Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Hiking Canyon Falls, Upper Peninsula, Michigan

Continuing with the wonderful theme of amazing waterfalls after thunderstorms, I visited Canyon Falls. While the name itself is not very imaginable, the sights to behold are glorious. 

Canyon Falls is right off of Route 41 South of L'Anse Michigan. The hike to the falls is a relatively flat half a mile. Along the way the Bocco Creek was nearly jumping its banks given the recent storms. It was a preview of what was to come.

I could hear the falls from the parking lot, adding to the anticipation. There were several smaller and larger falls interconnected by rapids. The largest of the falls was an intense torrent. Getting up and close  felt precipitous. The roar of the falls was vibrating the very rocks I was standing on.  From here the river cascades through a very narrow gorge and runs down a second set of smaller falls.

A number of the rivers in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan are black water Rivers. I believe this is what gives the waterfalls such a distinct copper tone-  almost the same color as iced tea. Tannins are responsible for the unique color. Tahquamenon Falls is the famous waterfall of the UP that is on a blackwater river but several others exist. 
Tannin-stained blackwater
I find the colors to be exquisite and a natural part of the wilderness of Northern Michigan. Canyon Falls is one of the easier Falls to see of the Upper Peninsula and I would highly recommend it.

Monday, July 17, 2017

First Visit to Copper Harbor Mountain Biking Trails of the Upper Peninsula

At the northern Terminus of my journey through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, arrived at to Copper Harbor. I've known about this place for many years as a mountain biking destination, once I finally arrived I was filled with anticipation.  By the end of my weekend, it was clear why this place has become an international destination for mountain bikers.

The Keweenaw Peninsula could be accurately described as a peninsula within a peninsula. Located at the northernmost part of Mainland Michigan, it creates a jack-knife like landform on Lake Superior. Sawtooth-like mountains sharply rise above the glistening blue lake with tiny harbors along the shoreline. The geology of the mountains strongly favors the development of copper, and the first mining boom was in 3,000 B.C. Prior to European contact, Native Americans mined and traded copper that made its way across the continent. Subsequent copper booms have long exhausted the resource but a new one bloomed with the advent of outdoor travel. I've dreamed of coming here since I first visited the upper peninsula nearly six years ago.

I could have spent weeks exploring the peninsula but what drew me to visit this time where the Copper Harbor trails.  The IMBA “Epic Ride” status is a rarely given award to a system of mountain biking trails that has an outstanding variety of novice to expert trails and is worth a visit from anywhere. To me an “epic ride” is like a magnet. I’ve ridden close to 20 trail systems in the country that, at one point or another, have achieved this designation.

Copper Harbor seems to live and breathe mountain biking in the summer. Most of the hotels will be filled with the mountain biking crowd. Keweenaw Adventure Company Is the premier Outfitter and information center for all things biking in the upper peninsula and they were enormously helpful in acquainting me to the area.  Additionally they run a mountain biker shuttle during the summer months which makes the area essentially like a ski resort. You can spend a whole day doing downhill biking!

My first uphill ride was “The Flow” which is a classic. Even in the early summer, most of the foliage had not come in yet and there were views in every direction. The trail was not a terribly difficult uphill or downhill ride though it helps to have a full-suspension bike. I caught a few glimpses of “Overflow” which is a far more difficult ride that I’ll have to try in the future. 

Trails on the west side converge at the “summit” of Brockway Mountain Drive, itself a panoramic viewpoint. It’s easy to forget you’re still in the midwest with a view like that!

From here, I cruised down “On the Edge” which was my favorite trail in every respect. The scenery is unparalleled- I almost went off the edge myself admiring the views! Further down, it has a network of corkscrews which challenged my abilities. I’m sure better bikers have a field day on that section of the trail. 

Whoopity Woo and Garden Brook Trails are fairly standard “blue squares” which are less challenging but flow-y and relaxing. All of the blue square trails on the south-eastern side of the park were pleasantly challenging. 

It’s a really neat scene this far up North. I met a mix of locals from around the peninsula and folks like me who had traveled great distances to be here. Overall, people are courteous and friendly. I do not ride with nearly the tenacity that people who mountain bike all the time do but nobody was rude or impatient with me on the trails. 

After a half or full day of riding, one can’t miss Brickside Brewery at the edge of town for local brews. Pines Resort also had a public tavern with plenty of Michigan spirits. Although I was only able to spend two days here, I could have easily spent a month. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Hiking and Waterfalls of the Sturgeon River Gorge Wilderness, Upper Peninsula, Michigan

The Sturgeon River Gorge Wilderness exemplifies everything that I love about the Northwoods. Secluded, rugged and photogenic! 

Like standing next to a tsunami
This is a classic example of a magnificent place that I would not have known about had I not been in the area. Often when I travel, I have a faint scaffolding of where I want to go and make sure that I allow plenty of time for stumbling upon new places. In this case, I must thank the kind folks at Baraga County Tourism who illuminated this vast wilderness to me. 

The interior of the Upper Peninsula is as unspoiled and untraveled as it gets. If you understand how difficult it is for an area to attain "Wilderness" status in the US, you would know that this is no exaggeration. The exact wording of the law states that it is "an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain" (Wilderness Act of 1964). I had a keen sense of this while wandering through these wilds. 
View from the top of the gorge
Getting to this are requires comfort in navigating unmarked logging roads although I had no trouble with clearance in a two wheel drive sedan (even following a rainstorm). The roads are fairly well graded and though I wouldn't go careening 40 miles an hour down them, I didn't feel too slow either.

The entrance to the wilderness area is deliberately vague. There's a parking area that is marked and then the trail leaves right across the street. Directions and maps can be found here and several other websites though I would strongly suggest that the traveler visit the Baraga CVB for a free, very detailed map of the area and any updates on road closures. With those directions, I had absolutely no trouble with navigation
Fairly typical roads of the area- not too shabby for a two wheel drive vehicle 

The classic pentagonal sign marking a wilderness area in the US
The hike that nearly ever visitor to the area completes is the hike to the Sturgeon River Falls. There's so much to enjoy about this hike. First, it immediately dips well below the rim of the canyon and into the wild. The waterfall is visible within the first mile and the trail skits the side of the lower gorge all the way along the river's edge. It is not unusual to see bald eagles and bears and this would be one of the better opportunities to see a moose in Michigan. Even if no large wildlife is seen, birding opportunities are abundant. For a complete list of wildlife that can be spotted in the gorge, visit here

I have been ever so lucky to visit this place after a thunderstorm. Sure the trail was a bit muddy but were the falls ever thunderous!

Here's another one of the lower falls-

The trail essentially fades into the woods along the river though there appear to be many informal herd paths that lead up the ledges. Towards the top of the ledges, I caught a great view of the river as it makes a large U - shaped bend. Nice spot for lunch!

The whole hike took less than two hours. It could be considered a bit strenuous coming back up the to the canyon rim but overall I think it's fairly do-able even for a less experienced hiker.

Just south of the trailhead for the falls is a pullout for one of the overlooks above the rim and it's a fine place to get some perspective on how deep it is. Bet you weren't expecting such a sight in the midwest!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Mountain Biking Mt Arvon, Michigan State Highpoint

Mt Arvon, at 1,979ft is not a very tall point when compared to other state high points. However, it is set in an extremely vast wilderness of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and is a fine destination for peakbaggers and casual travelers alike
Looking towards the Keweenah Peninsula 
In the past Mt Arvon has garnered fame in the climbing world not for it's technical difficulty but for its route finding. A veritable maze of backroads and logging roads traverse its summit. People would have to track down the obscure USGS maps of the area and rely heavily on their car's odometers to make it successfully to the top. These days the L'Anse-Baraga Area has embraced the significance of Mt Arvon and placed numerous signs on those logging roads to make the trip more obvious. 

I should give particular thanks to the kind folks at the Baraga County CVB who provided me with maps, directions and a completion sticker for my trek to the top. They were so welcoming to this Illinois flatlander! After I did summit, I spent a lot of time checking out the area and camped out on the shore of Lake Superior.

I should note that I was driving a normal clearance sedan up these roads and felt fairly comfortable up until the last mile. Directions were very clear,thankfully. Generally speaking the roads are in fair condition and there's enough traffic on them that they don't get terrible ruddy. However I was thankful I had the mountain bike as the road gets very steep for a 2 wheel drive vehicle in the last mile.

Whether you decide to drive it or hike the last mile, the scenery starts to open up at the saddle. There's a pleasant wilderness lake near the summit which I presume to be the highest lake in Michigan. Finally there's a small parking area and a 200 yard trail to the summit registrar.

Summer, I discovered, is a very narrow season this far North. Even in the early summer, the temperature at the top was 31 degrees in the evening and there was ice on the trees. The upside of this was that the foliage had not come in yet and I had completely unobstructed views of Lake Superior and the saw-toothed mountains of the Keweenaw Peninsula. That's almost 50 miles away! In spite of the chilly temperatures, I was in awe!

In the foreground of the photos above, the tip of the Abbaye Peninsula is visible. The horizon has the sawtooth profile of the Keweenaw Peninsula's volcanic mountain range. Lake Superiors incredible vastness can be appreciated at this high point as well. 

I was nervous at first at attempting to navigate all those roads to get to the summit but the effort was finely rewarded. The next day I returned to the L'Anse Visitor's Center and they gave me a sticker and competition certificate, not to mention the copious amounts of suggestions for other places to visit. Although it was not originally on my travel list, they convinced me to see the Sturgeon River Gorge Wilderness as well as Canyon Falls and I'm so glad they did!

My campsite that night in L'Anse was ever so special-

Friday, July 7, 2017

Hike of Agate Falls, Upper Peninsula, Michigan

My adventure up north ended up being a great tour of all the waterfalls in the Upper Peninsula Michigan. While I knew that there were many waterfalls that ran in the Pictured rocks National Lakeshore, I suppose I was somewhat oblivious to the myriad of other waterfalls in this part of the country. Agatr Falls is a thunderous cataract beneath an old rail bridge creating the frontieresque visage.

Hiking Agate Falls is hiking in the loosest sense of the term. It is neither a steep nor a far hike and certainly has a good bang for your buck. A number of signs from Highway 28 alert the traveler that the Falls are near. The parking area is on the eastbound side of the highway. It is about a quarter to a half a mile hike to the waterfalls. At the end there is a wooden viewing platform that looks right down on the falls. However I felt the best view was the one from the rail Bridge which has been turned into a snowmobiling trail. There are no signs of trails to get to the rail bridge but several herd paths exist which are easily traversed as well. I'm uncertain of the acceptance of the numerous additional herd paths that also go down to the river itself, but most of the great pictures of the Falls come from folks standing on the river bank.

As I happened to be there on the same day I saw Bond Falls (which most people end up doing), Agate Falls was running with as much ferocity. I lucked out coming there after a large thunderstorm but I'd recommend planning for it if you can.

There must be a grand Circle of waterfalls tour of the Upper Peninsula as I felt like I was never more than twenty or thirty miles from the next falls. In this case my next destination was Canyon Falls.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Magnificent Hike of Bond Falls after a Severe Thunderstorm

It had been almost 6 years to the date since I had last visited the Upper Peninsula. A torrent of memories rushed in the moment I crossed the state line. My last visit was during a very iconic time of my life when I was making a great trek from California to Maine to start grad school. Camping out on the shores of Lake Superior and hiking to the waterfalls of Pictured Rocks are scenes forever etched in my mind. Last time I had entered by way of Ironwood, this time I came up from the south. 

Back in paradise!
At the end of the summer or after a dry spell, Bond Falls is one of those pristine waterfalls that will certainly end up being a photographer's favorite. Cascading 50 ft down a fairly diagonal slope, the pictures I had seen prior to visiting made it look serene. However I visited the area after an extreme period of thunderstorms and it was far more turbulent! I could hear the roaring sound of the waterfall from the parking lot. Today I would not be getting a wispy, horsetail-like picture. In fact, it felt more like Niagara Falls in the Upper Peninsula.

The trail to the waterfall is neither steep nor difficult.  The scenic area has numerous boardwalk trails to help with exploration.  Bond Falls is encircled by these boardwalk trails below.  A small, partially paved trail ascends the right flank of the falls giving the viewer a chance to see the cascades above.  For a wilderness waterfall, it is remarkably accessible.

I have to admit, I was cautious and a little bit scared ascending the trail to the top of the falls. Normally I don't think that the waterfall runs down the trail itself but today it had covered one of the view points. The sound was deafening and the force was palpable. It almost felt like I was in an earthquake. What power!

Although Bond Falls is the centerpiece of the park, I did enjoy skirting around the smaller canyons and eddies above the falls.  The river above ran with a terrific temper as well. It's amazing how much can change with a night of severe thunderstorms. If you visit, plan for at least two hours of wandering and pondering.

Close to Bond falls is Agate Falls which I visited later in the same day.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Mountain Biking the Raven Trail, Minocqua, Wisconsin

The Raven Trail is one of the finest mountain biking trail systems in the Northwoods. Flowing and sheltered, it’s a grand ride through the woods.

Mountain biking "up nort" in Wisconsin is serious business. Before visiting, I thought that there would be some quaint trail systems that were fun to poke around but I was not ready for what I encountered

Normally I'm a meticulous researcher when it comes to mountain biking. In this case the discovery of the Raven Trail was serendipitous. I was on my way to the famous Copper Harbor Trails of the Upper Peninsula but had forgotten my helmet! Fortunately, there was a great bike shop in Eagle River that illuminated the mountain biking opportunities of the area. After talking with a few of the shop people and some folks that happened to be there, it was clear that the Raven Trail could not be missed by anyone claiming to be a serious mountain biker. I took the detour and was glad I did!

The Raven Trail is just outside of Minocqua-Woodruff. This area is a hotspot for Wisconsinites and Midwesterners for essentially everything outdoors. Minocqua, Rhinelander, Eagle River and Three Lakes are etched into the memories of many a family, especially those who’ve grown up in the state. I regretted that I couldn’t spend more time up here. 

The trailhead for the Raven Trail is well marked and not far off Highway 47. In the summer, the parking lot is likely full of bikers and in the winter I’m sure it’s all snowmobilers and cross country skiers. The trails are laid out like a typical mountain biking system; there are numerous loops of varying difficulties and it is easy to combine them all into a day’s trip. I biked the red loop which is considered difficult but the blue (intermediate) and green (easy) trails were just as fun. 

I would describe the red trail as rolling and steep at times but not too technical. It ends up being a lovely ride through the woods for that reason. There are also fantastic views of Clear Lake and a seemingly uninterrupted wilderness. Riding in the morning of a weekday, I encountered no other riders. 

The blue and green loops had a mix of wide dirt sections and paved roads. Nevertheless, the tenor of both trails was serene and relaxing. I found the blue trail was about the same level of difficulty as the green trail. 

It’s a fine trail system that shouldn’t be missed by somebody looking for a relaxing ride that will get your pulse up from time to time. Hardcore riding devotees may find the trail lacking in features but I appreciated the views and quietude. Thankfully, it’s not the only trail system in the area and I’m sure I’ll be returning!