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Day One – Paddling Copper Harbor

Posted Sep 30 2013 3:19pm
September 30, 2013 | By derrick

When you travel to Lake Superior in late September, you never know what you’re going to get.  Lucky for us, we had a big high pressure system rolling over which kept the skies blue and the air warm during our visit.  After a night’s rest in our cabin at the Bella Vista  (with the baby blue 1950′s refrigerator), we were ready for our first day on the water.  We launched out past the Isle Royal ferry , through a small gap between Hunter’s Point and Porter’s Island and turned west along the rocky Lake Superior coastline to see what we could see. 

Copper Harbor is a tiny town on the northern side of Michigan’s Keeweenaw Peninsula.  The peninsula shoots straight up into the very center of Lake Superior. Created by ancient volcanos, the rock is mainly conglomerate and is known for its huge copper deposits. Of course the weather can be tricky as well. The Keeweenaw can be stormy in summer and averages over 220 inches of snow each winter.  We were pretty lucky to have such calm weather on our trip.  The great weather allowed us to sneak straight out of the harbor through a small gap, otherwise there would have been a bit of a paddle to get out and around Porter’s Island. Even then it could be dicy as there are rough rocks everywhere just below the surface of the water.


Over the course of the day we paddled about 14 miles in total. We followed the rocky shore west about half way to Eagle Harbor before turning around to visit the lighthouse on the other side of the small harbor. The best part of our walk around the lighthouse was the guy who asked, “How’d you guys get here?” (Apparently we were the only ones who hadn’t taken the tour boat!)

The shoreline on this part of the lake reminded me of ocean coastlines I’ve paddled before. The only thing the rough, reddish, rocky shore was missing were the urchins and other sea life one would expect on an ocean coast.  I’ve always felt the great lakes were “dead seas” in a sense. They simply lack the life and activity of the big salty seas. With only a one foot swell, we were able to dip in and out of the small coves, rocky reefs, boulders and bars along the shore. We also found a small cave to slip into along the way. (See the gallery below).  For kayakers it’s always a great day when you can go weave in and out of the rocks along the shore, however, it was easy to see that you wouldn’t want to be caught out here in bad weather.

We saw very little wildlife while out on the lake.. A few ducks and gulls were about it.  We guessed that most were now on their way south for the year.  We did manage to see a Bald eagle inside the harbor which was sweet!

It’s worth mentioning at this point that paddlers on Lake Superior should be prepared for any situation.  We both wore life jackets and dry suits while on the water.  We also carried a variety of safety gear, first aid kit, food and water as well as an emergency radio.  Throughout our trip we saw a variety of recreational kayaks on the water and even a couple of people going shirtless (and without life jackets) in canoes!  If you’re not prepared to safely explore the Copper Harbor area alone, check out a local tour company.

( or click here for gallery )

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