A Lake Superior Circle Tour

As we cross the Canadian border, I held in my hands Teddy’s vaccination paperwork which I had painstakingly prepared ahead of time, making sure it included each of Canada’s requirements for taking your pet across the international border. I took a screen shot of the rules and regulations so the vet could verify that every ‘i’ was dotted, every ‘t’ was crossed.

Hands trembling slightly as we waited for the border patrol officer to ask for the paperwork, the request never came.

“Do you need to see his rabies certificate?” I asked.

“It doesn’t look like he has rabies,” he responded.

And that was that. Weeks of worry, all for naught. I knew he would be the perfect person to ask to sign Teddy’s homemade passport.

“It doesn’t look like he has rabies…”

Planning the Journey

As anyone who knows me or has read any number of these blog posts by now realizes, I love Lake Superior. I have loved it since my first childhood trip to Lutsen, Minnesota, when I would lay in bed at night and listen to the waves crash against the rocky shore. It has become a place so special and so dear to me, a place of recovery, a place of healing, a place of love, a place to grieve, a place to become whole again.

This year, as Andy and I discussed how to celebrate our 12-year wedding anniversary, I asked if he’d be willing to go on a little adventure with me: the Lake Superior Circle Tour, a 1300-mile trip around the entire border of Lake Superior.

You see, we might claim to know and love this lake, but we’ve only seen a fraction of its shoreline, explored only a smidgeon of its mysteries.

Adventurous partner that he is, of course Andy was game. And so we planned what might now be my favorite trip ever (that’s a lot of pressure to put on trips, though, so perhaps I’ll just say it’s one of the top faves).

The Lake Superior Circle Tour, a 1300-mile trip around the entire border of
Lake Superior.

Eight nights. Three states plus Canada. We were doing it.

I wanted to bring Teddy with us on the adventure, so we made sure to have everything we needed to cross the border with him in tow. Piper would stay with my parents (for her own comfort, due to her age and medical conditions).

We decided to borrow my father-in-law’s Prius for the trip, testing our Tetris packing skills and adding a booster seat for Teddy so he could stay safely strapped in while being able to look out the window.

I wasn’t sure how he’d feel about it, and I didn’t consider if motion sickness would be a factor. Spoiler alert: HE LOVED THE BOOSTER SEAT!

For those of you wondering, yes, that’s a fan in the third photo. My little guy is spoiled beyond compare.

The Journey Begins

We went clockwise, starting with Minnesota’s North Shore, which we’ve vacationed on many, many times.

Our official starting point, we decided, was Bent Paddle Brewing Co. in Duluth, where we shared a celebratory drink.

Night one was spent camping in Grand Marais, Minnesota. Our site was perfect – right in town so we could enjoy beer from Voyageur Brewing Company and close to the lake so we could hear the waves at night.

The next day we stopped by Devil’s Kettle and High Falls on the Pigeon River. Fun fact: High Falls is the largest waterfall located (at least partially) in the U.S. It is partially located in Canada.

After the waterfall, we headed for the border crossing. It was a smooth crossing, as you read at the beginning. We did learn that Canada checks for a few other things, as well.

Border patrol: “Do you have any weapons, like pepper spray?”

Me: “I have bear spray.”

BP: “Is it a big can with a bear on it?”

Me: “Yes, it’s bear spray.”

BP: “So, it’s not pepper spray?”

Me: “No, it’s bear spray. We are camping in Canada.”

BP: “Oh, where are you camping?”

I tell him where we are camping.

BP: “So, no pepper spray? Cause we know how much you guys down there like to carry pepper spray.”

Apparently, if you don’t tell them at the border that you have pepper spray and get stopped and they find it, they will take your vehicle and fine you $500. We did not have pepper spray. Just bear spray. (Note: bear spray does not work like bug spray).

Canada

If we thought we were spoiled in Minnesota by having the North Shore, it is nothing compared to Canada. The most beautiful places along the Minnesota coast are constant along the Canadian shoreline. We were in a state of awe as we drove through Canada (a state of awe mixed with amusement as we enjoyed driving in kilometers and figuring out road signs).

Our first camping spot was at Rainbow Falls Provincial Park (not state park, provincial park because they have provinces – my naivety is showing through as we enjoy traveling abroad). Let me share something with you about this park that I don’t share lightly…

It had, hands down, the. best. shower. ever.

Don’t let its looks fool you.

We’d prepared for campground showers by getting a shower caddy ready. It was a fun throwback to our Wandering Dolphin days, packing our shower flip flops and towels into a tote. I even brought quarters with in case it was a pay-to-shower situation, though upon reflection quarters may not have worked in Canada. But instead what I found was a single stall, fully private, clean shower that had the best water pressure of all time. It was better than any hotel, any home, any spa, any place I had ever been. And here it was hiding in a provincial campground in Canada.

Mind blown, I skipped back to our campsite and shared my experience with Andy, who quickly went to explore the shower for himself. He returned with a dreamy look on his face, and I knew he, too, had experienced the magic. We were in agreement – best shower ever.

We decided to celebrate with a delectable port wine on the shores of Superior and the tastiest charcuterie arrangement in our tent (grateful the bears did not find us while enjoying this).

Our next day consisted of stops throughout Canada – waterfalls and the red chairs at Terrace Bay Beach. Parks Canada has placed over 200 red Adirondack chairs throughout the country to encourage visitors to take a moment to enjoy nature in some of the lesser-known but still beautiful places. And though these chairs were at the end of a narrow, winding, moss-and-root-covered trail, it was a beautiful view. One of my favorite places.

We also visited White River, dubbed the birthplace of Winnie the Pooh, where the real black bear cub was “adopted” from Lieutenant Colebourn and eventually brought to the London Zoo, where writer A.A. Milne and his son Christopher Robin would come visit her frequently.

Our Circle Tour would not have been complete without a visit to Wawa to visit the iconic Wawa goose.

Our second campsite in Canada was at Pancake Bay Provincial Park, another beautiful spot. Though we did not experience the showers here, I am sure they would have been amazing, as well. Even though the campground was along the road, our site was on the water, and we could hear the waves all night long.

The shoreline had changed from rocky to sandy on this part of the lake, and it was beautiful in an entirely different way. Teddy enjoyed getting his feet sandy just as much as we did.

We were sad to leave Canada the next day and made promises to ourselves that we would come back to camp again in the future. Now that we knew how easy it was, and how beautiful, we’d be back for sure.

Back in the US of A

We crossed the border into Michigan without issue, but it was far less eventful than going into Canada. This was a relief, but I’d also hoped to have Teddy’s passport stamped once again. The border agent was kind and explained that they no longer stamp upon entry but that we could go into the office for a “souvenir” stamp if we really wanted. He warned us that it might be a bit of a pain, so we continued on our way.

Our day consisted of waterfalls, all the waterfalls.

Eventually we reached our destination, another Grand Marais, this one in Michigan. It was our first non-campsite. We were staying at a dog-friendly motel. This decision had been made mostly out of necessity because we’d waited too long when booking places, and all of the campsites in the area had been reserved. But we figured a real bed off the ground was nothing to be upset about.

I’ll be honest, it was a nice place, and I thought that I would look forward to a real bed and shower. But after the solitude of the campgrounds and listening to the waves at night, I longed for the woods and my tent. I guess I wasn’t as comfort-driven as I had imagined.

Our next day was spent exploring Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. With the sun shining into the turquoise water and bouncing off of the layered, colorful rocks, the sights were simply stunning.

We did a decent amount of hiking and site-seeing while in Michigan. Though I didn’t take photos of either of our non-campsite places, we were incredibly thankful for our next location. We’d rented a small cabin in Copper Harbor at Lake Fanny Hooe Resort (no, I don’t recommend staying here), the very tip of the peninsula of Michigan jutting out into Lake Superior. This is the only time during our trip in which we had poor weather — and I mean POOR weather. High winds rocked the sides of our poorly built cabin. Trees fell down all over the place. I cannot imagine being in a tent during this time.

We briefly braved the weather to hike a short trail down to the lake. Though we were not alone in this adventure, we had to move fallen trees off the road to get to the hike. We heard what sounded like thunder as we neared the shore, only to realize it was the waves, larger and angrier than we’d ever seen them before. When we got to the shore, we were greeted with pelting sideways rain. The lake was impressive, like something out of a story, and I could only imagine this is the type of water that caused the many shipwrecks in Superior. We hurried back to our cabin, attempting to warm ourselves quickly and thankful of our timing of having solid walls.

After two days of rest in the cabin, we hit the road again, exploring Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park and other hikes on our way into Wisconsin and our final campground.

When we planned the trip, we’d unknowingly perfectly timed our journey to hit Bayfield, WI during Apple Fest, so we had immense trouble booking a place to stay. We ended up in a campsite at the casino. Though our expectations were quite low, for we were wondering how this could be remote in any way, we were pleasantly surprised by how it was laid out. We’d unfortunately booked one of the smallest sites, but it sat at the very end of the road and was right on the water.

This last night was by far the coldest on our journey, going down to 34 degrees. We knew it was coming, so we bundled up in our warmest clothes and put Teddy in a sweater. As the last of the fire died down, we crawled into the tent to snuggle in and try to keep warm.

Though I’d been a little concerned about us getting cold, we were alright through the night with the sleeping bags, extra blankets, and extra clothing. Teddy actually got warm enough to crawl out from under the blankets and sleep on top of everything for a good portion of the night.

After we packed up, we completed our circle, ending the journey in the same place we’d begun it — at Bent Paddle in Duluth, MN.

There is no way to share all of the amazingness of this journey but a few things we learned:

*Though it can absolutely be done in a week, it would be better in 10-14 days to be able to spend more time at each place. Now that we know what’s out there, we know where we’d spend more time.

*Canada is the most beautiful, followed by Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin (in that order).

*Michigan makes some great beer (I’m calling you out Keweenaw Brewing Company!)

*The Midwest has some of the nicest people around. We knew this already, and it was confirmed on our journey through the people we met along the way.

*We are excellent packers and even better travel buddies 🙂

Cheers to the next adventure!

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