The Lake Superior Circle Tour is one of those great road trips that you always hear about. People dream of circumnavigating the world’s largest freshwater lake. The Lake Superior circle tour crosses through three US states. Michigan, Wisconsin & Minnesota, and a huge portion of northern Ontario, Canada. Driving around Lake Superior offers an array of activities, sights and a diverse landscapes to look upon in awe.
the Lake Superior Circle Tour
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Lake Superior can be driven around in as little 4-5 days. Seven days will showcase the highlights. But two-weeks is really the optimal time.
We drove around Lake Superior on our Honda Motorcycles and couldn’t believe how much the landscape changed before our eyes. Some people decide to do the Lake Superior circle tour in 5-days. And while we added a couple of extra days, we feel that to truly appreciate the beauty and sights of Lake Superior one should plan on two weeks to circumnavigate this natural wonder of the world. Here’s a guide to all the sights to see on the Lake Superior Circle Tour to help you plan your next epic motorcycle ride.
- The Lake Superior Tour one of The Best Road Trips in the World!
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Day 1 Start: Sault Ste Marie, Ontario
We started our tour in Sault Ste Marie in Canada and worked our way clockwise around the Lake. Sault Ste Marie is a twin city with Sault Ste. Marie Michigan. There is more to do on the Canadian Side, so we suggest spending a day or two exploring here.
Canadian Bush Plane Heritage Centre
The Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre is definitely the highlight of visiting Sault Ste. Marie with a collection of vintage planes located in a giant hanger. It traces the history of Ontario.
There’s a forest fire management display, an area showing motors and all the bits and parts of a plane, and you can go in many planes to check out the cockpit. Our favourite was to see the huge interior of planes such as the water bomber for forest fires. After you are finished at the Bushplane Museum, take a stroll on the newly refurbished waterfront in Sault Ste Marie and look over at its US twin city.
Where to Eat – Enjoy a delicious meal at Embers Smokehouse Restaurant. It had a fabulous atmosphere offering a wide variety of smokehouse meat.
Where to stay in Sault Ste Marie:
The Days Inn – An affordable choice with jacuzzis in the rooms, excellent WiFi, and a hearty breakfast included. It has a covered parking lot too which is perfect for motorcyclists.
Day 2 – U.S. Border to Grand Marais Michigan
This route follows Lake Superior in a counterclockise direction. After crossing the border, we stay on I75 for a short drive to highway 28 to Whitefish Point.
Whitefish Point is one of those places in Michigan coast that needs two days to explore. Jutting out on a long peninsula of Lake Superior we took a detour from our route to see the lighthouse museum. The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum is an excellent stop to learn of the maritime history of Lake Superior. It’s beautiful here and is home to the oldest operational lighthouse on Lake Superior and it’s a great spot to take in the sandy beach of Lake Superior’s South Shore.
Tahquamenon Falls State Park
Tahquamenon Falls State Park is a busy park with excellent waterfalls. One looks like a mini Niagara Falls.I could see us sticking around for a day or two for hiking, swimming and simply enjoying the scenery. There were a lot of people visiting the Falls. There are two entrances, an upper and lower falls. The upper are the larger and more beautiful of the two, but the lower had an option to take a boat or go for hikes so they are both a must stop.
Overnight in Grand Marais
Grand Marais is a good spot to spend the night before heading on the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Grand Marais bills itself as “The Gem of the Upper Peninsula” and with good reason. The beaches are spectacular. When driving along the shore of Lake Superior, one would feel as if you are in the Caribbean. (albeit the water is freezing!)
Day 3 – Pictured Rocks Michigan
Pickle Barrel Museum
While in Grand Marais, be sure to check out the Pickle Barrel House Museum. A Giant Pickle Barrel dating back to 1927 was built as a summer cottage for cartoonist William Donahey. It has been turned into a museum that is worth seeing as it’s been named in the National Register of Historic Places.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Michigan. With 100 miles of trails to explore, one could spend days camping at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. It has extraordinary sandstone cliffs, sea kayaking, hiking, and other watersports, you could spend more than a day here if you wanted.
Painted Rocks Cruises – With limited time, we recommend the Painted Rocks Scenic Cruise. This is definitely the big draw of the area.
Evening – drive on to Marquette to make up some time.
Overnight in Marquette, Michigan
The Landmark Inn Marquette – We moved on a couple of hours to Marquette and stayed at this gorgeous hotel. It was an amazing heritage hotel downtown Marquette that made for a luxurious evening after a day on the bikes. It felt like a grand hotel with a European flare. Our four post bed required a step to get into and our jacuzzi tub and fireplace were so inviting we didn’t want to leave. But there was plenty more to see, so we only had one night here.
Day 4 – Eagle Harbor to Copper Harbor, Michigan
Eagle Harbor Light Station
We were up bright and early for the drive to Eagle Harbor Lighthouse Station. If you like Lighthouses, you’ll have the opportunity to see a lot them on the Lake Superior Circle Tour. Lighthouse keepers played an important role in keeping ships afloat. Lake Superior is a treacherous lake that claimed many a sailors life throughout history. The Eagle Harbor Lighthouse Station probably has the best display of the lighthouse keepers quarters on the lake.
It was then on to Copper Harbor. The winding road made for a fun ride and the beautiful views helped to pass the time. Copper Harbour is a very scenic ride through winding tree-covered roads along the Keweenaw Peninsula so it is highly recommended that you take the trip out there for a night.
There are many things to pass the time in Copper Harbor from kayaking, cruises, hiking or simply walking along the beach to enjoy sunset. When visiting Copper Harbor, it’s definitely worth taking a drive to the high lookout. Most people stop at the beautiful view near the bottom, but make sure to keep driving another 10 minutes or so. You’ll be treated to a view of a tree covered valley with lake views on both sides as here you are sitting on a peninsula.
Where to Stay in Copper Harbour
Copper Harbor Pines. – This was very basic accommodation with non-air conditioned cabins and very spotty wifi. We can’t recommend this place too highly, but if you are on a budget, it is clean and comfortable. There are places to eat nearby. We went to a basic bar for dinner.
Day 5 – Bayfield Wisconsin
Today we leave Michigan and enter Wisconsin. We awoke early and had a very long drive so we didn’t make a lot of stops other than some scenic lookouts. Wisconsin is gorgeous, so be sure to take your time driving this route to Bayfield. And then give yourself two nights in Bayfield. Bayfield is a picturesque town on the water that one can spend a day or two relaxing in.
Maggies Restaurant Bayfield
We loved our dinner at the funky and retro Maggie’s Restaurant and a stroll through downtown is a must. There was a band playing in the gazebo on the waterfront when we arrived and the bar and restaurant overlooking the harbor was buzzing with people.
Where to Stay in Bayfield
The Bayfield Inn – It offered excellent and friendly accommodation that caters to motorcyclists. We had our own covered parking spot! The staff was courteous and helpful and the rooms were great with superb wifi, and a sensational view of the harbor. This was one of the more urban centres and you can tell that it has catered to motorists, road trippers and tourists for decades.
Day 6 – Explore Around Bayfield, Wisconsin
You are nearly half way through your trip and this is an excellent day to stay put and take part in adventures. The top draw in this area is the Apostle Islands. Take a kayaking trip to the Apostle Islands to explore the sea caves of Lake Superior. The Sea Caves are gorgeous formations that are not to be missed.
There’s sailing trips and scuba diving offered as well. But be prepared, Lake Superior is cold, and you will need to dive in a 7mm wetsuit or drysuit. If you want to stay on land, there’s golfing, hiking , shopping and dining.
Day 7 – Duluth, Minnesota
The drive from Bayfield to Duluth is a scenic ride with picturesque towns and great isolated roads. We were excited to get to Duluth early to experience a bit of the city, and it surprised us immensely.
Things to do in Duluth Minnesota
It is only an hour and a half from Bayfield to Duluth, so you have the entire day and evening to enjoy this surprising town. Duluth felt very cosmopolitan.
- Canal Park Drive is a cool area for shopping, eating, and sipping coffee and the lake walk is a gorgeous stroll along Lake Superior.
- Be sure to watch the Aerial Lift Bridge go up and down as everything from large tankers to small sailboats go in and out of the harbour to the open waters of Lake Superior.
- For an up close and personal view, dinner or drinks on the rooftop patio at Grandmas is an excellent choice.
- There’s an excellent entertainment and convention centre and since you’ve parked your car or bike for the evening, why not join a brewery tour?
Where to Stay in Duluth
We stayed at Canal Park Lodge which was a fine hotel on the waterfront and close to all amenities.
Day 8 – Duluth Minnesota to Thunder Bay Ontario
It’s time to head north and make our way back to Canada. Get ready for a long drive from Duluth to Thunder Bay on this day. At 334 km including a border crossing, we were on the road quite a long time. But before we leave Minnesota, there is one more stop to take in the extraordinary scenic views.
Split Rock Lighthouse Minnesota
Driving along highway 61, you’ll run right into the Split Rock Lighthouse. Stop in at the Visitor’s Centre for a look. If you have time, take a tour and go for a short walk in the National Forest Dating back to 1910, this is one of the most scenic lighthouses on the route as it is built on a 133-foot (41 m) sheer cliff overlooking Lake Superior. After a stop here, the rest of the day is spend driving to Thunder Bay.
Day 9 – Thunder Bay, Canada
After finishing up at the lighthouse, there isn’t a lot to see, so we drive directly to the border. Once you get to Thunder Bay though, it’s worth the drive. The 10 million dollar re-envisioned waterfront is filled with commissioned art from around the world and makes for a lovely walk to wind down.
Thunder Bay is starting to boom and the amount of restaurants and cafés popping up proves it. Speaking of the marina, it’s quite picturesque and you can take a sailing excursion out from downtown.
Terry Fox Memorial
A must stop in Thunder Bay is the Terry Fox memorial. Terry Fox was a national hero who was a pioneer is campaigning for a cause. Long before it was “in style” he made a goal to run across Canada to help find a cure for cancer. This was in 1980 and a cancer survivor himself. He lost his leg to cancer and he ran with his artificial leg from Newfoundland to Thunder Bay.
Sadly, during his run, the cancer came back. He died a short while later, but his spirit lives on in all of us and we are inspired by his sacrifice to make a difference.
There is no charge to visit the Terry Fox Memorial. The Fox family agreed to allow a monument only if nothing was sold and no admission fee was required. This is a monument that truly embodies the spirit of Canada.
- Watch: One Week, A motorcycle movie that traces much of this route
Where to Stay in Thunder Bay
McVicar Bed and Breakfast – There’s no doubt about it, this is the place to stay in Thunder Bay. It is run by a lovely couple who have put a lot of thought and care into their B&B. It’s luxurious, comfortable, and relaxing. Our room was grand with a fireplace, jacuzzi and sitting area.
Day 10 – Terrace Bay
It’s a leisurely day today so enjoy a coffee and hearty breakfast in Thunder Bay. Before leaving the city, it’s a great idea to make a short detour to Kakabeka Falls. These unexpected falls are a massive set of waterfalls dropping 130 feet (40 meters.) They are known as the Niagara Falls of the North. Located just 25 minutes from Thunderbay, they are a must stop on any Lake Superior circle tour trip. It’s easy access to view them from the boardwalk.
Terrace Bay is the launching point for the Slate Islands. We had been here before when on a kayaking trip to see the Woodland Caribou that reside here. This is a good town to stop for a rest after Thunder Bay.
Where to Stay in Terrace Bay
The Drifters Motel – We were surprised with the accommodation in Terrace Bay at the Drifters Motel. The rooms were decorated with rustic elegance and the Internet was the best we had on the entire trip! The adjoining restaurant was quite good too.
Day 11 – White River, Ontario
We didn’t stay in White River during this trip, but if you want to split up the drive between Wawa, this is a good option. Or if you want to skip Terrace Bay, you can drive directly to White River instead. White River is a four-corner town famous for Winnie the Pooh. Even though it is small, it is one of the most iconic places to visit in Canada for a historical reference. Those beloved children’s books and Disney cartoons wouldn’t be around if it weren’t for White River.
Story of Winnie the Pooh
The story of Winnie the Pooh is a bit of a morbid story but it was a sign of the times. Remember, this all happened in 1914.
“A hunter shot a bear cub’s mother and brought the cub back to town to keep as a pet (as many people did in those days). A soldier who was on his way to Europe to fight in World War I stopped in White River on the train and bought the bear cub from the hunter for $20. He brought the bear with him to Europe where it stayed in the barracks with all the soldiers.
It became their platoon’s mascot. When they were shipped off to France to fight, the soldier gave the bear to a zoo in England and that is where the bear lived out its life. Writer A.A. Milne frequented the zoo and his son Christopher Robin liked the bear giving it the nickname Pooh. Thus Winnie the Pooh was born.” Kind of sad right?
Where to Stay in White River
The White River motel – While we didn’t stay here during our motorcycle trip around Lake Superior, we have stayed in White River in the past and this motel is a basic hotel that is clean, quiet, and comfortable. It’s a good place to stay before having to catch and early morning flight to a fly in fishing lodge in the area as well.
Day 12 – Wawa, Ontario
Wawa is a fun little town known for it’s giant Canada Goose located high on a hill overlooking the Trans Canada Highway. There’s a good visitors centre and scenic lookout here and it’s worth stopping at Young’s Family Store for fudge, ice cream and a quick fill up. The original goose statue is located here as well.
Where to Stay in Wawa
Best Northern Motel – This is an excellent choice for accommodation that caters nicely to motorcyclists. They put towels on our bike seats in the morning to soak up the dew! They have an elegant restaurant, and the rooms are sophisticated and stylish. Set a bit off the highway, surrounded by forest, it’s a perfect night to relax.
Take Your Time Driving from Wawa to the Soo
There are several scenic stops along the route this day through the area known as Algoma Country. (where Lake Superior and Lake Huron meet!) Take your time and make sure to pull off at every single one of them. Once you drive it you’ll understand why. Giant sea cliffs, gorgeous beaches and meandering rolling roads make for a drive you will never forget! It’s a stunning drive and known as one of the Top 10 in Canada.
One of the best stops we took on the entire trip was a stop at the petroglyphs (pictographs) in Lake Superior Provincial Park. You’ll see a sign for pictographs on the highway. Not only were there ancient petroglyphs painted on the side of giant cliffs, but there was also a beautiful trail and scenery. It was the most beautiful scene we saw on Lake Superior. The walk is scenic and there’s a spectacular gorge with a giant rock wedged in at the top to see. But the big views are the giant cliffs with the painted rocks.
Day 13 – Batchawana Bay, Ontario
Our next stop took us to Batchawana Bay, located about an hour outside of Sault Ste Marie where it all began. Batchawana Bay feels like one of those places that was thriving in the 70’s or 80’s. I have a feeling many locals from “The Soo” (nickname for Saulte Ste Marie) came out here to enjoy the beach back in the day. As the Northern towns begin to have their renaissance, I feel that this will pick up again soon.
Where to Stay
The Lakeshore Salzberghoff Resort was a great place to stay. The rooms have a retro feel. There are tennis courts, shuffleboard, and an excellent German restaurant serving many types of schnitzel and sausage. We highly recommend eating here.
Day 13 – Sault Ste. Marie
Which takes us back to where it all began and the end of our journey. After a last look at the Soo Locks where we tried our hand at flyfishing. Hemingway called this one of the greatest places in the world for fly fishing. After a final night, we started the journey back to Toronto.
The Lake Superior Circle Tour is one of those epic drives that must be done at least once in your life if you ride a motorcycle. You can go as fast or as slow as you like.
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