Showing posts with label Upper Peninsula. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Upper Peninsula. Show all posts

Pure Michigan: Kayaking Lake Superior

Summer on Michigan's Upper Peninsula brings a host of possibilities for outdoor adventure. Last week, I talked about the amazing mountain biking that can be found there, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. The U.P. sits on the edge of Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes, which means there are ample opportunities for paddling excursions throughout the region as well. Whether you enjoy whitewater rafting, flat river paddling, or sea kayaking, there is something to appeal to every kind of kayaker.

My base of operations while on the U.P. was Copper Harbor, a town of just 80 permanent residents who take pride in all of the outdoor adventures they have just out their backdoor. The small town sits on the banks of Lake Superior, and while the hills overhead make for amazing mountain bike riding, the lake offers endless opportunities of a different variety.

Covering approximately 31,700 square miles (82,103 sq km), Lake Superior more closely resembles a sea rather than a like. That means, most of the kayaking is done in sea kayaks, which are longer boats that trade maneuverability for stability. The day I was out on the water, the conditions were so smooth that just about any kayak would have sufficed, but a long boat designed for the sea cut through the water nicely, making it easy to get up to speed, and cover solid distances without much of an effort.

As with my mountain biking adventure, my group rented our equipment from the Keweenaw Adventure Company. The expert guides from this locally owned shop were able to quickly and easily set us up with all the gear we needed, and matched us to boats that were fitting for the size and level of experience of the paddlers. A couple of the journalists that I was traveling with had never kayaked before, but their apprehension was soon quelled by putting them in a tandem boat with someone that could help get them through the experience. Before setting out, the staff from the Adventure Company gave us an orientation on the most efficient way to paddle, how to turn the long sea kayaks, and what to do in case our boats tipped over. Fortunately, that never happened while were out on the water, so while those instructions were valuable, they weren't needed.

Before too long, we were on the water and setting out from a small, protected cove, for the lake itself. Following a long, harsh winter, the lake has been slow to warm up this season, and the temperature hovered around 40ºF (4.4CºC) even in July. Because of that, we were forced to wear wetsuits, which would help insulate us from the cold temperatures, should any of us be unfortunate enough to fall in. As I said, fortunately that didn't happen, but the cold water was probably the biggest danger we faced that entire day.

Once out onto the lake itself, we hugged the shoreline, and soon were making good progress across water that was nearly as smooth as glass. That isn't always the case on Lake Superior, where massive storms can create big swells at various times. Unlike on an ocean or sea, where the moon can create tidal patterns, the water on the Great Lakes is more affected by weather conditions, with changes in pressure creating tides in a completely different, and more unpredictable fashion. A natural phenomenon known as a seiche (produced "sayshe") occurs when high pressure pushes down on one portion of the lake, creating higher water levels on another. This isn't often as pronounced as a big tidal pattern, but it can create dangerous conditions at times.

That certainly wasn't the case on my afternoon out on Lake Superior. I couldn't have asked for better conditions, with a warm sun shining overhead, a slight breeze bringing cool air across the open water, and surface conditions that couldn't have been more perfect. The water was incredibly clear, allowing us to see a variety of things just beneath the surface, including an array of large rocks, the remains of an old dock that had been destroyed decades earlier, and even the occasional fish. A marker buoy – made from an empty beer keg – marked the spot where a ship called the John Jacob Astor had sunk in the harbor back in 1844.

As we paddled down the shore, the old Copper Harbor Lighthouse came into view, standing guard over the entrance to the harbor as it has since 1848. During the day, it makes for a nostalgic image, harkening back to a bygone era when lighthouses were provided important navigational clues for ships coming and going along the Great Lakes. Now days, more sophisticated GPS and radio systems have replaced these relics, but they remain an important part of our history none the less. If you ever visit Copper Harbor, I recommend taking a visit to the lighthouse, as it provides an excellent look at the life of those who manned these important stations. When my group took the tour later that evening, we even spotted a large bald eagle perched amongst the tall trees there.

Once we had paddled for a distance, our guides decided we were ready to turn our boats out across open water, and make our way towards Porters Island, a small chunk of land that separates the harbor from Lake Superior itself. By now, everyone was feeling comfortable in the cockpit of their kayak, and we soon rounded the edge of the island, with nothing but open sea off to our side. Moving away front he relatively safety of the shoreline gave you a sense of just how vast Lake Superior truly is, as once you passed beyond Porters Island, water stretched unbroken to the horizon. It was an experience that was both exhilarating and humbling at the same time.

Before I knew it, we were turning our boats back into the protective little cove, and ending our paddling adventure. Much like my experience on the mountain bike, it was just enough of a taste to whet my appetite, and encourage me to want to return to the U.P. once again in the future to explore the paddling opportunities further. I feel like kayakers will discover that Michigan's wild backcountry can provide them with a wide variety of great experiences, and Lake Superior is just one of many excellent places to paddle.

Beyond that however, visitors to the U.P. who are not there kayak should take the opportunity to give it a go as well. The trained staff at the Keweenaw Adventure Company will provide you with all of the skills and equipment necessary to head out on the water for a fun adventure. They will ensure that you stay safe at all times, and sea kayaking on Lake Superior is a safe, fun introduction to the sport. It is also a beautiful destination to enjoy a paddling excursion as well.

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Video: The Miner's Revenge Mountain Bike Race

If you read my post yesterday about mountain biking on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, you probably saw my mention of a unique mountain bike race held there every year. It's called, the Miner's Revenge, and it takes place in and around the Adventure Mining Company on the Keweenaw Peninsula. What makes this race so special is that the course of the race runs not just around and over the mountain, but inside it as well. Racers must negotiate a narrow tunnel left over by the copper mines that once populated the area. It certainly adds a new twist to a race, and as you'll see in the video below, the tunnel makes for a unique environment. This is a race unlike any other, and only adds to the great riding in the U.P.

Pure Michigan: Mountain Biking on the Upper Peninsula

Photo Credit Bryen Dunn
Michigan's Upper Peninsula quite possibly may be the most remote and wild place in the eastern United States. Bordered on three sides by the Great Lakes, it is a land covered in thick forests and rolling hills, and devoid of most signs of civilization. Just how remote is it? Consider this. Michigan is home to approximately 10 million people, and yet less than 3% of them live in the U.P. If you go there, don't expect reliable cell phone service, speed Internet, or much in the way of amenities. What you should expect is some of the most down to Earth people that you could ever meet, an abundance of great outdoor activities, and plenty of adventure.

My travels in the U.P. took me to the town of Copper Harbor, which is located at the extreme north of  the Keweenaw Peninsula, directly on the shores of Lake Superior. It is a sleep little town that has just 80 year-round residents, but welcomes adventurous travelers, particularly in the summer. One of the local businesses is the Keweenaw Adventure Company, which hosts kayaking trips out onto the lake, as well as guided mountain bike rides onto the nearby trails. But those trails aren't just some run-of-the-mill singletrack with little to offer experienced riders. The network of trails in and around Copper Harbor have been rated as a Silver Level Ride Center by the International Mountain Biking Association, which means they rank amongst the top five in the world.

With that kind of a reputation, I was eager to check out the trails for myself, and one morning while I was there, a few of us grabbed some bikes, and hit the trail. After a bit of a warm-up on some flat and fast trails near town, we caught the shuttle up to the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge, which is home to beautiful golf course, but also provides access to several of the mountain bike trails. Soon, my companions and I were zipping off down the road to the trail head for a route called Garden Brook, which would eventually provide access to another called Bullwinkle. Within minutes, we were flying across a trail that was both technically challenging, and incredibly fun, mixing the twists and turns of downhill, with just a enough climbing to give your legs a good workout as well.

The lush green forests that line the hills around Copper Harbor made for a great backdrop to the ride. The trails wandered through those woods as if they were meant to be there, rather than something that was carved out by human hands. The setting would have been almost serene, were it not for the breakneck speeds that were obtained on the sustained downhill portions of the ride. When you conjure up dreams about what a perfect mountain bike ride through a forest should be like, it will resemble what is found in the hills above Copper Harbor. Fast, demanding, wild, and fun.

The trail isn't the only thing that is wild in the region. We had only been on the trail for a few minutes when we came across bear scat that was fresh from that morning. Black bears are plentiful on the U.P., and there was one wandering close by. Fortunately, we never came across him on our ride, although a bear sighting would have only added to the great sense of fun that was had that morning.

Photo Credit: Hansi Johnson
Both Garden Brook and Bulwinkle are narrow singletrack from top to bottom, with the occasional wooden bridge to help cross over parts of the trails that are easily washed out, or could cause damage to the surrounding landscapes. The route is easy to follow, even for first timers, and sign posts clearly mark the intersection of trails. We passed several of them on our descent, with each giving an enticing hint as to other possible rides that were available, if only we had time to take them.

Before we knew it, our morning on the mountain bike trails were over, and we had to turn in our bikes in order to move on to other activities. But the exhilarating, adrenaline-inducing run down the Copper Harbor trails stayed with us for the rest of the day. There were so many other trails to ride, and so much more to explore. I wanted to stay for several more days just to see what other opportunities were available, and I look forward to a time when I can return, to do just that.

Our next stop was off to the Adventure Mining Company, where we would eventually walk deep under the Earth into an old copper mine. That is a completely different story for another time, but while we were there, we learned about a unique mountain biking race that takes place each year. It is called the Miner's Revenge, and it challenges riders to take their bikes over, around, and through the mountain. That's right, this race not only features a trail that wanders up and over the surrounding hills, but it actually goes into the copper mine itself, with riders traveling along the old tunnels that are still open there. Now that sounds like a crazy ride!

If you'd like to learn more about the mountain biking trails on the Upper Peninsula, and in Copper Harbor in particular, check out You'll find an interactive trail map, information on local events, and more. It is a great place to plan your own mountain biking excursion to the U.P.

And for a good look at the trails themselves, check out the video below as well. It'll truly give you a sense of what to expect.

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