Planning a Circle Tour of Lake Superior
For a great vacation, follow the shores of Lake Superior.
© Beth Gauper
The Sawtooth Mountains rise behind Grand Marais and its harbor on Minnesota's North Shore.
Of all the vacations a person can take in this region, a Circle Tour of Lake Superior may be the best.
It appeals to waterfall watchers, lighthouse fans and history buffs. It's a magnet for kayakers and hikers. It makes a great honeymoon and also a great family trip, because small children adore the many pebble beaches.
You can do it in a car or a motorcycle; you can camp or stay in motels. It’s all things to all people, the perfect vacation for anyone who loves the outdoors.
However, planning the 1,300-mile Circle Tour isn't easy, because you need a new place to stay every night or two. It would be nice to be able to stop when you feel like it, but in summer, you risk being turned away or getting the worst place in town.
So it's best to reserve a place for every night. Late winter and spring is the time to start nailing down plans.
I've gone on the Circle Tour twice, once in late June-early July and once in late July. I went clockwise the first time, counterclockwise the second.
Both worked; how you plan depends on what you want to do along the way.
Here are tips to get you started.
For an overview of what you'll see on the trip, see Circling Superior.
For a 10-day, nine-night sample itinerary, with a list of the best places to stay, see Lake Superior's greatest hits.
When to go: Late May and June are least crowded and rates usually are lower, though weather is unpredictable and black flies are heaviest.
From mid-June, festivals, attractions and tours are at full throttle. Canadian schools don't get out until the end of June, so tourism is light there until then.
Blueberry-picking season starts in late July. On the south shore, swimming is best in August.
Fall colors can be spectacular — expect peak the last week of September and the first week of October — but
weather may be chilly and even blustery.
In Ontario, Fort William and campgrounds at parks along Lake Superior close after the first week of October. For more, see Circle Tour of Lake Superior in September and October.
© Beth Gauper
If you're staying in Duluth, plan around the big festivals at Bayfront Park.
How to plan: First, get Lake Superior magazine’s annual Travel Guide, which comes with a map. The guide is free with a subscription or
available at newsstands and bookstores.
Or, call for the map alone (free, but postage and handling is $2.95).
Consult the guide's map chart and decide how much time you want to spend driving each day. Then, see if there's an event you want to catch and build your itinerary around that.
Grandma's Marathon weekend, June 21-23, also packs the town.
Other Duluth festivals: July 4, Fourth Fest, with a big
fireworks show. July 13, All Pints North Summer Brew Fest.
July 20, Bayfront Reggae & World Music Festival. Aug. 2-4, Bayfront Jam Music Festival. Aug. 9-11, Bayfront
The tall ships also are coming July 19-21 to Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
People who like to watch Great Lakes freighters should be in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., June 28 for Engineers Day, when the public can walk across the lock walls. On June 29, join the International Bridge Walk.
There's a Great Tugboat Parade through the locks June 28 and Great Tugboat Races June 29.
Canada Day is July 1 and celebrated in Canadian towns everywhere.
In Thunder Bay, events include Blues Festival, July 5-7. Reserve early for July 19-21, when there are three events: the Dragon Boat Race Festival, July 19-20; Celtic Fair at Fort William, July 19-21, and Lake Superior Day July 21, with the Norwegian tall ship Sørlandet in port July 21-22.
In Red Rock, east of Thunder Bay, the Live From the Rock Folk Festival is Aug. 9-11.
© Torsten Muller
Kakabeka Falls in Thunder Bay often is called the Niagara of the North.
Paradise, Mich., near Whitefish Point Shipwreck Museum, celebrates Wild Blueberry Festival Aug. 16-18.
In White River, Ont., the home of the bear that inspired Winnie the Pooh, Winnie's Hometown Festival is Aug. 16-18.
Crossing borders: U.S. citizens 16 and over need a passport or passport card. For details and updates, check government requirements.
Children need a birth certificate or other proof of citizenship. If you’re bringing a child who is not your own, you need notarized consent from both parents.
And don't bring the family pit bull — Ontario bans pit bulls.
Motorcyclists: Helmets are required in Michigan and Ontario. If you try to cross the Canadian border without one, you'll be turned away.
Bicyclists: It's a long slog on the more remote stretches in Ontario, especially between Marathon and Sault Ste.
Marie. People do it, but it doesn't look fun.
To do a partial Circle Tour on the less-isolated southern part and also see Isle Royale, take the ferry from Grand Portage, Minn., to Rock Harbor and then another ferry to Copper Harbor, Mich.
For more, see Isle Royale
© Beth Gauper
Pictured Rocks sightseeing boats pass the wooden lighthouse on Grand Island.
Ontario’s North of Superior, 800-265-3951.
Pukaskwa National Park (pronounced PUCK-a-saw), 807-229-0801. Campers shouldn't miss this large and beautiful park along Lake Superior.
Most people in cars bypass it because it's a 40-minute detour each way from the Trans-Canada Highway.
Lake Superior Provincial Park, 705-882-2026.
Wawa, 800-367-9292, Ext. 260.
Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., 705-949-7152.
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