18 Sep Lake Superior Ale Trail
Does a week long camping adventure around the worlds largest freshwater lake constitute a romantic travel escape? It does when you end up spending half of the nights in a hotel and make a quest for beer your main motive for travel…
Our plan was to create the Lake Superior Ale Trail as a complement to the world famous Circle Tour of our beautiful Lake. Lake Superior is bordered by one province and three states, making our trek the only bi-national Ale Trail in the world ! Where to start? Book a week off work, cram all the necessities for camping in to a tiny trunk, fill the gas tank, and off we go !
Our adventure began in Thunder Bay, our home town. We had to really pack creatively due to lack of space in our car, which meant no pillows (rookie mistake number 1). So we had a tent, sleeping bags, an air mattress, a tarp and some clothes. Oh, and clamato for caesars. What else does one really need for camping? A fair bit, as it turns out. We drove along the beautiful shores of our Lake heading north east through Nipigon to Rossport. We have two great breweries in Thunder Bay, so we packed a couple of their beers “ to go” (right beside the clamato!) because we knew there were no breweries between our home and Sault Ste Marie, a seven hour drive. We stopped in Rossport to enjoy a cold beer on the lake shore when we saw a friend driving to his camp! Small world ! We enjoyed their hospitality as they took us out on their boat and even dropped a fishing line. The water was icy cold and the fish were not hungry, but we saw many lovely harbours and learned a bit of history about this picturesque region. It was a splendid day but we were not anticipating this stop so we had to hustle to get to Pukaskwa before night fall. We pulled in to the national Park at dusk and I was pretty excited for our first camp stop. We had practiced setting up the tent so I felt confident we would be set up and ready for a beer in about 15 minutes or so. Turns out the park ranger was on her way home for the night so she said “ park anywhere” and gave us carte blanche to set up wherever we could find a spot since nightfall was setting in. So we pulled in to the first spot we found and set up our tent, filled up the air mattress, laid out the sleeping bags ( sans pillows) all while getting ravaged by mosquitoes. They were malicious little beasts, buzzing and biting right through our clothing. I was unimpressed and really just looking forward to having a beer in the safety of our tent and falling asleep. As I went over to the car to grab our brews, the park ranger pulled up in her car. “ Anywhere but THERE.” she said. What? What do you mean? “I mean you can set up camp at any site other than this one. We sell fire wood out of this site and need it clear.” But we will be gone at first sign of light… surely.. “ Nope- don’t care where you go but you can’t stay here.” Then I was testy. So us and our mosquitoes picked up our tent and started walking up the road looking for a new site. We found one, set the tent down, and by now I was verging on cranky. Quick beer and in to bed. A couple of hours later, the chattering of my teeth woke me up. I was frozen. Had the air matress turned to ice? No- wait- we were laying on the ground?? With no pillows. The air mattress had deflated. So we dragged out the pump… pump it back up, and an hour later, same thing. *insert explicative here. We slept on the cold ground, freezing, cranky and praying for the sun to come up. As soon as it did, we were up and in the hot shower ( thankfully) thawing our limbs and I did a LOT of positive self talk to change my attitude around! “This is FUN ! This is EXCITING! This is an ADVENTURE”. Repeat repeat repeat.
We packed up and hit the highway, crossing fingers for a Tim Horton’s to magically appear. It did not for a while ! We stopped at the beer store in White River to replenish our stash and ask where we could buy pillows. We stopped at Bathtub Island (100 or so meters east of Katherine’s Cove) to explore the beach and walk out to the island a few meters off the shore. It is magical here and very romantic. We enjoyed a cold brew and a snack, and watched the waves lap against the white sand at our feet. This stop is a must see on any trip around the Lake. We had places to be so we packed up and hit the highway again bound for Sault Ste Marie. We had contacted a few breweries before we embarked on our journey so when we arrived in SSM, we were invited over to Vince’s house. Vince brews for Outspoken Brewing and is a gem of a fella who hosted us in his yard on that beautiful summers day! We tried a selection of his beer and chatted about all things brewing while the sun warmed our toes and our palates were pleased. We said good bye to Vince and checked out a local brewery then headed over the border to Sault Ste Marie Michigan! “Let’s check in to a motel tonight” declared my love. Yep… smart man. Very smart man.
We were playing this road trip by ear, so we had the flexibility to head off course if we desired. So off we went the following morning to Mackinac Island. It is only an hour or so away from Sault Ste Marie and oh so worth it. If I were to choose a defined destination on this adventure that was truly a romantic travel escape, it would be Mackinac Island. The Island is in Lake Huron (DEGREES warmer than Lake Superior !) between the Upper and Lower peninsulas of Michigan. The island was founded in the 1700’s and houses a State Park, a walled Fort, and many many fudge shops. There are no cars on the island so you must walk, bike or take horse drawn carriages to get around the 8 mile island. We parked our car at the ferry terminal at St Ignace and off we went. The ride was quick and easy and the ferry drops you off right in the middle of town where you can eat drink and be merry until the last ferry heads back to the mainland at night. There is a plethora of accommodation options, from bed and breakfasts to The Grand Hotel (wow!) and next time we are going to sleep over.I would love to tell you about all the romantic things we did on the island but I would be lying. We had packed some beer in our back pack so we enjoyed those on the beach with our toes in the sand. Then we saw a huge inflated beer bottle over by The Grand Hotel and decided to check it out. We wandered over and ended up having a bracelet slapped on our wrist that ensured we would get free beer and vodka for the next three hours. Score. We were smack dab in the middle of a sailing party with a bunch of crazy sailors ( we fit right in) and there was drinking and dancing and the most incredible band. Everyone was happy, it was hot out and I kept waiting to get kicked out but we didn’t! Needless to say, after 3 hours we were feeling no pain so we walked back to the lake, drank the bottle of prosecco still in my pack, and went for a swim. Somehow we made it up to the Grand Hotel grounds and invited ourselves for a swim in their pool. As my love helped himself to the free sno cones they had for guests, I ordered us two beers from the poolside server to make us look like we belonged. When they arrived along with the bill for $26 plus tip, I knew we were out of our league. Nonetheless, we dressed ourselves as best we could and stumbled up to the porch of the historic hotel. Rumour has it you cannot even go on the porch unless you are a guest of the hotel, but fate was on our side that day and up we went and plunked ourselves down in a beautiful table for two. Romantic? Yes indeed. Until my love got lost looking for the washroom (like, actually lost.. not just missing…) and I started to realize we may have had too much to drink. So we enjoyed ( choked down) another beer and a plate of some thing I cannot recall and used our homing instincts to get back to the pier. A short ferry ride later, we were back on the mainland and we marched ourselves across the road to the closest hotel where we checked in for the night.
We woke up wondering where we were and how we got there! After a very leisurely continental breakfast and consisting of peanut butter and jam on toast and a very cold can of Coke, we hit the open highway again heading toward our Lake Superior, vowing not to touch beer today. Of course that vow lasted until we saw a handmade sign for the East Channel Brewing Co. How can you not turn in and support a brewery with a handmade sign? So it was a tart cherry IPA for the win and we were back on track. This section of the trip boasted lovely beaches and sand dunes- spectacular spaces where the Lake was calm and inviting ( until you went numb the moment you got in!) and we stopped often, This was a lovely stretch to listen to a great play-list and make multiple stops just because we could. We made it to Marquette where once again my love suggested we get a hotel instead of trying to find a camp ground. Woo hoo! We had a nice supper and enjoyed beer that had real blueberries floating around in it and spent some time walking around this very quaint town.
Day five had us deciding whether or not we wanted to spend the time to drive out to Copper Harbour on the Keeweenaw Penninsula. We decided it was worth the drive so off we went. We went through Houghton Michigan and ate picnic lunch by the river there, watching boaters do their thing and marveling at the lift bridge. En route to Copper Harbour we stopped in at Red Jacket Brewing which pumped out 100,000 barrels of beer in 1890. That’s a lot of beer. The road to Copper Harbour was the most lovely road I had ever seen, winding and fully bordered by beautiful trees… it must be quite a sight in the fall time. We finally made it to our destination, the Brickside Brewery, where we met the owner who is the local firefighter, paramedic and brewer in this town of 100 residents. His beer was delicious and we left feeling we had just spent time with friends. Fish tacos from the food truck parked haphazardly beside the brewery and we were off. Copper Harbour boasts an incredible mountain bike trail system among other things and the drive is worth the extra time. We made a quick stop at a Walmart to grab another air mattress and decided to camp since that was kind of the purpose of the trip. So we stopped in a village called Ontonagon and set up at the local campground where we witnessed the most beautiful sunset ever. Good thing it was warm out because our mattress flattened again but at least we were not cold and we could have our heads warm on our pillows.
We knew we wanted to spend some time in Bayfield so we got up early and headed south. So did a million other people with the same grand idea, so we ended up finding a camping spot a little way out of town in a casino over flow lot. Yep. Nothing spells romance like setting up camp in the overflow lot at a casino ! Truth be told, it was perfect. The sun was warm and there was a small marina on site with a myriad of boats coming and going- the perfect place to people watch and swim and drink beer on the dock. The air mattress deflated again but we simply got up and refilled it every couple of hours. Not ideal, but fine.
The next day we fixed ourselves a traveling caesar in our mugs and set off for Madeline Island. Madeline is a short ferry ride away and certainly worth the trip. We rented scooters and headed over to Big Bay State Park beach on the far side of the island. After a quick swim we returned to town and just wandered around, beer in hand, and snooped in shops and neighbourhoods. The finale was a visit to Tommy’s burned down Bar which is a legend in itself. The largest of the Apostle Islands is a great place to spend a day relaxing and just being together. We cannot wait to go back again.
We packed up our gear the next morning and headed in tot he final and familiar final stage of our journey. It is about 6 hours from Bayfield back to our home, along what is arguably the most scenic stretch of the journey. I love the ruggedness of the Minnesota coast line between Two Harbours and the Canadian border, So many State Parks featuring walking trails and waterfalls at every turn. We had a leisurely drive back to our starting point, making sure to drop in at the Voyageur Brewing Co in Grand Marais for one last beer and snack. It was the perfect finale to a perfect road trip. I highly recommend this adventure.
For more information about places to see and stay along the way, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org