Mackinac Island

After a lovely stay in Munising Michigan we made a short two hour drive east across the UP to St. Ignace Michigan. Our purpose for stopping here was to visit the historical Mackinac Island which was a must see stop for me on the trip. Mackinac Island is the fudge capitol of the nation and the only forms of transportation are bicycle and horse drawn carriage.  A person would have to be crazy not to have this place on their bucket list!

For our visit to Mackinac I choose the Carp River Campground in the Hiawatha National Forest. The campground was a short fifteen minute drive into the quaint town of St. Ignace to catch the ferry over to Mackinac.  While the town was bustling with tourists enjoying their summer vacations, the campground was a serene oasis nestled on the shores of the tea colored Carp River.  Our site was large and private, surrounded by tall trees and had stairs leading down to the river.  We spent our first evening sitting on the banks with a cold beer watching the river flow swiftly by and wondering if the tree next to us was going to fall in the river. It actually did the next day making a huge booming sound across the forest.

We got up early the next morning eager to ride the ferry to Mackinac Island. There are several ferry lines that will take visitors across and they are all pretty comparable.  We chose to ride the Star Line Hydro Jet Ferry.  The cost was $24 a person for round trip and an additional $10 to take our bikes with us.  Riding bikes around the island is one of the main attractions and we opted to bring our bikes instead of rent them over there.  The rental prices were surprisingly reasonable but our butts like our own seats so we toted them across.  The ferry crew was super helpful and friendly and made it a breeze to check in our bikes and enjoy the crossing.

As the ferry approached the island it looked like something out of a movie. Big beautiful houses sat regally along the shore line with colorful kites and banners waving in the wind. We grabbed our bikes and headed up the ramp onto Main Street and our senses were immediately assaulted by the sights, sounds, and smells of Mackinac Island.  The smell was the first thing to get my attention.  I would call it barnyard fudge.  There was a strong rather unpleasant smell of horse feces and urine coming from the many horse drawn carriages. That smell was overlapped with the warm delicious sent of fudge making.  To say the least it was quite confusing to the senses.  It made me hungry yet repulsed at the same time.  In addition to the smells, Mackinac is a visually stimulating with colorful bicycles parked at every inch of curb, big beautiful horses, lovely carriages, and brides and grooms in their finery.  It’s a very popular place for weddings and we saw our fair share of bridal parties that day.

We jumped on our bikes and set off delighted to explore. We biked through town passing gift shops, restaurants, and of course the 15 fudge shops that make Mackinac the fudge capitol. We came across a huge expanse of grass right on the shore of Lake Huron were people were lounging on blankets or giant white wooden chairs.  It was the ideal place to stop and eat our packed lunch.  Everyone around was so happy to be there and the whole scene felt like something out of a movie.  We ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while people played Frisbee and flew kites.

After lunch we decided to bike the perimeter of the island. There is a bike path that follows all the way around the island.  It is 8 miles of flat easy biking along the azure blue waters of Lake Huron.  I didn’t know water of this color existed besides in the ocean.  In fact, I felt like we were on the coast of some Caribbean Island as we cruised around on our bikes and watched big boats making waves in the distance.  As we made our way around the island we stopped here and there to hike up to different lookout points and really appreciate the views.  There is something about riding a bike without the hustle and bustle of car traffic in a beautiful place that makes everyone feel free and happy.  I’ve never seen so many people with huge smiles on their faces at once as I did biking around Mackinac.

After we biked the whole outside of the island we stopped back on Main Street and parked our bikes. We wandered around the shops and sampled some heavenly fudge.  Probably the best I’ve ever tasted!  Then we hopped back on our bikes and explored the streets of town, admiring the historical old homes.  We came across the stately Victorian Grand Hotel and were awestruck by its enormous porch that won it the title of largest porch in the world.  The hotel really was grand! We watched as guests dressed up for dinner came down to wait for horse drawn carriages to pick them up for their evening out and we marveled at the beautiful flowers growing around perfectly manicured grounds.

We made a final pass on our bikes right through the center of the island to see the historical cemeteries and the small airstrip where several small private planes parked. We also passed by Fort Mackinac in time to hear a boom from a cannon.  We were disappointed we had missed the last tour of the day of the fort but it was time to catch our ferry anyway.

As the ferry headed away from the island I was sad to leave it behind. While I was glad I got to see it I felt like my day there wasn’t quite enough.  I want to go back and spend a weekend, explore the fort, and take a carriage ride.  For now it will do though. It was time to head back to The Cramper and get ready for our next stop on our summer adventure.  Until next time Mackinac Island!

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North to the Upper Peninsula

Follow the Sheppard’s as they travel full-time in their RV through America.

I spent a good portion of time during our winter in Colorado planning the next leg of our journey, the East Coast! Our east coast trip was going to be a lot different than our west coast trip in many ways.  First, we were camping experts now.  Our rookie jitters were completely gone and we were super excited be on the move again.  Second, packing was easy.  We knew exactly what we needed and didn’t need and our rig was less than half the weight it was when we headed west.  Turns out you don’t need a cocktail dress or office supplies on a camping road trip. The third and probably biggest difference, is that the whole trip was mapped out.  Our campgrounds were booked and I had a nifty little spreadsheet that listed out where we would be resting our heads every night, what there was to do there, what amenities were available at the campground, excursions I thought we would enjoy, and how many miles it was to the next campground.  I loved the freedom of moving around at our own pace during our western leg of the trip, but we also spent a lot of our time deciding where to go next and what to do once we got there.  It was also harder to budget for the western leg not knowing how much we would actually spend on camping.  With the camping for the eastern leg already paid for I could budget for some really cool excursions and we could even dine out and sample the local flavors from time to time.  So after spending the 4th of July holiday in Illinois with our family and friends we packed up The Cramper, said goodbye, and headed north on July 9th.

We really wanted to check out the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, commonly referred to as the UP. July seemed like a good time to be north so we headed up to Bear Lake in north eastern Wisconsin for our first night stay on the way to the UP.  It was an uneventful 7 hour drive to Bear Lake and we arrived shortly before sunset, which turned out to be a bit of a bummer because we didn’t really get to take advantage of the beautiful, pristine lake.  The campground was heavily wooded with tall lush trees, and the sites were large and private.  Ours had a set of stairs that went right down to the lake.  Bug spray was absolutely necessary for the monster mosquitos. We sprayed it on and headed down to watch the sunset from our little cove.  The lake was so calm the water looked like glass and showed the reflection of the trees and the sky.  We tucked ourselves in for the night to the sound of rain on The Crampers rooftop, looking forward to arriving in the UP the next day.

From Bear Lake we drove to Bay Furnace Campground in Munising, Michigan on the shores of Lake Superior. I chose this campground for its proximity to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The campground itself was excellent, with big private sites and a short walk to a small beach right on the lake.  We spent our first day in the UP exploring the trails of Pictured Rocks and hiking to some of the many waterfalls in the area.  We hiked along a trail through a damp forest full of huge, green trees to Miners Fall.  A beautiful tea colored cascading waterfall.  The tea color comes from a wetland root found nearby.  We stopped at various points along the lakeshore to admire the colorful 200 foot sandstone cliffs on the shore of Lake Superior.  The combination of the clear, blue water of the lake against the many shaded colors of the sandstone cliff was pretty as a picture and made it easy to see how the area got its name.  We also hiked a path along the tea colored Munising Creek to Munising Creek Falls.  All this tea colored water was making me crave a sweet tea.  Instead we headed back to camp for dinner and a few cold ones to plan our adventure for the next day.

It started raining again overnight and the temperature was quite a bit cooler and damper then we had expected but it didn’t stop us from enjoying our second day in the UP. We really wanted to do a glass bottom boat tour and explore the shipwrecks that were laying on the rocky bottom of Lake Superior.  We booked a two hour tour through Glass Bottom Shipwreck tours for the afternoon, put on some warm clothes and our raincoats and headed out for the day.  The Shipwreck tour was awesome! The rainy weather kept a lot of people at bay and we had the whole top of the boat to ourselves as we rode the waves out to the shipwrecks.  We passed by Grand Island, caves, and colorful sandstone cliffs.  The boat paused so we could take pictures of a weathered old lighthouse, and then we reached the first shipwreck.  We went below deck and everyone gathered around the glass bottom viewing area to watch as we passed over the wreckage and listened to the tour guide.  Lake Superior is so clear it’s just like looking into an aquarium and we were easily able to view the wreckage.  The tour guides were funny and informative and we really enjoyed the whole experience. At the end of the boat ride the tour guide recommended trying a pasty for dinner.  Pasty shops are found everywhere in the UP and we decided we should really try out the local food.  A pasty is a puff pastry filled with different combinations of meat, potatoes, and veggies.  You can also get fruit filled.  For our first pasty experience we went to Muldoon’s Pasties and we were not disappointed.  We ordered a chicken pasty, a beef pasty, and a veggie pasty with a side of gravy to go and took them back to The Cramper.  It was the best comfort food and so filling and perfect for a cool rainy evening.  My only regret was that we didn’t an apple pasty for dessert.  All in all our first stop in the UP was a great success and our eastern leg of our trip was off to a perfect start.