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On the Way to Adventure

Posted on August 11th, 2015

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Sometimes how you get to the trailhead is almost as exciting as the hike itself. In this Trail Talk blog entry Jim DuFresne says that Colorado has nothing on Michigan in terms of exhilarating entries into the backcountry.

If you’re hoping to squeeze in one more hike or backpacking adventure before the end of summer, we have some suggestions for you. Actually we have more than 200 with downloadable maps at MichiganTrailMaps.com.

By Jim DuFresne

When my son announced last year that he and his wife were moving to Denver I asked what does Colorado have that Michigan doesn’t? He didn’t hesitate with the answer and he didn’t need many words.

Jim DuFresne

Jim DuFresne


“Okay, I’ll give you that,” I said. “But you’ll be back because we have something they don’t have; lots of water.”

I’m hoping Michael and Melissa might still return to Michigan someday. Meanwhile I have been to Denver three times already and discovered an intriguing and vibrant city.  With its cowboy roots and its hip reputation, this city of 650,000 seems to be constantly on the go. During the day every other car is topped with mountain bikes or skis or stuffed with backpacks. At night its legendary microbrews are bustling. The REI downtown is three sprawling floors of the latest equipment that will satisfy even the most addicted gear junky. There are always people out jogging with their dogs in this dog-loving city.

But the best thing to do in Denver is to leave it.

Mt. Princeton, one of Colorado's 58 fourteeners, peaks more than 14,000 feet high.

Mt. Princeton, one of Colorado’s 58 fourteeners, peaks more than 14,000 feet high.

Nothing inspires the desire to head outdoors like staring at those mountains to the west. And once an adventure has been organized, the drive across the Rockies sets the tone and ignites your passion for what lies ahead.

For me it was five days of fly fishing on the Arkansas River. Within 20 minutes of leaving the Mile High City I was winding through the foothills of the Rockies, passing places like Turkey Creek Canyon and Burning Bear Creek. At almost every bend there was a “Falling Rocks!” sign or others warning me of possible encounters with elk, mountain sheep or antelope.

Within an hour I could see one of Colorado’s famous fourteeners, a 14,000-foot peak rising distinctly above everything else, covered with alpine meadows and, in the second week of August, patches of snow. Less than two hours after leaving Denver I was at the apex of my drive, a pullover at Kenosha Pass, where at 10,001 feet I was standing at spot more than five times higher than any place in Michigan.

By the time I reached Buena Vista, the gateway for my fly fishing adventure, I was geeked. How could you not be?

I’ve experienced exhilarating entries into the backcountry before with one of the most unusual being in Alaska. In some small Southeast Alaskan town I’d board a floatplane stuffed with gear and Klepper kayaks that would rumble and roar across the water before finally getting airborne. Then it would take me high over mountains and glaciers where everything below was tiny and small even a humpback whale breaching. After we finally landed at some remote inlet and unloaded, I would watch that small plane disappear into the mountains, knowing then I was truly out there and on my own.

The Ranger III pulling into Rock Harbor at Isle Royale National Park.

The Ranger III from Houghton pulling into Rock Harbor at Isle Royale National Park.

But even here in Michigan, the land without mountains, you can kick off an adventure with a rush of adrenalin. To many of us the Upper Peninsula is the best destination for wilderness outings and driving across the Mackinac Bridge, seeing that remote slice of Michigan spread out below, sends a jolt of excitement through us that lasts all the way to Munising.

Even better is boarding a ferry to Isle Royale National Park from Houghton or Copper Harbor. When the boats enter the open waters of Lake Superior all you can see for the next few hours, other than seagulls or an occasional passing freighter, is the lake itself. On a cloudless day everything is blue.

Backpackers will stand next to the railing, mesmerized by the overwhelming size of the world’s largest body of fresh water, when suddenly sharp eyes will spot a thin dark line on the horizon. Soon everybody is out on the deck and excitement builds as that green line slowly becomes a rocky shoreline of towering pines.

When the boats finally pull into Rock Harbor everybody already has a keen sense of the solitude and isolation that is this roadless wilderness. It’s the only way to arrive at a trailhead and the best way to begin an adventure.

Any adventure whether there are mountains or not.

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3 thoughts on “On the Way to Adventure”

  1. Nice article. Having grown up in Michigan and lived in Colorado, what Colorado has going for it is close proximity between its big cities and the almost embarrassing amount of great trails.

    Yes, the UP is awesome, but if you’re like half the state’s population and live in SE Michigan, it’s an 4 hour + drive just to get to St. Ignace. That’s the problem. And say you do get a good job up north, then you’ve got to deal with way worse winters than you’d ever see in a city like Denver.

    Michigan has some great recreational opportunities, but you’ve got to work harder for it.

  2. Lag Dernstedt says:

    Um….it’s an utterly losing premise that Michigan compares favorably with Colorado for outdoor recreation. But comparisons have only limited value. Was Leonardo better than Picasso? Is Dayton prettier than Columbus? Those questions, like the one you imply here, make no sense.

    1. Have fun trying to find a place in Colorado to do some open water kayaking or witnessing major fall migrations where from one spot you’re looking at 30,000 birds and waterfowl passing through or finding an island that you can call your own for the weekend. Get my drift? I don’t think it’s such an “utterly losing premise.” And the blog wasn’t about which state has better outdoor recreation opportunities. It was about the excitement of embarking on a wilderness adventure, something you can generate in Colorado and Michigan but maybe not neccessarily in Iowa or Ohio.

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