Bare Bluff Hike: Grinnell Memorial Sanctuary

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Find your way out to the Bare Bluff Hike, and you’ve really gone off the beaten path.  This Keweenaw Peninsula hike is quite a treat – half of it is easy, the other half is very challenging, and in between, you might have trouble finding your way.  But, all that effort pays off with a great view of Lake Superior, and at the right time of year, some beautiful Autumn leaves.

Location

The Bare Bluff Hike is located within the Grinnell Memorial Nature Sanctuary.  It’s directly south of Copper Harbor, on the southern coast of the Keweenaw Peninsula.  To get there, take US 41 to the Delaware/Wyoming area (about 11 miles southwest of Copper Harbor), then turn onto Gay Lac La Belle Road.  Follow that road to the Y intersection at Lac La Belle, and keep left onto Bete Grise Road.  From the Y, go 3 miles, then turn left onto Smiths Fisheries Road.  In about 2.5 miles, the road appears to split again — stay right and park here.  The right fork of the road is gated — this is the beginning of the trail.

My Visit

The Bare Bluff hike is an adventure – but so is getting there.  The drive takes you from one road to another, getting progressively more remote, narrower, and more poorly maintained along the way.  The final stretch, on Smith’s Fisheries Road, can be rough.  The day I drove it, I had to squeeze past some heavy machinery that was spreading gravel on the road.  I guess this is a sign that it’s maintained, at least to some degree, but it was still a rough ride up to the trailhead.  Fortunately, there were some glimpses of a stellar view along the way — and even when I couldn’t see the water, I was seeing some excellent fall colors.  My visit, near the end of the first week of October, was probably just a week before the peak of fall colors in this part of the Keweenaw Peninsula.

If you’re not sure where to find the trailhead, watch for this “island” of trees, seemingly in the middle of a split on Smith’s Fisheries Road. The road gets rougher as it continues to the left.  On the right, there’s room for 3 or 4 cars to park.

Hike around this gate, and you’re on the Bare Bluff Trail.

Bare Bluff Hike – Grinnell Memorial Nature Sanctuary

I was pretty sure I was in the right place, but there weren’t any signs until I spotted this one, well after the gate.  That drawing is a very confusing map that doesn’t really help very much.  Here’s what you need to know: if you take the trail that splits off to the left, you’re on the easy trail up to the bluff.  Stay straight, and it will be easy for a while, then extremely difficult, as you skirt the cliffs underneath the bluff, then climb up the far side to the good viewpoints.

It would be nice if the “trail begins here” sign was posted out by the trailhead at the parking area.

Another crude map attempts to once again explain your options.  I highly suggest you turn left for the easy path up to the top of the bluff.  Then, if you want to endure the most challenging part of the trail, you’ll be going downhill, which should be a little bit easier.

On the easy route, it seemed like it took no time at all to reach the bluffs.  The views of the water are quite good from here, although you might struggle to find a spot that’s clear enough to get a perfect picture of the coast.

This is about the best I could do.  Here, we’re looking east, towards the very tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula.  And as you can see, there was a fairly good bit of fall colors on the trees in early October.

So, I made it to the bluffs and enjoyed the view.  Now, I faced the challenging part.

It was in this clearing that I almost gave up and went back the way I came.  I couldn’t find the trail anywhere.

There were one or two trail markers, like the green-blue diamond you see above.  But you need to be able to see the next one, and then the next one — and at this point of the trail, it’s not very well blazed.

After much trial and error…

… I started to figure out the way.  This part of the trail doesn’t seem much like a trail because it’s so rough.  In this spot, the trail goes underneath the marker.  Further on, it makes an almost straight-downhill drop through a narrow canyon.  Hiking with your hands is necessary in some of these spots because it’s just so darned steep and slippery.

However, I did find this part of the Bare Bluff hike to be very beautiful — perhaps even more beautiful than the viewpoints up on the bluff.  In this one spot, the canyon was soggy, and a very big puddle provided a neat reflection of the forest which surrounded me.  A few red and yellow fall leaves helped add some color.

Once you make it through the precipitous drop…

… the trail continues to be a challenge.  Now, you’re at the bottom of the bluff, hiking back the way you came.  The trail rises and drops as it follows the terrain.  You’ll need to squeeze between some trees in this area, and once again, the trail markers are not always where they need to be.

This is, perhaps, the clearest marker on the Bare Bluff Hike.

At this point, the worst of the trail is behind you.  You’ll rejoin that “road” that you were on earlier — although at first, it’s just a single track, then it eventually turns into a double track.

On the way back to the car, I spent some time enjoying the fall colors — like this tree, that looks like it was already past the peak, and losing its leaves!

Back at the car, I met another guy who had driven out to see the leaves.  He was very familiar with the Keweenaw Peninsula, and told me that the fall colors were not even close to their peak yet.  If that’s true, I can’t imagine how beautiful this area would be at the peak of color!

I can’t vouch for the quality of Smith’s Fisheries Road beyond the Bare Bluff trailhead. However, I do know that if you continue up the road to the end, then hike about a mile up an old road/trail, you can visit Montreal Falls. This waterfall is located at the end of the Montreal River, where it tumbles into Lake Superior. If you make it up there, let me know about the experience in the comments!

Drivelapse Video

Here’s a look at the drive to Gay, Michigan, and on to Lac La Belle and the Bare Bluff trailhead…

… and from Bare Bluff to Calumet:

The Bottom Line

The hike to Bare Bluff is definitely one of the most remote destinations you’ll find on the Keweenaw Peninsula.  It’s not an easy hike — unless you simply go to the viewpoint and back.  If you hike the entire loop, trail-finding can be a challenge, and so can the steep drop downhill.  But, you’ll get the satisfaction of conquering this corner of the peninsula, while enjoying complete solitude.

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