Travel

Swoop Around the Southern Coast of Lake Superior on This Road Trip That’s All About Adventure

Keweenaw Adventure Company
Keweenaw Adventure Company
Keweenaw Adventure Company

If there’s an ideal summer road trip, this is it: A tri-state soiree from Minnesota to Michigan that is centered around the pristine Lake Superior, one of the world’s largest freshwater lakes. Its vibrant, blue-green waters are always close by, and the shady trails along its banks offer respite from the sun (though with average temperatures in the mid-70s, you likely won’t need it). The lake and its islands have almost 3,000 miles of shoreline and border five national parks. Road trippers will be treated to pretty drives, sweeping views, sand dunes and sandy beaches, chilly lake dips, sea kayaking, camping, and beautiful trails. What else could better break up a summer drive?

QUICK FACTS
Distance: 683 miles
States: 3
Time it would take to drive without stopping: 12 hours and 43 minutes one-way (return from Munising, Michigan, to Minneapolis is 7.5 hours)
Best time to go: Spring and summer are the best seasons on Lake Superior, though late summer is ideal for avoiding black flies

Bent Paddle Brewing Co.
Bent Paddle Brewing Co.
Bent Paddle Brewing Co.

Day 1: Minneapolis to Duluth

Miles: 155
Chances are high that you flew into Minneapolis-St. Paul. Luckily it’s only a two-hour drive from the capital up to the port city of Duluth. Just head north on Interstate 35 until you run into Lake Superior and spend the rest of the day exploring around town. Track down the roaming taco truck, Oasis Del Norte, and fuel up before making your way to Canal Park, the home of a historic lift bridge. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a ship coming into harbor (here’s the ship schedule if you’d rather rely on fact). Stroll along the Lake Walk, a flat paved path that hugs the water. Grab dinner at Bent Paddle Brewing Company and get some much-needed rest at Beacon Pointe, a hotel right on Lake Superior.

Big Top Chautauqua
Big Top Chautauqua
Big Top Chautauqua

Day 2: Duluth to Bayfield

Miles: 84
Grab an early coffee at Duluth Coffee Company and make the two-hour drive to Bayfield, Wisconsin, the gateway to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. The town was carved out of the forest in 1856 and hit its peak around 1900 when its fishing and lumber industries were booming. The local architecture speaks to the wealth of those boom times, when Queen Anne mansions and Victorians were en vogue. Take the 25-minute ferry (vehicles are welcome) over to Madeline Island, the spiritual center of the Lake Superior Chippewa (Ojibwe) and Anishinaabe people, and visit Big Bay State Park or check out the various shops in town. Back on the mainland, check the schedule at Big Top Chautauqua, a local gem that hosts over 60 concerts during the summer season under a big blue tent. Eat at the family-owned Pier Plaza Restaurant before turning in at the historic Pinehurst Inn Bed & Breakfast.

Pinehurst Inn Bed & Breakfast
Pinehurst Inn Bed & Breakfast
Pinehurst Inn Bed & Breakfast

Day 3: Bayfield to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Miles: 133
Wake up early for a half-day sea kayak tour of the biggest of the 22 sea caves in the Apostle Islands. Tours with Lost Creek Adventures start at $70 per person and last about 3.5 hours. From there, take another two-hour drive to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park – the largest state park in Michigan, which is affectionately known as “the Porkies” – and make sure not to miss the 11-mile Black River National Forest Scenic Byway on the way. Stop and check out one of the five easy-to-access waterfalls, like Gorge and Potawatomi Falls, which are the most scenic and only require a 700-foot walk from the car. If you’ve got more gas in the metaphorical tank, take a hike on some of the 90 miles of trails in the park. The 8.2-mile Escarpment Trail that hugs the hillside above the tranquil Lake of the Clouds is unbeatable, but there’s also a shorter 1.8-mile round trip jaunt to the banks of the lake itself. Refuel by grabbing dinner at Syl’s Cafe, before heading to your room at one of the area’s many motels and cabins (from the Little Union Yurt to the Silver Sands Hotel or the Porcupine Lodge). Or, you could always pitch a tent for the night at one of the dozens of campgrounds, like Union River’s Bear Bear Campground.

Getty Images courtesy of Enterprise
Getty Images courtesy of Enterprise
Getty Images courtesy of Enterprise

If you’re feeling inspired to plan a road trip, you’re going to need a vehicle that takes you the distance. Enterprise provides award-winning customer service, streamlined service through its mobile app, and a fleet of vehicles to help meet any road tripper’s needs. Reserve a vehicle at one of Enterprise’s convenient neighborhood or airport locations worldwide and find your new place to love.

Keweenaw Adventure Company
Keweenaw Adventure Company
Keweenaw Adventure Company

Day 4: Porcupine State Park to Copper Harbor

Miles: 118
If you didn’t have time for a hike yesterday, sneak one in today before driving a little over two hours up to the Keweenaw Peninsula’s Copper Harbor. Just before hitting town, stop at the Eagle Harbor Lighthouse, which was built on a cliffside in 1851 just as the copper mining industry took off on the peninsula. There’s a museum ($8 for adults) and a nearby swimming beach to extend your visit. Copper Harbor, a former mining town, is now known for its nearly 40 miles of buttery trails that are a godsend for mountain biking aficionados. Rent a full-suspension rig at Keweenaw Adventure Company and, if you know your way around a bike, take it for a spin on The Flow trail, which boasts one of the area’s longest descents. Refuel at Harbor Haus (try the lake trout!) and retire for the night at one of the log cabins of the charming Keweenaw Mountain Lodge. If you have an extra day (and love backpacking and camping), making a trip to Isle Royale is a must. The 900-square mile forested island in the middle of Lake Superior is the least-visited national park in the contiguous U.S. – it’s only accessible by boat or seaplane from the middle of May until September (3.5 hours by ferry).

Shutterstock
Shutterstock
Shutterstock

Day 5: Copper Harbor to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Miles: 189
Cue up a good podcast for the four-hour drive to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore where 40 miles of shoreline await. The options for an afternoon activity run the gamut: take a two-hour glass-bottom shipwreck tour (runs seven days a week), sea kayak along the lakeshore’s dunes and cliffs, or go for a hike. The standout gem in the area is the 10-mile Chapel Loop, which winds through a shady forest and past two waterfalls before joining the Lakeshore Trail for a four-mile section right along the cliff, which offers stunning views of the lake, Chapel Beach, and Chapel Rock. The adjacent million-acre Hiawatha National Forest offers camping and hiking, as well as some higher-octane adventure, like whitewater rafting on the Menominee River (two hours away), which has both flat water and rowdy Class IV rapids. Stay at the lakeside Sunset Motel in the tiny town of Munising or set up camp at one of Twelvemile Beach Campground‘s 37 sites located on a bluff above the lake. Grab a slice at Pictured Rocks Pizza, which opens for the spring and summer every year.

If you have more time, it’s easy to spend an extra day or two in any of these locations (like by adding in some miles on Minnesota’s Superior Hiking Trail or the North Country National Scenic Trail). When you’re done, take a 7.5-hour cruise back to Minneapolis and drop off your trusty adventure mobile before heading home.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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