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After being home for 2 straight months, it was so nice to get away this past weekend for a mini-vacation to a very familiar place. Justin’s parents have a cabin in the woods that we’re fortunate to be able to make the relatively easy 3.5 hour drive north and enjoy all they to offer. We go up pretty regularly in the summers but hadn’t been up since the end of last year and a lot has changed in the world since then!
I’ve been coming up to this area since I was a kid – my grandparents bought and built a place in a nearby town called Mercer, so the “northwoods” (as this area is called) is ingrained in my childhood memories. Funny enough, when I met Justin’s parents for the first time it came up that they also owned land about 15 minutes away from my grandparents’ place. This area become a place our kids can enjoy and visit with both sides of our families.
Before we had left, we discussed getting a trailer hitch put onto my vehicle and having the option to haul bikes when we go out of town. I have a Toyota Highlander but doesn’t have a trailer hitch and the dealers had quoted us $500+ to install. Typical Justin thought “why pay someone when I could do this myself”, so he researched and ordered a kit online to install a hitch. I had my doubts since it was only $140, but in less than an hour he had it installed and it was sturdy as could be. He said the most difficult part was just removing the ‘old fascia’ because the bolts were rusted on. He did ask for my help in lifting up the new hitch so he could bolt it on – and said “I need your help but this might be a marriage breaker”. Fortunately it wasn’t difficult to lift, it was easy to bolt on, and we’re still married 🙂 We also purchased a bike rack to hold all 4 bikes in the newly installed hitch. I’ll include links below if anyone is interested – I had no idea a hitch could be installed ourselves at a relatively easy install and low cost!
Happy to report that the trailer hitch + bike rack worked great and we had no issues on our drive north! (Despite it freaking me out every time I looked in the backup camera and saw it there.)
Last fall, our family and Katie’s family spent a weekend in Boulder Junction, W and explored the bike trails for the first time (our post on Fall Weekend Getaway in Boulder Junction, WI here). Boulder Junction is about 45 minutes away from my in-laws place but the bike trails up here are all connected. It’s called the Heart of Vilas Bike Trail and has over 50 miles of a paved trail that connects St. Germain to Mercer.
I’ve included a link to the map here from Manitowish Bike Trail Inc.
We all parked at the trailhead on Red Feather Rd in Manitowish Waters, but there are many parking and entrance points. From here, we rode about 2.5 miles and then turned around. The paved paths are so nice with the kids and feels very safe. Our kids hadn’t really done any major bike rides since getting new bikes this year so their butts’ were hurting and we called it done after 5 miles.
We didn’t stop, but there are a few easy stops near the bike trail in Manitowish Waters to get coffee, food, and drinks. They all have nice outdoor patios too:
Dixie’s Coffee House
Pea Patch Saloon (try the “Pee Water”
…or get takeout and have a picnic lunch at Kohler Park
(when it’s not a pandemic, they have a great “music in the park” event every Sunday afternoon)
The next day, we took a 45-minute drive into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to visit the Black River area and do some hiking. Justin and I had done this trail on our own a few years ago, so it was helpful knowing where to park and which way to go.
The road runs along the Black River, with various parking points at different waterfalls. There are a few options – park and check out each waterfall then drive to the next and do the same, or pick a point to park and hike along the river to Lake Superior. We chose to park at “Rainbow Falls”, knowing it was a pretty easy hike to the harbor. Mosquitoes were crazy in the parking lots but not too bad in the woods with bug spray. (Dogs area also allowed, but must be leashed.)
Rainbow Falls is only about a 1/2 mile from the parking lot, but nearly all steep stairs heading down. There is a sign that says to pace yourself and avoid over-exertion so someone with physical limitations would not be able to do this part of the hike. After a million stairs down, the rushing Rainbow Falls are easily viewed (and heard!), along with a great view of the Black River.
An easy 0.8 mile hike through the woods led us to the Black River County Park, which meets up with a campground and has shelters, bathrooms, and large open spaces. We walked through this park to the 210′ suspension bridge across the Black River and enjoyed some great views.
Once across, there’s a very short gravel trail past the Lake Superior breakwater area and into the vast open beach. It’s a rocky beach with tons of cool pebbles and driftwood. Obviously Lake Superior is FREEZING this time of year, but the kids had so much fun splashing and running around in it.
After everyone was happy and tired from playing at the beach (and the kids of course didn’t want to leave!), it was an easy hike back through the woods to the car.
In addition to the biking and hiking, we did all our usual “up north at the cabin” activities. Grandpa is in the process of building an awesome treehouse for the kids (it’s the only thing my daughter asked for at Christmas and he’s delivering big time!). Their cabin is on a small lake with no motorboats allowed so we take advantage of the peace and quiet and enjoy the lake to ourselves with a paddleboat and kayaks. The fishing is always hot for bluegill and large-mouth bass. The roads around the cabin are also quiet, so lots of walks and bike rides around as well. And of course, no evening up north is complete without a campfire and s’mores!
Looking forward to more weekend adventures – both exploring new places and re-exploring the familiar ones.