Help Me Plan Our Trip into & Out of Chicago
June 17, 2007 5:14 PM   Subscribe

We're flying into & out of Chicago in mid-July. We want to head north possibly to: Macinaw City/Island, Thunder Bay, Duluth, somewhere neat to see in Wisconsin, and back to Chicago. We'll have 15 days. Will want 3 days in the end in Chicago. Is this doable? What are the "must see" places & how much time at each? Travel clockwise or counter? Thanks for all suggestion of what to see & what to avoid.
posted by thebarron to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It's certainly doable on the face of it. It'll take you about a (long-ish) day of driving to get from Chicago to Mackinac, two days to get from Mackinac to Thunder Bay, another day to get to Duluth, and two days (with your stop "somewhere neat") to get back to Chicago. That leaves you six days to distribute between your chosen destinations.

Northwestern Ontario is beautiful, but it's still very much a wilderness. The road is two-lane for most of the distance between Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay, and the largest town you'll pass through will be either Wawa or Marathon, which might have a thousand people if you squint. Make sure you have AAA, a spare tire, and a jack, and if you're in the habit of waiting until the last minute to get gas, break yourself of it now.
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:01 PM on June 17, 2007

In the Mackinac area I love the sawmill (Mill Creek). I go there yearly and my first year there I spent a whole day at the mill just studying it. I loved mill and enjoy seeing it operate to this day. The second thing I would see in the city is Fort Michilimackinac. Again, my first trip I spent a whole day there. On recent trips I spend a day divided between the Fort and the Mill. The island is easily another full day. (Take a carriage tour if you can, they are great.) As far as other steps along the way, I couldn't speculate. Good luck and enjoy your trip!
posted by TheDukeofLancaster at 6:27 PM on June 17, 2007

Thunder Bay to Duluth in a day seems like it would leave little time to stop off at the various North Shore attractions and state parks, so that might be a leg to add in an extra day or so.

Lots of Minnesota state parks with nice walks right off of Hwy 61: Tettegouche, Temperance River, Gooseberry Falls, etc. You can park right on the highway at Temperance River and walk the path a mile or two up to see the "kettles" carved in the outcrop by the little river. Lots of nice little nature walks like that are easy to start and finish right at the highway.

Split Rock lighthouse is a good stop. Grand Marais is a good rest stop, little shops, restaurants, etc. Grand Portage has a restored fort, and a small casino on the reservation.

Duluth itself is worth an afternoon. It's not the Champs Elysee, but it's a pleasant enough stop.

If you want to experience "northwoods" scenery further inland, you could take Minnesota Highway 1 from the Superior shore to Ely. Once you get to the Ely area, there's the Soudan Mine state park, where you can tour an old iron mine in tunnels a mile or so below the surface.

I've tried to see the historic fort in Thunder Bay (Old Fort William?) but that's always seemed like it would take a whole day to do. A whole day that I've never had there, but you might. Maybe someone else has more info.

The Bayfield/Madeline Island area is a nice spot on the Wisconsin side.
posted by gimonca at 7:02 PM on June 17, 2007

Upper Peninsula of MI is awesome. Check out Tequamenon Falls, Pictured Rocks, Porcupine Mountains, Keewenaw Peninsula.

However, I'm not a huge fan of Macinac Is./City, unless you like a lot of touristy shops and a lot of people. If you like that sort of thing, great. If you are taking the trip to get away and see nature, then avoid it.
posted by jpdoane at 8:40 PM on June 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Also, the wife and I just went backpacking at Pictured Rocks, here are our photos from the trip.
posted by jpdoane at 8:44 PM on June 17, 2007

Love that U.P! We had a wolf run across the road in front of us by Seney Wildlife Refuge and saw moose on a hike in Seney. Good birding near Au Train where we rented a cabin (very inexpensive), and where the Au Train River flows into Superior there is a swimming beach where the water was warm enough to bear.
Pictured Rocks is beautiful and kayaking looked fun but kids were too young at the time. We went on the glass bottom boat shipwreck tour which was hokey but fun.
There's lots of places to canoe and rent canoes throughout Hiawatha National Forest (get the Forest Service map - it's very detailed).
posted by readery at 9:21 PM on June 17, 2007

Just so you know, the tenth day of driving through a pinewood forest is about the same as the first nine.
posted by dhartung at 11:05 PM on June 17, 2007

This time of year is v. nice for da Yoop. :)

From Grand Rapids, MI to the bridge is 5-6 hours. From the bridge to Tahqua Falls is another 2 hours, as I remember. LOTS of crap roads and construction from Chicago to the bridge.

And just for fun, Mike Rowe is doing a segment on the Mackinac Bridge soon for Dirty Jobs. In the promo shown during Deadliest Catch this week for the premier of the new season of DJ, Mike is shown basically pitching a fit and then doing a dance on the green Mackinac Bridge. I think the first episode on June 27th at 9pm (ET) should be about it.
posted by santojulieta at 11:25 PM on June 17, 2007

Take LOTS of bug repellant!!! Up there, you deal with black flies. Historically, they swarm around July 4. There are some incredibly beautiful places where you do NOT WANT to go at that time. These flies aren't inclined to bite if you use repellant, but they will still annoy you senseless! Without repellant, you will turn into a blood-drained zombie poster child on an X-Files episode.

But, hey, say ya to da yoo pee, eh? Be sure to eat some pasties (Pas-tees).

I am especially fond of Kitchikipi Springs State Park. A deep water hole of a spring of seriously crystal clear water. IIRC, it's about 70 feet deep and you can see the springs bubbling on the bottom (and the fish, too).

Porcupine Mountains are beautiful.

Copper Peak Ski-flying hill offers a great view, if you can ride the elevator up. (between the Porcupine Mountains and Ironwood).

Madeline Island is beautiful. The Apostile Islands area is also beautiful, but the last time I went was during the black fly swarming, and it couldn't be enjoyed. (have not seen this problem on Madeline Island itself!)

Duluth: A pleasant small city to some. Boring little town to others. A bustling metropolis to folks living anywhere from there to the Soo in Michigan, or across northern Minnesota. Well, maybe not so bustling since the iron ore stopped flowing and the Air Force base closed.
posted by Goofyy at 7:37 AM on June 18, 2007

The Sleeping Bear Lakeshore is breathtaking, and if you have time to camp for a night or two, North Manitou Island (essentially a sand dune with a forest on top rising out of Lake Michigan a few miles off shore) is completely rustic and peaceful. Eat cherry pies, smoked lake trout, and pasties.
posted by laird at 2:15 PM on July 19, 2007

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