Little Presque Isle

I can’t believe that after all the years of living and exploring the U.P., I had never been to Little Presque Isle until the summer of 2011. This isn’t a see it once and that’s it place. I’ll be back here with the kids for many years to come. 

it starts with one of those magical looking pine forests. The kind where kids think a pixie might come flying out from behind a pine cone. And then a walk down a pristine beach to find the shallow passage to a treasure of bedrock, dunes, forest and beachfront. It is one of the few places in Michigan where you can sit on 2.3 billion year old bedrock made of granitic. 

Trails encircle the island, leading to cliffs over crystal clear waters, making perfect diving platforms for those on the more adventurous side. I jumped from some of the smaller ones, which were plenty high for me. 

This is a great place to spend a day. Swim in the lake, explore the island, have a picnic on the sun-warmed stones, then roast smores on the beach and wait for the northern lights to dance across the star filled sky.

Dog Sledding

Last year Steve, a real good college friend of mine, asked if I wanted to go dog sledding. Turns out its one of his “bucket list” items. I had seen plenty of dogs and sleds while growing up in the U.P., but was never actually on one. So we set out to find where we could get the full dog sledding experience. We wanted miles of wild trails, hands on the reigns and deep white snow for an all day adventure. I called a couple of places downstate, but at least the ones I talked with weren’t offering what we were after. So I looked further North and found Tasha Stielstra from Nature’s Kennel. Steve and I tried for weeks to get up, but life and work slowly melted the season away.

This December my youngest brother graduated from NMU so the boys and I drove to Marquette for the weekend. Before leaving the Great North I called Tasha to say we could stop by for a visit. It’s a small adventure just driving out there. Once in McMillan you go another eight miles straight north through snow covered swamps before ascending back up the high ground and arriving at Nature’s Kennel.

What a beautiful place. My first impression is that they take their job seriously. There were more dogs than I ever imagined and the operation is very well maintained. James, one of the guides, explained that he’s been up since 5 am taking care of the dogs (they have over 100 of them!). Each guide is assigned duties around the kennel and personally cares for a portion of the dogs.

My boys favorite dog was (appropriately named) Hammy. She loved to be petted. As they all did, but Hammy had a way of reeling you in for more. Each dog is uniquely named, sometimes after their owner/guide. At least that’s what I was told when I asked why one was called Stinky Feet.

James hooked some dogs up to a sled so we could see them in action. Big Ben took the lead. He’s a big beautiful dog and a veteran of the Iditarod, the world famous dog sled race in Alaska.  The sight of a sled brought all 100+ dogs to their feet in anticipation, yelping “Choose me choose me!” In a flash they were gone around the bend to complete a two mile short course. Minutes later the team cruised a corner out of the woods and back to the kennel – the dogs were ready for more.

Hedgie is retired sled dog and roams the kennel like a matriarch attending her heard. She led us to the newest additions to the family, as a group of pups jumped excitedly in our arms. A perfect way to end our visit, that along with some chocolate chip cookies for the car ride back home.

Unfortunately the snow conditions weren’t great, so I can’t tell you what riding behind dogs is actually like. But after seeing it up close, maybe I’ll add it to my bucket list as well. I haven’t spoken with the other many kennels in the Upper Peninsula, but I know at least Nature’s Kennel strives to give it’s clients a pure dog sledding experience. You can choose from short guided trips with you riding on the sled and a guide in control, to overnight excursions where you man your own sled out to a wood burning stove canvas tent/camp and then back again the next day. The McMillan woods are as beautiful as the rest of the Upper Peninsula, and maybe even a bit more secluded than most.

Here’s a Pure Michigan map/directory for dog sledding kennel’s in Michigan that  Pure Michigan put together. Just another wonderful way to enjoy winter’s in Michigan! Natures Kennel can be reached at 906-748-0513 or emailed at info@natureskennel.com. 

Trout Opener - Third Saturday of April

The third Saturday of April is Michigan’s trout opener. While some rivers are open all year round, anglers must wait for this magic day for the vast majority of trout excursions. While it might be a little bit early to hit a nighttime hatch, it still is an amazing time to fish. There’s usually a late steelhead run and you can find some big trout feeding on their eggs. Not to mention, if you do come across steelhead then you’ll be in for a real blast. 

I like to throw big ugly streamers for browns, or tie on an egg pattern if I think they are feeding on errant spawn. 

Hit every hole and gnarled log. Look for steelhead spawning on their “reds” (gravel bed). Check the front of a deep hole for sign of hen steelhead laying eggs, or just behind her for the bucks jockeying for position. Deep in the hole or even at the very back of the hole as it empties back into the main current you might find browns or rainbows feeding on drifting eggs. 

The rivers are full of life and just waiting to be conquered!

Triathlon Training in the UP

It’s summer and there’s a buzz in the air. Race schedules are set and the excitement keeps you focussed on training. There’s only one problem, where can you train safely? You live in an urban setting scattered with private lakes or public ones filled with rocketing speed boats and jet skis. There’s plenty of new pavement, but the cars own the road and aren’t afraid to show it. Running isn’t a problem, so long as you don’t mind the relentless pounding of concrete. 

The U.P. isn’t just a travel destination for fishing, hunting, camping, smoked fish and pasties - it’s the ideal location for the best triathlon training in the entire state of Michigan.

Pristine lakes with no motor boats are everywhere making swimming training a breeze.

If you want hills, the U.P. has them. Looking for flats? There’s that too. If you are a mid-foot strike runner tired of concrete and slanted roads, hit the dirt and get lost in the beauty of the woods.

My favorite bike roads are the ones linking the major travel routes. For example, i94 that runs north and south between U.S.2 and M28. There’s very little traffic and excellent pavement. setting for triathlon training. 

I recently did a 70 mile loop and didn’t see my second car until I was 50 miles into the day.

On your next trip to the great north, be sure to pack your goggles, running shoes and tri-bike and revel in the best training experience you’ve ever had!

Looking to spice up your open water swimming? Try swimfishing! Check out the video -

Some people are nervous about open water swimming because of boats, deep water or things they can't see. Watch the video below for a simple and cheap solution to swimming safer in open water.

Eben Ice Caves

Have you ever walked through 100 feet of crystal ice walls? Pack a lunch and spread out the blanket. In the frozen Wonderland I can’t think of a better place to picnic than protected within the walls of an ice castle. Logic says you should be chilly. Maybe it’s the adrenaline, but there’s a strange comfort, even warmth, within the solid cold blue ice.

The pictures here were taken the first week of April. While my yard in Lower Michigan was bare and tulips sprouting in the garden, we discovered the most amazing ice caves in Eben. 

Just 20 minutes West of Munising along 94, head North at the Blue Moon restaurant, follow that road through a sharp turn to the right, and park at the next bend. You’ll probably see a path made of other explorers through the farm field and into the woods. From there it’s another 30 minutes in pristine wilderness, with some exciting icy spots. You can’t go wrong having a pair of crampons or boot chains.

I brought 100 feet of rope, which came in very handy. Tied to a tree outside the cave, it allowed us the freedom to slip and slide through the entire area. I tied another end to an solid icicle inside the cave. Some other visitors used it as well, and I think they might not have gone inside without it. We didn’t have studs for our boots, and my elbow felt it on at least one good slip. But it’s manageable if you are careful. 

The ice is formed from drops of water coming from the limestone cliff building up throughout the winter. It’s amazing to think that small drops of water can create such a lair. The colors range from bright blue, blue/green, white, crystal clear and shades of mineral brown. 

Waterfalls Throughout the Upper Peninsula

I see the ones in Munising most often as I go through it on many of my trips to the U.P. and they are easy to access with the kids. But there are fantastic falls throughout the U.P. This site has a real nice layout and pictures on some of them. Here’s another site that has an even more detailed look at more of the falls in the U.P., with pictures to many of them. Quite a few of the falls have large areas of rocks and boulders that are lots of fun to spend part of a day on. 

Don’t think that the falls are only good to see in the summer either. They are quite spectacular in the winter. But word of caution for the winter explorer- there’s often such deep snow that you don’t know if you are walking on rocks or water. And, some of the water is moving quite quickly below your feet, which can make for unstable ice. It is best to know the area you are hiking near the falls before you step where you shouldn’t in the winter. That said, some of my best time with the falls have been in the winter, so it’s worth taking a look.

Sugarloaf and Hogback Mountains in Marquette

I’m not exactly sure what classifies something as a mountain. Hogback is 1,220 feet above sea level. Technically, I suppose that’s more than a little shy, but they are affectionately called mountains in the U.P.. 

Sugarloaf has stairs to help you get to the top, and some rails to enjoy the view. Hogback is all trails and definitely my favorite of the two. Hogback would take us 30 to 45 minutes to get to the top, depending on how quickly the travelers felt like going. It’s a fantastic spot winter, spring, summer or fall. With winter probably being my favorite.

World Class Ice Climbing in Munising

Ice Climbing in Michigan’s Upper

There is world class ice climbing in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Many Michiganders wouldn’t know it exists, or even know what real ice climbing was. In late winter the ice builds up along the many cliffs that surround the Lake Superior region, especially in the Munising area. It amazes all ages. Kids think they are in Superman’s lair, and adults thrive in the challenge, and awe of winters glory. Ice formations usually last into April. These images are from www.michiganicefest.com. Click on the image to see the rest of the amazing shots.

Kitchitikipi Big Springs Indian Lake Near Manistique

This is a pretty amazing deep spring. The water is crystal clear and generally has some very large fish in it. There’s a raft that goes across the spring, open 24/7/365. Definitely a cool spot to check out. The kids will remember it for a long time.

Named Kitch-iti-kipi after the legend of a young chieftain who fell to his death in the icy spring trying to satisfy the vain requests of his girlfriend. There is a deep history with this famed destination spot. It's truly a Michigan treasure. Read a detailed description on the Michigan Parks website here... 

Deer Camp

Whether in a cabin, tent with a wood burning stove, small tent, car or just sleeping by the fire - it’s called deer camp and holds something special for those lucky enough to be there. Year after year we pack our bags, grab the gear and make way toward that special spot in the woods. Rejoining family and friends who at the exact same place generations before celebrated this magical opening day tradition. 

Deer camp might not be for everyone, but those that go think everyone should be there. Some years we get our deer, and some years we don’t. But I hesitate to say that some years we’re not lucky. The best memories don’t always include filled tags.

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Our deer camp has evolved over the years, but to this day it remains crudely sophisticated. We pitch a tent to hold our gear and sleep alongside the fire. Burn holes dot the sleeping bags from nights too close to pine wood ambers.  When weather permits the bags are rolled out under the stars. But if rain or snow is in the forecast we construct a tarp canopy and floor. A vast improvement from pulling a tarp over our sleeping bags in the middle of the night during a pouring rain. 

Camp food is always delicious, but never better than this year. We’ve come a long way from wrapping things in tinfoil and throwing them in the coals to cook. This summer I found a campfire grill at Gustafson’s in Brevort. A local man makes this gem, big enough to fit a mess of ribs and adjustable enough to cook them to perfection. 

But the biggest breakthrough must be the fire. For decades it was nothing more than a simple woods fire. And then one year my brother Joe had an idea of putting a large stump behind the fire while we slept on the opposite side, creating a heat shield to deflect heat back on us throughout the night. 

The following year we improved it to build a small wall of large wet logs. Each year we added to the logs until we built what we considered a sloppy looking log cabin. This year the heat shield was elevated to a whole new level as we stacked large rocks to construct a real work of art. At least in our eyes. 

I’ve hunted there with well over twenty different friends, uncles, siblings, dads and grandparents. Many experienced their first deer hunt ever at our deer camp. Even more experienced the thrill of getting their first deer. And all cherish the memories. This year I introduced the next generation, camping with my boys the weekend before the opener to get things ready. Deer camp is dirty, functional, fun and above all - a absolute breath of fresh air.