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Posts Tagged ‘Michigan’

Don’t Overlook Copper Harbor, MI: Plan an Epic Outdoor Family Vacation

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So, you’re looking for that next family vacation idea? Copper Harbor, MI is one vacation destination you should not overlook. Ideal for families with active teens and pre-teens, Copper Harbor offers an epic outdoor adventure family vacation in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We brought our kids on a road trip and spent 6 wonderful days in Copper Harbor.

We discovered a friendly, quaint town set on the pristine shores of Lake Superior with world-class bike trails, hiking, gorgeous roadside parks, paddling in jaw-dropping beauty, and so much more. There are so many things to do in Copper Harbor, MI. It’s a spot like none other and we can’t wait to return. Bring the kids. You’re going to love it.

Things to do in Copper Harbor, MI

Things to Do in Copper Harbor, MI

Explore the Coast

Rocky beaches abound in Copper Harbor and so do the easily accessible roadside parks where you can enjoy them. You’ll want to spend some time soaking in the view and examining the extremely unique rocks along the shore. You’ll find agates with a variety of minerals and crystals trapped in volcanic basalt and other rocks.

We even purchased a small rock and mineral book at Grandpa’s Barn bookshop in town to help us learn what we were looking at.

These parks are all west of Copper Harbor and a very short drive from the town.

Copper Harbor, Lake Superior

Hunter’s Point Park

F4F5+WP, Copper Harbor, MI 49918

The red rocks that make up the beach at Hunter’s Point Park are stunning, and the power of Lake Superior is shocking on a windy day as the lake slams the huge conglomerate rock formations on the shore. On a warm day when the lake is calm, this would be a nice place to go for a little swim.

Devil’s Washtub in Copper Harbor

Devil’s Washtub is a rock formation on the coast of Lake Superior that looks remarkably like a giant bathtub at the bottom of a rocky cliff. It’s a short walk from the road to the washtub, along a large rock face. Devil’s Washtub is not a marked trail and it’s located on private property. The property owners have posted a sign that identifies the property as private and reminds guests to be responsible.

Devil's Washtub in Copper Harbor, MI
Where is Devil’s Washtub in Copper Harbor?

You’ll find the unmarked trail to Devil’s Washtub across from Dapple Gray B&B and Antiques.
13640 M-26, Eagle Harbor Twp, Michigan 49950

There is room on the shoulder to pull off the road and park. You’ll see several little trails. The trail closest to Copper Harbor will take you out to Devil’s Washtub, you’ll see the sign from the property owners reminding guests to be responsible. The other trails will take you to several other little rock formations and down to some pretty little rocky beach coves.

Hebard Wayside Park

F2HX+GR Eagle River, Michigan

Hebard Wayside Park has picnic and restrooms, located across the street, a rocky beach, and several rock outcroppings to explore. This is another place to examine some gorgeous rocks and enjoy the vast views of Lake Superior.

Esrey Park- Eagle Harbor

FW9V+F8 Mohawk, Allouez Township, MI

We visited Esrey Park on our last day in Copper Harbor. There are picnic facilities, a restroom, and another rocky beach. I liked the little trail walk along the rock ridge here, lots of places to see the beautiful lake views.

Biking Copper Harbor

The mountain bike trails in Copper Harbor are world-class. People come from all over for these trails. My husband and a couple of my kids had an amazing time biking. And, there are trails available for everyone.

Now for my biggest ever mom tip: If you haven’t been on a bike in more than a decade, do not let anyone convince you to come with them on an “intermediate” rated bike trail in Copper Harbor. There were tears and they weren’t from my kids, ok? Seriously, it was dumb and I’m lucky I didn’t get seriously hurt. The trails in Copper Harbor are hard (remember, world-class). My husband said the intermediate trail we tried was as hard as any black diamond he ever did at home.

Biking in Copper Harbor, MI

There are, however, nice easy gravel trails and comparatively flat-ish dirt trails toward Fanny Hooe and the Fort Wilkins Historic State Park area that I did truly enjoy. So, as much as we love to do things together on family road trips, this is one area where I’d recommend splitting up as ability allows.

Keweenaw Adventure Company in Copper Harbor rents excellent mountain bikes, so if you don’t have the ability to cart your own gear up there, they are an excellent option. Rentals are offered for 2 hours, 5 hours or all day. The fee depends on the type of bike you want to rent, but they start around $40 and go up from there.

Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale National Park is the least visited national park in the lower 48 states. It’s an island and you’ll need to cross Lake Superior to get it. There are a few towns with boat and plane companies that offer to transportation to the island and one of them Isle Royale Queen IV is based on Copper Harbor.

Roundtrip fare on the Isle Royale Queen IV is $160 for adults and $115 for kids 15 and under.

Isle Royale Queen IV

The trip over will take about 3 1/2 hours. Many people camp or stay in the lodge on the island. Others choose to do a day trip from Copper Harbor while they are in the area. If you choose the day trip option you’ll have a 3 1/2 boat ride across Superior, about 2 1/2 to 3 hours on the island, and a 3 1/2 hour boat ride back. It’s enough time for a hike along beautiful trails with gorgeous coast views and opportunities to relax on the shore. You may even catch a glimpse of a moose!

Hiking in Isle Royale National Park

On the boat ride you’ll get to view both the coast of Copper Harbor, including the Copper Harbor Lighthouse, and the coast of Isle Royale. In the middle, there’s a lot of water. The boat has comfortable seating and tables and sells coffee and snacks. Plus, you can bring whatever lunch or other food you’d like. There are restrooms on board.

An Isle Royale day trip is a long day, but worth it in my opinion. Not too many people can say they’ve visited Isle Royale National Park and the views are magnificent.

Don’t forget the bug spray!

Paddling: Kayaks and SUPs

We brought our inflatable stand-up paddle boards from home and we enjoyed paddling on an inland lake, Lac La Belle, as well as along the coast of Lake Superior. But, if you don’t have your own boards or kayaks, you can also rent stand-up paddle boards from Keweenaw Adventure, as well as kayaks. They’ll even deliver them to the inland lake of your choice.

Lake Fanny Hooe is right in Copper Harbor, and there are a couple of other options nearby, too. These lakes are generally smooth and warmer than Lake Superior. They are often a much safer paddle than Superior offers.

If you want to paddle on Lake Superior though, you’ll need to bring your own equipment or join a guided tour that provides equipment. Rentals are for inland lakes only.

While paddling Lake Superior is extremely beautiful, the water is very cold and the wind and waves can change very rapidly. Hypothermia can be a real threat and paddlers should proceed with caution and only attempt a paddle on Superior when conditions are favorable and have contingency plans in place if conditions change.

For example, we drove the coastal road prior to our paddle and noted several places we could bail and get off the water. Then, I paddled our route with my older kids and my husband stayed behind. When he went out with our youngest, we planned for me to pick them up at the end of their paddle, rather than having them return. I knew their route and could follow them at several points on the coast in our van.

The water was 39 degrees, so, knowing the closest point to pick them up and keeping an eye on them was important.

Don’t forget life jackets and a waterproof whistle.

That said, we put in our boards at Hebard Park and paddled along the shore to Devil’s Washtub so we could paddle under the arch. It was stunningly beautiful.

Shopping

The town of Copper Harbor is not large, but there are a few very nice shops you should check out while you’re in the area. Here are two of my favorites!

Grandpa’s Barn

This bookshop has a wide selection of books on the area, as well as popular fiction and non-fiction for adults and kids. We picked up a book on agates and other rocks and minerals here, as well as a few other things to read on our trip. You’ll find this little gem in the barn behind the schoolhouse. The barn once belonged to the owner’s grandfather, hence the name.

Laughing Loon

The Laughing Loon has lots of unique gifts and products from local artisans, plus books, puzzles, plus a wide selection of t-shirts and the typical gift shop fare.

Where to Eat: Restaurants and Groceries in Copper Harbor

There are a few restaurants to fuel your adventure, and one grocery store in Copper Harbor. There are a number of places where you can scroll through a list of Copper Harbor restaurants, but here are the places we visited and enjoyed.

Jamsen’s Coffee and Bakery

On the dock in Copper Harbor is Jamsen’s Coffee and Bakery. It is the spot to be for your morning coffee, with picnic tables and Adirondack chairs facing the water. You can order coffee, plus donuts, pastries, muffins, and breakfast sandwiches.

Note: This used to also be a fish market. They no longer sell fish, but you’ll see that name pop up on maps and Google. Don’t let that confuse you.

Jamsen's Bakery and Coffee in Copper Harbor, MI

The Genny: Gas-Lite General Store

The Genny is Copper Harbor’s only grocery store. It’s well stocked with both staples and local goods. We picked up a few things for dinner here, got snacks for hikes and bike rides, and picked up some local beer. It’s a cute shop with friendly, funny staff. Prices were comparable to grocery stores elsewhere in the UP. So while you may want to pick up supplies are your way into town, you can definitely get anything you forgot and a whole lot more here at the Genny.

Brickside Brewery

Local beer and a food truck alongside the building serves yummy pizza, pitas, and pretzels is what you’ll find at Brickside Brewery. Super friendly people, and the food truck was a great option for lunch. The food was good, and we saved a little money over a regular restaurant because we didn’t need to tip a server.

Lake Effect Bar & Grill

Right across from the Keweenaw Adventure Company bike shop, Lake Effect has indoor and outdoor seating. After our bike ride experience, I declared a burger and a beer were next on the to-do list, Lake Effect Bar & Grill did not disappoint.

More in Copper Harbor

Does Copper Harbor offer more? Yeah, in the winter there’s downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. The locals said the town does a good job keeping roads clear of snow and that winter is actually one of the most beautiful times to visit. I can’t comment personally on any of that, but I sure do hope we get to go one winter. Although, I haven’t cross-country skied in a couple of decades either. Let’s hope that goes better than the bikes. Fall colors would be stunning, too.

Lake Superior paddle board

Tips for Traveling in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

  1. Keep your gas tank full. If you’re driving up through the UP to Copper Harbor, Michigan, your gas station options will spread out a little. The big-ish town in Copper Harbor is Houghton. Fill up there.
  2. Take your time, pull over when you see signs at bakeries with pasties. They are good, and a unique historically significant food for the copper country. Originally an area full of mines, the pasties could be kept in miners’ pockets, kept warm, and eaten at lunch.
  3. Bring bug spray. Good bug spray. Wear bug spray. The mosquitos were thick in June in the woods. They weren’t bad in town, but around our vacation rental and out on the trails, they were plentiful. Bug spray is good. Those burning bug-repellent sticks helped by the campfire at night, too. Don’t let this keep you from visiting Copper Harbor, I hate bugs, and even I think it was worth it!
  4. Ask. All the locals we met were eager to share their favorite spots on the Keweenaw Peninsula and recommendations.
  5. Don’t forget water shoes! The rocks are smooth but hard on your feet, and some of the inland lakes are a little muddy on the bottom.
  6. You will not have cell service in most places in Copper Harbor. Pro-tip is to use the wifi at Jamsen’s when you get your coffee to load directions to the park or the destination you plan to visit.

The Reptarium: Tour Michigan’s Amazing All-Reptile Zoo

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Have you heard of the Reptarium located in Utica, Michigan? This all-reptile zoo is an amazing spot for everyone from hardcore reptile fans to those with just a mild interest and curiosity about these fun creatures. It’s quite an educational adventure, and you will learn loads and loads. We thoroughly enjoyed our tour and we’re sharing all about it so you’ll know what to expect when you plan your family visit to the Reptarium!

Learning at the Reptarium in Utica, Michigan

The Reptarium offers both general admission options and private tour experiences. We took a highly interactive one-hour private tour at the Reptarium on a recent family road trip. Our tour guide was a wealth of information and we got to hold and pet many of the Reptarium’s animals.

This article includes:
What is the Reptarium?
How to Visit the Reptarium
What reptiles are at the Reptarium?

What is the Reptarium?

The Reptarium is a reptile zoo located in Utica, Michigan. Famous on YouTube, the Reptarium shows its animals to the world in regular videos, teaching about reptiles and conservation through their animal ambassadors. There are more than 150 animals housed at the Reptarium.

Visiting the Reptarium

Those who’d like to go to the Reptarium in person have a couple of options including general admission with various add-ons, and private tours.

Monitor at the Reptarium

General Admission

General admission costs $11.99 to $14.99 per person. Your general admission ticket is good for one hour in the Reptarium, which should be plenty of time. However, big reptile fans may want more time in which case they can purchase two hours. Tickets are time reserved, to limit the number of people in the space at any given time. So, you won’t be fighting through a crowd to see the animals.

General admission hours are on Thursdays from 3 pm to 7 pm, Fridays and Saturdays from 4 pm to 9 pm, and Sundays from 3 pm to 8 pm.

You can book your Reptarium general admission tickets online.

Private Tours

Private tours are available every day except Tuesdays. Our family chose this option initially because we were traveling through the area on a Monday and as there are no general admission times on Mondays, it was the only option that would allow us to visit.

But, that said, the private experience was truly wonderful. Our tour guide knew so much and gave us so many opportunities to hold animals and ask questions. We had her undivided attention for the entire hour, which really was a fabulous educational experience. We were the only guests during our tour, so there were no distractions and no waiting to get to any exhibits.

Tortoises at the Reptarium

Because the footprint of the Reptarium is small, and my kids were very engaged and interested, this was absolutely the right choice for our family and what I would recommend for others if they can afford the higher price point.

Private tours cost $300 and they can include up to 10 people. If you’d like more information or to book a tour, email tours@thereptarium.com.

Helen the snake with no eyes at the Reptarium

Our Favorite Reptiles at the Reptarium

There are over 150 animals to see at the Reptarium. We loved seeing, interacting with, and holding so many of them. Here are just a couple that really worked their way into our hearts.

Our tour began with Helen. She’s a python that was born with no eyes. A number of us had never held a snake before and somehow, having no eyes, this sweet little snake seemed somehow less threatening. She was a great reptile to start with and remained one of our favorites.

Perdita, named after the famous Dalmatian in 101 Dalmatians is a much larger reticulated python. I would never in a million years have said “Sure, I’ll hold this giant snake around my shoulders” but our tour guide was so confident and calm and things had gone so well with Helen, so….why not. I held a giant python. I mean, that’s not the type of thing you get to try to do every day, right? Got to try it. (And I figured if I did it, some of my boys who were a little hesitant would try it. Cool mom and all that.) She was so surprisingly smooth and HEAVY. My husband and a couple of the kids held her as well.

Nova is a frilled lizard. But when his frills aren’t out, they lay back against his body and look very similar to a rabbit with long, long ears pushed back against its body. He was so sweet and tolerated all of us holding and petting him. We thought he was one of the cutest guys at the Reptarium.

Turtles are a family favorite and there are lots of turtles and tortoises to see. We got to walk around with some of the red-footed tortoises and hold some of the turtles in the pond, including some really cute little albino turtles.

Sunshine is the very large yellow python you see in our family photo. She’s a big ambassador for the reptarium and is quite used to being held. Amazingly heavy, and with a beautiful sunny pattern (hence her name) she was the last animal on our tour.

Family photo with Sunshine the python.

In addition to these animals we got to interact with bearded dragons, Uromastyx, monitors, a false water cobra and lots of other snakes, and my daughter even held a tarantula. She was the only one brave enough.

Family tips for visiting the Reptarium

  1. Go with an open mind. Think you won’t want to hold a huge snake? You might change your mind.
  2. Ask questions. Tour guides can’t read your mind and there really are no stupid questions when it comes to reptiles. You’ll learn more if you ask!
  3. Hey parents, your kids’ enthusiasm for these creatures can be contagious if you let it be. You’ll have a better family experience if join in. Hold the animals and ask questions, too.
  4. Remember that these are animals. They poop. One lizard got my shoe when I was holding it. (Good thing he was cute.) It apparently doesn’t happen very often, but, you know. Be prepared. Wear something washable.
  5. Use hand sanitizer AFTER your visit. Don’t use it before you go in. It’s not good for the animals.
  6. If you’re on a road trip, stop and use the restroom before you get to the Reptarium. You don’t want to waste any of your tour time, there’s too much to see!

Where to Stay Near The Reptarium

Use the map below to locate hotels and vacation rentals near the Reptarium. The map below comes from Stay22 and Kidding Around earns when you book through the map’s links.

The Reptarium
45559 Van Dyke Ave Utica, MI 48317

Nearby: Grab a bite

If you’re on a road trip to the area, you’ll find a lovely little coffee shop just down the road from the Reptarium, called Northern Grind. They have the usual array of coffee and coffee beverages, plus smoothies, sandwiches, and treats. It was the perfect spot for us to grab lunch after our tour before we hit the road again.

educational travel and day trips

Looking for more places to travel where you can learn something new? We have lots of great ideas!

Here’s our Educational Travel Guide