Distance Traveled: 3,748 kilometers. Do it in your corvette; do it on your motorcycle; do it in your tin car or pick-up truck. It doesn’t matter how you travel this route, just do it! You will see interesting sights, spectacular scenery and the real beauty of the Canadian North.
On Aug. 10, John and I in our Altima and BFF Betty in her Mercedes headed out on a trip of a lifetime and north to our first stop, Sudbury. Next morning we hit the road to Sault Ste. Marie. Located on Highway 17 midway between Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie is the Serpent River Trading Post. This is a beautiful structure filled with interesting things. Of particular note is the Native Canadian artwork that was on display and for sale. There was even an artist working on a piece.
We planned on two nights in Sault Ste. Marie so we could take in the Agawa Canyon train ride. This was an expensive disappointment when you consider accommodation for an extra night, meals and $180 for the train. It is an interesting old train, but 10 hours of trees, trees and more trees is much ado about nothing. I don’t know what I was expecting, but with all the hype, I was certainly expecting something more than this, something worth the trip. John climbed the 300 stairs to the look-out and this is what he saw:
It really wasn’t more than a park and in fact, it reminded me of Lynde Creek at the end of my street. After an hour of walking around, it was back on the same train, down the same track, looking at the same trees. The Emperor has no clothes, folks! Much better scenery going through Rouge Hill on the GO Train, and I can’t imagine it is any better in the fall since about 80% of the trees are pine.
Not about to let this negatively impact the holiday, the next morning we headed over the bridge into Michigan to start the circle. Research had suggested that the Circle is best done in a clockwise fashion, so that’s what we did.
One interesting stop along the way was at the Dancing Crane Coffee House, Lakeshore Drive, Brimley. This is a fascinating little place, clean as a whistle and with great character, run by a very friendly Indian family. They grind, brew and serve great coffee. It is well worth the stop. We thought it was particularly cute that this little place in the middle of what was to us big city-slickers ‘nowhere’ had a drive thru.
It doesn’t take long to realize that most of the land we will be seeing is either on a reservation or is crown land. If you like to gamble, there is always a casino just around the bend.
After a Summer of drought, it was now drizzling. We stopped briefly at our first lighthouse at Point Iroquois but since it was really coming down, no pictures. Not to worry as there are dozens of lighthouses on our trip..
Our next stop was the Tahquamenon Falls State Park. There is a Lower Falls and an Upper Falls and it was still raining. It was also Saturday and very crowded. Took a look at the Lower Falls but since it was the weekend, we couldn’t even find parking at the Upper Falls.
The roads are great as we head to Munising, Michigan, with many twists and turns to keep it interesting. We were intending to take in a Picture Rocks Cruise but fortunately I hadn’t made a reservation because it was raining. I’m a fair weather sailor: no sunshine, I no go.
The next morning we headed to Copper Harbor and Eagle Harbor. We saw some amazing beaches as we headed to the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula. We traveled up the East shore through places such as Lake Linden and Gay where there is a famous bar, The Gay Bar. The Gay Bar is not what you might think with not a rainbow in sight.
We stopped here for lunch which was mainly hot dogs such as Coney Island and Sloppy Joe Dogs and burgers. A Miata Club who were doing The Circle had arrived just before us.
While there we started talking with some bikers who were raving about the Lac La Belle Road. Having done the Tail of the Dragon, I can honestly say this road is more fun. The turns are multiple but not quite as sharp and they go up and down like a roller coaster. All the fun of the Dragon but not the work. Fabulous! And to top it off, spectacular views. Jumping back onto Hwy. 41, more twists and turns to enjoy as we headed to the peak of the peninsula and Copper Harbor. Pretty, interesting towns to explore.
Then back down the Western shore and into Wisconsin having spent the night in Calumet with its historic downtown. Our next stop was Bayfield, WI where we stayed at a very nice B&B named Lucy’s Place situated in a beautiful small town. It had a large porch with swings and a beautiful English Country Garden.
All these towns are on the water and are wonderful to explore. A great restaurant was suggested for dinner, The Fat Radish, and was a highlight to the trip. Good food, beautifully presented with edible flowers. Best salad ever. If you ever get here, order the Mac & Cheese with bacon, but share it. It will break your heart to leave it behind.
We made sure to keep on the roads that hugged the coastline as we made our way through the town of Superior (home of Amsoil products) to Duluth.
Looking down from a hillside lookout at the Duluth Harbour, it is plain to see that this is THE major hub for the transportation of goods on to/off of ships heading out into the world as they sailed under the Aerial Lift Bridge.
Not crowded with pretty condos but with docks, train spurs and truck facilities for the massive transportation of goods. The area called Canal Park reminded me of the Distillary District only on the water and housed bars and restaurants.The next day we headed along the very scenic old Highway 61 into Canada enroute to Thunder Bay. Looking back we all agreed that the scenic portion of this trip really begins at Duluth. The next stop was Split Rock Lighthouse.
This lighthouse is very well maintained and is operated at least twice a month. There is a tour and a film as well as very well informed attendants. The cost is $8 p.p. and is well worth it. John spoke to an older seaman in uniform (older than us) and asked about the Edmund Fitzgerald. The Edmund Fitzgerald left Superior WI loaded with iron ore at about 2 p.m. on that fateful day in November and was clocked into the Split Rock Lighthouse log at approximately 4 p.m., where it was last seen. It traveled another 300 miles into the open water of Lake Superior headed for Cleveland, where it sank. (Sing the song Gordie.)
Our next stop was the town of Grand Marais where there is a donut place called “The World’s Best Donuts”. Hey, we’re from Canada; home of the donut, which is recognized as an essential food group. We have the credentials, so who better to judge.
Well, they are very likely the World’s Best Donuts! Yes, that’s me just having polished off two of the best donuts I have ever eaten. We all did and would have gone back for a third if we had had the room. A stop here is not to be missed. This is also a lovely little town to walk around, with many interesting shops and places for lunch if you are not too full of donuts.
There are many scenic lookouts as you travel to Thunder Bay. We were tired so checked into our motel early. After breakfast the next morning, we backtracked a little to see Kakabeka Falls.
This was likely the natural highlight of the trip. It is like a miniature Niagara Falls. Really! The amount of water going over it and rushing through the gorge is incredible. The sound as you get out of your car is deafening, (OK really loud).
All I could think of was that the Agawa Canyon people ought to see this. It didn’t appear that they are harnessing any of the water energy for electricity which would be a shame considering Ontario’s hydro fees.
Leaving North Bay, we headed towards Nipigon. The scenery is spectacular with cut rock cliffs, water views that show the expanse of Lake Superior. Arriving at lunch time in Nipigon, we followed the “Business Section” cut-off to find a place to eat. There are only about two places and the first one was packed. A young man cleaning windows was good enough to direct us to what turned out to be a fabulous restaurant. We enjoyed lunch here and went back for dinner.
Off we went the next day towards Wawa. Rugged, remote and dramatic are the words that best describe this section of our route. This was the true Canadian North. The isolation of the wilderness was palatable as we traversed Lake Superior’s North Shore. Neys Provincial Park was the site of a former WWII POW camp. Prisoners would be unlikely to escape from here.
Not to be missed is the Wawa Canada Goose. We could see it from the highway so didn’t make a special trip to its base. In retrospect, I wish we had because of its Welcome Centre.
Tonight we stayed at what was my favourite motel of the trip, the Mystic Isle Motel. All the motels were clean and comfortable, but the Mystic Isle had character. As you opened the door of this traditional motel, you were transported into your own log cabin in the woods. To make the experience even better, there were two excellent restaurants literally right across the road. This is where we realized there was a French influence on cooking in Ontario north. For breakfast I had sugar french toast. After the bread had been dipped into the egg mixture, it was dipped in sugar which caramelized as it fried in butter. It was served with warm apple sauce (chunky, homemade), sausages and real maple syrup. I’m going to try this for sure.
The route from Wawa to Sault Ste. Marie is a spectacular experience. The portion that travels through Lake Superior Provincial Park was listed as one of the “Top 100 Things to do Before You Die” by Canada’s National Post newspaper. Many lookouts to enjoy.
On the way we stopped at the Agawa Indian Crafts and the Canadian Carver. This is a great place packed with things to look at and of course, to buy.
Sault Ste. Marie is home of many things to do. Of particular note is the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre where you can get up close and personal with some of this Country’s most iconic aircraft. The waterfront is also a pretty place to spend some time.
Following our previous tracks back down to Sudbury, we were itching to get home. Looking for a place for lunch, we were really lucky to stumble upon The Red Top Restaurant in Iron Bridge. Such a nice restaurant right on the highway with really good food.
This was a fantastic trip. The trip of a lifetime. If any of you would consider making this trip there are some terrific websites dedicated to it. Most are planned for motorcycles, but that worked out just fine for us. This is the one that we based our trip on. If you would be interested in my trip notes and day-to-day itinerary just drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. A word to the wise: all of the motels and hotels we stayed at were fully booked. Do not do this trip without making reservations. You could be left out in the wilderness with the bears and wolves.
Saw this guy riding around in a ’54 MG in Bayfield, WI. Couldn’t believe he kept the goggles on.
John & Susan Schaeffer, Whitby, ON
E. (Betty) L. Michaud, Ajax, ON