Thursday, May 12, 2022

A Quick Trip To The UP

As with nearly everything in our life, our spring road trip plans changed quite a bit. What was originally planned as a road trip to the SW and our beloved Taos, NM, the minis and myself wound up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan chasing waterfalls. While we weren't riding in the hot air balloon over the Rio Grande Gorge or hiking in the mountains, it was a pretty perfect, albeit quick, trip. 

Having never been to Michigan, I wasn't sure what to expect this time of year. The weather was still chilly, there was still some snow and ice on trails, and most businesses are still closed for the season. What we got was a few days of absolute peace and quiet while we hiked waterfalls. I'm a huge advocate for traveling to the cool places during the off season because you simply don't have the crowds, prices are cheaper, and the traveler(s) is given a truly unique experience. Given my knowledge of off season traveling, you wouldn't expect me to be in awe of our experience in the UP, but I still am. 

The drive from Des Moines, Iowa to Gwinn, MI, where our Airbnb was located, was around nine hours. There is no direct route, so we spent most of our trip on small, two lane highways in the deep woods of Wisconsin. Luckily, having road tripped plenty, we had gas stations and stops laid out and the oldest mini served as our navigator. Otherwise, it would have been VERY easy to run out of gas in a small town that was shuttered for the season (most places up north don't open for the season until Memorial Day weekend). Luckily, traveling two lane highways makes it easy to pop off the road for hikes along the way. This adds to the overall travel time, but it breaks up the drive quite nicely.

Our first stop of the trip, other than the dinosaur at the gas station, was in Pepin, WI where we hiked along the river and visited the birth place of Laura Ingalls Wilder. The youngest mini is on the fifth book of the series, so we're making our way through the sites of the books. Pepin is where the first book, Little House In The Big Woods, takes place. Although, it's mostly farmland now, but we still enjoyed visiting the town and cabin.

Our time in Michigan was spent at Pictured Rocks National Seashore, hiking waterfalls in between Gwinn and Munising, and hiking the trails around our cabin at Elemental Resort. The highlights of the day included having nearly every trail to ourselves, the waterfalls running at full capacity due to the melting snow, and not getting lost on any trail or road leading to falls. Many of the roads leading to the falls were on one lane, dirt roads that were muddy (because, well, spring). I have never been more thankful for my AWD vehicle than I was this trip. We wouldn't have made it down some of those roads without it!

Elemental Resort was perfect for our quick trip! Five cabins sit on the property alongside a lake with canoes, kayaks, picnic tables, and fire pits. The cabin wasn't anything special, but it was clean with good beds and the basics to make our stay comfortable. It was also an easy, one hour drive to popular Munising, MI, which sits on the shores of Lake Superior and is where we spent a good portion of our time exploring.

Our hikes included Miner Falls, Munising Falls, a walk up and down Miner Beach, Miner Castle trail system, Wagner Falls, and Laughing Whitefish Falls. All of the hikes were 1 - 2 miles, yet the most tiring was walking on the sand on the lakeshore. That was quite the workout!

I told Elizabeth to stop smiling as if we were hurting her. 

"Look mom, the water looks like tea." Michigan had the clearest, brown tinted water I've ever seen.

The water was clear blue, reminding me of the ocean with the large waves hitting the beach with such force.

"Come Zeus, take a picture with mama." The dog instantly starts backing away from me, likely remembering all of the shenanigans I've put him through in his two years. I swear I'm his favorite human (most of the time).

Half of our next day was spent around the Iron Mountain, MI area. We hiked the beautiful LaSalle Falls (on the border of Wisconsin and Michigan) and we ended the day in Minnesota at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park (around an hour outside of the Twin Cities). I foresee us making the trip back up to Nerstrand Woods as it's only three hours from home and offers up some great hiking opportunities.

When you've been begging for a Portillo's chili cheese dog, mom grants your wish (since we were driving near a location, it was impossible to not make it happen).

We absolutely loved all of the hiking trails and waterfalls we journeyed to. This was definitely one of our favorite quick trips. Now that we've been to the area and know it's a pretty easy drive under ten hours (unless we stop to hike, which we tend to do), I wouldn't mind making another quick trip to the UP.