The Long Way UP MI v2.0 – the Western UP

This is the second of two installments on our 2020 ride to the upper peninsula of Michigan.

For the second half of our adventure we relocated to Houghton Michigan on the Keewenaw peninsula, which juts out into Lake Superior. The ride to Houghton took us via Munising and a visit to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. All of the cliff formations along the shore of are stained with bright colors from the various minerals that wash out of the rock. The cliffs form dramatic shapes and are best seen from boat tours or kayaks offered for rent by local tourist shops. Sadly they were all closed due to Covid, so we hiked some scenic overlooks at the National Park.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore – Photo by Author
Pictured Rocks from the overlook – Photo by Author

After our visit we pressed on, winding as much as we could on lake-side roads near Marquette. I’ve driven the Marquette-to-Houghton road a few times on business trips visiting Michigan Technological University. Highway 41 cuts through the forested interior of the UP and then north to L’Anse and Baraga. The lakeshore is pretty and the road sweeps in big, gentle bends that encourage a rider to go a little faster than the posted signs would imply are legal. Not that gentlemen touring riders such as ourselves would be given to excessive speed…

From our new base of operation we rode north to Copper Harbor and then east on 41 until we found some off-the-beaten-track logging road in an attempt to get to the Copper Harbor light house. It wasn’t long before we realized the RT was out of it’s element, but Dave didn’t give up and followed the guys on adventure bikes until we were ready to turn around. I never correlated the GPS track, but we were clearly not on the roads we thought we would be on, but it was fun diversion nonetheless.

West out of Copper Harbor on 26 is a wonderful lakeshore road with challenging bends and even some sand blown over the road. When we doubled back to regain 41 to go to the hotel, we found Brockway Mountain Dr. Dave was originally concerned that it would be too rough for the RT (considering the logging road we’d taken him down, he decided we didn’t always help him make good choices). So Uly and I headed up and found a lovely paved road, a bit steep and narrow in a few places, but leading to a spectacular mountain top view of a lush valley on one side and the Lake Superior shoreline on the other. Rather than keep it to ourselves, we continued on the road until it rejoined 26 and collected Dave, leading him to the top to enjoy it for himself.

The view of the valley side of Brockway Mountain. – Photo by Author

The following day we rode farther west to the Porcupine Mountains State Park, another gem of Northern Michigan I knew nothing about. Mile after mile of winding forested roads, west on 64 out of Ontonagon. The high point (literally) of this leg of the ride was Lake In The Clouds. The ride to get there is half the joy, but the view is staggering. The pictures really don’t do it justice as the viewing area is SO high. We could see a ski jump over ten miles away on another hilltop. We spent an hour just taking in the view and had we been so inclined could have spent hours more hiking. Likely, on some other day, I will do just that.

The crew at Lake in the Clouds – Photo by author
Panorama of The Lake in the Clouds – Photo by author.

The ride home at the end of the trip was also a treat. We rode back along 41 to Marquette , stopping for lunch at a little taco place in Munising. The south, and a little east along over the bridge and then along a stretch of coastal road called the Tunnel of Trees. This close, narrow, winding road is well know to riders here in Michigan, but probably not to anyone from anywhere else. Not as long as the BRP or the Dragon’s tail, and not nearly as crowded most days. Just a tree-lined stretch of road with an amazing view and some challenging bends. The video linked below, recorded from the crash bar on my GS, gives a hint of what it’s like.

Video of Riding the Tunnel of Trees

Riding the Mackinaw Bridge

Over all, the trip was a resounding success. Like every touring adventure there were a few challenges. Our strategy of home-basing in a couple of locations and fanning out to explore the area we were in, seemed to really work well. So many rides it’s nomadic, packing unpacking for each overnight. And while I enjoy having a base camp, our next big adventure will us back to our nomadic ways as we take on the Mid-Atlantic Back Country Discovery Route. stay tuned for that!

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