A few weeks ago I was contacted by Northern Initiatives to help with a Pure Michigan visit. Travel writers from across the U.S. were coming to the Upper Peninsula to experience winter. Real winter.
The interest and their requested destination peaked my interest immediately. They wanted to visit Grand Island.
If you’ve been to or through Munising in the summer months you’ve likely looked out over Grand Island possibly unaware that a 13,000 acre adventure playground is at your fingertips.
Winter presents a handful of challenges. Challenge #1: Let’s make sure that ice is stable, eh!?! Challenge #2: Let’s not run into issues on our sleds out on Grand Island. Challenge #3: Let’s not run into issues on our sleds trying to figure out if the ice is stable… eh!?!?
You get the idea.
Two weeks prior to their visit I shot over to the Island with Kristian, Co-Founder of U.P. Overland. We made a counter-clockwise loop of the island, scouting the best ice and snow drift formations for the Travel Writers to see. The Grand Island cliffs offer ridiculous Ice Curtain experiences. 100+ feet of ice, often more with shelf ice. The Michigan Ice Fest was in town the first weekend of February and I was happy that some of the more adventurous climbers were able to bury their axes in Grand Island ice.
The island was phenomenal on our first scouting run. Kristian, whether he’ll admit it or not, loves to snowmobile.
Last week, my brother came into town and I twisted his arm convincing him to play a support role for me to scout the island again. Running the outer rim of the island is actually a pretty quick task, I can knock it out in about an hour. My mileage the first scout was right at 26 miles, but that including some dinking around. When we set out last week my goal was to survey the drifts along the West Rim Trail, as well as figure out if we could get close to the shelf ice in Trout Bay.
The crossing from Grand Island Landing has been perfect for a few weeks. The trails were lightly traveled and powder filled two tracks from long forgotten logging jobs are all over the island. We made quick work of getting to the West Rim of Trout Bay.
I knew if we had a great day of weather, the Pure Michigan guys would love the overlook over Trout Bay. Leaving it up to Mother Nature, we shot north, toward the North Light.
The North Light on Grand Island is an interesting conundrum. It’s posted private. I respect the property, but it’s ridiculously awesome and impossible to avoid. To that end, I can only hope that the owner understands this. Truthfully, I check the North Light each time to see if it’s been messed with. I wouldn’t hesitate to report anything fishy to the USFS. Unfortunately, year after year, more people head out to the North Light on their sleds. I’m concerned that eventually access will be physically blocked.
The North Shore is rugged. Battered, sand blown drifts, bare ground shy of snow due to unrelenting wind. The landscape never fails to remind me that I don’t ever want to be out there unprepared.
At the furthest Northern shoreline, ice curtains often go the season untouched. I can imagine that many an ice climber would love the opportunity to rope in and climb back up this ice. I’d shuttle service out, just for the chance to photograph the fun.
From the North Shore, we make our way to the West Rim Trail. The North and West shore trails are awesome fun on sleds. The winds delivers impressive snow drifts, not to be taken lightly considering the proximity to an average 200 foot drop to Lake Superior!
There are no words to describe the West Rim Trail. You just have to get out there and see it for yourself.
The trip winds down the further south on the West Rim Trail you go. There are so many other areas of Grand Island to explore it is impossible to mention everything in this blog post. Echo Lake, in the center of Grand Island, is missing from many early maps of the island. Echo Lake offers some of the most remote and amazing fishing in the U.P. Touted as the ‘largest beaver created lake’, it is a must see.
Let’s not forget about the Pure Michigan guys. Dave Lorenz and Steve Cook met up with Kevin Cotey and myself at the Grand Island Landing at 9am on the 10th of February. Bill Ramsey, owner of Munising Snowmobile Rentals, had donated two sleds for the day for Dave and Steve to use. Kevin and I used our own personal sleds.
Steve hadn’t snowmobiled much. I offered simple advice; the sleds are engineered for this terrain, you’re just there for throttle control.
The Pure Michigan tour was awesome. We had a cold morning, but amazing weather, clear skies, bright sun and smooth trails. We stopped at Mather Beach to let Dave and Steve truly experience the rugged winter shoreline of Grand Island.
At Trout Bay, we stopped to enjoy the silence, the sun rising and the glass flat waters of Lake Superior. Typically, the bay freezes thick enough for a couple weeks worth of ice fishing. That isn’t likely this year.
I really enjoyed meeting Dave and Steve and showing them Grand Island by snowmobile. After our ride we met some of the other travel writers at the Falling Rock Cafe and Bookstore, where a great lunch was sponsored by the owners Jeff and Nancy Dwyer. We had good discussion with Dick Anderson of the USFS and Gregg Bruff of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
The feedback from the Pure Michigan experience in the U.P. was remarkable and we feel lucky to have been a part of it.
We’ll be sure to share links to articles and blogs as they become available.
Be sure to check out Interactive Discussion Forums to learn more about other adventure opportunities in the U.P.
You can learn more about Pure Michigan on the Pure Michigan Website, and Pure Michigan Blog.
If you live here, you’re lucky. Now Get Out!!
Maybe it is the vibrant colors of the changing leaves, or perhaps that smell of the forest in the fall. No its the light with the sun getting lower to the horizon, signalling the steady approach of the long winter in the north country, that’s it. Whatever triggers the feeling, there definately is a certain energy in the air in the fall in Michigan’s UP.
There is a certain clarity in the air this time of year yeilding a view to the crisp horizon that is lacking in the spring and summer. It gives a visual assault to the eyes combined with bright colors of the forest transitioning to it’s winter hibernation. There is this sense of urgency to get outside and scoop up the last bits of nice weather and sunshine, soak in as much scenery as possible.
Folks are out and about in the woods, trampling back to their bow hunting stands, walking the two tracks in the early dawn with heavy dew dripping from the leaves searching for grouse. Lake Superior taunts with it’s manic mood swings, glass calm one minute, boiling, blowing, and crushing in the next. Mountain bikers are stirring up a contrail of leaves as they glide over a carpet of gold and red. Paddlers are getting in the last outings of the season while witnessing the water fould migrating and serenading. Fall also is one of the best times to snap photos thanks to the great light and contrasts of colors and textures. Nature is putting up some of it’s best artwork for us to enjoy. We just need to get out and see it. It makes us all look like great photographers!
As a resident of a comunity on the banks of the big lake (Superior is the big lake to us), the lake determines the mood on any given day. It can make for an ominous, dark feel, threatening perhaps, or when it is feeling more generous a sense of calm serenity. It adds depth to the experience of living or visiting the upper peninsula. You never know what you are going to get. It is one of the things that makes this area so unique in the world.
I hope you are squeezing in as much adventure this fall as possible, see you out in the woods!
Most within the overland community are familiar with Tread Lightly. Now that Upper Peninsula Overland has joined Tread Lightly, it will become a stronger focus to improve communication between regions within the U.P. and work hard to improve our trail network. A lot of good things can come from this, and we are hopeful that the team at Tread Lightly is ready to embrace a solid midwest partnership. Look for U.P. Overland, as a newly formed non-profit, to collaborate with local governments and push Tread Lightly principles to improve public perception of Adventure Tourism!
We’re working on some monumental efforts for adventure travel in the U.P. Nothing happens overnight, but UPO2010 is a good start!