Driving across northern Wisconsin, we found it interesting to see so many out-of-state cars — especially from Minnesota. All along the way, fall’s extraordinary colors were on display.
With Michigan’s Upper Peninsula extending nearly halfway to the Minnesota border, it didn’t take us long to reach our next destination.
BLACK RIVER LODGE
This remote outpost northeast of Ironwood, Michigan, is nestled in the Ottawa National Forest and owned by a young couple, Justin and Brittany, from lower Michigan. After purchasing the lodge in 2014, they completely refurbished it, then moved in with their two children.
Being so far into the wilderness, you have to understand the backroads. Once you do, it takes about 15 minutes to reach town for dinner.
Hurley, Wisconsin, and Ironwood are only separated by the Montreal River, and during our days living near Milwaukee, Hurley was known as a bikers haven. Today, true to that reputation, Silver Street is lined with 33 bars, but only 11 appeared open.
One of them is a real gem, the Iron Nugget Restaurant. When you walk through the inconspicuous entrance, the dark ceiling beams remind one of a lodge, but the memorabilia adorning the walls is a return to Packer Land.
The family room was packed, so we settled at the bar with some locals, and started chatting with our bartender, Emily. After ordering drinks, we perused the menu. Although known for Friday night fish fries and broasted chicken, the menu has a substantial Italian influence — so embraced by the large Italian population drawn to the area to work the mines.
Soon, out came a basket of fresh-baked bread. The butter quickly melted into the bread before you could take a bite. What a perfect start.
Besides 16 pasta dishes, three gnocchi dishes and pizza, the menu also features entree salads, steaks, ribs and fish where the walleye caught my eye. It was perfectly pan-seared, flaky and just delicious. The sides of sauteed fresh vegetables, and something they call pine cones complimented the fish nicely. Pine cones are mashed potato balls coated with a very light breading, then fried. Very different, indeed.
Meanwhile, Gayle, my wife, chose the stovetop mac ‘n cheese, and that too was top notch.
Also in-house is the Silver Street Brewery, which will open soon. Regardless, so far this has been the best find for dinner during our journey.
We left the lodge early so we could stop for breakfast along the way. We eventually came upon the village of Bergland, Michigan, and at the main intersection, sits Antonio’s. So, we pulled in and enjoyed a wonderful breakfast then headed north to what are affectionally called The Porkies.
The Porcupine Mountain Wilderness is 60,000 acres of dense forests on the edge of Lake Superior. With the highest point just less than 1,500 feet, the park offers skiing, other outdoor activities and black bears. The most frequented spot is the scenic overlook above the Lake of the Clouds.
Once there, the walk to the overlook, which is only about a mile from Lake Superior, is about 100 yards up a slight grade. This is a special spot. The 240-acre lake is nestled between two ridges and about a mile below the overlook.
Fall colors in all their spender were on display. Only pictures tell the real story, but clouds were below us on occasion. Then the sun came out, and the scene exploded. This has to be one of the most gorgeous spots in the country.
After being blown away, we headed east across the immense U.P., then south to our next destination Mackinaw City, and The Chippewa Room, which we’ve written about previously.
After a dinner of elk medallions and catching a good night’s sleep, we headed for home.
On the way, consider stopping in Hastings, Michigan, and quaff a cold one at the Walldorff Brew Pub and Bistro. You just might get the best burger you’ve ever had.