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


Preconceived NOceans

Lake Superior Surfing - Hanging 10 (degrees) credit: Flickr igmaino

One thing is for sure.  Midwestern Surfers are either nuts, the hardcore-est of the hardcore, a mix of both, or something completely all in their own.  Some people would look at this and say “why?” with raised eyebrows. You may have already said that yourself when you looked at the picture above.  Well as I see it, it falls into some of the same categories as to why someone would want to climb a mountain, or run a marathon.  Often times it really comes down to “because I can” or “because no one else has” or “because I want to”.

Famous English climber George Mallory once was asked why he wanted to climb Everest and he replied, “Becasue it’s there.”  The reasoning behind what makes people pursue different adventures may be as simple as the love of the idea that no one else does this, or they relish in telling stories about surfing Lake Superior while gawking faces look on in astonishment.  Maybe it’s the simple fact that they love the feeling of being on the edge, and in their own way hanging ten in the Midwest fulfills that urge and satisfies that feeling.

Any way it lands, the trailer for the upcoming film Preconceived Noceans seems to bite at this urge a bit.  To me, surfing in the dead of winter seems insane but at the same time, I get it because I can see some of my own hobbies and plans causing people to think or say, “why the hell would you want to do that?”

Porkie Pow(d)er!

Backcountry Porkie Powder!

We all know that Porcupine Mountains State Park “The Porkies” are best served in the fall, when the color wheel of leaves is awe-inspiring.  But as locals will tell you, the winter will offer the solitude you crave, and the opportunity to frolic in some of the deepest, lightest snow east of the Rockies (around 200 inches per year).

Porkies Yurt

The park has almost 100 miles of designated ski trails that come complete with panorama views of Lake Superior “Gitchee Gumee” shoreline, and peaceful glides through deep forest in a winter wonderland!  For a quick six-miler, follow the interpretive trail to the south from the visitor center and the Nonesuch trail past the ski area to the Superior Loop.  On the way enjoy sweeping views of  the big lake.  The Deer Yard Trail will loop you back home to the visitor center, but you can also turn this into a weekend trip.  Reserve a spot and get one of the rustic backcountry cabins that are ski-in (Details HERE).  Be sure to book in advance!

Gitchee Gumee

Sleeping Bear: Find solitude by visiting one of the most visited places in the U.S.

Michigan.  You think white sand beaches, towering dunes, and crystal clear waters.  Valley View trail and backcountry campsite inside the park offers none of that!  In a slow weekend just before Memorial Day, my wife and I decided to break in our packs and do our first backpack trip of the summer.  The weather was cool and rainy, and the crowds had not formed yet in the small beach towns on the northern tip of the mitten.
Or so we thought!
We loaded up our packs (Osprey Kestrel 38), and made sure to pack rain and wind breakers.  The weather off the lake can be unpredictable, but with proper gear, you can have a very enjoyable experience.  We had originally planned on backpacking a 2-mile clip to “White Pine Backcountry Campground” right near the beach in the deep interior of the National Lakeshore.  There we could setup camp and enjoy the dunes of Lake Michigan away from any crowds, and cars.
Or so we thought…again!
After a bit of trouble with some directions, we finally found the DNR station.  There, the ranger informed me that the camp we were planning on hiking to, was filled with a troop of boy scouts, and there were no spots left!  Really?  On a rainy 51 degree day, with wind spray and a couple weeks before Memorial Day?
So he recommended another backcountry site.  Valley View Campground, nestled in the hills over looking over the tiny town Glen Arbor, MI.  The short, easy trail, gradually gains a few hundred feet elevation through an amazing forest of hardwoods, and thick Northern Michigan timber, before topping out on a ridge and into a small open valley.
The ranger told us this trail, and its little set of backcountry tent sites would be virtually guaranteed privacy, and we probably wouldn’t see any other people in this rarely visited corner of the park.  He was right!
The hike only took us about 35 minutes, and we were able to enjoy the deep forest of mature timber around us. We arrived in camp in a heavy rain, pitched our tent under a huge pine, and tried to dry off, completely alone in the site.  Sitting inside the tent sipping whisky, and playing blackjack while listening to Pearl Jam, and Bruce Springsteen provided entertainment, while we gently were pelted by the tiny beads of rain slipping off the pine.
Around 9:30 pm the rain stopped, and I was able to make a little dinner on our butane stove.  About this time we heard a coyote a little ways away give a fantastic howl into the night sky.  This was our yellow lab Gus’s first camping trip and the coyote’s howl reminded him he wasn’t in Kansas anymore!  The evening was chilly, with rain off and on, but the morning brought fantastic sun, and great color for some pictures, as the sun bathed our little valley

While the other campgrounds are filled with motorhomes, huge tents, and sun burned city slickers, Valley View is a peaceful clearing where you can pitch your tent and sip your morning coffee in the shade of hardwoods while watching a whitetail meander through the small meadow.
The price for such tranquility is carrying your necessities 1.5 miles from a parking lot. And then carrying them out when you’re ready to head home.  Valley View is an EXCELLENT choice for a quick backpack getaway that is virtually guaranteed to be private!