400 Million Years in the Making…
The sun peeks above the horizon…shadows give way and daylight begins its long westward trek across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Weathered gray cliffs of limestone, located at the far eastern end of Drummond Island, are the first to feel the warmth of day. Standing over 100’ above the waves of the great North Channel of Lake Huron the cliffs command a sweeping view to the east. This is Marblehead.
Marblehead has a geographic and geologic history that far outshines its diminutive size. The limestone that comprises the bluffs here was laid down in the early Devonian Period. To most this means nothing but trust me this is a long, long, looong time ago…on the order of 400 million-plus years. You see, at that time much of today’s Midwestern region lay beneath the warm waters of a huge, shallow sea. Over time the sediments which would one day be the limestone of Marblehead was laid down and as the sea retreated this rock became exposed. As it turned out Marblehead would mark the edge of this relatively weather-resistant limestone layer. I was shocked to discover that the cliffs I would be standing on are in fact part of a larger limestone entity famously known as the Niagara Escarpment. Marblehead sits at the apex of this 900-mile long escarpment which is more commonly known for the huge water fall at its east end but also extends to east-central Wisconsin in the west. In Michigan, Marblehead is the only place the escarpment shows its face in any remarkable form.
Walking a Jeep Trail…The path to Marblehead is quite well travelled, though not by foot. The roads leading out to and surrounding Marblehead are popular off-road destinations. In fact, Drummond Island is frequently the site of Jeep Jamborees. As such, the drive out to Marblehead is not for the faint-of-heart, or at least not for those without a four-wheel drive they don’t mind giving a good workout. Using the directions below the hike starts along Sitgreaves Bay, a pretty little rocky cove about two miles from Marblehead itself. Of course, if the road out to Sitgreaves is too rough you can simply park alongside it and begin the walk from wherever you wish adding mileage to the hike accordingly.
From Sitgreaves Bay the trail briefly passes along the lakeshore with nice views of the Great North Passage to the east. Soon, though, the trail tackles the escarpment climbing from the conifer lowlands to the mixed hardwoods above. The trail is rocky but, as it doubles as a road, is clear and wide. Once atop the escarpment the path levels off passing through one aspen grove after another before reaching the intersection to Marblehead about 1.5 miles from where you parked. From here you turn east(left) and the trail continues to pass through a recently disturbed landscape of burned stumps, low bushes, and widely scattered stands of aspen. Before long you reach a large series of stone steps, no doubt a popular obstacle to climb during Jeep rallies. After climbing the steps you are only a minute or two from the cliff edge and Marblehead itself.
The views are spectacular to the east with green islands breaking the surface of the lake and the Canadian mainland on the distant horizon. There are no trails down to the lakeshore so if you decide to scramble down be aware of where you descended. The lakeshore itself is quite interesting as it is littered with large, narrow slabs of the limestone that is so common in this area. You can also congratulate yourself as you will also be standing on the easternmost point in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Return by the same route.
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Getting There is Half the Adventure…The first thing you have to do is get to Drummond Island…
-Turn off I-75 at Exit 359 and head east on M-134 towards DeTour Village. After 42-ish miles you’ll enter the town. There are signs directing you to the ferry terminal but don’t worry about getting lost, this isn’t exactly a city. The ferry runs year-round.
-Once arriving on Drummond Island, continue east on M-134 (also known as East Channel Road and then East Johnswood Road) for 15 miles at which point you need to watch for Kreaton Road on your left.
-Turn left onto Kreaton Rd, follow it for less than a mile and turn right onto Glen Cove Road.
-From this point things can get rough. Glen Cove Road winds for 6-ish winding miles to its namesake cove. There are numerous side trails here but Glen Cove is usually the obvious choice. If it’s not, bear left and you’ll be alright.
-As you drop to Glen Cove you’ll take a right (south) along the lake towards Sitgreaves Bay. This is the point where you seriously need to consider how much of a beating you want your vehicle to take. If Glen Cove Road bothered you, then park here, it gets, much, much worse the farther you go. I opted to continue for two additional bone-jarring miles to the bridge at Sitgreaves Bay.
-Even if you’re vehicle could make it past here, park it…make this a hike!
More Info…Drummond Island - A good all around website for info on Drummond Island, including good maps.
Hiking Michigan’s Upper Peninsula - A good guidebook to hikes across Upper Michigan, including Marblehead.
Marblehead Photo Journal - Shameless self-promotion. The complete photo journal of my first trip to Marblehead.