Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Minnesota

9 to 12 July 2021

Minneapolis Skyline from Parade Park

Vaccinated and ready to travel with few borders open, we decide to see more of the United States.  Last year we spent three weeks in the Great Lakes Region and Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  This year we decided to continue across the northern midwest from Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior to Eastern Washington, through North Dakota, Montana and Northern Idaho.  We started by flying into the “Twin Cities” of Minneapolis and Saint Paul and exploring the surrounding areas for a few days.

Downtown Minneapolis is generally clean and walkable.  We spent one day walking the city, starting and ending in Parade Park, near the Walker Art Center, through the city center, along the Mills District, across the Stone Arch Bridge to Dinkytown and the University of Minnesota, and back through the east side.

The next day, we spent the evening at Minnehaha Park in South Minneapolis along the Mississippi River.

Saint Paul is a much smaller city but worth visiting if for nothing else to see the Cathedral of Saint Paul and the Minnesota State Capital Building.  The State Capital Building, built 1896-1905, was designed by Cass Gilbert who also designed several other buildings we have visited including the West Virginia and Arkansas Capital Buildings, US Supreme Court and Saint Louis Art Museum.

Saint Paul, home of Charles Schulz (Peanuts), the State Capitol Building and Cathedral of Saint Paul

During our visit we stayed in Bloomington, a suburb of Minneapolis adjacent to the MSP Airport, within walking distance of the Mall of America (MOA).  MOA is a tourist stop in its own right and gave us an outlet in the evenings.  It is the 7th largest mall in the world and the largest outside China and Thailand.  The center of the mall features a Nickelodeon-themed amusement park.  We continued our love affair with Shake Shack and had our first dinner of the trip there.

Mall of America

Prior to the murder of George Floyd, Minneapolis was perhaps best known for being home to the Purple One, Prince.  Outside of their sports teams, Little House on the Prairie, and Prince, Minnesota’s distinguishing feature might be its lack of distinguishing features.  After all, polite midwesterners generally do not demand the spotlight.  This all changed on May 25th, 2020.  I had not planned to go to the site of his death for fear of being disrespectful, but my daughter, our social warrior, insisted.  It later occurred to me this was one of the first major news stories that resonated with our kids in their young lives.  I’m glad we went.  The neighborhood seems to have embraced their role in history.  The makeshift memorials were somber but impactful.  Fortunately visitors didn’t treat it like a selfie opportunity.

George Floyd Memorial

Anxious to get outside the city for awhile, we took the opportunity to canoe the St. Croix River along the Minnesota / Wisconsin border.  We rented canoes in Interstate Park near Taylors Falls.

Canoeing the St. Croix River at Interstate Park

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Detroit, Michigan

27 July 2020

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Downtown Detroit

Underground Railroad Memorial looking over the Detroit River at Canada, Motown Studios and Museum, and Joe Lewis Memorial

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Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village

26 July 2020

Pic 2020-0726 01 Henry Ford Greenfield Village (94) er

The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan is one of the great collections of Americana.  It has several components, the main being the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, Greenfield Village and the Ford River Rouge Factory.  The factory tour was closed due to C19.

The museum was started with Henry Ford’s personal collection and includes a wide array of exhibits concentrating on the Industrial Revolution.  Greenfield Village, covering 80 acres, includes relocated and reproductions of historically significant buildings, including the original Wright Brothers home and bicycle shop, Noah Webster’s (Webster Dictionary) home, replica of Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park, George Washington carver’s cabin, and more.  Many of them were donated by the original owners or saved from demolition before their historical significance was fully understood.  I was here once as a child and I’d say it is a must see if you are in the area.

Greenfield Village

Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation

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Lansing and Ann Arbor, Michigan

25 and 26 July 2020

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Continuing south through Michigan we visited the capital city of Lansing and based our next three nights in Ann Arbor, about 45 minutes west of Detroit.  East Lansing, home of the Michigan State Spartans, and Ann Arbor, home of the Michigan Wolverines, is a natural rivalry.  Where ever you travel in the state, you’ll find fans of the Green and White and the Maize and Blue so we were excited to visit.  Both campuses have a lot to offer.  After visiting 5 major universities during this trip, we couldn’t agree on which we liked the most.  Notre Dame was hands down the nicest campus but Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan and Michigan State all had better surrounding towns and overall environments.

City of Lansing

Michigan State University

University of Michigan

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Mackinac Island, Michigan

23 and 24 July 2020

Pic 2020-0723 04 Mackinaw City (11) er

Mackinac Island is located near the Straits of Mackinac, the dividing line between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, on the Lake Huron side.  Mackinac (pronounced Mackinaw) Island was America’s second national park after Yellowstone, however it was later turned over to Michigan to become their first state park.  Connecting the towns of St. Ignace on the north and Mackinaw City on the south of the Straits is the Mackinac Bridge which looks similar to the Golden Gate Bridge, minus the distinctive orange paint.  An image of the bridge is used on some of Michigan’s license plates.

Driving from the north, we briefly visited St. Ignace and then continued to Mackinaw City where we stayed.  Both towns are only a 20-minute ferry ride from Mackinac Island.  St. Ignace has its touristy charm but Mackinaw City was the right place for us.  We stayed within easy walking distance of the beaches, restaurants, shops and ferry terminal.

Mackinac Island is the most popular tourist destination in Michigan and for good reason.  There are no cars on the island so we started our day by renting bicycles and peddling the 8.2-mile perimeter road.  The road is flat and mostly paved so it is an easy ride.  Back in town we ditched the bikes, got lunch and walked up to the Grand Hotel, which as its title would indicate is quite grand.  For us Mackinac Island was a great day trip, possibly the highlight of our three week adventure.  For others it would make a relaxing long weekend or a carefree week, but that’s not how we roll.  It’s time to see what else the Great Lakes Region has to offer.

Mackinac Island shoreline including The Arch

Mackinac Island

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Mackinaw City Lighthouse

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Tahquamenon Falls State Park, Michigan

22 July 2020

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Upper Falls

Travelling across the UP from Pictured Rocks to Sault Ste. Marie, we stopped at Tahquamenon Falls State Park, a heavily visited spot about 10 miles west of Paradise, well the small town of Paradise, Michigan on the Lake Superior shoreline.  The park has several hiking trails and excellent parking and facilities.  It is highlighted by the Upper and Lower Falls.

Due to the C19 pandemic we were not able to cross into the Canadian side of Sault Ste. Marie, although our hotel was within a stones through of border security.  The American side has some charm but is mostly an industrial town.  We explored in the evening and headed south to Mackinac in the morning.

Pic 2020-0722 05 Tahquamenon Lower Falls (5) er

Pic 2020-0722 05 Tahquamenon Lower Falls (6) er

Lower Falls

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Pictured Rocks National Shoreline, Michigan

20 and 21 July 2020

Pic 2020-0721 01 Pictured Rocks Boat Cruise (51) er

Continuing our tour of the UP, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, we drove east to Munising and Pictured Rocks National Shoreline.  We spent two days hiking in Pictured Rocks and took a lake shore cruise.  We considered renting kayaks, which is a very popular way to experience the Pictured Rocks, but weather was questionable.  We hiked Miner’s Castle, Miner’s Falls, Chapel Falls and Mosquito Falls Trails.  Munising is a nice place to spend some time.  If you’re in a hurry, you could see the basics in a full day.  Two or three days is probably ideal for most visitors.

Pictured Rocks including Miner’s Castle (top left) and Miner’s Falls (bottom middle)

Pictured Rocks including Munising Falls (top left), Chapel Falls (Bottom left), Grand Island Lighthouse

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Porcupine Mountain State Park, Michigan

19 July 2020

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Lake of the Clouds

From our base in Houghton, we drove west to Porcupine Mountain State Park which turned out to be one of the trip’s best days so far.  The mountains, also known as the Porkies, have a great mix of short to multi-day trails from moderate to strenuous difficulty.  We started our visit on the east side of the park at its hallmark attraction, Lake on the Clouds.  The trail to the overlook is short and easy walk from the parking lot and the payback is immediate.  From there you can connect to several other trails including Mirror Lake.  Next we drove the South Boundary Road which takes you to the west side of the park and past several trail heads.  We opted to hike the Summit Trail, another popular spot.  Our favorite hike of the day was the Presque Isle River Falls Trail which runs up and down the east and west sides of the Presque Isle River with views of several rolling waterfalls including Manabezho and Nawadaha Falls.  The trail connects to the Lake Superior Trail which runs most of the park’s length along the shoreline.  It was muddy from rain the night before so we only walked a small part of it before heading back to Houghton for the night.

Presque Isle Falls Trail

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Copper Harbor Scenic Drive, Michigan

18 July 2020

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Copper Harbor Lighthouse

Houghton is the largest town in this part of Michigan and where we chose to base up for the next few days.  It is midway between Copper Harbor and Porcupine Mountain State Park.  Today we took a scenic drive from Houghton to Copper Harbor along the Lake Superior shoreline by way of the towns Eagle River and Eagle Harbor.  On the way back we drove south through the towns of Lac La Belle, Gay and Mohawk before returning to Houghton.  We had mixed weather but all in all it was a good day.

Eagle Harbor Lighthouse and Haven Falls

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Madison, Milwaukee and Green Bay, Wisconsin

15 – 17 July 2020

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Milwaukee Art Museum

Continuing our tour of the Great Lakes, we drove up the west side of Lake Michigan through Wisconsin, one of only three states I had yet to visit.  (Only two left, Rhode Island and North Dakota!)  Our first day in America’s Dairyland was spent in Madison, the state capital and home to the University of Wisconsin.  It is a small city but filled with interesting neighborhoods, parks and access to several lakes.  The Wisconsin State Capitol is one of our favorites.  It is perched on a hill in the center of town and has maintained its stature as the tallest building in town.  Similar to the scene in Columbus, evidence of the recent BLM protests was evident throughout the city and especially surrounding the capitol.  The University of Wisconsin is a nice campus.  We liked it better than OSU, but still no State College, PA.  After touring Madison, we checked-in to our hotel for a few nights in Milwaukee.


Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s largest city, is best known for breweries and Harley ‘hogs’ but we found a very livable small city.  I knew very little about the city’s history before arriving.  It was founded by Solomon Juneau, a French Canadian.  If his name sounds familiar, it was his cousin, Joseph Juneau, who founded Alaska’s capital city.  We stayed downtown and walked extensively throughout town.  The Riverwalk was our family favorite.  The Harley Davidson Museum is definitely worth a visit.


Harley-Davidson Museum

Green Bay was our last stop in Wisconsin.  On our drive from Milwaukee to Houghton, Michigan, we stopped in Green Bay.  The downtown and surrounding areas were lackluster but the highlight of any trip there is Lambeau Field, hallowed ground for any football fan.  The Green Bay Packers celebrated their 100 year anniversary in 2019.  Founded in 1909 by Earl ‘Curly” Lambeau and George Calhoun, they started playing on Indian Packing Company’s athletic field and adopted their name in exchange for sponsorship and uniforms.  One of original teams of the National Football League, the Packers won the first two Super Bowls and the Lombardy Trophy is named after their legendary coach.

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Green Bay

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