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For reasons I can't fully explain, Copper Harbor, MI, has been my own personal El Dorado.

Ever since hearing about the great roads and scenery in and around this Lake Superior town, I've had a strong desire to make my own discovery of the area. After two previous attempts failed, I finally succeeded this summer.

First, the geography. The Keweenaw Peninsula juts northward into Lake Superior. On the northernmost tip sits the small community of Copper Harbor. It's probably best known as the jumping-off point for ferries out to Isle Royale, Lake Superior's largest island and a big tourism destination. It consists of maybe a dozen resorts, a few shops, and a state-run harbor. Population is just over 100 people.

My first attempt at a visit was during my Lake Superior Circle Tour three years ago. My riding buddy and I included Copper Harbor as part of our route and actually started making our way up the Keweenaw, but ended up waiving off about 90 miles shy of it because we were behind schedule for the day.

The next time I tired was last year, when I planned a quick up-and-back over the Labor Day Weekend. Sadly, a death in the family caused me to turn around only a few hours into that trip.

So this year, I blocked out 4 days to finally make it to Copper Harbor, as well as visit a few other spots in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and Northern Wisconsin.

DAY 1 | 7/20/17 | 382 Miles

The start of my trip, on a Thursday, was my big-mile day. I packed the bike the night before and hit the road around 7:00 a.m. Given that my new bike, a 2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650, has side bags that are almost half the size of my Kawasaki Concours, packing efficiency was important. The smaller Givi bags quickly filled up with rain gear, tool roll, power cords, etc. Clothes and toiletries were in a backpack that fit nicely into my top box. All my camping gear fit (just) into a single dry bag I strapped to the pillion seat.

Orange is the new black.

Not long after crossing the border into Michigan, I ran into my first significant bit of road construction.

Forced break time.

After waiting about 15 minutes for access to the single-lane through the construction zone, I discovered its purpose: Seal-coating, bane of motorcyclists everywhere. For those who live in areas where this isn't common, seal-coating (or chip-sealing...I'm sure there are other names) consists of spraying down a solution of sticky oil on the road surface, then covering it with pea gravel. It's a relatively inexpensive way to extend the life of asphalt roadways. They then leave the gravel in place for a few days to let traffic 'seat' the gravel into the oil. Usually, they'll come by later and brush the loose gravel to the shoulder.

The immediate result -- what I was dealing with -- was 8 miles of loose pea gravel. For a 99% pavement rider like me, it was a tense ride. On the up side, I'd just installed a new Shinko 705 dual-sport rear tire, and reviews said it was pretty good in gravel. I'd have to agree, though I don't have a lot to compare it to. At the very least, the bike stayed on its wheels, despite the rider's inexperience.

I rolled into Copper Harbor, after a very pleasant ride through the woods, around dinner-time. I grabbed supper at a resort restaurant and tried to call home. No cell service, but that was OK; I used the resort's wi-fi to access my AllStays Camp & RV app and found some nearby campgrounds. I discovered one less than 2 blocks away from where I was, and they had space available.

Little House in the Big Woods

After setting up camp, I tried to call home. Still no cell service. I walked to the campground office and learned that there was no cell service in the entire town. Yes, such places apparently still exist in this world. They said my only shot was to go to the top of nearby Brockway Mountain, where I may be able to pick up a signal from the other side of the peninsula. Plus, I'd catch a nice sunset.

Off I went for the 5-mile ride up the mountain. The road was actually pretty well-maintained, as I think this is one of the other tourist attractions in the area. I had some fun with the switchbacks and was rewarded not only with a gorgeous view, but a weak cell signal that at least allowed me to call home.

A Hazy Shade of Summer

With my home check-in and sight-seeing boxes ticked, it was time for some end-of-day relaxation. Luckily, there was a bar within 1 block of my campground. I parked the bike at my site, walked down and settled in at the bar. I only planned on a couple of drinks, but people are friendly in the North. After several games of pool (where I was continually schooled by a Floridian) and far-ranging conversation with a Minnesotan mountain biker, I ended up closing the place down. I walked...OK, kind of staggered...back to my tent and settled in for the night.

DAY 2 | 7/21/17 | 251 Miles

Weather for day 2 dawned as beautifully as the previous day. In fact, weather for the entire trip was flawless, with temps in the 70s and, with the exception of a few drops of rain on Day 2, totally uneventful.

My destination for Day 2 was Grand Marais, MI, following the southern shore of Lake Superior most of the way. I've visited Grand Marais twice before, on my trips around both Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. The small town offers the convenience of a large campground right in town and on the shore of the lake. More importantly for me, you get there -- from the west -- via what I believe to be one of the best roads to ride in the Midwest. H58 runs from Munising to Grand Marais and boasts around 40 miles of serpentine blacktop. The road surface is very good, as they just re-did the roadway a few years ago. And it runs through Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, which offers its own advantages.

Along the way, I had a couple of interesting wildlife encounters. First, I came across 2 sandhill cranes on the road just east of Marquette, MI. It was lucky I slowed down for them, as no less than 500 yards down the road, a doe and her fawn jumped out onto the road. Had I not slowed down for the cranes, I probably would have had a much closer encounter with them.

Doe, a deer...

Surprisingly -- and thankfully -- these were the only issues I had with Mother Nature during the whole trip.

Probably in no small part due to my shenanigans the previous night, I found myself getting pretty sleepy after lunch. One of the nice things about riding the roads through the UP is that they offer a lot of roadside parks to pull over for rest stops. I found one that offered a nice location near a stream.

Tannins in the water give it the color of coffee.

I found a spot near the water and dozed for 15-30 minutes, which was enough to reset my body and feel more awake when I was on the bike again.

I rolled into Grand Marais in late afternoon. Even though the previously mentioned campground has over 200 sites, I was lucky to get the last available spot. I turns out there was a kayaking symposium in town for the weekend, and they filled up the campground.

Not so many trees this time.

With the campground being in town, it afforded easy access to food & drink. So, after setting up camp, I walked down to a nearby restaurant for dinner. I also visited a newly opened bar across the road.

I ended the day sitting on the sandy Lake Superior beach. One thing I'd forgotten was how being so far north impacts daylight hours in the summer. I was on the beach at 10:00 p.m. and it was still only dusk.

DAY 3 | 7/22/17 | 177 Miles

Just across the road from the campground was a Lutheran church. Something told me I needed some savin'...

One shouldn't ignore a sign from above.

Full of pancakes and eggs, I was ready for another day of adventure. I packed the bike and was off while most of my fellow campers were still stoking their breakfast fires.

One reason for my early departure was that I'd been stuck behind some slow vehicle traffic on the ride into Grand Marais. Since I was heading back out on the same road, I was hoping to find it a bit more clear. For the most part it was, though I did pull over at one point to build a bit of a gap between some RVs and me.

H58: 40 miles of this.

My Day 3 destination was Florence, WI. My wife's family is from the area and we own 20 acres of woodland property in the area. We don't visit it often, and it's been 2 years since we checked it out. It also offered me the opportunity to camp for free.

Remember when I said I was glad I didn't have any close encounters with the local wildlife? Here's a reason why:

Entering the Bullwinkle Zone.

With my early start and shorter mileage, I rolled in not long after lunch. When our family visits Florence, we always make it a habit to stop at a local ice cream shop for a treat. No sense in breaking with tradition.

Vacation Lunch!

I slurped down a waffle cone with 'Cowpucino' ice cream and rode the 3 miles out to the family land. Our property is up a hill at the end of a forest road. To access it, I had to go through a piece of property owned by several of my wife's family members. It contains an old mobile home. I didn't plant to access it, but I arrived to find a couple of my wife's cousins visiting for the weekend. They invited me to stay in the mobile home with them, so I accepted their hospitality -- no sense setting up a tent and sleeping on a cot when a perfectly good couch is available.

The old family homestead.

I dropped my gear and pulled off my side bags in preparation for the ride up the hill to our land.

Yes, there's a road here if you look closely.

I mentioned before that I'm not an off-road rider. But the admittedly lighter dual-sport nature of the V-Strom had me willing to give it a try, as long as things didn't get too gnarly. I had a few close calls, but the low-end torque of the Wee's V-twin engine made it easier to keep power over trail bumps and small branches across the trail. After about 20 minutes of this, I was swimming in sweat inside my riding gear. Just as I was thinking I'd had enough, the woods made it clear it was time to turn around.

End of the road.

Even so, I was happy the bike -- and I -- made it as far as we did, with only one close drop that I was able to muscle back into an upright position.


I turned around and made my way out of the woods and back to the mobile home. The cousins were ready for me, with beer on ice and cocktails in the fridge.

Now THIS is how you end a day of riding.

Dinner was brats and dogs over the campfire, followed by a fair bit of beer and more drinks. As it should be.

DAY 4 | 7/23/17 | 204 Miles

The final day of my trip was pretty uneventful. I got up early and hit the road before most of the cousins were up, as I wanted to be home early enough to unpack and relax a bit before nightfall.

I rolled into the driveway in late afternoon. With really only 2 bags to pull off the bike, unpacking was pretty easy, and I was soon chilling with my wife on the patio, drink in hand.

Bike report:

My one concern with downsizing to a 650 from the Concours 1000 was how the bike would perform on highways at speed. No problems there. The only slight issue is that I noticed I need to allow a little extra space for passing -- as they say, there's no replacement for displacement. But I really love all the other things that come with a smaller bike: easier to move around at slow speeds, more maneuverable, I can actually lift it back up if it starts to tip, better mileage (I averaged around 45 mpg), etc. I'd have to say I'm really happy with the V-Strom.

And I think I've called it out in some previous ride reports, but I can't say enough how much I love my Russell Day Long seat. I was one of those that tolerated stock seats OK, but would need to stop every hour or two to massage the rear side back to feeling. No issues with that with the RDL. On this trip I often road 2+ hours and was perfectly comfortable. As they say in the commercials, I'm luvin' it.

So, mission accomplished...I've found my El Dorado. Now it's on to the next adventure.

1,098 Posts
Been to my share of big meets and rallys but the older I become the more I love the rides like you just took lots more. :smile2: Nic pics and report.:grin2:

1,078 Posts
I'm heading up there in a week to pick blueberries and plan on doing lots of riding while I'm up there.
Taking the DL

275 Posts
On a recommendation of a forum member, I made a side trip during my 2014 cross-country to visit Copper Harbor. I've been at quite a few fantastic places around this country, and this really is very cool if you like remote places, great waterfront views and nice roads around same! I stayed in one of the nicely kept older roadside motels (did not have a reservation ahead of time). The UP is a great place to ride and highly recommended. Munising struck me as an especially scenic place on Lake Superior - they have a really cool park above town that gives a stunning view of the area.

47 Posts
Nice report. I love that area. I use the Munising area for quick backpacking trips and winter snowshoeing and backpacking trips. I have yet to go from there to Grand Marais on a motorcycle, but should be able to fit it in with an overnighter at Beaver Basin in the tent. It will make for a nice weekend.

1,078 Posts
Forgot about this thread. I did go up to the UP a couple weeks ago to pick blueberries and ride. Picked lots of berries and one day did ride up to Copper Harbor, but other days rode around the UP, lots of different directions. My buddy who lives there rides daily so had a great guide.

Premium Member
4,566 Posts
Good ride report. I enjoyed my run through the Upper Pennisula in June - I considered going out to Copper Harbor but just kept on to Gran Marais. Lots of deer and sandhill cranes.

Was a new species for my life list tho I knew of them. Was talking to someone and they said the species had really thrived in the past while....they seem to favour the low areas along the slab for raising young.

The road into Gran Marais was one of the best twisty sections the whole trip ....just gorgeous and no traffic ...I was getting chased by thunderstorms and beat them by 10 minutes.
I came around a corner ( I was just having fun not pushing it ) and found a a yearling deer just posed in the road ...the colours in his coat we astonishing a freshly opened horse chestnut - shiny and rich. Of course he was gone before I could get the camera out.

BTW - if you have wifi and no cell service...Skype will let you phone home.
I did Michigan twice this year as add ons to a Lake Superior Loop and a the Grand Algoma Tour.

I did get to Tunnel of Trees but still did not do justice to the west coast of Michigan. Likely too late when I get back mid-October.

Next spring maybe.
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