We had had a soggy start and departure from our campsites on Madeline Island and by the time the ferry had crossed the 2.6 miles and back to the mainland and the charming town of Bayfield, WI it was already time for lunch so we opted to eat there before beginning our drive. Thankfully, the sun had come out and we had a charming afternoon in the quaint town exploring and eating.
Jack generally naps shortly after lunch so we were hopeful that he would follow his normal routine and nap through most of the 123 mile drive that was ahead of us. We got really lucky and not only did Jack nap throughout the entire trip he also slept through a quick pitstop at the grocery store for a resupply. He awoke as we arrived at Union Bay Campground, one of two campgrounds within Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park located in the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan.
The park itself has two large campgrounds. Union Bay is the modern campground with 100 sites all with electrical service. There is little to no vegetative screening between sites and is much more of an open field. If you are fortunate enough to get one of the 29 sites situated right along the lakeshore you don’t really mind the closeness of neighbors. The campground has a newly built shower house with excellent facilities. Separate and single shower rooms makes the whole campground shower thing so much more appealing. There is also a laundry room with coin operated washer and dryer that was, unfortunately, not yet open while we were there. There was a sketchy swing set with two swings that Jack enjoyed but there was no real playground.
The other major campground within the park is Presque Isle. This is a primitive campground located on the opposite end of the park and actually in another time zone! The state park is so vast it spans two time zones which really explained why the shower buildings cleaning schedule was so specific as to the time zone! This campground has 50 tent sites, some of the them walk-in, and no shower building. Privies are scattered around. While we were there nobody was camped there and we weren’t surprised as it isn’t directly on the water and the sites are spread out in a flat field with no vegetative screening.
The park also offers many backcountry site options as well as cabins and yurts that are available for rent. Seeing all the backcountry options on our map had us dreaming of returning and doing some overnight backpacking trips with the kids next year!
We had seen signs indicating the visitor center as we arrived but had continued straight towards the campground and were happy we had chosen correctly. A small ranger outpost is located at the entrance and we were able to register there. We had to obtain a “Recreation Passport” for the state of MI before gaining entry. At only $9 a day for non-residents the two day pass made more financial sense to us versus the $31 annual permit fee, since we don’t plan on going to any other MI state parks within the next year.
As we had driven up to the small ranger outpost we couldn’t help but notice that the young ranger who was busy planting flowers in a small flower box had pants, long sleeves, a hat, and mosquito netting draped over her head. I scoffed thinking she wouldn’t last long as a ranger if she required so much protection from bugs. Then, I stepped out of the truck and was soon scampering to get back in. The swarm of gnats that seemed to have engulfed the park was beyond anything I have ever experienced. To continue the theme of this trip I was grateful for our camper and grateful for the screen tent my parents had brought along.
As Bobby checked in the ranger informed him that we had secured “the best spot in the campground” using the reservation system beforehand. The campground had only a dozen or so other campers there, mostly other RVs but there were a couple of brave tenters out as well. The dump station and water spigot were directly next to the entrance so filled up our tanks before making our way to the campsites.
Our campsites really couldn’t have been any closer to the lake. Our door opened directly onto the beautiful scene of Lake Superior stretching before us majestically.
The day was chilly and there was a slight breeze coming off of the lake. Thankfully, down near the shores of the lake the gnats weren’t swarming and it was nice to find a small reprieve from them. I found myself grateful that they are attracted to the tallest spot which means they generally left Jack alone. Occasionally one would get near his ears or eyes and he would be displeased but more often than not he played and frolicked totally unconcerned by the quiet buzz.
During the drive to the park we had switched timezones and we found ourselves in the Eastern Time Zone, one hour ahead of Central Time. We opted to not switch Jack’s schedule and remain on Central time. Still, dinner time was rapidly approaching and before long we were all snug in our beds as the wind howled outside and the waves crashed against the rocks and lulled us to sleep.
The following day we were faced with an entire day to spend exploring this enormous state park. At just under 60,000 acres it is the largest state park in the state of Michigan and felt much more like a National Park than a state park.
We all explored Lake of the Clouds together before dinner that night and we weren’t disappointed by the incredible views that were beyond easy to access at only a 300 foot walk from the parking lot! There were two ways to access the pair of overlooks, the higher was accessed using a steeper paved trail while the lower lookout was accessed using an ADA boardwalk. We went up high first and checked out the big view.
We then went to the lower section and checked out the boardwalk back down.
If you are in the park this really is worth the stop and a quick peak! There really is no excuse for not checking it out!
During our visit we stopped in at the visitor center and weren’t disappointed with lots of helpful interpretive information. A movie was shown in the small theater and taxedermized animals were on display. The black bear made Jack shriek and run to me for protection. There was a large and helpful 3D topographic map table of the park that was really interesting to study. A ranger was on hand to answer questions and it had bathroom facilities. There was also a small gift shop that was possibly the most crammed gift shop I had ever been in.
Also within the park, and the spot to buy firewood should you choose to have a fire at night, is the Porcupine Mountain Outpost shop.
Seeing as they sold ice cream and we wanted to purchase some firewood we had to stop in and check it out! It was a really fun shop not nearly as claustrophobic as the small one at the park headquarters. They offer several soft serve options including cones, bowls, and mixed ice cream treats! Bobby and I each got our favorite mixers (Butterfinger and M&M respectively) and we headed outside to endure the gnats and enjoy our ice cream. We had a great time sitting in the giant chair they have set out eating our ice cream and giggling with Jack who was pleased as punch by the fun toy we had gotten him while at the shop. They were selling magnetic rocks and he was beaming with excitement as he played with them.
We ended our stay at this incredible park with a fire on the lakeshore and some campfire treats! Jack was grumpy but the ice cream cone filled with marshmallows, strawberries, bananas, and chocolate chips cheered him up in no time!
I swear we really do eat other, and more nutritious things, while out camping but the fun stuff is what we all remember and crave!
This park truly is gorgeous and definitely worth the visit! We know that this is sure to become a family favorite throughout the years. We can’t wait to come back and explore more of the trails, the backcountry sites, and all that this beautifully protected park has to offer to users.