Driving the Huron Bay-Peshekee River Grade was serendipitous, and one of the highlights of our visit to the central part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Our search for moose brought us to The Grade. There are signs, brochures and displays about the moose all over the area around Michigamme where we camped. Shops sell t-shirts and hats adorned with their likeness. Restaurants are even named for them, like The Moose Drop Inn.
Being from the southern Lower Peninsula, where we usually only encounter wildlife when our cars make unfortunate contact with a deer on a dark road, so we were excited about the possibility of seeing a moose in the woods. Armed with some vague directions from a park ranger, we set off west on U.S. 41. It was early evening, the time moose typically venture out to marshes and rivers to eat.
There were a few different roads branching off 41 we were told we could try. We turned down the Huron Bay-Peshekee River Grade going north, because it was the first road that looked passable. The road was paved for the first few miles, but still incredibly bumpy, so it was slow going. It’s an old railroad bed that was never used, because as soon as it was built, it was deemed unsafe. When they decided to turn it into a road, they just buried the ties with sand and gravel, which is why it’s so rough.
We were in the woods, no doubt, with thick, tall trees on either side. Then on our left the forest opened up, and we were driving along the beautiful, swift flowing Peshekee River. It’s a wild, wilderness waterway with pines growing along its banks. This is something else you don’t find in the southern Lower Peninsula. We gazed out the windows of the truck, slack-jawed, just like good tourists do. The silence was broken occasionally with, “Oh, look at that! It’s so beautiful! Wow!”
We followed the river for several miles. Here and there we saw a few small houses and cabins. We passed the McCormick Tract Wilderness Area that’s part of the Ottawa National Forest, then the pavement ended. The houses and cabins disappeared too. We crossed a few different bridges, and went through passes that were cut through the hard rock of the Huron Mountains. Yes, Michigan has mountains. Very small as far as mountains go, but mountains just the same.
The road narrowed so that there was no way two vehicles traveling opposite directions could pass each other. Then you could hear us mumbling things like, “…the middle of nowhere…” and, “Are you sure you have enough gas?”
Eventually we came to a bridge that crossed a marsh. It looked like the perfect place to spot moose. We waited, but never saw any. We drove a little farther and came to another bridge that wasn’t more than a few loose boards laid across a metal frame.
Then the road turned into a muddy two-track and forked. It was getting dark. The roads weren’t marked with signs anymore. The GPS wasn’t getting a signal, and we didn’t know which way to go. Stories about people who go off the main road and are found dead weeks later in the wilderness circulated through our minds. Without 4-wheel drive to keep us from getting stuck and no map, we decided it was best to turn around. We did have two kids in the back of the truck after all.
We never came across a moose, but I’m so glad we went looking. The scenery along the Huron Bay-Peshekee River Grade was well worth the drive. We all agreed it was more interesting than Disney World. (We’re a strange lot, and maybe the only family in America who isn’t all that impressed with Mickey Mouse.)
Back at the campground, where the internet on our cell phones worked, we found out the road is the “long way” to L’Anse and Lake Superior. It wanders through some of the most rugged terrain in the Upper Peninsula, and portions of it are often impassable.
There were trails and old abandoned logging roads branching off The Grade all along the way. One trail leads to a waterfall. Craig Lake State Park, the most remote in Michigan, is on the west side of the river. There are lakes down some of the other roads where folks have off-grid camping cabins. The North Country Trail runs through the McCormick Tract near the Peshekee. People also kayak and fly fish on the river. In the winter, the road isn’t plowed, but people snowmobile and snowshoe.
Sometimes you visit a place, and you can’t get it out of your head, even days and weeks after you’re home. The Peshekee River is one of those places for me. I’ve even dreamed about it in my sleep. I want one of those cabins on the river. In the summer I’d fish from the backyard. In the winter I’d cozy up to the wood stove with a book. It seems like a good place for an introvert.
He’s a 15 second video of the tranquility you’ll find along the Peshekee River.
I do know there’s a lot left to explore along the Huron Bay-Peshekee River Grade, and I’ll be back. I’d love to hike some of the trails and take a 4-wheel drive all the way to L’Anse. I’m not much for kayaking, but I’d fly fish in the Peshekee. And it must be even more stunning in the fall with the trees ablaze in color.
If you find yourself on U.S. 41 headed for L’Anse, turnoff onto the Huron Bay-Peshekee River Grade. Even if you just go a few paved miles, the views are amazing.