Caps Cabin- Wilderness State Park

The Straits

Growing up in the Rockies, I had the opportunity to stay several nights in rustic Forest Service cabins scattered throughout Southwestern Montana mountains.  These cabins offer the bare minimum giving you a roof over your head with a wood stove, tables, chairs, and bunks with plastic wrapped mattresses.  You bring what you need, and leave the place as you found it. These cabins offer the opportunity to get away, and get back to some of the basics of life:  Warmth, food, adventure, and a simple existance.

Often, when arriving at these cabins you will find kindling split for you by the previous visitor out of courtesy, and logs ready to burn just in case you make a late entry or approach in a storm.  You try to pass along this courtesy as you leave, and the next tenant makes their way in through snow and cold.

I was thrilled to hear of several rustic cabins located in Wilderness State Park at the tip of the Mitten (see below).  WSP is a 7,000 acre preserve located about 15 miles west of Mackinaw City, and the bridge to the Upper Peninsula.  The northern section of the park run along the Straits of Mackinc between the U.P. and Lower Penninsula, while to the west, Sturgeon Bay opens to fantastic Lake Michigan sunsets.

A few trails criss-cross the park, but most of it is left untouched giving a true wilderness experience only a few hours north of Michigan’s most populated cities.

Caps Cabin- WSP

Winter provides the most solitude and expect to ski a few miles after leaving your car at the end of the road (where plowing stops).  Rent one of the cabins from the DNR website, and be prepared to pack in what you need, on your back or via sled!

We arrived at the trailhead around 11:00pm after stopping to warm our bellies at a watering hole in Mackinaw, and had a 2 mile ski via headlamp on a single-digit crystal clear night.  The snow had iced over, so basically it was glorified ice skating!

After arriving at Caps Cabin, we spent some time getting a fire roaring (which was it’s own animal) and a few smoke-filled breaths later the cabin cast iron began to roar.  A few sips of wine and whisky helped lubricate the unwinding process and we were then able to settle in by collecting wood, and unpacking.  **(As an aside and a good FYI, the DNR doesn’t stock the cabins with an axe or a splitter because of “liability” reasons, which makes the collection of kindling tough…especially at 2:AM on an 8 degree night).

Inside of Caps- Tons of space

We awoke early and prepped some cowboy coffee and eggs to start the day right.  Strapping on skis, we were off to see what we could see in the park.  It was in the mid-30’s and our sunny day was spent exploring the park on skis and venturing onto the ice of the straits.  While the middle of the straits remained open, the stillwater near the beach had frozen solid and provided great buckled ice sculpture and exploring.   We followed the snowmobile trail to the end of the peninsula, where we popped off the skis and continued on foot.  Oddly enough we sat and had a couple beers on the beach, as we stared off onto the desolate Lake Michigan sea of ice completely alone!

After skiing about 10-12 miles total, we finally settled back into the cabin for the evening  The sunset on the ice that evening was beautiful, and the bookends provided were priceless.  To the west an amber sunset reflecting off lake ice for as far as we could see, and to the east the glowing lights of the Mackinc Bridge spanned the horizon.  We drank wine and played Blackjack until we had our fill and drifted off to a deep sleep fueled by vino, a warm down sleeping bag, and intense heat from the wood stove.

On the ice

If you can put together some gear, and have decent outdoor skills, you can make this same trip happen!  A true Michigan beauty that not many get to experience!

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Tip o' the Mitt

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