We just got back from the longest trek to date in the Taxa Mantis. We lived in 19 feet for 9 days as a family of 4. Did I look homeless by the end? Yes. Would I suggest the trip with a 5 year old? Absolutely. With a 2 year old? I would advise you to proceed with EXTREME CAUTION. BUT was it all worth it? YES. My wonder lust has been satiated – for now. Michigan’s UP has just about every natural wonder you can imagine all in one place. Making it – to date – one of the most beautiful landscapes I have come across.
If you want a place where in one week you can sled down sand dunes, chase waterfalls (like there is legit a waterfall map!), swim out to sand bars in water the color of the Caribbean, hike through pristine mountains (yes there are mountains in the Midwest – who knew?!), and go to remote islands that ban cars and the way of life is old school horses and bikes – go to Pure Michigan. I totally get the marketing campaign now.
In order to accomplish seeing as much of the UP as possible with small kids we broke up the trip so that no drive was longer then 5.5 hours. We did a big loop from Minneapolis to Munising (central MI) to Mackinac Island (Eastern MI) and then headed back to Minneapolis via the Porcupine Mountains (Western MI).
Day 1: Minneapolis to Lake Minocqua, WI (4 hours)
(Patricia Campground is rated 5 stars here if you need a place to stay – we have family in the area so we parked in their driveway)
We drove from Minneapolis to Lake Minocqua WI. Travis had to work that day so we left around 3:00 and arrived about 4 hours later. This is a gem of a town that happened to be the perfect half way point between Minneapolis and Munising for the night. It’s in lake country with the cutest downtown. My family has been coming here my whole life and my aunt happens to have a cabin here, so it was the perfect stopping point for us – and we could park in her driveway for the night. For those that get an earlier start you can drive directly to Munising. But beware the drive time will be 7.5 hours if you have small kids. Regardless a stop at Island Cafe for coffee or breakfast is HIGHLY suggested. Get the espresso milk shake or chai tea 😉
Day 2: Drive from Lake Minocqua to Munising Michgian
KOA Pictured Rocks/Munising Campground
You can’t miss Munising! This is home to the waterfall map, beaches with sand bars , Caribbean colored water, and sand dunes! It’s 30 miles of lake-shore called the Pictured Rocks! However, because Munising is SUCH a destination we were stuck with a campground I would not recommend to anyone. It was literally across from a landfill. We were far enough in the back it didn’t bother us to much, but I can’t imagine if you were in the front campsites on a hot windy day – yuck! With that being said my kids could have cared less and enjoyed the playground and pool.
Day 3: Exploring Munising (Personally my favorite day of the trip)
We woke up early to chase waterfalls! There is literally a waterfall map you can follow! They are sprinkled everywhere around Munising. First up was Miners Falls – this was about 20 minutes from town and about half a mile hike to see it. (The longest hike we did with the kids). For brave souls you can even go swimming in the base of it – but you have to leave the trail and it’s definitely treacherous. The overlook was more then enough for us!
After the falls we got back in the car and drove to Miner’s Castle Overlook – which requires almost zero walking. It’s right there. This was easily the most scenic photo op of the entire trip. You cant miss seeing this overlook – its post card worthy.
To wrap up the day we went to a beach called Sandy Point. You can see Miners Castle jutting out from the cliffs from the beach! This beach was unreal – it had a HUGE sand bar that you swim out to, perfect warm sand, and the color of the water was all hues of blues and teals. The prettiest beach I have ever been to hands down – and I know I keep saying that but seriously Munising is like having the Carribean in the midwest. Mind blown. This is 7.5 hours from my house??
Day 4: Munising
The second morning in Munising we went into town and got some food – honestly there are not a ton of options. However, you must stop at Muldoons – it’s a legend in the UP. Pastries with either fruit or meat stuffing. Delicious.
Then the boys headed back for a much needed nap time for Tommy, while Teags and I continued our quest to find more waterfalls!
Wagner Falls – It’s right by town and a short walk (like a few hundred feet) from the parking lot. This was actually my favorite falls! It was a big wide waterfall.
Munising Falls – This one is tall and thin and falls over a sandstone rock! Beautiful! Also, just a few hundred feet to go see this one from the parking lot.
And last but not least Sable Falls and the Grand Sand Dunes – This was about 50 min from town! Hike the path towards the waterfall and then keep going to find the sand dunes – this was magnificent and my pics don’t do it justice. Sand dunes the size of small high rises crash right into Lake Michigan. Vertical walls of sand. If you do the Grand Sable Dunes trail you see them from the perspective of being on top of the dune! The pic below is us on top of the Dunes. Can you spot Teags running in the dune?? Her shirt blended right in.
Day 5: Drove from Munising to Mackinaw City (2 hours) and Ferry to Mackinac Island
Mackinaw Mill Creek Campground
The next day we packed up camp and headed the short drive (2 hours) to Mackinac Island! Well the actual island requires a ferry, but you stay in Mackinaw City on the mainland. Our campground here was AMAZING – it has even won awards for being the best campground in Michigan. The name of it is Mackinaw Mill Creek Campground. Our campsite was ON the beach! Not to mention it had playgrounds galore, bike rentals, a pool, mini golf, wifi – you name it it had it. It could not have been more different than our campground in Munising.
Due to rain predicted for the next day, we decided to take the ferry over to Mackinac Island in the afternoon that same day. Mackinac Island is old world charm at its finest. No cars are allowed on the island – and it’s magical as a result. Upon entering the harbor you only see a sea of bikes and horses. I kid you not Amazon is delivered via bike here – and propane tanks for heat are delivered via horses. The island is also known for FUDGE. (We read that Murdick’s was the original fudge on the island and best, but this was up to much debate by locals.) Said to be the best in the world. We explored town, grabbed dinner, and had a picnic with our food and fudge in the park right by the harbor. The original plan had been to rent bikes and do the loop around the island (it’s about 8 miles), but due to weather we opted for walking through town instead.
Day 6: Lazy day in Mackinaw City
We woke up to POURING rain. Which was fine – at this point in the trip it was a great day to rest up. We spent the morning reading (anyone else reading Midnight Sun?!). Travis read the kids Harry Potter.
In the afternoon the rain slowed so we went into town! Mackinaw city (on the mainland) is super cute to explore also it turns out! It even had a laundromat so we could refresh the towels and get through the trip with clean underwear and socks – WINNING. Afterwards we got lunch at BC Pizza (excellent and GF options!), got our first PSL’s of the season at Starbucks (priorities!) and went to go eat at the Mackinaw Straights Pier.
While at the pier, 2 year old Tommy kept yelling BOAT! In the harbor was a GIANT boat that said coast guard. It turns out it was the most trusted Ice Breaker ship in the history of the coast guard – it would break ice to make the great lakes navigable during winters. And was built shortly after Pearl Harbor to transport supplies. It had recently retired and was available for touring! We bought tickets and got to go on it! The kids both said this was a highlight for them.
Day 7: Drive from Mackinaw City to Porcupine Mountains (5.5 hours)
Black Bear Campground in Ontonagon – Located at the entrance to Porcupine Mountains
In the morning we got all the kids wiggles out at our campground’s amazing playgrounds and beach before we started off to drive the entire UP shore line back towards Minnesota – from east to west!
We drove from the farthest eastern point of the UP to the farthest western point. It’s about a 5.5 hour long day and seemed to take forever since your climbing mountains.
The exhausted boys en route….
But then you arrive to this – the entrance to the Porcupine Mountains! This was across the street from our campground. We stayed at Black Bear campground and it was lovely. Basic, but clean with water and electricity and a stunning location right across from the lake and right next to the entrance to the park. We really enjoyed site 19 next to the woods. Would stay here again in a heart beat!
Day 8 – Exploring the Porkies!
Yes, there are mountains in the midwest, crazy right?! And they are BEAUTIFUL mountains next to Lake Superior. They are known for three spots – Lake of the Clouds, Summit Peak, and Bond Falls. Due to more rain we only got to see the first two. But if you ask me the fog really added something to the landscape and was a nice addition.
Lake of the Clouds AKA the End of the Earth:
At this point the rain was starting but not pouring. The mist and fog were coming down over the lake. You emerge from a dense forest to this view. Spectacular! We just did the overlook, but there is also a trail for sunnier days.
Last but not least was Summit Peak – we did the half mile trail to the tower. At this point it was POURING and the fog was DENSE! But we lived in Seattle for 4 years so no big deal to us – felt familiar haha! Tommy was not having it at this point and Teags was drenched. On a clear day this is the best view in the park of the woods and Lake Superior!
Day 9: Drive from The Porkies home to Minneapolis (5.5 hours)
This was supposed to be a 10 day trip but due to severe weather we ended up heading home one day early. Which was fine by us! We had seen all that we hoped to and it was STUNNING. The farthest we ever got from home was 8.5 hours away in our loop around the UP. It wasn’t THAT far from home – why hadn’t we done this before?? If you have not done the UP before and happen to be a reader in Minnesota – its 100% worth doing and not that far from home. PURE MICHIGAN – thank you for having us!
T4 TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS AKA OUR TAKEAWAYS FROM THE TRIP
- Don’t put your toddler in a swim diaper by accident for a long car ride. (This happened on day one – thank god for the washing machine at my aunts cabin so we could wash the car seat. Rookie mistake I know.)
- Even when the forecast says good weather do not believe It – prepare for days that were supposed to be sunny to actually have severe thunderstorm warnings. Bring the rain coats even if it’s not predicted!
- Bring more food then you expect to need. By the porkies it was very hard to find even a grocery store. Let alone a Walmart!
- Bring quarters for laundry!
- Bungee cargo nets for the top of the mantis above the bed are critical for extra storage! We liked 30×15 nets from amazon. Also extra plastic milk crate bins for under the bunk beds – $4 at target!
- To help kids sleep at night bring a toddler rail for the bottom bunk – it makes it almost crib like. Tommy referred to it as his box haha. Also buy 54 inch long curtains on amazon with grommets and hang them via a bungee cord to make a privacy curtain for the sleeping spaces for night time.
That’s all for now – our next adventure is in 48 hours…because we are crazy! Thanks for trekking through the UP of Michigan with T4. Until next time!
Things on deck include an Instagram as well as an in depth camping gear post coming soon!