Lake Superior circle tour | Midwest Living

Lake Superior circle tour

Two cars, five days and 1,200 miles of highway. Two sets of travelers with different ideas of the perfect vacation create memories of a lifetime around massive Lake Superior.
+ enlarge
1 of 8
Pause »
  • 1
    Canada's Highway-17 near <br>Rossport, Ontario.
  • 2
    A freighter passes Duluth.
  • 3
    The dining room at Naniboujou Lodge <br>near Grand Marais, Minnesota
  • 4
    Guests can climb the tower for a <br>Lake Superior view from Michigan's <br>Sand Hills Lighthouse Inn.
  • 5
    Both trailers and tents find beachfront <br>camping at Munising, <br>Michigan's Tourist Park.
  • 6
  • 7
    Ojibwa pictographs decorate Agawa <br>Rock in Lake Superior Provincial <br>Park, where hikers follow signs <br>of the lake spirit Misshepezhieu <br>down the rock.
  • 8
    Sand Hills Lighthouse Inn

Barbara's trip, Day Three And Beyond


On Day Three, Sault Ste. Marie’s s Ojibway Hotel beckons like an oasis of modern comfort. Ah, our cell phones work! The hotel restaurant overlooks the harbor and the Soo Locks, which let building-size freighters pass between lakes Superior and Huron. It may be our last chance for fresh lake fish, and we’re having trouble deciding between walleye and whitefish, but splitting them is so awkward. Wouldn’t it be great if the kitchen would do it for us? Somehow Joan explains this to our smiling college-student waiter so it sounds like the most natural thing ever.

It’s almost 9 p.m., but twilight is just settling in, and the neighboring shops are all open. We start looking for souvenirs; the kitschier, the better. I talk Joan into a hat with a bicycle horn on top, but she’s not sure it's funny enough. (She can’t see herself in it, obviously.) Pretty soon we’re examining up-north accessories as if we had a cool cabin that needed furnishing. "Green pine-tree place mats, napkins AND matching glasses? " I ask. "Way too matchy, matchy, " Joan decrees with a dismissive wave. A clerk hovers like she’s spotted crazy shoplifters. "Do you blame her? " Joan giggles as we slink out.

The next night, we gratefully sink into Victorian richness at Sand Hills Lighthouse Inn on the UP’s Keweenaw Peninsula and even climb the 100 steps, including a final skinny ladder, to the top. Innkeeper Bill Frabotta eagerly tells what he knows about the 1917 lighthouse, the Great Lakes’ largest and newest, as if we were the first guests to ask.

History comes in these sorts of satisfying, easy bites throughout this trip. At Fort William, a re-created fur trading post near Thunder Bay, Ontario, interpreters play their parts so zealously, we have to remind ourselves that reenactors cast as a canoe maker, a trader with the Scottish brogue, and a wealthy wife of a schooner captain bragging about her house really are students from local colleges. The displays at the UP’s Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum get us talking about the Edmund Fitzgerald, which went down in 1975, as if the wreck happened yesterday.

More memorable moments come at local cafes and all sorts of shops. We relish fat, crescent-shape "pasties" (signature UP meat pies) at Muldoon's in Munising and Randall Bakery in Wakefield. Our backseat pile of treasures grows with every stop, earrings from an Ontario amethyst mine; a Naniboujou cookbook; pottery from Tim Alexander’s studio.

Down a rutted gravel lane near Rossport, an intended quick stop at Tim’s turns into an hour-long tour and talk about his life way up north beside Lake Superior. Tim seems to savor the visit as much as we do. He says, "Most people who travel this far really want to experience the place. " For us, that’s the point of going full circle.


Add Your Comment