike. After a quick beer for Marc (water for me, I was driving) we headed out to the DNR office nearby to grab some campsite permits. Mike was following us thinking we were heading to our meeting spot. However, he ended up tailing another grey Suburban. Once we got to the meeting spot, we realized we didn’t have him. He eventually showed up.

Once everyone was gathered up, we headed out to the area we were planning to camp. I had three different spots picked out based on satellite images of the area. Once we got off the main road, I realized our group had gotten split. I managed to get coordinates to the first spot to the other group, which ended up being a bust. It was a wide-open field that looked like it had just been plowed.

We kept moving along to the second spot and managed to meet up with the separated group at one of our turns. The second site was also a bust. It ended up being a low area off of the trail that no one would have been able to get down to quickly. Some of the rigs with us maybe would have made it up and down but not me for sure.

The last spot was a little further up the trail. Instead of having everyone follow down, we had Dan run down in his Chevy Colorado to scope it out. After a few minutes, he came bombing back up the trail and told us there was a good-sized clearing a little way in, which was good news. I didn’t have another spot picked out that was close. Not sure what we would have done.

We moved down the trail and into the spot. Right at the beginning of the trail, there was a sizable tree that had come down. There was some concern that a few of the rigs wouldn’t make it through because of tents on roofs or just having a higher stance. Luckily everyone made it through without issue.

Saturday morning had us breaking camp around 10 and moving out of the forest. I had planned to work south on trails to get to the Grayling/Kalkaska loop. We worked some trails in the morning, but I ended up deciding to hit the pavement to make the loop. After a quick stop for gas, we spent about 30-45 minutes heading south before we got to the trailhead parking lot.

We made lunch in the staging area and jumped onto the ORV trails. I’ve driven the loop before, and it took almost an entire day to complete the whole thing. That was with three vehicles. This time we had three times that. We started from the north end and worked east and then south. We didn’t complete the entire loop, only the eastern half before we made it to the southern staging area.

The downside to being on this trail system is it is mostly sand, so seeing back more than two vehicles was a problem. We could have done with a little rain overnight or in the morning to keep the dust down. We managed though and made a few stops along the way in some wooded areas to get out and stretch a bit.

The thing I like about this loop is the changes it offers. You get a good amount of different terrain to work with and put your vehicle through its paces. It’s a good test for beginners to try out their rigs and maybe some recovery gear.

Once we made it to the southern staging area, we did a quick regroup. It was early enough in the day to keep on the trails, so we crossed M-72 and were back into the woods. This next section took us directly through the Camp Grayling area on more sandy trails. Most of it was pretty open with a minimal amount of tree coverage.

Eventually, we came to a quick stop at the CCC Bridge State Forest Campground on the Manistee River. If you’re looking for an excellent rustic campground with water access to stay at I’d recommend staying here. This campground was going to be a fallback in case we had issues finding a dispersed spot.

We ushed on heading south still until we found an excellent spot on Grass Lake. It was a good find because the place I had picked out was just a middle of nowhere opening to the east. The site is hidden off the main path, and I wasn’t sure we would even be able to get back to it without walking in. Luckily, the short trail opened up into a wooded good-sized clearing that fit all of us comfortably with room for a few more rigs.

Everyone set up camp for the night and started in on making some food. We got a fire going and spent the rest of the evening having some beverages and chatting. Honestly, this ended up being one of my favorite spots I’ve camped. I had my hammock set up and sleeping on the water is always pleasant. We were all treated to an awesome sunset over the lake and clear skies at night.

Sunday had us break camp and head home. My original plan was to go into the northern end of Manistee for one more night with Marc and Mike. However, some family things came up, and we decided to head back home. Luckily we did because a rain shower moved through later that day which would have made set up that evening a pain.

All in all, this was a successful trip. I planned probably an additional two days worth of routes with the hope to get through everything. Unfortunately, we bypassed a good amount coming south from the first camp and didn’t even get to the western route into Manistee. Their both sections that I want to get back to eventually and try out.

Shake Off The Dust

The plan was to map something useable. Something we could use as a training route for people new to overlanding. Training and experience type events are down the road still, but I like planning ahead. The plan for our shake off the dust trip did not go according to plan.

Our Friday meetup in Cadillac went without out a hitch. We spent about an hour and a half in the Meijer parking lot talking and walking rigs. Sometime around 6:30 – 7 we gathered up, discussed the plan for the night, and moved out. There wasn’t going to be much daylight left so we made a beeline for camp.

The first hiccup came running down M55 and getting to a closed road. Now, this is the part where I say I should have just listened to my wife and gone through. But of course, I didn’t. We diverted around and attempted to get to the campsite the back way but ended up at a creek that wasn’t able to be crossed.

We pushed on, back on the main roads and made it in to camp with a few hours of daylight left. The spot was a wide open area that easily accommodated the 11 or 12 rigs we had. In fact, we could almost have fit double that if we had too at some point. Everyone set up camp and started working on some dinner. After cracking a few beers and having some dinner, everyone did the obligatory walk around camp and chat.

Eventually we got a fire going, did some more BS’ing before finally calling it a night. At some point around midnight, I started to hear rumblings of exhaust in the distance. Sure enough, someone was out for a late night ride and felt the need to stop at our campsite. Of course they also decided to run their engine before finally taking off down the trail.

Morning started out a little chilly but by the time we broke camp it had warmed up to a comfortable temperature. After a quick brief on what we would be attempting we got everyone rolling and to the road. Our first drop in was just a short pavement drive north.

We pulled off the road and made sure we had everyone before proceeding north along the trail. Our initial drop in was pretty easy going. We stopped a short distance in for anyone who wanted to capture some video or pictures. At this point, Mike, who we were expecting to meet up with further north, had managed to catch us on the trail.

We moved on until we hit a clearing to stop for lunch. Turns out we ended up losing about half of the group at some point. Eventually we had everyone rallied in the clearing, made some lunch, and then continued on. This is where things started to go south. The next section of the trail was pretty much blocked every 50-100 feet by downed trees. We did our part and cleared everything as the trail become more and more narrow.

Eventually we hit a large enough tree that we could not clear. After consulting the map, it also turned out that the last 100 feet of trail cut through the middle of someone’s property. Whether the tree was deliberately put down to block access or not, we still had to back everyone up and turn back round. We trucked back the way we came to the clearing before realigning and heading to where we were supposed to come out and back into the woods.

This put us at the the northernmost loop of the route. We dumped in to the trail, making our way along until we were supposed to hit a turn to the north. Unfortunately, what showed in the satellite was no longer there. The current route we were on looked like it hit a dead end, but we decided to move on anyway.

The trail turned into this really cool valley for a short distance. It would have been great for it to continue through, but it ended at a pretty awesome campsite overlooking a river. Which, unfortunately was full. We marked it for another time and once again turned around, heading back the way we came.

I made the decision because of the time to head back to camp for the evening. We were camped in a spot that had a good amount of trails around it for anyone who wanted to partake. The rest of the evening was highlighted by sitting around the fire and BS’ing late into the night.

Sunday morning there was no real rush to get moving. Breakfast and coffee was made before we packed up and decided to find some trails. At this point we were lighter by about half of our group with only 5 or 6 of us left. I decided to hit the middle line of the planned figure 8 and make our way back to the Cadillac area. We hit a good amount of fire and dirt roads but did get into some tight trails.

Eventually, we parted ways with the group around noon and headed back for home. Despite the weekends apparent failure (to me at least) I did get to meet some of the people I’ve interacted with online. As I might have stated before, that’s what I get enjoyment out of. Meeting other people who enjoy overlanding and getting outdoors.

UP Overland Adventure Day 4

After a rough night’s sleep, we woke up to a sunny but foggy morning. After a quick breakfast, we packed up and headed out. One of our members was heading West to check out Lake of the clouds and another member was headed home directly home, leaving just two vehicles and three people, including “Grizz”, my wife, and myself. We decided to take a slight detour on our way back to the cabin and check out Canyon Falls near L’Anse (pronounced “Lance”). This was probably the coolest of all the falls we saw. It is about a 1/2 mile walk back to the actual falls, but the walk skirts the river and lots of smaller falls.

After spending an hour at the falls, Grizz decided he would be heading home from there, while my wife and I decided to take back roads back to the cabin. The drive back was fairly uneventful, but there is some really unique roads up there. Some are straight for what seems like hours, while others are hilly and curvy. We did get to drive by an old mine, which was pretty amazing in person. The roads after that were nothing to write home (or a blog) about. After what seemed like forever, we finally made it back to the cabin. It was nice to be able to grab a shower, use the hose to wash the mud off the Jeep, and sit on something soft besides by Jeep’s seat for a little while.

We still had some hamburgers left in the cooler that we hadn’t cooked on the trail, so we decided to hit the little corner store and grab some beer. We sat on the deck, overlooking Big Bay De

Noc, watching the sun set. After dark, we tried to get some pictures of the stars that were just amazing. If you have never seen the sky at night, in the U.P., it is a must see for sure. It is overwhelming to see how many stars there are compared to other places where light pollution blocks them out.

After a good nights sleep, we loaded up the Jeep, closed up the cabin and started the five and a half hour journey home. This trip was a memorable one for sure. If I had one regret, it was not having enough time to explore. It is so big and vast up there that five days, even ten days even isn’t enough. It is really hard to put it into words, the sights in Michigan’s U.P. Some places almost seem like another state, or even another country. Lush forests, crystal clear streams, and crisp clean air. I have already began planning for my next trip back!

Here are a few more pictures from the trip that didn’t make it into the other posts.

UP Overland Adventure – Day 3

I didn’t realize I could sleep like a baby with so much noise outside. After the long night of loud sound from the waves and wind, I awoke to find a gorgeous sunrise. Honestly, it may go in the books as one of my favorites. It had warmed up quite a bit an the sun felt great after not seeing it for a couple of days.

We started the day with an excellent breakfast cooked on our new Everest Stove. Even with the wind, this thing blew my old Coleman out of the water. After breakfast, we broke camp as quick as we could so we had some time to get some pictures out of the more exposed part of High Rock point. I was able to get some beautiful pictures of our awesome Tailgater Tire Table for them since they were kind enough to donate one to us for the trip. We were even able to get some drone footage of the Jeeps before hooking up trailers and heading out.

We started back on the same trails we had driven the day before, which were filled with even more and bigger puddles than the day prior. More washed out ruts made for a little flexing fun on the way it. It wasn’t long before we were back in paved roads headed west towards Copper Harbor.

From there we took a cruise down the north side of the Keweenaw Peninsula, which made for some fantastic views of the rocky shoreline. We were also able to stop by a few waterfalls and Michigan’s only active monastery which makes and sells some awesome (but “holy expensive”) jams and baked goods. After dropping $80 on goodies, and a few pictures of the buildings, we drove a couple of hundred yards down the road, where we stopped at Jacob’s Falls for some photos and lunch. Of course, we had to have PB&J with our $12 jar of Black Cherry jelly.

After lunch, we headed back down towards the Houghton/Hancock bridge where we again parted ways with our teardrop trailer buddy, while the other 3 of us got started down the Tom Nichols route towards Mass City. While the scenery on this route was amazing, the trail itself lacked any sort of fun. I guess it is catered more towards snowmobiles and fast driving side by sides, as it was smoother than the paved road I live on. About 80% of the way down the trail we met back up with our 4th member (who ironically could have easily made the trail) and continued the last leg of the journey into Mass City.

Before the trail ends, three very narrow and massive spanning bridges cross over some very deep gorges. I had seen these in videos before but being there in person was pretty awe-inspiring. We took our time going across so we could get some nice pictures and admire the view.

After finishing up the trail, we stopped in Mass City and started searching for a place to camp for the night. Our only stipulation was we wanted to be able to fish. First, we tried a spot on a river I had scouted on Google Earth. No road to be found or any clue that there ever had been. Across the street was a trail that led down to the river but no way we could all fit, and after the rain, it was pretty flooded. We continued south and found an excellent spot on a stocked fishing pond, but it didn’t allow overnight camping even though there were picnic tables and a fire ring.

With limited cell service, we checked out another free campground by Bond Falls, but after arriving, we learned it was only for hiking in with tents. No way our Jeeps and trailers were fitting in there.

With nightfall approaching, we continued to another free campsite. Luckily, nobody was there. There were three nice sites, all in a lovely wooded area. They were big enough that we all fit into one site. There was a small pond, 100 yards from the site, but after 4 of us, fishing didn’t get as much as a bite. It did though make for another gorgeous sunset.

We got a fire going and cooked up some dinner. Had some funny and interesting conversations before running out of beer and calling it a night. Laying in my tent that night, I couldn’t help but notice the quiet. No crickets, no frogs. Nothing. I woke in the middle of the night to hear buddies still laughing at the campfire. Later I awoke again to hearing coyotes miles away that reminded me of some evil witches or something. I never really realized how hard it is to sleep when it is that eerily, dead quiet. Needless to say, I really didn’t sleep much that night.

UP Overland Adventure – Day 2

After a night of decent sleep from the sound of the waves of Lake Superior and the increasing rain, we awoke to gray skies and steady rain. We decided against cooking breakfast and focused on packing up camp and getting on the road. Packing in the rain has to be the worst part of camping. Knowing we still had two nights of camping ahead of us didn’t help. The mud from getting stuck on day one was now wet again and made for some messy packing.

We started by heading south on half dirt, half paved roads, toward L’anse. From there we headed north toward Houghton/Hancock. I tried to run the JK through a car wash, but the rooftop tent left me about 7″ too high. The mud would have to stay for now.

As we crossed the bridge into Hancock, we made a couple of tricky turns to find the trailhead of the Lake Linden route. The trail starts off leading through the city. It’s pretty interesting, and you get a feeling of “should I be here” as the trail crosses lots of roads and driveways. The trail was a mix of dirt, rocks, and puddles. The rain was sort of a blessing in disguise as it made the trail a bit more fun and added a little more challenge to it.

By midday, we were again running behind. One of the most important “lessons learned” on this trip, was making our daily routes too long. I had kept it around 150 miles a day, but with slow going on trails, roads on the map that didn’t exist, wrong turns, and wanting to take in the scenery…it all adds up.

Speaking of scenery words can’t describe the beauty of the Keweenaw Peninsula. Combined, my fiance and I took over 4500 pictures. As the trail turns North, the woodland gets thicker and looks like a different world. Some places have a long drop straight down on both sides. Rivers frequently run right next to the trail, and the views let you see for miles.

We had been traveling only about 15 mph down the trails and needed to make up some time, so one of our group, pulling a teardrop trailer, decided to jump on the main highway for a bit and meet us further down the trail since he couldn’t travel much faster on the bumpy trails. It was a good thing because not much further down the trail was a steep rocky incline that was made much worse by the rain.

We continued for a while down the trail, but our fun was ended when the trail (keep in mind this is a state route, which allows vehicles of all sizes) was blocked, only allowing ATVs. So we ended up jumping onto the high way and meeting up with our 4th rig.

We started heading north on dirt roads, towards our evening’s campsite at High Rock point. I had read high clearance vehicles are recommended to make it to this site. It was good advice as it wasn’t long before the roads quickly became muddy trails with puddle after puddle, which was pretty fun. Due to the increasing rain, many of the hills had small rivers running down them and deep ruts that added to the mayhem.

Finally, we made it to the end of the trail which splits off into different fingers. Each finger leads out to campsites right on the rocky shore of Lake Superior. It was everything I had expected, except for the 4-5 foot waves and 30+mph winds that were a bit of a surprise. We set up camp, behind a bit of tree to help block some of the wind but it did little to muffle the sound of a jet engine sounds of Lake Superior 20 feet from us.

We were able to get some wood together and get a fire going despite the rain and spray from the waves that didn’t want to let up. We settled in early that night and settled for a nice, albeit damp bed, and a movie downloaded to my GPS tablet.

Later the rain did let up enough that I was able to fry a little venison over the fire for a late night snack and enjoy a few cold beers before calling it a night.