We left the day after Abby's 1st birthday (August 15th). Our first stop was Sleeping Bear Dunes in MI. Just south of Traverse City about 30 miles. I'll be honest, our campsite looked NOTHING like the picture above. It was terrible. I suppose I should have known better from the name alone. It was called Vacation Trailer Park but the state run park was already full when I tried to make the reservations, so this is what we were stuck with. We pulled in around 10 pm on Thursday night and knew immediately that we'd be disappointed. I guess we are sort of camping snobs now. We know what we like, and it's NOT called Vacation Trailer Park. Since it was so late, and we were tired of driving we plopped down our stuff (and by "plopped" I mean spent an hour setting up camp), opened a beer and went to bed.
Luckily the next morning some friends of Ryan's convinced us to move camp to a piece of property they owned. We had 7 acres all to ourselves. Well, not quite, there were a few people staying in the house located on the property as well, but we could use their bathroom, shower and kitchen sink so we were camping in luxury for our first few days.
While in Sleeping Bear we did a little adventuring, including the hikes in the picture above and below. Isn't that fern field pretty??!? Abby played in the sand and the lake for the first time (another post to come), saw the Dunes, ate at a yummy bar, drink the local beer, and Ryan did a 100 mile bike ride. Originally the main reason for the trip was for Ry to do the bike ride. We'd planned a 4 day trip and were going to head home after the race on Monday, but we decided to take some extra time off and enjoy all the MI had to offer.
Monday morning we packed up camp for the second time on the trip, and drove about 5 hours north to Tahquamenon Falls. It's in the UP of Michigan and it's the one place I wished we'd spent more time. Well, to be honest, I wish we'd spent more time at ALL of the places, but the Falls was the one that we for sure could have used more time at. We were much happier with our camping spot here. We were in a national park with tons of trails and lots to see and do. After setting up camp we strapped the the baby pack on and headed out for a hike. We were camped near the lower falls, in walking distance, so that's where we started. The park had a great trail from the lower falls to the upper falls, but it was 4 miles one way and that was more than we were interested in doing after driving all day. Plus it was already around 5pm and Abby'd been going to bed around 6:30/7 most nights. So, we did a quick 2-3 mile hike around the area and then went down to explore the falls. It was pretty, but I'm most sad that we didn't know to spend more time at the upper falls.
The next morning we'd planned to do some real hiking so we got up early, at a quick breakfast and headed out. We'd originally planned to attempt the hike to the upper falls and back (8 miles total) figuring that if we were exhausted by the time we got there we could always pay to take the shuttle back. Sadly though, the shuttle service didn't start until 1pm and we had to be out of our campsite by noon so our only options were to either suck it up and hike the full 8 miles, or choose a different path. So, we went with our second choice and did a really pretty path right off of our campsite. It was 4 miles, but boy did it seem longer than that! It was getting hot early so we were both glad we started out early. We'd already hiked 2 miles and were on the way back by 10 am when we stopped to have a path beer. Seemed legit. We were at the top of the biggest climb of the day!
We got so many comments on the pack. People were just amazed by it, and by the fact that we were actually hiking with her. She was pretty tired this day though so we weren't surprised when she finally fell asleep in it (picture below). The rest of the hike was VERY quite and we could finally hear nature. In fact, we joked that we might actually see some wildlife now that she was sleeping. In Abby's defense though, she is only 1 and we were wearing her out with all of our activities.
After our hike (and 10am beer), we packed up camp and drove the 4 miles from the lower falls to the upper falls. There was SO much more to see and do at the upper falls that we wished we could have stayed another full day. We made a poor choice and left the pack, wagon, and stroller all in the car (it was a project to unpack it all) and decided to just carry Abby to the falls, figuring it couldn't be that far. After about a 1/4 mile we regretted our choice. After getting to the closest lookout point to the falls we read that the land was donated awhile back from a family who'd owned if for hundreds of years. They stipulated that it must be at least 3/4 of a mile from the parking lot to the falls so that people could enjoy it in it's most natural state, without a ton of traffic and buildup around it. There were tons of lookout points and things to do there but we were carrying a baby...and that was a pain! So, we took a few looks over the edge and trudged our way back to the parking lot/gift store area. We were so excited when we found out that there was a brewery on site!!! Let's be honest, Ryan and I love our beer. So we stopped in for lunch, a drink and some ice cream. We had a great day, but if I had it to do over again, we'd have stayed one more night there and done some more hiking and exploring.
After having a delicious lunch of fish and chips (Abby loved it!), we got on the road to our next stop, Nelson Lake, in the Ottawa National Forest. We'd never been to any of these locations before, but we'd done some reading, checked out the map, decided how far we'd want to drive each day and came up with a game plan. What excited us most about Nelson Lake and the campgrounds near it, were that they seemed to be pretty remote. For camping snobs like us, that was music to our ears. You couldn't even reserve your site in advance. It was first come first serve which seemed like a bit of a risk but we figured we'd see what we ended up with. It had to be better than Vacation Trailer Park!!! The website said that there was no electric, no water and no bathrooms. Well, there were bathrooms, pit toilets, but no lights anywhere. We were prepared though. We stopped at Wally to pick up a new battery for the camper, made sure our propane tanks were full and figured we'd make do.
The campsite was AMAZING! By far the best place we stayed. There were only 27 sites and I would say that only 10 of them had people in them. We had a the pick of whatever was left and we ended up with a great spot. The lake was maybe 20 feet from our camper door, there wasn't a single boat on the water, we could hear the loons while we laid in bed. We couldn't even see the campsites next to us. In short, we were in camping heaven. The only thing I'd wished they'd had at this site was some hiking trails.
We didn't get to Nelson lake until around 4pm with all of our stops and since there wasn't much hiking to do we didn't end up staying there too long on Wednesday morning. Besides, we were ready to get to the cabin. If we had it to do over again though, and went back to Nelson lake, we'd bring our yaks. It would be awesome to paddle out on that lake. We're contemplating a friends trip up to this campsite, but people better be ready to rough it big time!!
Wednesday afternoon we finally got to the lake house. Everyone was happy to be out of the car, the dogs and Abby especially, and Ryan and I were excited that this was the LAST time we were going to have to set up camp. We loved that we traveled to so many places and got to see so many cool things, but taking down and setting up camp is work. We're getting faster at it, but it's still about an hour process each way, so it can be a time suck when all you want to do is enjoy nature.
We spent the next 3 days hanging out with family and enjoying each other's company. We played lots of Cribbage, did lots of fishing (enough for a fish fry on Friday night!), lots of laughing and I even got in a few naps! I loved having Abby with us for 10 days straight, but boy was I ready for a break when we finally got to the cabin. It was nice to have a few extra hands around for when I'd had enough. Plus, since we were actually at a house, with doors(!), Abby finally got some good naps in and she was much happier all around.
It was fun to have the babies together again for a few days too. They are so funny together. They are both sponges so they watch each other and pick up both good, and bad!, habits.
Peggy and Joe came too which was great! It's so fun to have everyone together. The boys worked on re-roofing the one side of the garage one morning, but that was really the only big job that they worked on. Oh, and restacking the woodpile. Little Ed (read: Andy) helped a lot with that project as well.
All in all, this vacation was a blast. It was great to spend some time just our little family, and then to have lots of helping hands around sometimes too. I'd do it again in a heart beat! Whose in for next year?!?!?! Now that we've been to some of these areas we are ready to show them off to our friends.