Monthly Archives: August 2019

Campground Review: Smoky Bear Campground, Gatlinburg, TN

017Campground Review Summary

  • Name: Smoky Bear Campground & RV Park
  • Dates of stay: August 27-29, 2019
  • Location: 4857 East Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN
  • Type of campground: Private / Independent
  • Cost: $60/night
  • Additional fees: none
  • Stay limit: no
  • Accepts mail / packages: did not ask
  • Cell reception: AT&T good
  • Website:
  • Pros: great location, nice amenities
  • Cons: cost, not satellite friendly

Full Review

We made a last-minute short-term booking here to take care of some business in Gatlinburg (we own a cabin here). Approaching the Labor Day holiday weekend, availability was very limited, but we were able to squeeze out 3 days here.

It is an older campground, but there are a few sites that are big-rig capable. Maneuvering the one-way one-lane road is do-able with care. Our site was a pull-through concrete site that was solid, but surprisingly unlevel (2% grade side to side). It has been surprisingly difficult lately to find a truly level site! We managed for a short stay.

The full hookups worked great – 30/50 amp electric, water and sewer. Due to trees, none of the sites are satellite-friendly. We did pick up a limited selection of over the air channels and the campground said they provide basic cable, but we didn’t try it. The free wifi, was quite decent. The site also provided a picnic table and fire ring. The sites have typical commercial campground spacing – not a ton of space, but it’s acceptable to us.

The campground has a nice, if small, pool and a hot tub! The bath house is modern and all of the amenities are squeaky clean. The campground even comes with a friendly campground kitty cat.

The location is great if you stay here on vacation. It’s about 25 minutes to downtown Gatlinburg and all of the attractions and amenities. Cosby is in the other direction, and our favorite restaurant (Apple Barn Restaurant and Farmer’s market barn) is about 15 minutes in the other direction.  It’s a bit pricey by our standards, but typical for the area. They don’t do weekly/monthly rates, only daily rates. Due to the area’s popularity, they can get it.

Bottom Line: A bit pricey, but a nice campground in a great area.

Campground Review: D&W Lake RV Park, Champaign, IL

003Campground Review Summary

  • Name: D&W Lake RV Park
  • Dates of stay: 8/25/19
  • Location: 411 W Hensley Rd, Champaign, IL 61822
  • Type of campground: Private / Independent
  • Cost: $30/night
  • Additional fees: none
  • Stay limit: none
  • Accepts mail / packages: did not ask
  • Cell reception: ATT decent
  • Website:
  • Pros: inexpensive, close to highway
  • Cons: none for quick stay

Full Review

This was an unusual one-nighter for us at this modest 40 site campground. Normally we’ll just park at a rest stop or casino parking lot, but we planned to meet friends here and there was no other convenient place to park overnight. The campground worked very well for our purposes.

The park is convenient to the highway and only cost us $30 for the night. It was a long back in site, solid gravel, slightly sloped. We booked only a electric/water site (no sewer) because of our short stay. We didn’t even bother to put out our slides or hook up the water. The electric was 50/30 amp, perfectly adequate for our needs. Most of their other sites are full hook up.

The campground is fairly basic, but nice. The bath house is clean and functional. The one dumpster location was completely across the entire campground from our particular site, but walking is healthy. The campground has a coin laundry facility, dog walk area, playground and dump station. There is a small lake on property with a path around it (a half mile, I believe). We weren’t there long enough to assess wifi or TV stations. In and out!

We did have a great visit with our friends.

Bottom Line: Convenient spot if you are visiting the area.

Milwaukee Touring

After so long in rural environs, returning to a larger city seemed odd – almost jarring. No more “honor system” firewood stands along the road or leaving your car unlocked while you shop. Back to rude drivers and locking everything up – welcome to the big city!

Our visit to Milwaukee was all about the factory tours. Our first jaunt was to the Miller Brewing company. After ponying up the $10 fee, we were herded toward the auditorium where the guide instructed us to grab a beer and take a seat. Now that’s my kind of tour! After beer #1 and a short film about the company’s history, we headed up the street past the enormous complex of buildings that comprise “Miller Valley”.  We climbed 56 stairs to the top of the brewing room, where the magic elixir is created and cooked. Descending to the street again, we popped into a historic bar for more history and beer #2. We followed the brewing process through filtering, aging, bottling and packaging before heading back to the Visitor’s Center and their beer garden for beers #3 and 4. Subsequently, we floated to the gift shop to receive our free lager glasses and chits for yet another free beer at one of list of other locations. I believe we got our money’s worth! Miller/Coors still isn’t my beverage of choice, but you have to salute Frederick Miller who emigrated from Germany in 1854 with his special yeast in his pocket and built this thriving global company. Miller survived Prohibition, and recessions, and still use descendant strains of that very same yeast. Huzzah!


Next, we hit the Harley-Davidson Power Train factory in nearby Menonomee Falls. This tour was free! We were provided ear plugs, safety glasses and a headset, and followed the tour guide through a 45 minute circuit of the highly-automated factory where Harley builds its iconic motors. (Final assembly is done in York, Pennsylvania). The tour would probably be more understandable to someone who really knows these engines – a lot of the assembly narrative was a bit blah-blah-blah to me. But I did admire the factory cleanliness and orderliness. Clearly they are proponents of Lean Manufacturing and Digital Six Sigma. The small onsite gift shop had the BEST prices I’ve ever seen on Harley-branded merchandise. (I took advantage.) For the true devotee, a more extensive “Steel Toe” tour option is available, for a fee.

After the Harley factory tour, we headed back to Milwaukee for a visit to the Harley-Davidson Museum. The museum was NOT free at $22/per person, but would have been if we were still HOG (Harley Owners Group) members. Alas, we had let our membership lapse. The museum consists of two floors of Harley motorcycles and memorabilia, including the oldest known Harley-Davidson motorcycle built in 1903, serial number one. The exhibits share the evolution of motorcycle features and design, use in military and police applications, and the motorcycle in modern culture. I thought one of the most fascinating aspects was the Harley-Davidson business story. Purchased by AMF in 1969, the new ownership slashed the workforce to streamline production. The result was worker strikes and declining quality, sales and profits. Poised to be sold off, a small group of investors led by Willie Davidson, bought back the company in 1981. After several rocky years, they managed to improve the brand’s reputation and brought the company back to profitability. Shortly thereafter, Harley-Davidson went public. It’s really an incredible business turn-around story.

In nearby Racine, we visited the SC Johnson headquarters. Their free tour features administration and (former) research buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Both of these structures are marvels of advanced architectural design, featuring FLW’s iconic horizontal and vertical swooping lines that appear to grow from the natural environment. Unfortunately, his design esthetic sometimes trumped function. His buildings had water leak problems, the wide-open administration office had noise issues, and his three-legged desk chair tended to tip over when occupants crossed their legs. The research tower has only one exit per floor, coming afoul of life safety code and causing it to be abandoned after 32 years of use. Still, the simple beauty of FLW’s design was WAY ahead of its time, and worthy of respect.

Before departing Milwaukee, Jeff felt we just had to take in a ball game, so we headed to Miller stadium. We cashed in our free beer chits, and wandered the enormous 42,000 seat facility. We watched as the Milwaukee Brewers handily beat the Arizona Razerbacks 6 to 1 before nearly a capacity crowd. Contrast that to attendance at the last few Miami Marlins games we attended which was dismal (and they lost). Wisconsin certainly loves and supports their teams!

Tomorrow we’re packing it in and heading South!

Campground Review: Cliffside Park Campground, Caledonia, WI

004Campground Review Summary

  • Name: Cliffside Park Campground
  • Dates of stay: Aug 19-25, 2019
  • Location: 7320 Michna Rd, Racine, WI 53402
  • Type of campground: County park
  • Cost: $30/night (with online reservation fee)
  • Additional fees: none
  • Stay limit: Seasonal park Apr – Oct
  • Accepts mail / packages: no office
  • Cell reception: ATT adequate
  • Website:
  • Pros: spacious site, inexpensive
  • Cons: no sewer hookup

Full Review

As usual for a larger city, we had to range a bit out of town to find a decent campground. This one is more than decent, especially for a county park. Most local parks can’t fit our rig size so we were pleasantly surprised to find this little gem.

A note about reservations: Advanced reservations (online or by phone) are required for one side of the campground, while the other side is available for walk-up registration, space permitting. There is no office onsite – just a board with available sites posted. We booked online well in advance in order to secure an open site near one of the bath houses. If you do book online, remember your space number, as you will need to find it yourself! Cards denoting site reservation details are also placed on a post at each site.

We had no problems maneuvering into our back in space, which was solidly-packed gravel. Utilities include a 50/30/20 amp electrical hookup and water. There is no sewer connection at any site but the camp host site. (A dump station is available near the exit) Each site also has a picnic table and fire ring. The site was quite spacious, especially compared to most commercial campgrounds! The only negative was the back to front downward slope. Even with tire blocks and manual jack deployment, we couldn’t get quite level.

The campground amenities are basic: bath houses and playgrounds, no wifi or laundry facility. The bath houses are modern and clean with very spacious showers (two shower rooms per gender in each of the two bath houses). The shower operated by pushing a button which engaged the water for about 10 seconds before shutting off. You couldn’t adjust either water pressure or temperature, but both were fine by me. It was just slightly annoying to have to keep pushing that button.

Our ATT signal worked adequately and our open site posed no problems with satellite TV reception. Some sites are more wooded than others, so your mileage may vary. We could also pull in a number of over the air TV channels from nearby Milwaukee. The City is only about 40 minutes away with the Harley museum, Miller brewery, and other attractions and amenities.

Overall, this was a great stay. The campground is scenic and quiet – the only real negative is the lack of sewer hookup. It was no issue for our short stay, but it does discourage a longer stay. The onsite camp host couple received several negative reviews on TripAdvisor, but we saw no issues with them. The current cost is $28/night plus a $14 online booking fee, which is reasonable for what you get.

Bottom Line: Great little modestly-priced campground if you don’t mind no sewer hookup.

Campground Memberships: Our Experience

I originally published this article a year ago, but it is all still true! We find that the best way to hold down costs is to simply stay longer at campgrounds and take advantage of weekly or monthly rates. Enjoy this Throwback Thursday Post!

Member Stamp Shows Membership Registration And SubscribingGoing into this full time RV life, I knew that one of our largest ongoing expenses would be our camping costs. As I researched the lifestyle, I also looked for ways to reduce those expenses, such as investing different types of campground memberships. Since we’ve been at this for almost a year, I thought I’d share how the various membership schemes have panned out for us.

Passport America  Billed as the “original 50% discount camping club”, we find its utility to be somewhat limited. Many of the campgrounds we’ve stayed in either don’t accept PA or accept it only within strict limits (such as, not in high season, or only for a few days). However, we did find a couple of places so far that have taken PA; one near Boerne TX and the other near Durango CO. Both of those parks were fantastic, and the discount rate made the stays total bargains. In fact, just ONE of those stays fully justified the $44/year cost. And, if you spring for a 3-year membership, the current cost is $109 or about $33/year.  I will definitely keep Passport America in my wallet because it only takes one use per year to pay for itself and then some.

Good Sam:  We have found that many of the campgrounds we’ve visited do give a Good Sam discount. It’s only 10%, but that 10% can really add up over time, especially at the higher priced parks. The membership cost is a modest $29 for one year. Good Sam often provides incentives to join; right now a 2 year membership is $50 and they give you a $25 Camping World gift certificate! (3 years for $75 / $50 gift certificate). Other Good Sam perks that we take advantage of  include discounts on Camping World merchandise and Pilot / Flying J fuel. We may also switch to their mail forwarding service next year at a discounted rate. This is definitely another discount card that pays off for us.

KOA Value Kard: This membership is specific to KOA campgrounds only and I have a bit of a philosophical problem with paying $30/year just to get a 10% discount. In general, I find KOA’s to be expensive for what you get and variable in quality. I stay at a KOA when it’s the only campground in the area I want to be. I sprung for the Value Kard last year when I had KOA reservations and knew the card would pay for itself. The 10% discount price plus small rebates you rack up with accumulated points almost brings the KOA cost down on par with similar resorts. The good news is that if you rack up enough points in a membership year, the card is renewed automatically (free) for an additional year. So far, I haven’t had to pay to renew it, and I’m not sure I would. I suspect we’ll end up staying at KOA’s just enough each year to get the renewal for free.

Harvest Host:  I really like the Harvest Host concept. Basically, you pay an annual fee ($49) for a listing of wineries, farms and museums that allow you to park overnight at their facility for free. The host facility hopes you’ll patronize their amenities, and you get a safe and interesting dry camping parking space. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able take advantage of any Host locations yet. We only need an overnight spot when we’re in transit to another area and there has never seemed to be a Host location where we need it. They are usually a bit off the beaten path, and we don’t want to travel out of our way. Also as a very big rig, many Host sites can’t accommodate our length. I paid for a multi-year membership so I haven’t given up on it yet, but it’s unlikely that I’ll renew.

Thousand Trails  Thousand Trails is a general name for a portfolio of complex and confusing camping membership contracts. The most basic membership is an annual $575 Zone Pass which allows you to camp “for free” at certain campgrounds within a geographical zone. You are limited to 14 days at a time, then out for at least 7 days, then you can stay again for 14 days. You can pay up to $thousands more and get more campground choices, more days in, no days out, and earlier reservation windows. There are myriad flavors of these contracts, each with their own stipulations, up front costs and annual fee rates. My biggest objection to their campgrounds is that all are “find your own site” places. You don’t reserve a space type guaranteed to fit your needs,  you take your chances on finding a suitable site upon arrival. Since most of these campgrounds are older, finding a big rig site is chancy. Not to mention that their largest network is still limited, and not necessarily where we want to stay. We tried out one TT campground in Arizona, and were not favorably impressed. No thanks – not for us.

Coast to Coast  Owned by the Good Sam parent company, C2C memberships are another abstruse and confusing membership scheme. First, you have to buy a membership at a C2C campground, which becomes your “home” resort. That usually requires thousands of dollars up front, plus annual fees (total cost depends on the resort). Then you “add on” the C2C network for an additional annual fee. That entitles you to stay at other C2C facilities for $10/night. Just like Thousand Trails, I find that these campgrounds are typically older and not in our desired locations. And they also subscribe to the “find your own” site philosophy, which is very risky for a Big Rig like ours. I much prefer to get to a campground confident that we’ll fit into a site! We stayed at one C2C campground in Mississippi and suffered through the high-pressure sales pitch. (We declined)  At least we stayed for free!

We could probably get more out of these memberships if we planned our travels around their campground networks – but we don’t. We decide where we want to go, and look for suitable campgrounds near that location that are easily navigated, highly rated, and suitable for our bus. Whether or not they subscribe to a specific discount scheme is way down on our list.

I truly wish we could find a campground membership for higher end resorts, but one simply doesn’t exist. We are finding that the simplest way to control campground costs is just to stay longer to take advantage of weekly / monthly discounts. So, that will be our best strategy for now.


Exploring Green Bay

After leaving Munising, the northernmost city on our Midwest tour, we began working our way South. We’ve never been to Green Bay, and it was on the way, so we planned for a short stay in the area. We picked a campground in Two Rivers, about 45 minutes south of Green Bay.

One of our first activities was touring Lambeau Stadium. Now, I’m not a big sports/football fan, but even I was fascinated by the tour’s exploration of the stadium history and construction. Originally built in the 50’s with only 60 rows of seating, the facility has been expanded several times into the state of the art stadium it is today. Even the natural grass surface is high-tech, with in-ground heat and plastic strands woven through it for stability. With seating for over 80,000 fans, the stadium includes a conference center and enormous atrium that is home to a number of shops and restaurants. It is truly a year-round destination, not just a football stadium used 10 days per year. I think the Miami Dolphins should take note!

Another unusual aspect is that all of the team’s training facilities are located on the same property. As the team is in pre-season training camp, we were able to observe some of their exercises. The locals really come out to watch and support their team! These Green Bay Packers are a Big Deal to the local community.


On another evening, we caught a live show called “Hodag and Scooby Dude”. Written by a local theater group (Let Me Be Frank Productions), it was a goofy, rather loose original plot about Scooby Dude and the gang solving a mystery at the Hodag festival (a country music festival set in northern Wisconsin). Mostly, it gave an excuse to play some really good country music. Entertaining, but with lots of local humor. It was set in the  beautiful historic Meyer Theater in downtown Green Bay. The interior reminded me of the Paramount Theater, another historic theater in my Anderson Indiana hometown.

While in the area, we biked the 7 mile paved Mariners trail that extends from Two Rivers to Manitowoc. The entire length runs along the lakeshore providing some beautiful views. We also rode the motorcycle to explore the peninsula next to Green Bay. We saw lots of beautiful farmland (the corn is almost ready!), small harbor towns, and a few wineries.

Before we left, we stopped in at the Washington House Museum in Two Rivers, touted as the birthplace of the ice cream sundae. There’s some controversy over that claim, however tradition states that a vacationing tourist requested that soda fountain owner Ed Berners pour chocolate syrup over ice cream. Ed doubted it would taste good, but was proved wrong. He began serving the concoction every Sunday for a nickel, hence the name. The Museum also serves up room after room of displays of household items from the era.

That put a cherry on the top of our visit to this area – now on to Milwaukee!


Campground Review: Scheffel’s Hideaway Campground, Two Rivers, WI

009Campground Review Summary

  • Name: Scheffel’s Hideaway Campground
  • Dates of stay: Aug 12-18, 2019
  • Location: 6511 County Road O, Two Rivers, WI 54241
  • Type of campground: Private / Independent
  • Cost: $38.85 / night
  • Additional fees: fee to shower
  • Stay limit: none
  • Accepts mail / packages: did not ask
  • Cell reception: ATT OK
  • Website:
  • Pros: solid/level site, nice location
  • Cons: not all sites are FHU

Full Review

On our way south, the Green Bay area was in our path so we planned a short visit. Sheffel’s campground is about 45 minutes south of Green Bay and located near parks and the small towns of Two Rivers and Manitowoc.

The interior roads are spacious enough for big rigs to navigate with care. Our site was nice and long, level, and on solidly-packed gravel. However, for some reason, we booked a site that wasn’t full hook up. I don’t know if that was due to availability or budget reasons (we couldn’t remember), but we ended up on a site with water, 30 amp hookup, and no sewer. The weather wasn’t too hot, so not having 50 amp wasn’t such a big deal. Also, our stay was only a week, so we could deal with no sewer connection (a dump station was available on the way out).

The campground was fairly basic. Each site has a fire ring and picnic table. Our site was satellite friendly, but some sites are under trees so your mileage may vary. We were able to also pick up a number of over the air TV channels. Our AT&T signal was adequate so that we didn’t try out the campground wifi. Other campground amenities include a playground, dog walk area (not fenced), bath house, and coin laundry facility (with two washer/dryer sets).

One irritation for me was the shower facility. The bath house has 5 individual shower rooms, which normally I really like. But, the rooms were equipped with a 25 cents / 2 minutes pay box, which I have personally never dealt with before. You can’t adjust the water temperature either, you just insert your quarter, bathe rapidly, and hope the water doesn’t unexpectedly cut off at the most inopportune time. Really? I’d rather pay a couple of dollars extra per night and have free, unrestricted showers! If we had full hook ups, I’d have used our own facility, but we had to conserve gray tank capacity. <sigh>

Otherwise, the campground worked well. It is located next to a State Park, and a trail connects right into it. However, we walked into the park for a few minutes and got swarmed by mosquitos, so stayed out! A nice grocery store is a few minutes away in Two Rivers. I also recommend stopping by Susie Q’s Fish Market for fantastic fresh and smoked local fish.

Bottom Line: A decent campground if you are in the area. Bring quarters.

Engaging Upper Peninsula

For such a sparsely-populated area, this are of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has a surprising number of things to do. When we weren’t hiking Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore or biking Grand Island National Recreation area, we went exploring the Munising and Marquette areas.

Marquette is the epicenter of Upper Peninsula civilization. Home to Northern Michigan University, it is a medium size town with shopping, restaurants, and a lovely network of bike trails. Similar to Bentonville, we were able to park at a trailhead that offered access to paved trails (for me) as well as mountain bike trails (for Jeff). We spent several days on these trails as we each got our respective work out!

030Marquette was originally a significant port city for the iron ore shipping business. In the mid-1800’s, the industrial revolution was in full swing with an insatiable need for iron ore which was mined and smelted along the Great Lakes shores. Originally, cargo ship loading was a laborious several-day process involving 20 to 30 men and wheelbarrows. To improve efficiency, a pocket dock system was developed which loaded a series of holds (pockets) atop a long dock which could be rapidly emptied into ships below. This reduced loading time from days to hours, and several ships could be loaded at the same time. Remnants of a giant pocket dock stand proudly in Marquette’s harbor. Historical artifact? Industrial art? Eyesore? You be the judge!

031We always check theater offerings wherever we go, and lucked into a performance of “What a Wonderful Feeling” on the WMU campus as part of their summer theater schedule. The musical takes place in a rehearsal studio during the filming of “Singin’ in the Rain” and brings to life the little-known story of the tempestuous love triangle between Gene Kelly, co-director Stanley Donen and their assistant, Jeanne Coyne. The play director was also the playwright and did a fantastic casting job. The one-set, 5 actor play (6 actors when you add the piano player) was set in a tiny 100 seat theater, but the singing, acting and dancing was amazingly professional. There were loads of fantastic tap dancing and jazz choreography, in period musical style. Kathleen and Jay – you would have Loved It!!

Along the way, we stumble into the most offbeat gems. Such is the Lakenenland Sculpture garden, located between Marquette and Munising. The owner has built dozens of giant sculptures out of scrap iron and planted them along a half mile trail for viewing – for free! Curious, we stopped in and meandered through the trail,  awestruck of the scale of the works that range from whimsical to artsy to downright political. Later that week, we stopped back in for a music festival held on the property. We listened to a surprisingly good hometown band play country music favorites to a local crowd. The best things in life are free!

A small fishing fleet still resides and operates near Munising so we stopped in several times to stock up on fish dip, fresh-caught lake trout, and smoked whitefish. Yum!

We’ve really enjoyed our time here in Yooper land. Aside from a couple of rainy days, the weather was mostly fantastic with cool nights and warm sunny days. The lake views are just beautiful. Living so close to the ocean for so many years, the lake plays with my head. It looks like ocean, but doesn’t have that slight salty/fishy tang that I always associate with the sea.

But, it’s time to move along. After spending the better part of 2 months in Michigan, we’re moving on to Wisconsin – a new State!





Campground Review: Pictured Rocks RV Resort


Campground Review Summary

  • Name: Pictured Rocks RV Park and Campground
  • Dates of stay: July 29 – Aug 12, 2019
  • Location: E7781 W. State Hwy M-28 Christmas, MI 49862
  • Type of campground: Private / Independent
  • Cost: $37.86/night (at weekly rate)
  • Additional fees: none
  • Stay limit: none
  • Accepts mail / packages: did not ask
  • Cell reception: ATT adequate
  • Website:
  • Pros: moderately priced, new resort, big rig friendly
  • Cons: un-level sites, oddly placed utilities

Full Review

We selected this location because it was near Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, it was new, and appeared to be big rig friendly. There’s a lot to like about this campground, and a few things …. not so much.

First, the good stuff. The park IS new, including the bath house and utilities. Our site is extra long, well-compacted gravel. It is a back-in site, but the interior roads are easy to maneuver. For a new campground, the sites are well spaced, not too close together. Sites include a fire ring and picnic table. The new bath house includes the standard men/women bathroom facilities and also has 4 or 5 individual shower rooms. I love that! The shower rooms are private, spacious and function well.

For the not so good stuff:  The utilities are oddly placed way at the back of this very long site – we used every bit of cord and hose. The sewer connection is 6 to 8 inches off the ground, making for a tedious and annoying tank dump experience. And the site, although long, is not level! It LOOKS ok, but it actually is 2 to 3 percent off level front to back, AND side to side. Our auto-leveler threw up its hands and gave up, but we were able to make it livable using tire blocks and manually deploying jacks.  We looked around and all of the sites appeared to be similarly un-level. C’mon people, this is a new campground – doesn’t anyone know how to construct a level site!?

The campground is wide open; no trees except for the perimeter and no landscaping except for some struggling grass. It makes for no shade, but it is extremely satellite friendly!  That’s good, because we pulled in exactly zero over the air TV channels and the campground does not offer cable. So if you don’t have a satellite dish, bring your own entertainment!

The campground isn’t charming – but it’s functional. The location is good with Munising just down the road, along with grocery stores and other amenities.  The staff is friendly and the place is kept tidy. The place is quiet, and with no light pollution, the clear night sky can be amazing. The negatives are a bit annoying, but can be dealt with, and the cost is reasonable. We would come back.

Bottom Line: Reasonably priced new campground with a few warts, but it works.

Grand Island National Recreation Area

015Grand Island National Recreation Area lies a 5 minute ferry ride across from the small town of Munising, MI. Managed by the US Forest Service, it is part of the Hiawatha National Forest and essentially undeveloped. The island has only mountain bike trails, campsites, beaches, and a few (grandfathered) private vacation cabins. So we hopped the ferry with our bicycles and headed over to check it out!

The island itself is approximately 3 times the size of Mackinac Island. Although you CAN ride a trail all the way around, it consisted of over 25 miles of hilly trail – not a paved path. That was a bit too ambitious for me, so we elected to stick to the southern half of the island, which held most of the interesting and historic features anyway.

We headed off on the bike paths. Some are wide gravel roads that are (mostly) solid, while others are more like typical single track mountain bike trails. Being a sandstone island, there is a lot of … sand. Slogging through sand is a lot like biking uphill, continuously. Although I love my hybrid bicycle, it is not ideally suited to this type of terrain. Adding to the fun were the swarms of biting flies, seemingly undeterred by copious amounts of DEET. At one point, reduced to walking my bike up a never-ending hill while being attacked by biting flies, I believe the words “I Hate This!” emerged from my lips. It wasn’t exactly what I had bargained for.

It wasn’t all bad, of course. The forest and lake views were beautiful. We explored a cemetery with gravestones dating from the 1850’s to very recent. I suppose family plots were grandfathered in when the land was purchased by the Forest Service a decade or so ago. We passed old cabins, remnants of a time when the island was a private vacation retreat. We toured the small nature center by the boat dock and walked the beach. It WAS peaceful. I can see the appeal if you really want to get away from everything.

However, after making a round of the lower half of the island, I was ready to head back to civilization!

And a shower.