by Michael McFadzen
Many parks in the midwest can make for a short, socially distanced adventure Editor’s note: It’s been a tough year for travel. With international travel and even long distance US trips a challenge right now and for the foreseeable future, I decided to share this story from our partner, Silent Sports. Many of these destinations could make cool day or long weekend trips even in the winter, or you can get a start planning your spring/summer trip. Being in the outdoors is a great way to stay socially distanced. I’m personally planning to bring my camera along for some ice cave fun myself this winter. Remember to follow all COVID-19 precautions and plan ahead carefully on any of these trips. From atop the precipice, giving us a panoramic view of the massive Sleeping Bears Dunes landform, my sister, Becky, said, “Are those people or ants down there? That’s a heck of a climb to get back up.” Several people joined us to watch the ant-sized people struggle up the giant dune, sliding backward, often sinking. “Are you going to try?” I declined her dare when a nearby Gen-Xer couple challenged each other. Off they went, sliding down the steep dune to the Lake Michigan shoreline. We bumped into the sweaty and sandy couple later that day. They said it was worth it, taking 10 minutes to get down, but 45 minutes to crawl back up. Located in northwest Michigan, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is Michigan’s most popular park, with almost 2 million visitors in 2019. The most prominent features are the spectacular headlands towering above Lake Michigan, presenting gorgeous shoreline views. Imagine this—65 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, with numerous lakes and streams, offering a hiker/paddlerdestination paradise. The park covers 75,000 acres, and offers over 250 campsites as well as 100 miles of designated trails. Many trails are maintained for cross-country skiing in winter. Want to really get away? Paddle or take the ferry to North or South Manitou Island and
get lost in an island wilderness; prime backpacking solitude. With few other hikers seen during a late August trip, we were awed by thousands of Monarch butterflies clinging to shoreline trees. Sleeping Bear Dunes is a waystation for the annual Monarch migration from Canada to the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico. The Monarch is the only butterfly to make this distant, twoway migration. The National Park System (NPS) encompasses 419 units, including 62 formal parks, 3 lakeshores, 83 monuments, 19 preserves, 15 recreation areas, 10 seashores, 3 national trails, and several other cultural/historic designations. Only 3 trails receive the national trail designation, and we are lucky to have two of them in the Midwest. The Ice Age Scenic Trail traverses Wisconsin, and the North County Trail travels from New York to North Dakota, including Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. “The 419 parks in the national park system provide a vast array of opportunities for recreation and inspiration for visitors of all ages,” said David Vela, a National Park Service Deputy Director. “With at least one located in every state, national parks offer nearby history, culture, and adventure.” More than 327 million people visited the NPS in 2019.
from Meyers Beach near Cornucopia WI. It is best to take a guided tour unless you are a highly skilled paddler. I recommend this incredible trip to anyone who will listen. Paddling the azure Lake Superior waters to view the gorgeous sandstone sea caves is a key draw. Other activities include scuba diving the many boat wrecks, checking out old growth forest remnants, hiking 62 miles of trails, and visiting the 9 lighthouses, the most at any National Park. There are also 10 historical sites, 52 archaeological sites, 12 shipwrecks, and 3 historical resorts. Due to its remote location, Lakeshore has 22 photovoltaic systems powering an array of necessary equipment. High lake levels and recent storm damage have forced closure of some docks and campsites. In winter, a visit to the shoreline sea caves is a must-do winter activity. Frozen waterfalls glow a myriad of colors based on mineral content. Cavernous ice-filled chambers display a palette of colorful hues, changing through daylight and reflections. Freezing meltwater forms forty-foot icicles, highlighting gorgeous ice formations throughout. You’ll hear yourself saying “Wow,” over and over again. Over 120,000 visitors made the jaunt to explore this winter-wonderland in 2014 when national media played it up, but it has been since 2015 when the ice was safe enough to provide passage.
National Park System
All three National Lakeshores are located in the Midwest and are operated by the National Park Service. The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is about as far north as you can get in the Midwest without bumping into Canada. The spectacular Lakeshore contains 22 islands and 155 miles of shoreline on the northern tip of Wisconsin, jutting into Lake Superior. My wife and I recently kayaked the gorgeous mainland sea caves
A wall cloud approaches the Cornucopia Town Beach.
November 26-December 3, 2020
Miles of sand beach are intermixed with towering cliffs at Pictured Rocks. Most beaches are dog friendly. Within 72,000 acres of managed preserve, sandstone cliffs towering 300plus feet above Lake Superior’s pristine blue-green waters, Pictured Rocks offers over 40 miles of protected shoreline to explore. Kayaking is a big draw with several outfitters offering rentals and day trips. Hiking is also spectacular, my
favorite path being a 10-mile loop from Chapel Road. This loop connects with the North County Trail, which puts you atop cliffs hundreds of feet above Lake Superior, giving views of dazzling rock formations including Miner’s Castle and Grand Portal. In winter, sea caves become ice caves while waterfalls freeze into climbable curtained formations. You can view these outstanding formations from Sand Point Road near Munising. MI.
Midwest National Parks
Voyageurs National Park, located in northern Minnesota on the Canadian border near the town of International Falls, is an outstanding water resource featuring many lakes popular with boaters and paddlers. The Kabetogama Peninsula is the central feature, surrounded by Rainy, Namakan, and Kabetogama lakes. Think Boundary Waters but with motorboats. Don’t miss Grassy Bay cliffs, which rise 125 feet above Sand Point Lake. This area highlights the incredible scenery and interconnected waterways on the eastern side of the park next to the Boundary Waters. Voyageurs’ name commemorates the French traders and Indians voyageurs who traveled the area in the early 1800s.