Lake Superior is the largest of the Great Lakes and the world’s largest freshwater lake. It is moody, strong and deep. It’s cold, but clear. It’s deep, but clean. It looks different throughout the day and at different vantage points. It’s mysterious and rocky. It is something you want to see.
What is the Lake Superior Circle Tour?
It is approximately a 1,300 mile highway drive around Lake Superior that goes through Michigan, Ontario, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. There are many cities and stops, and you get to pick the ones you want to see. The goal is to drive around Lake Superior, and enjoy it’s vast beauty. And yes, we got a sticker for the back of our car that says we did it!
Since we have a family vacation home on Lake Huron, we made this our jumping off point. It’s about 5 hours from our home of Columbus. So we stayed here for a night and then began the journey.
For the purposes of this guide, I’m going to start the circle at Mackinaw City and end with Pictured Rocks. I’ve included the stops we made along the way, and the hotels we stayed at. All the hotels were good. I would do this trip again, and wouldn’t change anything major!
This route took us 7 days. It was approximately 32 hours of driving. We split that pretty evenly among all the days. Every day we made at least 2 stops to break up the driving. We each drove half each day.
We listening to podcasts and audiobooks to pass the time. But this drive is so scenic. I only got driving fatigue once because there was just so much to look at, I forgot we were in the car. (If you’ve ever driven on the PA turnpike, you know that you get driving fatigue after 2 hours because there’s nothing to see. This was not like that.)
There is a lot of driving on this trip, and many long stretches with nowhere to stop. We planned and packed for eating all our lunches on the road. This did end up saving us some money and gave us the flexibility to eat wherever we wanted. We ate at parks, picnic tables and right by the water.
We brought a cooler and two totes of snacks. We had one tote for snacks, and one for meals. We kept the snacks up next to us. We brought a case of water, too. We each had a day bag where we kept the items we would need for the day, such as our hiking boots and a jacket. (I prefer to wear sandals while I drive).
We brought stuff to make picnic style lunches with meats, cheese, crackers, and fruit. We also brought sandwich stuff for peanut butter and jelly and chicken salad. I found a recipe on this blog for No-cook chicken salad and it worked out well for sandwiches, or just eating with crackers. Packets of chicken are the way to go!
We brought a tote with cups, plates, bowls, cutlery, a knife and cutting board, a bowl for mixing and some cloth napkins. When we got to our hotel, we would just wash the dishes in the sink for use the next day. Worked out very well!
5 of the 7 hotels offered breakfast, so we only had to eat out twice for breakfast. We budgeted $400 for food for the week, including what we bought ahead of time.
I did research to find a nice restaurant to eat for dinner each night. We had some great meals. I would recommend using Google reviews or TripAdvisor to find good restaurants. Look for recent reviews. If no one has eaten there lately, you probably don’t want to either!
The average cost of the hotels we stayed at were $80. And a few of them had hot tubs and pools! They were very nice for the price. We made use of the ice machines for our cooler. We chose to stay at budget-friendly places that were nice. No fleabags, but we didn’t need any Ritz-Carltons either. You can see our selections on the map above.
We took our RAV4 and set it up for a road trip. It was a perfect car for this. Easy to get things in and out of. We put the backseats down so we had room to organize all our items. I would definitely recommend a roomy car for this long trip. And this goes without saying, but something very reliable.
We spent about $200 on fuel. Fuel was more expensive in Ontario, but it balanced out with the cheaper prices in Minnesota.
Between restaurants, hotels, fuel, car food, and park fees, we spent about $1,250 for a week-long vacation. That’s $90 per person per day for lodging, food, sightseeing, and transportation.
We packed for Spring temperatures, which meant we were prepared for warm weather, cold weather, rainy weather and anything in between. We brought sandals and hiking boots. We brought a lightweight winter coat and a rain jacket. I dressed in layers every day. Some days I was in a t-shirt, some days I had on three shirts and a jacket. Be prepared for it all!
Now that we’ve gotten all the basics out of the way, it’s time to talk about the feature event. I’ve broken it down by state and country. You can see our exact route on the map above, this is where we stopped, what we did and what we saw (and sometimes, what we ate).
This is the jumping off point to explore the pedestrian-only Mackinaw Island. We will most definitely come back to take the ferry. In the summer, the ferry runs every day all day long, making it very easy to get over. We couldn’t do it this trip, but will be back.
The area by the pier is a cute place to walk around and see the old-timey shops. If you like popcorn, fudge, and t-shirts that say Mackinaw Island, this is the place for you.
The highlight of this town was dinner at Scalawags. It was recommended by the Lonely Planet and it didn’t disappoint. Best fish and chips we had the whole trip.
Agawa Rock Pictographs
I thought these were a lot older than they actually were. They were painted around the 1600s, according to the signage. I will say though this was one of the most beautiful views we saw the whole trip. It was a short little steep hike and then you get to the side of the cliffs. There is a chain you can hold onto to walk to the pictographs. The view of the water and rocks was stunning.
We accidentally took the more scenic route, but it was welcome after a lot of driving. This hike within Lake Superior Provincial Park was so beautiful. If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know I love birdseye views. This hike was hard, but worth it. You will not regret what you get to see on the top of this mountain.
Old Woman Bay
Right across the street from the Nokomis Trail is a beach called Old Woman Bay. The name derives from a rock formation along the Old Woman River that apparently looks like an old woman. I immediately thought of Dennis in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when he says, “I’m 47. I’m not old.” I wonder how old that rock formation really is, and shouldn’t we just call it Woman Bay?
This beach was stunning. It rivaled something on the coast of Scotland. There were rocks galore, and I know I wasn’t supposed to, but I took a few. I couldn’t help myself.
This was a pleasant little pit stop after dinner in Wawa. We saw it on a brochure and I didn’t realize there were such big falls nearby. We stopped by at sunset for a look.
Pukaskwa National Park
Another highlight, this park has a lot of great trails and views. There were so many hikes to choose from, it was hard to pick. We picked one that went along the water and through the forest. The forest had so much moss that as you walk through it was like a damper and it gets completely silent. You hear nothing. It’s eerie and beautiful. It reminded me of the Shire.
We got to a point where you could walk out and see the water and its vast glory. As you turn your head you see beautiful rocks and trees as the water crashes into it. It was like stepping into a Bob Ross painting.
This waterfall is so much bigger in person than pictures show. It’s a short walk from the parking lot down to the view. You can see the fall, as well as a few of Lake Superior. It’s an easy stop on a road trip, it only takes about 15 minutes to see.
Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
This park offered many hikes and beautiful views. We saw some smaller lakes within the park and gorgeous trees. We intended to canoe here, but canoe rental season hadn’t started yet, so we missed out on that. The park was lovely, as you can see.
We drove the car to the very top to see a sweeping view called Thunderbay Lookout. It sort of catches you off guard because you can see the view from far away but then as you walk out on the platform it’s suspended so it gives you a bit of a scare. If you are afraid of hikes, I would avoid this. If you love heights (like me), it’s a thrill you will love!
I found this lodge on Atlas Obscura. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is a place to stay and eat, but we just popped our head in to look. It’s very beautiful. Jared also got the coolest hat he’s ever bought.
World’s Best Donuts
Upon recommendation from the clerk at Naniboujou, we decided to stop in Grand Marais. We drove in and saw a sign for the World’s Best Donuts and a long line. We went through and got an assortment. And the sign is completely true. It was the best donut I’ve ever had. We were immediately sad we may never have these again. The plain cake and the raspberry jelly filled were so good. My mouth is watering while I type this.
Tettegouche State Park
We did a few hikes in this park and it had some amazing waterfalls. This park felt more like ones that we’ve seen out west. It was a beautiful forest, with suspended bridges over the rivers. I think I need to get a thesaurus so I can be more descriptive besides just saying “beautiful.” There were rocks, and trees, and rivers. It was the perfect combo.
Split Rock Lighthouse
They actually have a brochure with all the different views of the lighthouse and where to go to see it. I’m positive it’s because they get asked about these specific views so often, they have preemptively created a brochure. We used this handy guide to find the view I had seen. It was the perfect view of a traditional lighthouse.
Tetzner Dairy Farm
Because you gotta get some cheese curds when you’re in Wisconsin. We stopped by this dairy farm who has a self-serve fridge area. Prices are posted, and you leave the money in an envelope and take your items. We got string cheese, cheese curds, and some homemade ice cream sandwiches. Now, I can say I’ve experienced Wisconsin.
Upper Peninsula, Michigan
We didn’t stay here long because we didn’t fuel up ahead of time and all the sights within this park required a lot of driving. We saw one of the main views, and there were so many bugs. I saw people walking up with nets around their bodies and realized I was severely unprepared for this. It was still a great view!
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
When we arrived at our hotel, a local told us that if we do nothing else, do the boat tour through the National Park Service. It takes you to all the main rock formations on Lake Superior. It was well worth the money. It was sunny and breezy; my favorite combination. You learn lots about Lake Superior and how it compares to the other Great Lakes. You also get to see an adorable lighthouse that the folks who live on the island have repaired and maintained.
We didn’t do any hiking, because we have plans to come back soon and do that portion. There is so much to do in this area, including snowmobiling in the winter. We’d also like to rent kayaks next time!
The Lake Superior Circle Tour is a relatively inexpensive trip that’s filled with beauty and good donuts. It’s something that should be on your bucket list. We have now officially seen all five Great Lakes. They’re all different, with special characteristics that make them unique. If you haven’t been to Lake Superior, what are you waiting for?