The best time to take this road trip is the end of September or beginning October for obvious reasons – Autumn. The main reason we went was two-fold: fall colors and the Agawa Canyon Tour Train. The day after the tour train, when we did the road trip up to Wawa, that was quite spectacular. It wasn’t part of our schedule but, if you are planning a trip there, make sure to do a day trip up and around Lake Superior. It’s worth it.
The driving distance is 768 miles and depending on time of travel, Google maps will give you about a 12 hours time to get to destination. Make that 13 hours. Why do I say that? It’s invariable that you will run into traffic at the bend south of Chicago and around the southern border of lake Michigan. I should have known that. We took the same route to Mackinac Island last year and it was the same bottle neck.
When it comes to lodging, last year, when I went up to Mackinac Island, we stopped by Gary, IN. Apparently, that was NOT a wise thing to go. This time around, since we left our home at around noon, I wasn’t so tired, and could continue to drive further north to stop at Grand Rapids, MI. Yes, we stayed the night, before continuing our trip. I usually find a hotel in the Marriott or Hilton chain that has a continental breakfast. So, we drove and when we found an exit, we stopped at the Springhill Suites, I was glad for my Bonvoy Gold membership. I think they had one room left or they upgraded us or they accommodated us because of the Gold membership. I can’t remember. They gave us a goody bag with a couple of waters and chips. It is the little things.
The rest of our trip was as far as driving and lodging was quite unremarkable. Of course, there was the whole issue with gas! Let me explain.
I cannot remember where I filled up my tank last, but I can remember that when we hit the UP (the upper peninsula) past the Mackinac Bridge, Buddy (my car) said it was 100 miles to empty. Well, the thing is this. Buddy may say 100 miles to empty. What he means is really 40 miles to empty and we were 40 miles to Sault Ste. Marie. I joked with my hubby about how we will barely make it there and crash.
As you can imagine, I began to think that it’s better to stop for gas. I saw a sign for a gas station. Well, I took the exit and I couldn’t find the gas station. I kept driving for over a mile and there was no gas station. I didn’t want to get too far from the highway. My husband looked it up and said it was 5 miles down the road. “Are you kidding me?” I retorted. “I’m not driving 5 miles down the road. I’m turning around and getting back to the highway. There’s got to be a gas station coming up that’s right off an exit. This is ridiculous!” So, I turned around. And drove and drove and drove and watched my gas meter go down and down and down.
A few miles in I realized there was no gas station coming up and none in sight. I used Buddy’s “nearest gas station” feature and realized that all gas stations were behind me. About 7 miles and climbing behind me. Damn! I turned around in the next exit and then drove back 7 miles and then down some small road and 10 miles in for a gas station. It had a food stop and it was nice, but the moral of this story. THERE ARE NO GAS STATIONS OFF THE HIGHWAY IN THE U. P. Get your gas BEFORE you cross the Mackinac Bridge. There are no signs that say, next gas station in 40 miles. So, we lost 30 minutes in that gamble, but all’s well that ends well.
Gas in Canada
I’m not Canadian and perhaps a Canadian needs to comment on this post and tell me how Americans are clueless about filling up their gas tanks. In Canada, apparently you have to pay upfront for X number of gallons for your car and when my husband was filling my tank and asked me how many gallons to fill my tank, I stared at him blankly. “I don’t know. Just fill the damn car.” He’s like, “It’s not that simple!” He was frustrated. I was frustrated. I cannot help you, but apparently, you can pay for more and if you fill less, then they only charge you for what you paid. The question is, how many gallons do you want to pay for? It’s counted in number of gallons you need, not in the $$ you want to pay. So, you cannot say, I’ll pay upto $50. It doesn’t work that way. You have to say, I’ll pay upto 14 gallons. Or whatever the gallon capacity is of your car. Something to keep in mind for getting gas in Canada.
The second thing to keep in mind is that the price of gasoline there is exorbitant. So, on our way back, we only filled enough to get us across the Mackinac bridge and then we filled up there, in MI, and made a move on. Just something to keep in mind.
Agawa Canyon Train Tour
An all day train tour from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario to the Agawa Canyon Park. You pass still glassy waters with mesmerizing reflections of the wilderness. You see rivers and lakes and you pass over a lake over a towering trestle. If you like to see nature, then you will enjoy it. Do remember that you are going through trees so there’ll be a lot of trees, unfortunately blocking your view. So, my advice: Don’t blink, because that’s how long it takes before the scenery goes out of view and are once again blocked by the trees.
Despite having purchased tickets on the website, the tickets must still be picked up on site, the day BEFORE your trip. Someone asked me about what would happen if they came the day of, to pick up tickets? I don’t know. The thing is that they start boarding at 7:30am and the line to board starts forming around 7am. So, I guess you’d have to come really early? The bigger issue is what train car you would be assigned.
The train cars are different. The woman at the depot, told me they were all the same. NOT TRUE. I remember reading online that some seats were larger or had more leg room, but here’s what I know. There are some seats, in some cars, where the seats flip over, so you are facing forward on both legs of the train journey. I don’t know if the woman in the depot knows that or not, and I don’t know how to get certain seats, but I had to mention that.
All seats are the same price, so it’s not like one person pays more for certain seats. You want to make sure you are in a car where the seats can flip over so you are facing forward all the time. On our trip, our seats could not be flipped over or rotated. Going there we were facing forward. On the way back, we were facing backwards. Wish we had a different car. We were on car 11.
Car 12 was the lunch car. The woman at the station told us to avoid the lunch car as the lines are always long. She was right about that, however, some of the seats in the lunch cars had a table between them. That might or might not be good, because the line to purchase lunch/snacks was there for pretty much the whole first part of the trip. And also, if you were in a lunch car, because of the line, you may have trouble seeing the scenery as it passes or getting to capture the picture, because of everyone there. In a nutshell my advice: Avoid car 11 or 12 for your tickets. That’s all I can give you.
When you do get your tickets, what car you are (how far forward) matters for the trails you would walk when you get to the Agawa Canyon. For instance, The Lookout Trail is on the front of the train when you get there. The Talus and River Trail are closer to the back of the train. I will talk a bit about our experience with the trails further down this article.
What is the best side of the train to sit on?
Before I tell you that the right side has the best view of the trestle and the waterfall, I will say that both sides have their pluses and minuses. You can see some things on the right and some on the left. With that said, I looked it up online and the recommendation was RIGHT and I agree with that recommendation. You’ll see more on the right than on the left.
The left side gives you some spectacular views of the valleys and Lake Superior out at a far off distance. You can see some pretty lakes on both sides but the right side has more views of beautiful still lakes that mirror their shores. The Bridal Veil Falls can be viewed from the right and the Black Beaver Falls to the left. I did not get a good look at the Black Beaver Falls.
I know I talked earlier about facing forward and the seats that flipped. Well, know that the train is not a loop. It’s a one track, point A to point B train. When the train pulls into the station, you want to sit on the other side of the direction it pulls into. The train pulls into the station going right. So you want to sit, facing as though the train were going left because it pulls out the way it came in.
You train ticket is valid as a $10 voucher aboard the train. If you want to buy a box lunch, other than the continental breakfast box lunch which is $10, all other box lunches are $17. Snacks/cookies/drinks are $2 – $3. Alcoholic beverages cost $7. An individual sandwich or salad is $6. We were advised to bring our own food aboard the train but it was late in the evening and we didn’t have the motivation to go and shop for food. If you have the time, buy your meals and that way you a. avoid the lines and b. you don’t have to deal with the limited lunch car canteen menu. We used our $10 vouchers and it worked out well, but it’s good to know that you can take your own food on the train.
We were advised before our trip to the Agawa Canyon that the restrooms were like outhouses and we should use the facilities on the train. I did not try the restroom at the Agawa canyon as I heeded the advise given me. The train restrooms were clean and useable. So, yes, use the restroom on the train.
Trails at Agawa Canyon
There are 3 trails that you can hike while in the Canyon. The Talus Trail, The River Trail and The Lookout Trail. I really wanted to try out the Lookout Trail. While the 300 steps did intimidate me, I still felt motivated to go at it. Yes, the 300 steps do lead to a wooden viewing platform and you get beautiful views of the Agawa Canyon, but there are a couple of things to take note of. Remember when I said you want to be in the front of the train if you want to do this hike. It helps because we were more towards the back and so we had to walk several cars down to the front of the train (in the direction in came in) and by the time we were climbing the stairs it was a crowd.
The crowd can be good or bad. It’s good because you are waiting on the steps to move up. So, you are moving up slowly, literally one step at a time and stopping. If we knew exactly where we were going, basically to the front of the train, and if we came early we would have run into the issue of fatigue of climbing 300 steps and we would have had to stop and the crowd would have caught up with us anyway. If you are young and in great shape, go fast, go early and go up the steps and get done sooner. By the time we got down we weren’t sure if we had time to do the other two trails. We did, but we did not want to chance it and besides we thought it would be nice to have lunch by the canyon. So, we did not do the Talus or the River Trail but there is enough time to do all three. If I would have known that and planned it, I would have skipped lunch and done lunch when we were back on the train.
Road trip up to WAWA – 17 North
Do not miss taking this road trip from Saulte Ste. Marie to Wawa in the fall. Take highway 17 going North and keep following the eastern border of Lake Superior up North up to Wawa. The colors are bright and crisp. The variations of yellows and reds are a feast for the eyes. There is a small park before you cross the Chippewa River where you can do the small hike up to see the waterfall. The rest of the way, there’s pretty much enough shoulder on the highway for you to stop and take pictures. The temptation to stop came frequently and my words fail me to describe the grandeur in fall colors.
A few quick notes for this road trip:
- Fill your gas tank before you go.
- Restroom by the Chippewa falls is like an outhouse!
- Take the road trip AFTER the train trip or the train trip will be a disappointment.
- In October, a lot of the lodgings and the big craft store was closed. We didn’t need lodging but if you do, good to know.
- Turn around once you get to the city of Wawa. Going on 101 to continue on SE border of Wawa lake is NOT worth it. And it’s hard to turn around.
- Stop at Tim Horton’s in Wawa, for a break, before you drive back.
I really cannot think of much else to say. If something comes up later on that I realized I forgot to mention, I will edit this blog post, but for now, I hope you enjoyed this post. Please post your questions or comments below.