Friday, September 11, 2015

Lake Superior Circle (Part 1)

Sign along the trail at Pigeon River Provincial Park

"Superior is Gichigamiing, the 'great water.' She is the 'inland sea,' the 'sweet water sea,' the home of Mishibizhii, the trickster and Nanabijou, the Sleeping Giant." ... Pigeon River Provincial Park

Since I was a kid, I have always wanted to travel all the way around Lake Superior. Something about the vastness of the water and the power of the storms. It is a deeply spiritual place to native people. It is the largest lake in the world by some measures, covering 31,700 square  miles and contains 10% of the world's fresh water. The clarity of the water is legendary. The lake is 1300 feet deep and 40 foot tall waves have been recorded. Two countries and 3 states share its shore.

I have driven the Minnesota shore countless times. I have kayaked in the Apostle Islands of Wisconsin and the Slate Islands of Ontario. I have toured the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan. But never had I been all the way around the big lake. We talked about it for years and now we've done it.

By it's nature, unless you travel by water, such a trip is a road trip. The distance by road around the lake is 1300 miles. We traveled 2173 miles, using 134 gallons of gas over 14 days. We camped in 10 different campsites. We had a couple of guide books (book 1 and book 2) which were useful. Before the trip we got a lot of information from the Lake Superior Circle Tour website. We used DeLorme map books and computer USGS maps with GPS for back roads, off the highway side trips. More about this later. We spent most of our time in Canada and Michigan since we are familiar with the Minnesota and Wisconsin shores. There is a lot of beauty to see in those states as well.We skipped the Keweenaw Peninsula this time since we have already toured there.

Click on the map for a larger version.

I kept a daily diary of sorts which was helpful in sorting photos and putting together this trip report. It is amazing how much you can forget in a short time. I've included links to some sites for those who want more information. I hope you enjoy the report.

You can click on the photos to see a larger version.

8/24/15 Monday
We left home about 9 AM. Had lunch at the New Scenic Café, as is our tradition when driving north. Stopped at the Wolf Ridge ELC near Isabella, Minnesota where our kids had formative experiences as elementary school students. Kathy had never seen it.

Stopped at the Split Rock Lighthouse overlook and Cascade River for photos and at Tofte Ranger District for dispersed camping information, thinking we would boondock somewhere. It is allowed, but finding a suitable site without going out of our way proved difficult.

Split Rock Lighthouse in the distance.

Cascade River

We eventually camped at the familiar USFS Temperance River campground. The campground was empty when we arrived and we took our favorite site by the river. A young family in a station wagon showed up later and camped on the opposite side of the campground. We hardly knew they were there. It had been a drizzly day and night, windy with temps in the high 40s. Seemed very much like fall, not late summer. We walked the forest roads after dinner to stretch our legs and let Rocky get some exercise.

Temperance River campsite.

The river behind our camp.

Walking after dinner.

Rocky getting some exercise.

8/25/15 Tuesday
We broke camp early and had breakfast at the Blue Water Café in Grand Marais. We filled up with gas and filled our 5 gallon gas can as well since gas is more expensive in Canada. We kept the extra gas can full, using it and refilling it periodically throughout the trip. It allowed us to be a bit more adventurous in our exploring, not worrying about running out of fuel which is scarce along some parts of the Canadian shore.

The Pigeon River originates in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and becomes the boundary between the US and Canada until it reaches Lake Superior at Grand Portage.  The river was a major transportation route for the Voyageurs during the fur trade and a long portage (the Grand Portage) was required to pass the falls. The end of the portage at Lake Superior became the site of a major North West Company trading post and fort. We drove past the historic fort at Grand Portage having been there before but stopped at an overlook near the border.

Looking towards Canada and Lake Superior.
We crossed the border after surrendering our eggs due to the bird flu quarantine. We were the only travelers there. It was a new experience showing our passports to enter Canada.

A couple of trails left from the Canada Visitor's Center parking lot. We did a short nature trail before we found the right trail to the High Falls of the Pigeon River on the Canadian side. After the hike, we had lunch in the picnic area. After some wrong turns in the truck, we also found the middle falls.

Pigeon River as it meets Lake Superior

The High Falls of the Pigeon River.

The Middle Falls of the Pigeon River.

Wild Purple Asters along the trail.

Back in the truck, we drove to Kakabeca Falls Provincial Park west of Thunder Bay.  The falls, called the Niagara of the North- is a major tourist stop. We made a short visit to see the impressive cascade.

Kakabeca Falls- Niagra of the North.

We stopped briefly in Thunder Bay to exchange US money for Canadian at a bank. The exchange rate was in our favor- got about $130 CA for $100 US. The next stop was Fort William Historical Park- the fort was moved by the North West Company to this location from Grand Portage after the Revolutionary War to avoid having to pay taxes to the new United States of America. We were late in the day so we had a short informative tour with living history actors- very interesting. We would like to have had more time there.
A fishnet being woven at Fort William.

Kathy peeking into a building at Fort William.

After the Fort, we drove to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park for camping. We got a nice site by the lake. We ate a quick dinner and walked the dog. The campground was very crowded but not with people- a young buck with velvet antlers was browsing, a fox wandered through our campsite and a skunk chased Kathy into the camper while I was walking Rocky.  Chipmunks and squirrels kept us company.

Young buck unconcerned with people.

A nice campsite...

...with a view to the big lake.

The sun sets...

... over the sleeping giant.
Most of the day was grey, misty, windy, cold. But the weather cleared for a nice sunset. Our adventure was underway.


  1. WOW so far great.
    I think I stopped at that campsite on the Temperance river back in 2012,
    when we made our trip to that area.
    Loved it,colors were outstanding.

  2. Frank, thanks for the comment. We like that campground- small and usually empty. There is good fishing in the stream too, although I didn't fish this year.