Mayhem Up North in Michigan
Updated: Jul 12, 2021
Mom’s Take / Daughter's Take
Finally! Michigan has opened back up. The COVID closures forced many canceled plans, and let’s be honest...some depression. But, things are changing, and it was finally time for a family vacation!
My first choice for a summer vacay was to rent an RV for a trip to Yellowstone, but after looking at the exorbitant price of gas, and the poor gas mileage on RVs, my husband was not on board with this trip idea. Although I had to agree that the price was a bit much, I was so frustrated. We had to get out of here! So, I pulled out the standard Michigan summer vacation plan that could not be turned down -- going up north. We have been Michiganders most of our lives, so heading “up north” (basically anywhere north of Lansing) during the summer is a standard getaway, and a quick trip to Mackinaw Island was planned.
When Mom told my siblings and me that we were going up north, the reaction was a bit confused. Hadn’t we been to most of the interesting places in the U.P already? Mackinac is a pretty small island; there is only so much to do out there. I was initially a little sad that I would have to forgo the famous Mackinac fudge again (peanut allergy), but I was still looking forward to the trip. I wanted to get out of town! I missed out on the last family vacation because I was away at school, so I was ready to embrace this one.
It’s more of an experience to go over the Mackinaw bridge and stay in the U.P. So, I booked a hotel in St. Ignace, just over the bridge. The rates are much better than staying on the Island, and there is no smell of horse manure -- a huge plus!
Of course, when we finally reached the bridge after a 4-hour drive, none of the kids were looking out the windows. I swear they would rather see the bridge on their phones. When we got across, we stopped at a convenience store as soon as possible for Dad snacks (food for a hangry dad that had been driving the whole way) and then drove a few miles to Castle Rock.
On the first day, we got up a little early in the morning and started the drive. My dad was definitely tired and hungry, so we begged him to stop for food to avoid his hangry-ness. Otherwise, the drive was pretty boring up until we got to the Mackinac bridge. The bridge is always fun to drive over, particularly during the descent down the back half. My siblings and I looked out the windows and tried to judge at what height it would become safe to jump off the side (hypothetically) as we got closer to land. After that, we made a brief pitstop to try and get some more food for my dad, who was clearly hungry again, and then we headed out to some little rock pillar sticking out of the trees just off the road. Castle Rock, apparently.
Castle Rock is fun if you have nothing else to do and want to climb lots of stairs. The view was pretty good, but not sure it is worth a special trip. It was perfect for us since we were searching for some things to do in the area. Bonus -- the gift store is air-conditioned and has some weird items, and there is a “hidden” Bigfoot. Oh, and there is a Paul Bunyan statue that we just had to get pictures with. You gotta make it fun.
I was a little underwhelmed by the way it looked as we approached. When my mom told us we would be going to Castle Rock, I had pictured a big rock tower- but it certainly didn’t look that way from the outside. However, once we made our way to the bottom, near the giant Paul Bunyan statue (who was weirdly sitting down on what looked like a toilet), we realized the way up was a lot higher than it looked from the road.
I appreciated the stairs up to Castle Rock because I had been sitting in the car all day and was feeling like a bit of a blob. Stretching our legs and making it up to the little natural overlook was a good experience. It shows you how much of the U.P. is made up of trees -- basically, all of it. It felt cool and sort of untouched by civilization aside from the road out front.
The next stop was the Garlyn Zoo Wildlife Park, which was about 30 minutes from Castle Rock. Looking for unique places to visit, I found this zoo tucked into the woods with minimal enclosures for prime animal viewing. It also meant that there was prime animal smelling. My goodness -- the smell in some areas was pungent! Stay clear of the deer enclosure -- Woah!
The Garlyn Zoo and Wildlife Park is a total hidden gem. The whole zoo was sort of in the woods, and so all of the animal enclosures were roped and fenced off right next to each other. You could walk all the way around some of them to see every angle. It felt like we got up close and personal with every animal there, which you don’t often get to do at other zoos. Plus, all the animals were up and active! I guess we came around feeding time, and that was really cool.
The zoo visit took only about two hours, and it was a lot of fun. The best part was watching the two bears playing in the water with their pet dog. Yes, they have a dog in the bear enclosure, and that dog plays with the bears. He was actually poking the bears with a stick to get their attention! I think the kids' favorite part of the zoo was the baby bunnies. They let you pet them -- so cute! Bunnies at the zoo are super easy to love. You just absorb all the cuteness and leave the mess to the keepers. Yes, we had a bunny, and the cage cleaning was not the best.
There was also a little bunny pen where they had baby and adult bunnies that you could reach in and pet. I don’t think petting zoos ever have enough bunnies, so I was excited to pet some. After we had our fill of the animals, we drove back and stopped at a bridge along the way. Cut River Bridge, I think?
Yes, on the way back to St. Ignace, we stopped at Cut River Bridge. Thankfully, it was on the way because it did not look like much. Kids would not even get out of the car at first when we pulled off the road. But, when you walk down the stairs next to the bridge, you see that the bridge goes over a wooded ravine and is made up of an intricate green metal structure with arches. You can also take a short walk down to the lake and sit awhile on a secluded beach. Several natural springs bubble up on the beach. I have never seen anything like it right on a beach. When you walk in the water near the spring, it feels like you put your feet in a bucket of ice water. But, as you walk away from the spring, your feet warm up, and it makes Lake Michigan feel warm!
When we drove over the top of the bridge, we weren’t even sure we were at the right place. It seemed like a little cement bridge over nothing, so I didn’t even get out of the car right away. But, when I got out and walked down underneath the bridge, it was like a whole different world! The bridge was giant and green on the bottom, and we were able to climb around underneath it and get some cool pictures. There was also a little path leading down to a sort of secret beach.
We spent over an hour at this stop, exploring the bridge and the lake. We were the only ones on the beach, and it was so peaceful. The water and the sand felt great, and we got some Instagram-worthy pictures. Mom, for the win! The family was skeptical of this stop, but I was vindicated!
The beach was really pretty. There were a couple of springs that led into the water, which were FREEZING but cool to see. There were also snakes, which made me a little nervous, but they were small and cute, and I just watched where I stepped. We spent some time there and then went back to the hotel in St. Ignace. I was glad that we were staying in St. Ignace rather than Mackinac Island. The hotel was bigger, and it didn’t smell like horse poop!
My siblings and I walked over to the pool to do an evening hot tub before calling it a night. On the way back, we checked out a little pond behind our room and found A LOT of screaming frogs, and that was kind of funny.
Day 1 of this trip was definitely a success.
(smirk) Mom, for the win!