Upon leaving Ohio we continued north into Michigan heading towards Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, but made a brief stop in Dearborn just outside of Detroit for lunch (another shout out to Mike P for the rec!). Fun fact: Dearborn is home to the largest Arab community in the US. After a fantastic lunch of Middle Eastern food (our favorite was the sujuk) and baklava for dessert, we drove a bit closer to our next destination and found a quiet campground to spend the night. The highlight of this stop was that we successfully started our first fire of the trip (in the nice fire pit provided at the camp site, but with a pile of wet wood).
The next morning we continued on our way to Sleeping Bear Dunes, which is along the coast of Lake Michigan near the top of the Michigan mitten. Our first reaction upon reaching our destination was just how bizarre it was to see so much sand, especially sand dunes, in Michigan.
Emily picked out the hike (as usual) and we started our trek across the dunes to the lake shore. Even at the beginning of what was labeled as a ‘moderate’ hike, trekking through the sand was difficult. Every time we approached the top of a dune, we foolishly allowed ourselves to believe “this has to be the last one” time after time until about the 5th one. Eventually we did make it over the final dune to arrive at the shoreline.
The wind was crazy, the waves were rough, and the water was cold, so not great for swimming or lounging on the beach. We did take a second to reach down and touch the water, just to say we touched Lake Michigan, and then retreated behind a small dune just off the shore to eat our lunch. Despite our best efforts we failed miserably at keeping sand out of our food. Crunchy hummus isn’t that bad I guess.
Following the dunes we made a pit stop up the coast for a quick out-and-back hike to Pyramid Point. Not a typical shoreline, the “beach” is more like a cliff that drops over 250 feet down to the water’s edge. A sign read “Don’t risk injury… or the 2 hours” to get back up; but we did witness a father-daughter team make the climb in about twenty minutes. With that said, we were tired and decided to stay up top and take in the view from there.
After a day of hiking we headed south to the Huron-Manistee National Forest to find somewhere to camp. US National Forest land is open to “dispersed camping” which, in summary, means you can camp for free with no hookups, as long as you follow the rules laid out by the the US Forestry Service (USFS). The USFS actually has some pretty good PDF maps with numbered roads you can download, so between that and Google maps you can at least target an area to park and set up camp (and hope someone isn’t already parked there). Most of the roads aren’t paved and some are in better shape than others. We picked a road, and were able to find a quiet area in a turn off just before the road looked a little too risky for the RAV to handle. Nothing fancy, but private and (best of all) it cost us $0.
The next morning we continued driving north towards the Upper Peninsula at the recommendation of several friends. (Side note: One week ago we had no plans to be in Michigan at all during this trip, yet here we are.) We parked in Mackinaw City to catch a ferry to Mackinac Island, which is a small island in Lake Huron near the bridge that connects mainland Michigan to the Upper Peninsula (also known as the UP, we learned).
The ferry ride was a quick 15 minutes. The island hasn’t allowed motor vehicles since 1898 so everyone is on foot, bicycle, or horse-drawn carriage. The main street is full of tourists, shops, and especially fudge shops. After walking around and getting as many free samples of fudge as we could, we found a cafe for lunch and to mooch WiFi. For the rest of the afternoon we hung out along the water and ate more fudge.
After taking the ferry back to the mainland we hopped back in the RAV, drove across the Mackinac Bridge, and headed to Hiawatha National Forest to find a camp site for the night. Using another USFS map, we targeted a small road that seemed to be close to Lake Huron. As we made our way from one unmarked dirt road to another, the trees cleared as we reached the shoreline. We could not have found a better spot. We parked 20 feet from the water’s edge and spent a while taking in the view, in awe that some place like this was available for us to spend the night, for free. We cooked a delicious meal (ramen) and settled in for the night.
The next morning we spent some time on our private beach and then packed up to head to our next camp site, which would put us closer to the following day’s hike. Before we left we saw an AWESOME bald eagle perched in the tallest tree surrounding our clearing. It sat there for about an hour before taking off.
We headed west to Hiawatha National Forest. We found a spot to camp about 45 minutes from Pictures Rocks National Lakeshore on the coast of Lake Superior, where we planned to hike the following day. We heard from a Michigan couple we met roaming around in their RV that the hike we planned on doing was popular and cars often parked miles down the road once the parking lot filled up. Surprising, given that it’s a pretty remote spot to get to, but we took their advice to go early.
Up at 6ish and out the door by 7, we reached the trail head in plenty of time to avoid any crowds set off on the 11 mile loop of Mosquito Falls and Chapel Falls along Lake Superior. The wind and waves below were intense, and with each heavy gust we were buffeted with sand. The views from the bluffs were incredible.
Years of water and wind cut smooth caverns and holes into the stone, and continue to do so. With each new stretch of trail came more wind and more incredible views. It was well worth the hike out there. The biggest take away of the day though, was the shear force of the water. You could hear and feel the water slamming against the bluffs below while walking along the trail above. It was really something to experience and something I won’t forget. As Emily said about half way through the hike to the back of my head (to herself mostly) “Who knew? Michigan”.
Tired and sore, we drove west to Marquette and settled down in an Airbnb for our first non-RAV night since we left PA.