Dylan and I almost finished an entire year in the van! We only have a few places left to go before returning home. In the last few weeks of summer we spent time in the Midwest and soaking up the sun ☀️. We traveled to two of the most remote National Parks in the country: Voyageurs & Isle Royale, and fell in love with the beauty of the Midwest.
After traveling all around the country, I finally made it to my 50th state: Minnesota! The state of 10,000 lakes! Both Minnesota and Michigan were some of the most beautiful summer destinations. I love the water and both of these states have plenty of it. The Upper Peninsula is truly the ✨ideal summer spot✨ and I can’t wait to get back. Read about our day trips in Voyageurs & Isle Royale and all the rest of our adventures.
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Remote National Parks: Voyageurs & Isle Royale
Voyageurs National Park
Our first stop on the Midwest tour was Voyageurs National Park (NP #47). This park is a remote park in the Northernmost part of Minnesota. It is so far North in fact that you can easily get lost on the water and end up in Canada. This park is also entirely on the water, which means the only way to see it is by boat 🚣♀️.
We had booked a National Park official tour, but unfortunately, it got canceled at the last minute. So instead we took a full day tour through the Border Guide service company. The night before, we slept at a secluded trailhead off the main road. Then we woke up bright and early to get to our tour.
Our tour started at a lodge off the waters of the park. As soon as we got there, a gruff but friendly Midwestern man greeted us. He was the owner of the lodge and our tour guide. It was clear to me that this area was like a small town. Everyone knew each other, everyone was super friendly, and everyone had a thick Minnesota accent 😊.
He welcomed us on the boat with another older couple and his best friend who was on his first date. It was quite an interesting day. We spent the day getting to know the other people on our boat and exploring all of the major sights in the park like the Ellsworth Rock Gardens, Kettle Falls and Rainy Lake.
We had lunch at the Kettle Falls lodge which is only open during the summer. This small lodge was so quaint and felt like it was from a time long ago. The man who worked at the lodge was also the local postal man 📨. That’s how small this area is and how few people live here!
On the way back from the sights, our whole boat decided that I should go cliff jumping. They drove me out to Elephant Rock and as I got to the top I got paralyzed with fear. It took me a good 20 minutes of everyone cheering me on from the boat before I was able to jump! But, wow did it feel good in the cool waters 💦 all around.
It was such an enjoyable day, that we all decided to grab a drink 🍻 at the bar together. We laughed and tried our hand at a few bar games before separating. Dylan and I left the area that night, but we decided that we would definitely return one day. It was a wonderful introduction to the state of Minnesota.
After leaving Voyageurs, we drove South a bit to the beautiful city of Duluth. This city is on Lake Superior and directly next to Michigan. It has a wonderful charm to it. We didn’t have much time to explore, but after work we walked around downtown.
Downtown was bustling on a nice summer day with people all around. There is a trail along Lake Superior, which was full of people walking, biking, and enjoying the great weather (which is in short supply in Minnesota). Dylan and I strolled along the path before making our way to the Portland Malt Shop, where I got a delectable milkshake 🥤. Then, we continued to the Duluth Pack Store, which was a great outdoors shop! We couldn’t resist purchasing a couple items for the van.
Although we only had time for a short stint in Duluth, it was time to move further East. But, Dylan and I will definitely go back to Minnesota one day!
Isle Royale National Park
The reason that we were moving so fast is because we had a tour booked in another National Park: Isle Royale (NP #48). This is one of the least visited National Parks in the country. That may be because it’s really difficult to get to. You either have to take a ferry 🚢 or seaplane ✈️ from Houghton, Minnesota or from Copper Harbor, Michigan. There are only a couple ferries a day and they sell out fast.
We left from Copper Harbor on a day trip to Isle Royale… which was a mistake. It took three hours from Copper Harbor to Isle Royale. Once we got there we had two hours to explore, before getting on a boat back to Copper Harbor. Dylan and I were practically running 💨 on the trail, so that we could see some of the island. It felt like we had no time at all.
This Park is incredibly beautiful with clear blue waters surrounding the island. It’s also known for having a large moose population. Most people who visit go to backpack ⛺️ around the island and that’s definitely what I would do next time. It felt like we were rushed through the island and I barely saw anything. So, I guess that means we just have to go back again!
Our time in cute small Midwestern towns was not over. Our next stop was the adorable lakeside town of Marquette, Michigan 📍. This town is a popular summer destination, because it sits on the blue shores of Lake Superior. We worked downtown at the bagel shop for the day and watched as summer tourists walked through.
That afternoon we went to one of the most popular spots in the area: Presque Isle Park. This park has various access points to Lake Superior with trails for biking 🚲, beaches for lounging ⛱, and tables for picnicking 🧺. It also has one of the best cliff jumping destinations I’ve ever seen.
This cliff juts out into the deep waters of the lake, so that you can jump from various points along the cliff walls. At any one time you’ll see 5-10 people jumping off the cliff and into the waters below. Cliff jumping is now one of my new favorite summer activities 👙. Dylan and I spent a while jumping into the water and then watching others jump. It was just the epitome of summer fun.
Once we got tired of jumping off the rocks and climbing back up, we found a secluded shore spot. We set up our lounge chair next to the water, so that our feet could dip in. We sat like that while reading for a couple of hours. I was filled with a sense of serenity and peace.
Finally, we left the lakeside park and moved to find a camping spot for the night. We found a secluded cove where we parked right next to the beach . We were able to hear the waves crash 🌊 while we slept in our van and it was the perfect end to our day.
That next morning, we woke up to go to one of the most popular destinations in Michigan: Pictured Rocks. Rain hit our windows and we worried that our tour would be miserable. We had signed up to go kayaking 🚣🏻 along the rock line.
As we pulled up to the tour building rain 🌧 started pouring down. It was not looking good for the tour. However, once we had checked in and completed our safety briefing, the guides said it was going to be a great day on the water! The gray skies help you see the clarity in the water and although it was rainy, there was no wind. So, we suited up and got ready for a day out on the lake.
We paddled in a group of about 10 people. Our guide made us each do introductions and he made sure that we stayed together. The water was so bright that it was crazy to see. I could not believe that this water was in Michigan! It looked like something out in the Caribbean. Plus, the rocks were amazing, with all sorts of rock colors 🌈 and beautiful formations.
If you ever get the chance to go to Pictured Rocks, then I highly recommend it! It was one of my favorite things we did in the van this summer. I wouldn’t have wanted to end our time in Michigan or along the Upper Peninsula any other way.
Michigan and Minnesota are underrated states and Voyageurs & Isle Royale are wonderful parks. We immediately fell in love with both of these states in the summertime. People were incredibly friendly, Lake Superior was stunning 🤩, and there were many great summer activities. If you have the chance you should add these states to your summer bucket list.
Let me know in the comments if you enjoyed this van chronicle!
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