By Steve Ellis
Every summer, I plan a trip up north with a group of old high school friends. A couple summers ago, we packed the four of us, along with four bikes, two tents, sleeping bags, stove, food, fishing gear and just about anything else we thought we might need, into a too-small vehicle and headed to Fayette State Park. The park is in the U.P, about one hundred miles west of the Mackinaw Bridge.
Fayette State Park is in what was once the town of Fayette, a booming mining town in the late 1800’s that included hundreds of residents and dozens of buildings. It fell on hard times as the mines dried up and most people moved away. The buildings sat empty, and it became a ghost town.
In 1959, the State of Michigan purchased the land and began turning it into a state park and restored many of the old buildings. The restoration work continues today.
We followed U.S. 2 west along the northern shore of Lake Michigan through St Ignace, Naubinway, Hog Island Point and Manistique. At Manistique, we drove south on 435 (Little Harbor Road) into the Garden Peninsula. This is a very pretty, meandering road that ends in Garden–a small town with a gas station, grocery store and a couple bar/restaurants. The park is another 8 miles south on 183. This peninsula runs down the right side of Big Bay De Noc. We quickly found that this is a very popular salmon fishing area with tournaments almost every weekend. In fact, we were told that this was once voted by USA Today one of the top 10 fishing spots in the country.
Due to the remoteness of Fayette State Park, it is not overwhelmed with campers or visitors and rarely fills up. This was fine with us.
The park is located at the tip of a peninsula and has a large bay with rock cliffs on the northern side, making it very conducive for larger boats to dock and spend the night.
Camping was quite peaceful with a short walk through the woods to Lake Michigan. The shore is covered with large flat rocks but at the far end of the park is a nice, sandy beach.
Up above the beach is a gorgeous old cemetery on a bluff overlooking the lake. Many of the headstones are from the late 1800’s.
We walked and rode our bikes around the old buildings and the 7 miles of trails. No cars, stores or houses were nearby and unlike Greenfield Village, where you are tripping over people at every turn, we had the place almost to ourselves. It gave us a real sense of what it may have been like to live in a remote village, 130 years ago.
One of the highlights of our trip was getting up at 6:30 one morning and riding bikes to the top of a cliff, overlooking the village. We ran into Paul Rose, who lived nearby, who woke up and had the same idea.
He explained that he had moved to the area from southern Michigan several years ago and never left. He is a photographer and has spent years photographing this beautiful area.
We stood watching as the sun came up over the back of the peninsula, slowly lighting each building down below. Paul pointed at small details that we would not have noticed on our own.
We spent a few afternoons driving around Manistique, Gladstone, Escanaba and other nearby towns. At night we returned to Fayette and twice had dinner at Sherry’s Port Bar, a cozy little place near the park that was built back in the 1950’s in the shape of a lighthouse. They have a very tasty fish fry and offer conversations with life-long residents who know everyone and everything about the area.
Overall, this was a very relaxing trip that I would recommend to anyone, young or old.