Last summer we chartered a boat ride with Captain Mike out of Cornucopia for an Apostle Islands Sea Caves and Sunset Tour. We had previously taken a similar trip around the islands with Apostle Islands Cruise Service on one of their 65 foot long cruise ships. Captain Mike's ship is half that length and his cruise is customized to his passengers (there were only four of us) needs. So we got closer to the caves and saw more detail and variety of sights than we had previously with the Bayfield Cruise Service.
We first cruised by the Mainland Sea Caves that are formed in the cliffs east of Cornucopia. Although these are on the mainland, they are part of the Apostle Islands National Park. Below are a few pictures from this part of the trip. You can see more pictures on our regular Sea Caves Web Page.
Below the Mainland Sea Caves pictures are a Devil's Island Sea Caves video we made from the pictures we took on that part of the cruise. It also contains some shots of the Lake Superior Sunset and the Sand Island Lighthouse.
The Pictured Rocks of Pictured Rocks National Park
In September of 2016 Jo and Donna took the Pictured Rocks Cruise on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. We had taken the Sunset Pictured Rocks Cruise a few years ago but that was an early evening cruise on a more overcast day, so the girls were looking forward to doing another cruise - in the daytime and when the sun was shining.
The cruise ship was packed as many other people also felt this was a great day for a cruise out on the lake. The Pictured Rocks National Park is thought by many to be Michigan's #1 Adventure destination. The park has an excellent network of hiking trails, expansive sand beaches, three campgrounds, waterfalls, many scenic overlooks, and the colorful painted sandstone cliffs that give the park its name.
While you can see some of the painted rocks from park hiking trails, as a practical matter the only way to really appreciate them is from the water. That's where the Pictured Rocks Cruise Service narrated tours fit in. Their Regular cruise is 32 mile round trip excursion covering the colorful cliffs, interesting rock formations, sea caves, and waterfalls. Their Spray Falls cruise adds an additional waterfall to the itinerary and uses the services speedy catamaran ship. The Sunset cruise covers the same route as the regular cruise but late in the day.
Here's a small sample of some of the interesting formations and Mother Nature's artwork you'll see taking one of these cruises. (click on images for a larger view)
If you are considering doing the Circle Route around Lake Superior in the fall and want to have the best chance of catching good fall color, here’s my recommendations.
Western Upper Peninsula
The earliest fall color occurs in the Western Upper Peninsula. Peak color occurs around the end of September and early color is about mid-September. So I’d start my trip in Ironwood, Michigan.
If you are coming from Minnesota or through Western Wisconsin on your way to Ironwood you could stop in at Copper Falls State Park, near Mellen. There’s a well-maintained hiking trail around the falls that will also show some nice leaf color. Then take state highway 169 north and east to connect with US Highway 2 going to Ironwood. There will be good color along this route and if you like waterfalls you could also stop by Potato Falls Country Park on your way to Ironwood.
Once in Ironwood, you can take the Black River Scenic Byway (Highway 513) to the Black River Harbor Park where there are several terrific waterfalls and a mature hardwood forest that will offer attractive fall color. Alternately, prior to arriving in Ironwood, you could take Wisconsin 122 towards Saxon Harbor and cross the border into Michigan on Michigan Highway 505. That will run along the lake shore to Little Girls Point and then eventually turn south towards Ironwood. But before you get to Ironwood you’ll intersect with Airport Road which if you take east will join up with the Black River Scenic Byway (Highway 513).
After touring Black River Harbor return south along Highway 513 to US2 which you’ll take east to Wakefield, Michigan. There you’ll go north on Highway 519 to Porcupine Mountains State Park where you could easily spend a day or more exploring waterfalls, scenic lookouts, and hiking and nature trails.
On the return trip take Brockaway Mountain Drive to catch the color from the top of the mountain. See our UP Fall Color Drive Map for illustrations of the above locations and links to pages with more detailed information and photos.
Central Upper Peninsula
After leaving the Keweenaw, take Michigan Highway 28 to Munising and the Western Edge of Pictured Rocks National Park. Highway H58 runs along the southern border of the park. From H58 you can take side trips into various scenic attractions of the park itself. As you travel eastward on H58 towards Grand Marais you’ll go through some heavily wooded areas that offer good fall color. The first week in October is when peak color generally occurs.
Leaving Grand Marais, you should travel to Newberry, Michigan and then take Highway 123 to Tahquamenon Falls State Park. Expect some good color along this route and in the park itself. The fall color framing the Upper Tahquamenon Falls is outstanding. From Tahquamenon Falls you travel to Paradise, Michigan. A side trip north to Whitefish Point and Lighthouse is an option. Otherwise you go south from Paradise and catch the Whitefish Bay Scenic Byway going east towards Sault Ste. Marie. There will be some attractive color along this route.
From Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, you take the International Bridge to Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario and then travel north on Ontario Highway 17. You’ll find some good color along this route, especially as you arrive in Lake Superior Provincial Park. If you’ve got the time and inclination, an outstanding fall color excursion is taking the Agawa Canyon Tour Train from Sault Sainte Marie north. The trip up and back is a day long so plan to spend at least one overnight in Sault Sainte Marie. Fall color generally peaks in the first week in October but could last longer.
From Lake Superior park to Wawa there will still be hardwood forests that show a good variety of fall color. But north of Wawa and traveling west along the North Shore of Lake Superior, the forest composition changes to Boreal Forest with the yellows and golds of Aspen and Tamarack trees providing the main color components.
The Boreal Forest predominates until Thunder Bay, Ontario. Between Thunder Bay and the border at Grand Portage, Minnesota you’ll start to see a return to a mix between the Boreal Forest and the Northern Hardwood Forest (maples, oaks, hickories, etc.). While this is further north you’d expect color to have arrived earlier than around Sault Sainte Marie. But color change in Aspen and Tamarack generally occur later than Maples.
Minnesota North Shore.
Along the Minnesota North Shore near the lake itself your primary color will come from Aspen and Birch which generally peak in Mid-October. Lining the Minnesota North Shore are several mountain ranges and peaks that host more Maples, Oaks, and Hickories and have hiking trails leading to them from the lake shore. Along these trails and at the top of the peaks looking inland away from the lake you’ll see lots of color variety from Maples, Oaks, and wooded shrubs and trees. These trees and vegetation will start showing color in late September and into the first week of October. If you are non-hiker, take the Moose Mountain Gondola Ride at Lutsen, perhaps the number one fall color venue along the Minnesota North Shore.
About half way between Grand Marais, MN and Duluth is the Tettegouche State Park visitor center. There’s a decent network of trails along the bluff above the lake and the Baptism River that will offer several good scenic vistas. There’s also a new trail to the top of Shovel Point which will provide outstanding views of the lake, shoreline and looking back inland. Other parks along the North Shore that will offer some decent hiking through hardwood forests are Temperance River and Gooseberry Falls.
From Superior, Wisconsin to Ashland and Bayfield peak color generally occurs around Mid-October.
Take highway 13 off US Highway 2 east of Superior, Wisconsin towards Cornucopia and Bayfield. Here you will see the yellows and golds of Aspen, Birch, and Tamarack with occasional groves of Maples offering oranges and reds. In Bayfield tour the orchards for apples and berries and some decent fall scenery. There are some nice color drives in and around the Ashland area (see our Ashland-Bayfield Fall Color Drive page). If you are in this area earlier than mid-October your best fall color will be south of Ashland, taking highway 13 to Copper Falls State Park near Mellen.
Two big watercraft festivals are being held in Duluth and Superior in August 2016.
Duluth Tall Ships Festival: August 18 - 21st
Lake Superior Dragonboat Festival: August 26 - 27th
The Tall Ships Festival occurs in Duluth every two or three years as part of the Great Lakes Tall Ships Challenge Race, an event to celebrate classic sailing ships and train new sailors in the venerable art of sailing big ships. The ships arriving in Duluth will be participating in the Lake Superior Race between Duluth and Sault Ste. Marie.
The festival begins on Thursday with a parade of ships from Duluth's outer harbor through the shipping canal under the Aerial LIft Bridge to the inner harbor. Festival goers line both sides of the canal to get an up close look at these fantastic vessals under sail and later when the ships dock along the harbor lakewalk. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, some of the ships will offer dockside tours and others day sailing trips.
In 2013 we were able to do the Dockside Tour of the US Brig Niagara and the Peacemaker. The Niagara is a replica of the vessal that participated in the War of 1812 under the command of Oliver Perry. A fascinating view of the conditions and inner workings of a 200 year old sailing ship. The crew sailing the ship today uses the same sailing and navigational technology as the original US Brig Niagara and lives under the same "rustic" conditions.
Food, beverage, and musical entertainment round out the festival. The Bayfront Park Art Festival is occuring during the same time period and is only a short walk from the Tall Ships Festival grounds.
Just learned that a sailing education organization based in Bayfield, WI (Lake Superior Tall Ships) is raising funds to build a modern replica of the Alice Craig, a US Revenue Cutter that was based in Bayfield, WI on Lake Superior from 1859 to 1887. Learn more about the Alice Craig project here.
The Lake Superior Dragonboat Festival , on Barkers Island, hosts one of the largest dragonboat races in the country with almost 100 competitive teams. Dragonboats are large canoe-like boats modeled after traditional Chinese ceremonial vessals with 20 paddlers (10 pairs side-by-side), a drummer, and a steersperson. The bow and stern compliment the dragon motif. The rules require a minimum of 8 women on the paddling team. There are also all-female teams competing and in the past some of these all-women teams have been strong competitors for the overall championship.
The festival begins Friday evening with an entertaining parade of teams and opening ceremonies and entertainment. Food and beverage tents abound on the festival grounds. The races begin on Saturday morning with the first of two heats. With four boats per race, there are about 20 to 25 races in the first heat. The second heat occurs after lunch and then the combined times determine which teams are in the finals as well as divisional champions. Music entertainment occurs all day long and Saturday evening are the closing ceremonies and more entertainment.
We've attended three or four past festivals (we last attended the 2014 Dragonboat Festival) and always have a good time. We have fun guessing who might win the overall championship as well as the various divisional competitions. Also we have some favorite teams that we always root for. We manage to get in some good exercise along the trails that line the race course watching the race from different viewpoints from the starting line to the finish line.
GOOD NEWS. Important Updates (July 30th) Travel between Ironwood and Ashland on US 2 is now open, with moving lane closures during the maintenance.
Hwy 13 Road Closure. Opening up Hwy 2 east of Ashland also allows a shorter detour around the Highway 13 road closure via Hwy 77 from Mellen to Hurley to Ashland (see our map below)
Hwy 63 closure. Cars, Light Trucks, and smaller RVs can use a local detour around Grand View. Trucks and big rigs may need to follow the longer detour route we've outlined below in our map.
On July 12 and 13, 2016 a severe storm and tornado swept across Northern Wisconsin and the Western edge of the Upper Peninsula. For those travelers on the Lake Superior Circle Tour, a lengthy detour is involved for travel between Ironwood, Michigan and the Ashland-Bayfield area.
The official Wisconsin State DOT Detour Route makes this detour even more challenging than it needs to be. So we've outlined an alternative detour route that cuts about 50% off the "official" detour. It involves travel on some county roads but as it happens these roads are ones we've been on many times in the past and know they are good road surfaces.
So if you visiting Ashland, Bayfield, and the Apostle Islands from either the east or the south, you should look at our alternative route. Likewise if you are traveling the Circle Tour towards Ashland from Ironwood, see our alternate route. Also if you are traveling east from Duluth-Superior to the Upper Peninsula, you will find this alternate route helpful.
July 30th update. Travel is now possible for all vehicles between Ironwood and Ashland on US Hwy 2. For the Hwy 63 closure Cars, Light Trucks, and smaller RVs can also use a local detour around Grand View, Wisconsin
We know crews are working dilligently to repair these road closures. We'll keep you posted on updates.
As of July 30, Little Girls Point Campground near Ironwood has re-opened and the Black River Harbor Campground remained open despite some damage to the boat ramp. As of this date, however, it appears the campground at Saxon Harbor remains closed.
Ironwood has a rich history of mining and the timber industry. By the turn of the century (1900) there were 6 iron ore mines operating in the Ironwood area. By 1920 there were almost 16,000 residents in Ironwood. With the conclusion of the logging era and the decline of mining (Ironwood's last mine closed in 1965) population has declined to a little over 5,000 residents.
In June of 2015 we joined about thirty other Ironwood tourist in taking the factory tour.
While the famous Stormy Kromer hat is the centerpiece of the facility, being produced in a wide variety of colors and patterns, we discovered the Kromer production facility also makes a wide variety of other apparel products, some of which are private label products for other merchandisers like LL Bean and Cabelas. Apparel made in America and in the UP; how great that is.
In addition to their expanding line of outdoor apparel, Stormy Kromer has other manufacturing stations making other goods. One of which were a line of doggy beds being produced as a private label brand. Another station makes fishing rod holders for St. Croix Industries. At other stations, embroidery machines are creating custom designs and logos for other products. There's even a custom re-upholstery unit where during our visit a worker was creating new seat cushions for someone's boat. Yooper ingenuity at work. They have to machines, manufacturing space and people who want to work - so they find ways to put these resources to productive and profitable use.
The historic Kromer hat originated in 1903 designed by a railroad engineer (Stormy) and his wife. In those days safely operating a steam locomotive required the engineer to frequently stick his head out the window to see the tracks ahead. During the winter, especially, a hat was needed to avoid turning your head into an icicle. After having several hats blown off his head, Stormy asked his wife Ida to sew some flaps on his baseball cap to keep it on his head. Eventually, Ida modified the design that included a shorter brim along with the ear flaps.
Other engineers began ordering these strange, but functional hats from Ida. Other outdoor workers joined in and by 1920 Stormy Kromer Mercantile was producing the hats in a modern facility in Milwaukee run by Stormy himself and later by his children. By the year 2000 however demand for the classic hat had fallen quite a bit and Stormy's heirs lacked the interest in continuing the business. Bob Jacquart heard about the plans to cease manufacturing and saw an opportunity to rescue an icon. That he did and in the process created jobs and started a new line of outdoor clothing made right here in Ironwood, Michigan.
Factory Tours are available Monday - Friday at 1:30 pm, Central Time. Each tour is escorted by a Stormy Kromer employee and generally lasts about 45 minutes. The tours end at the company store where there is an extensive offering of Kromer products and also a bargain nook of factory seconds or discontinued designs. An entertaining and interesting tour for people of all ages, including kids. They make an especial effort to keep kids interested with hands on stuff.
Agate Hunting and Rock Picking in the Michigan Upper Peninsula
In early May we headed up to Lake Superior's south shore near Ironwood, Michigan to get an early start on searching for agates on some of our favorite rock picking/agate-hunting beaches. You can see photos of some our finds at the bottom of this post.
We stopped first at Black River Harbor Scenic Area and spent an afternoon and the following morning on the beach. Had some modest success. The second day, before we went rock picking, we hiked the trail to park's highest waterfall - Rainbow Falls and were rewarded with some impressive scenes. (see our video below).
Our next stop was Little Girls Point and again we did an afternoon of hunting followed by a follow-up hunt the next morning. Here we had some good luck in that there was a storm with high winds overnight which brought in lots of fresh rocks on the beach that weren't there the day before. We found the majority of our agates and other distinctive gem stones on this day.
We also caught an attractive sunrise at Little Girls Point and a sunset across Chequamegon Bay in Ashland, WI.