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It’s that time of year again when us Kladders pack up the SUV and head north for a week. This summer we upgraded our packing situation with a new hitch cargo carrier to stow the cooler and totes. Amazon does it again! Not having to cram everything inside the car made the packing and the riding experience 10 times better.

Also new and improved this year was our two night stay at Tahquamenon Falls State Park for some tent camping fun with the Van Vels Family. Tahquamenon Falls is just about halfway to our final destination in Ontonagon which really broke up the 8-hour-doozy of a car ride with the kids on the way there.

Now, let me just stop here and say this: I don’t necessarily ‘like’ camping but I do ‘love’ what camping provides which is a whole bundle of memories and experiences for us as a family. All day long I can tolerate dirty feet and public restrooms if it means exploring nature, slow roasting our food over the fire and our kids gaining what it’s like to feel freedom - or at least the sense of freedom anyway. Both Jeff and Josh reminisced about their fond childhood camping memories: they got treats, stayed up late and rode their bikes anywhere they wanted. We want those memories for our kids too. And perhaps this goes without saying but man it felt good to be offline, get outside and slow down for a bit.

Our first stop after passing the Mighty Mac was Oswalds Bear Ranch. The ranch is 240 acres and houses 40 bears across 4 different habitats: males, females, yearlings and cubs. Our favorite was the yearling exhibit because they were the most active running up and down the waterfall, wrestling in the pond and climbing after one another up and down the trees. The females were also playful and because it was a warm day they were mostly found wading in the water. The cost is $20 a car load for entry and if you want a photo with the bear cub an extra $10. It was well worth the stop - the kids loved it. PS - bears are stinky!

We set up camp in the Lower Falls Campground which was walking distance to the boardwalk that led to the Lower Falls. It was awesome! We pulled the kids in the wagon down the 1/2 mile path and spent about two hours climbing up and down the falls with the kids. Getting across the initial span of the river was a bit tricky (holding a kid while walking across a strong current and trying not to to fall) but after that it was just pure fun.

We also visited the Upper Falls which is likely the portion you’ve seen in photographs. The last time we were there was 6 years ago before kids. I included a pic below - check out Jeff’s hair! And the time before that I was just a kid. It’s likely that Thomas and even Natalie won’t remember our trip to the Falls at ages 2 and 4 so we’ll likely return within the next 5 years or so. And I won’t be mad - it’s beautiful.

Something we hadn’t done before was canoe the Tahquamenon River which turned out great! We rented from The Woods Canoe and Kayak which includes everything we needed: canoes, life jackets, drop off/pick up and mats for the kids to sit on inside of the boat. Add snacks and beverages and you’ve got yourself a solid 2 hours family time. The river was extremely calm and the kids got to see an eagle, otter and lots of fish.

After two nights of tenting, the Van Vels headed back south to Mackinac Island while we continued onward to my parents place in Ontonagon. The cabin is tucked way back in the deep woods in the Porcupine Mountains. It cannot be found on a map which makes it the definition of off the grid. It’s here where we really get to slow down. My Dad has a motto to live by for those staying at camp which is, “We’re ahead of schedule,” because frankly, there is no schedule. And the no schedule thing, it’s good for us because most of the time we run like clockwork.

One of the days we spent the entire morning picking thimbleberries which are much like raspberries but grow in the wild. That’s it. We just drove around on the four wheelers looking for large patches and picked berries. It was simple and oh so sweet. And we made out like bandits with enough to bake an entire pie which is something I haven’t done in a long while. The pie turned out great but I decided I need to work on my edging artistry. We’ll try again next year!

We also spent an entire day on Lake Superior at a friends cottage. The weather was a perfect 80 degrees making the water temps ideal for floating on the lily pad. We played corn hole, grilled brats and enjoyed Kathy’s famous Green Flashes - a specialty cocktail named after the rare sunset effect. This beach day is something we look forward to all year.

The rest of our time was spent around the kitchen counter cooking big breakfasts (waffles, eggs Benedict… you name it, my Dad makes it), grabbing drinks at Stubbs Museum Bar and Henry’s, and hosting friends for the Low Country Boil. We read books on the porch, went four-wheeling with the kids, took a sauna and chopped wood. The end.

To read more U.P. travel entries check out our Ontonagon travel page.