- Duration – 4 days
- Distance – 1,008 Miles
- Great Lakes Seen – 3
- National Lakeshores Visited – 2
- National Forests Ridden Through – 1
- Mode of Transport – Motorcycle & Ferry
- Lodging – Tent, Tipi, and Cheap Motel
- Food – MRE, Freeze dried meals. Restaurants, Sammiches, 1 for 3 on biscuits & gravy attempts
- Weather – Damn! That’s a lot of rain!
Day 1: Leaving home I made my way northward to William’s Bay, WI, where I grabbed a late breakfast of Huevos Rancheros, then on to Highway F to keep going toward Michigan. As I rode along I saw what looked like a fog bank heading toward me. Realizing it was rain, a lot of rain, I turned the bike around and found a church with an overhang to get under. I still got soaked, but it would have been way more dangerous out on the road with the heavy rain and high winds.
Eventually, the rain slowed down and I headed out. It rained all the way up to Fond du lac, WI, where I was finally able to take off my rain gear and empty my boots…
The rest of the ride up into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was mostly dry, and much nicer. My route hugged the western coast of Green Bay and, at times, you were right near the water. Eventually I arrived at Wells State Park and my first camp site.
Wells State Park is right on the lake, maybe 1’ above the water level. It’s pretty cool.
Day 2: One thing I have to say about organized campgrounds. I kind of detest them. I’ll be honest, I have this closet desire to own an RV or a toy-hauler trailer, but I really have no desire to hang out with campground people. They don’t really seem to have too many boundaries and I always seem to run into the “characters” of the RV world whenever I camp. This time, it was a herd of kids who wanted to climb on my bike and some redneck tweakers who liked to rev their diesel trucks late at night and early in the morning. Thank God for earplugs…
Anyway, once I packed up the campsite (My Mantra: Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but mosquitos), I had a pleasant ride up Michigan’s M-35, which is a nice, two-lane blacktop right along the lake, to get to Escanaba, MI for breakfast at a little place on the main drag called, “Andy’s Diner”. I really had a hankering for biscuits & gravy, but they ran out of a bunch of stuff from lots of traffic on Sunday. So, it was corned beef hash and eggs for me.
My original trip plan had called for me to hug the northern end of Lake Michigan and head toward the Mackinac Bridge. But, I had picked up a motorcycle touring guide while checking into the campground and it talked about a magical highway that ran along Lake Superior, so I decided a detour was in order and headed north on Highway 41, to catch Highway 67, and, finally, Highway 94 to reach Munising, MI where I jumped on Highway 58.
Highway 58 between Munising and Grand Marais is really a beautiful road. It was just paved in recent years and is the primary access for Painted Rocks National Lakeshore, which provides some stunning views of Lake Superior.
If you have the time and desire, there are also a number of unpaved and 4×4 roads/trails up in this area. I am thinking of doing a trip up to just explore the Upper Peninsula and do some backwoods camping along these trails. Maybe not this summer, but I’d certainly like to do it sooner, rather than later.
Once I got to Grand Marais, I gassed up and headed back south along Highways 77, 28, and 117 to pick up Highway 2 at the Lake Michigan lakeshore again. I was able to follow this beautiful road along the lake and to the Mackinac Bridge. I was a little nervous about the bridge, to be honest, because you hear stories of high winds, the five miles of grating making your bike go nuts, etc. However, after paying my toll and crossing it, I’ll admit my ass was a bit puckered as the bike wandered over the grating, but if you force yourself to relax, it’s not horrible. Plus, the grating is only on part of the bridge as there are long approaches on either end. So, it may be almost five miles long, but the scary part is a small portion of that. Just make sure you have your $4 toll ready, I had to dig out some cash when I got to the toll gate.
After getting across the bridge, I made my way over to Highway 119, also known as the “Tunnel of Trees”, by getting off I-75 at Highway 31 south, then catching East Gill Road heading West, which bumps into Lakeview Road to get to the Lake, and finally picking up 119 in Cross Village, MI. This really was a nice ride, although there are some slow vehicles in parts and passing can be a challenge. Highway 119 picks up 31 again as you enter Petosky, MI. I didn’t spend any time in town, as I had to go find my Hipcamp site, but it seemed like a nice place to explore on a future trip.
In Petosky I gassed up and got some sandwiches to take to my campsite, then I headed off down Highway 131, and east on Thumb Lake Road, to one of my cooler camping experiences, via the Hipcamp app.
To get to this cool campsite, you had to ride down some freshly graded gravel roads and then do a little off-roading. I had some concerns when I arrived, due to the swarms of mosquitos and the potential of rain (My motorcycle tires aren’t really set up for deep sand or mud), but a little bug spray and everything turned out fine. Oddly, there was no mosquito netting in the tipi, but none seemed to get in during the night.
Day 3: After packing up in the morning, I went back out to the asphalt and made my way to Traverse City via County Highway 48, which goes by a bunch of names as you travel along it, and back to US-31 and into Traverse City. I stopped at a “Big Boy” Restaurant for breakfast, hoping to get those biscuits & gravy, but theirs sucked. Seriously, how can it be biscuits & gravy with no sausage chunks in the gravy?! Also, unknown to me, it was also the time of the annual Cherry Festival in Traverse City, so when I got into town, I only stopped long enough to wait out the rain that had caught me and get out of my wet weather gear, before heading out again.
I chose to head north out of town on Highway 22 toward Sutton’s Bay. This takes you through rolling orchards and farmland and is really quite spectacular. Once in Sutton’s Bay, you can catch 204, if you want a shortcut, or simply remain on 22 and complete the tour of the peninsula on the western side of Traverse Bay as it winds back down the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, along Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore and picks up 31 again north of Manistee, MI. Again, an incredible stretch of road.
From there I took 31 south until I picked up US-10 into Ludington, where I would catch the S.S. Badger ferry in the morning. Due to the boarding time, I decided to stay in a cheap motel. It was the Ventura Motel and, I have to say, it was absolutely clean, easy on the wallet, and really convenient. I’ve started to enjoy staying at these cheap, old-school roadside motels.
Day 4: The next morning, it was time to board the S.S. Badger. I could have gone a bit further south, to Muskegon, and caught a faster ferry (2 1/2 hours versus 4 hours), but the Badger is the oldest coal-fired ferry still in operation, and I was glad I chose it due to the ameneties provided. Apprarently, the fast ferry just gives you a seat and a ride, where the Badger has food, a bar, games, movies and such.
A few notes about the ferry process. Bikes are some of the last vehicles loaded, and some of the first off. So you can pull in a little later than you would with a car. You ride the bike aboard and strap it down. They ask that you provide straps, but also have them available, should you need them. Once they are all strapped in, you head upstairs and can’t access them until you dock, so make sure you know what you want to grab from it prior to loading.
The lake was like glass when I crossed, and the ship accelerated smoothly. There wasn’t any Wifi available, but I only lost cell service for about 90 minutes of the crossing. Before we got underway, I had a surprisingly good breakfast on board, with good biscuits & gravy, and then wandered about the ship a bit to check it out.
About 20 minutes out, we hit fog, and remained in it until about 30 minutes before docking. It isn’t like there would have been much to see, but it did make it a touch chillier than on a sunny day. One of the best parts of the trip was the fact that there was a bar, with live music, even!
Eventually, we reached land…
Docking next to the waste treatment plant on the Manitowoc, WI side, I was able to finish out my trip by catching Highway 151, to 42, to 28. That brought me down to West Bend, WI, where I got on 33 west, did a short jog south on 175 and caught 83 south, which took me all the way down too Genesee Depot where I was able to get on Highway 59 south, which runs right into Highway 67 that took me right down to the Lake Geneva/William’s Bay/Fontana area, where I was spending the 4th of July.
All-in-all, this was a great trip. I got rained on, I had some long days, the food wasn’t always the best (I didn’t get good biscuits & gravy until I got on the ferry) and the mosquitos were out to kill me, but I wouldn’t have changed any of it. If you’re interested in more detailed directions, I’d be happy to provide a gpx file or furkot link…