Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Consider Lake Superior route to or from camp

If you've never travelled the highway around Lake Superior you might consider adding it to your itinerary when coming or going from camp this summer.
In most cases it will add at least a few hours to your trip but it's one of the most scenic routes in the world and it's a shame if you've never seen it.
Just about all of our American guests cross the border at International Falls/Fort Frances and then proceed to Red Lake on either Hwy 71 going west and then north to Hwy. 17, or they go east and north on Hwy 502 to Hwy 17. They then go to Vermilion Bay where they turn on to Hwy 105 which ends at Red Lake.
Let's be clear, these are the fastest ways to get to Red Lake. And of these two, the Hwy 502 route is perhaps 30 minutes quicker than going via Hwy 71.
These routes also have beautiful scenery in the form of woods and lakes. But you don't see vistas that go on for dozens of miles like you do if you drive around the shore of Lake Superior.
On the west side of Lake Superior you would take Hwy 61 from Duluth to Thunder Bay, then Hwy 11-17 to Vermilion Bay (Hwy 11 splits off towards Atikokan on the way).
Here you drive right next to Lake Superior as well as along cliffs and through tunnels. There are a bunch of quaint little towns on the way including Grand Portage Lodge and Casino and Grand Marais, Minnesota.
You then cross the border at Pigeon River. It's a much smaller border crossing than is the one at International Falls/Fort Frances and during peak travel times should be a lot quicker to get through.
However, if the border crossing times were identical then this route would add about three hours to your trip as compared to going through Int'l Falls.
If you've got some extra time, check out Old Fort William in Thunder Bay. This is an authentic reconstruction of the old fur trading post that used to exist here. Everybody is dressed in period costume and are busy doing the very things the fur traders and courier du bois would have done in the 1800s. There are dramas and events every day.
It's a big place and you can easily spend most of a day at it.
For a longer but even more spectacular ride, take Hwy. 11-17 east of Thunder Bay to Sault Ste. Marie (again, Hwy 11 splits off along the way).
Here you travel almost entirely on the cliffs and hills of eastern Lake Superior where you can see for dozens of miles across the world's largest lake.
We took the photos above on this route this November as we drove to our annual convention of Nature and Outdoor Tourism Ontario.
Again, there are many neat little towns along the way such as Nipigon, Schreiber, Wawa and White River. Anyone who has taken this route would agree it is one of the most awesome drives in the world.
However it is certainly farther if you are driving from the U.S. Midwest. I would allow an extra day to take this route. You would then cross the border at Sault Ste. Marie in upper peninsula Michigan.
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1 comment:

Doug said...


Thunder Bay is a jewel, there is no doubt about it. Fort William is well worth the time spent. In fact, Fort William is much better equipped than its neighbor to the south; Grand Portage National Monument. Both places celebrate the Northwest Company's fur trading days along the shores of Lake Superior. The unique thing about Fort William, to me anyway, is found in the reconstructed warehouse with the display of furs and trade items. On my visit in 2003, I almost felt as if I had stepped back in time with the way they had set up the place. It was as if everyone was gone doing something else and would return soon.

Another great experience at Fort William was found in the reconstructed Ojibway village. It was a cold and wet day, and there were two First Nations members sitting by a fire inside a birch bark lodge. They invited my son and me to join them inside. We sat on a buffalo rug and we visited with these two fine gentlemen for quite some time. The elder of the two asked us where we were from, and we told him we were from West Tennessee. He was holding a stick, which had a snake head carved on one end. He told my son that it was a snow snake and explained how it was used by his people in the wintertime on the frozen lakes in a game. I asked him about moose hunting, and he shared his stories about that with the two of us. Then they asked us about West Tennessee and from there the conversation turned to Elvis Presley and his home, Graceland, in Memphis. That was so "COOL!" We were sitting in an Ojibway lodge with two members of the Ojibway nation talking about the old native ways, traditions, moose hunting, snow snakes, and Elvis!!! Great historical place...

If you are lucky enough to spend a night in Thunder Bay, you have to eat supper at "The Keg" for one of the best prime ribs you will ever find. Then the next morning, you have to go to the Finnish district of the city to eat breakfast at "The Hoito." It is a wonderful place with a unique dining experience you will never forget. A huge stack of Finnish pancakes topped off with eggs and your choice of meat. The pancakes serve as a plate themselves for the eggs and meat. Yum, yum...

Sault Ste. Marie is also a wonderful place to spend some time. If you are interested in seeing the great lakes freighters, there is no better place to see them up close than the Soo Locks. If they have a thousand-footer scheduled to arrive, be sure to stick around or come back to see that gigantic vessel work its way through the locks.

Anyway, your side trip routes offer many great things to see as well as some great table fare.