The Sylvania Wilderness is an 18,327 acres protected area located a few miles west of Watersmeet in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan – just across the Wisconsin border. Sylvania is located entirely within the bounds of the Ottawa National Forest and is managed by the US Forest Service. With it’s mature trees and crystal clear water, it is a beautiful place!
Friday August 13, 2021
Oldest son Scott and grandson Will (10) were able to leave their home in New Berlin, WI early, so we had a chance to pull Will around on the tube behind the pontoon. I could not shake him off the tube until he started trying to show off.
Saturday August 14, 2021
Packed the truck and drove 137 miles to the Sylvania Wilderness with a stop for breakfast in Minocqua. Followed Apple maps through a series of twists and turns around Bolder Junction WI, before crossing into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and found our way to the park ranger station, closed due to COVID. We arrived at our campsite before 11:00 and quickly setup camp.
A beautiful sunny 77 degree day with light wind greeted us at the landing. Unloaded our two canoes, my “experienced” 18.6’ Mad River Kevlar canoe and my new 16.6′ Wenonah Kevlar Basswood Solo Canoe at the Clark Lake landing and we were off! With Will in front with Scott in the back of the big Mad River canoe, the bow was out of the water and hard to control, so we filled up a 5 gallon water jog to add weight to the front to be better balanced. The new Wenonah cuts through the water like a dream!
With the light wind, we decided to take the route south from the Clark Lake landing into Wisconsin and back.
We paddled nearly the length of Clark Lake to get to the first portage. We strapped in the paddles, Scott took the bigger canoe while I enjoyed carrying the 31 pound solo. Will carried the day packs. We made the 99 rod portage to Loon Lake.
We paddled to the south end of Loon Lake before making the 78 rod portage to Florence Lake. We watched an adult loon and a brown fluffy chick swim and dive, before the younger loon started racing across the water as if he was trying to fly, but he never got off the water. He better learn fast, he will need to fly south before winter comes to the UP.
We became more efficient in tying down our gear in the canoes at each portage. After a short paddle to the South end of Florence Lake, we made the short 34 rode portage to Big Bateau Lake and a longer paddle to the South end of Big Bateau Lake to visit Wisconsin. Just as we got to the state line, we watched an eagle fly past and land in a tall tree nearby. Kind of cool to say that we drove to Michigan in order to canoe to Wisconsin!
We retraced our route back towards the truck. When we reached the small, protected Florence Lake, Will asked to take out the solo canoe and he did great – paddling across the lake to the next portage. Will tried to portage the canoe, but did not go very far. Still pretty impressive for a 10 year old!
Will rode with Scott across Loon Lake, but he wanted to try the solo canoe again on Clark Lake. He made it 1/3 of the way before running out of gas. Scott and I went back and tied the rope to allow Scott and I to tow Will behind us.
Just as we were close to the landing, Will lost the paddle and tried to reach into the water to retrieve it and into the water he went. He was quite afraid, but safe with his life jacket on. He yelled for us to help him. Scott and I turned around and went back to get him. We were not sure how to get him into our canoe, so we had Will hold on to the rope as we paddled him into shore, where he could scramble up the bank and walked to the landing.
Amazingly, the solo canoe did not tip over, so we towed the empty canoe toward that landing. As we arrived at the landing, we realized that the rope had slipped off and we found the solo canoe in the brush along the shore. We went back to retrieve the solo canoe before we finally made it back with both canoes.
It was after 7:30 before we got back to camp and I started the grill to cook up some cheese burgers while Scott helped Will get into dry clothes. Scott and Will met the camp hosts, Tom & LeeAnn (wonderful people!) to buy some dry firewood. We enjoyed a nice campfire, tasty cheese burgers and a star filled sky. Appropriately, I enjoyed a cold Leinenkugel’s Canoe Paddle Kölsch. It was great to stay up and talk to Scott!
Sunday, August 15, 2021
A cool night in the 50’s made for great sleeping weather. I slept in a bit before getting coffee started and I made pancakes while Scott fried the bacon. A hardy breakfast before starting our next adventure. The wind kicked up a bit, so instead of tackling the bigger water of Clark and Whitefish Lakes, we decided to make a 6 lake, 6 portage circle route. It was a good decision!
It was a warm (81) sunny day with a steady wind out of the south west. We launched the big Mad River canoe with the 3 of us at the Crooked Lake landing.
Having 3 Pelton men in one canoe on a circle route reminded me of this picture from 1966 with my Dad in the back and brother Tim in the middle. I realize that my life with family in a canoe has come full circle!
As we started paddling south through the channel with Will in the seat, we felt too high and unstable, so he took a seat in the bottom of the big canoe.
At the bigger part of the lake, we took a hard left/east to find the short (22 rod) portage to High Lake. The map showed a very short paddle to find the portage to Kerr Lake, but with the high tree canopy, we could easily walk through the woods, but after exploring a bit, we finally found the well used portage (38 rod) trail.
Kerr Lake is small lake, surrounded by high hills and tall trees that protected the lake from the wind. The crystal clear water was smooth as glass! We watch more Loons before chasing up a small flock of ducks as we reached the landing. Scott handled the long (97 rod) portage to West Bear Lake with relative ease. I could not keep up with him through the very well maintained portage trail.
We paddled across West Bear and found the portage hidden behind a small island. We made the 40 rod portage from West Bear to East Bear Lakes. Will ran ahead and found several small frogs.
The 96 rod portage from East Bear to Mountain Lakes was the only really muddy and rocky portage that we found. Scott had the canoe perfectly balanced on his shoulders.
A strong breeze greeted us at the north east end of Mountain Lake. It felt great to cool off after the portage, but it was a workout to paddle straight into the teeth of the wind out of the south west. The short (13 rod) portage from Mountain to Crooked Lake is just an easy carry.
We quickly learned how Crooked Lake got it’s name as we paddled south west before turning to the west and then to the north. As we escaped the larger, windswept open water into the protected channel, we watched a Bald Eagle soar in the wind before landing in a tall tree near us.
We paddled through the channels and across the last big stretch of open water before heading to the landing. When I walked up the hill to get the truck, Will found a cute little salamander in the canoe.
We quickly loaded the canoe and headed back to camp. As I backed the truck into our site, I noticed that it was only 4:00 and asked Will if he wanted to go swimming to cool off. Both Scott and Will quickly supported this idea and we drove to the beautiful Clark Lake beach and picnic area. Crystal clear shallow water and clean sand made the perfect place to cool off after a long day paddling and portaging. We met several nice people and a couple of good dogs, everyone was enjoying the gorgeous day!
I made pepperoni pizza for dinner. After a fine meal, Will and Scott enjoyed roasting marshmallows in the campfire to make s’mores with marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers. After another full day, we could not stay up as late, so we all went to bed early.
Monday August 16, 2021
Scott and I were up early to start packing the truck. Will soon woke up and helped us take down the tent and load the truck. Even with a breakfast stop in Eagle River, we were back home before 10:00 am. Scott helped me unload the canoes and pack his car. Will made it back home to New Berlin in plenty of time to keep his hair cut appointment and for football practice.
Great trip! Tremendous weather and it was wonderful to spend time with my son and grandson!