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Author Topic: Road trip around Lake Superior  (Read 10178 times)

A.J. Bertin

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Road trip around Lake Superior
« on: December 10, 2012, 12:49:17 PM »

Next summer, a friend of mine (one of my fellow roadgeek friends) and I are planning on taking a 5-day road trip that includes circling Lake Superior. On the second day of our trip, we will be driving from Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay, spending the vast majority of the day on King's Highway 17 in Ontario.

Are there many people here who have traveled that section of Highway 17? Google Maps says it's approximately 440 miles from Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay. I'm just wondering what the road is like as far as whether it's busy, if there are plenty of services along that stretch, and so on. Are there plenty of gas stations, restaurants, rest areas, etc. along that stretch? It seems like that would be some pretty remote territory and was just wondering.

(I considered posting this on the Canada board but figured I would start with Midwest/Great Lakes.)
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Re: Road trip around Lake Superior
« Reply #1 on: December 10, 2012, 01:01:31 PM »

I have driven that stretch of highway a couple of times in the past. Highway 17 isn't very busy, but it is well travelled, so if you do run into trouble, somebody will be along to give you a hand.

Highway 17 is at times quite remote.  It is sometimes several hundred kilometers between towns and gas stations, but if you plan ahead you'll be fine.  Wawa and White River are typically the most expensive places to buy gas in Ontario, but because of their remote location it's hard to avoid a fill-up in one of the two locations.

There aren't a lot of chain restaurants between the soo and Thunder Bay (there isn't a single McDonalds for over 700 km) but there is an A&W in White River and a Tim Hortons in Wawa.  There are a number of independent restaurants along the way to tide you over though.

I haven't driven it, but I understand that Hwy 61 is quite remote north of Duluth as well.

Hwy 17 is very pretty. It is consistently rated as one of the 10 best drives in Canada, and the scenery won't disappoint. Have fun!
« Last Edit: December 10, 2012, 01:45:10 PM by AsphaltPlanet »
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oscar

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Re: Road trip around Lake Superior
« Reply #2 on: December 10, 2012, 01:10:18 PM »

Next summer, a friend of mine (one of my fellow roadgeek friends) and I are planning on taking a 5-day road trip that includes circling Lake Superior. On the second day of our trip, we will be driving from Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay, spending the vast majority of the day on King's Highway 17 in Ontario.

Are there many people here who have traveled that section of Highway 17? Google Maps says it's approximately 440 miles from Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay. I'm just wondering what the road is like as far as whether it's busy, if there are plenty of services along that stretch, and so on. Are there plenty of gas stations, restaurants, rest areas, etc. along that stretch? It seems like that would be some pretty remote territory and was just wondering.

Services are a little scarce along that highway, nothing to worry about but you do need to think about where you'll stop for fuel, eats, etc.

Off the top of my head, the stops with a decent variety of services will be Wawa (jct ON 101) and Nipigon (jct TCH 11).  Both have Tim Hortons and Subways, if you want fast food, but there's not a single McDonald's between SSM and Thunder Bay.  Other places along the way with at least some gas and lodgings include Marathon, and little towns I don't remember (other than stopping for gas) between Marathon and Nipigon and maybe one between SSM and Wawa.

It's an unpleasant drive at night between Marathon and Nipigon, but you should have no trouble doing SSM to Thunder Bay in daylight in the summer, even working in stops to take in the awesome scenery where the road hugs Lake Superior.

Bonus tip:  Services are even more limited on ON/MN 61 south of Thunder Bay.  I don't know how far south of the border is the nearest U.S. gas station, so I suggest at least a partial fill-up in Thunder Bay, rather than striving to cross back into the U.S. on a nearly empty gas tank just to beat higher Canadian gas prices. 
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Re: Road trip around Lake Superior
« Reply #3 on: December 10, 2012, 01:58:22 PM »

on a related note, what's the furthest north you can drive in Ontario from 17?  Looks like Balmertown is the end of the line?

reason I ask is - I'll be in Minnesota this upcoming weekend, and if the northern lights forecast looks promising, I'm heading straight north.
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Re: Road trip around Lake Superior
« Reply #4 on: December 10, 2012, 02:03:54 PM »

61 is not remote at all.  Small towns every few miles.  Maybe the stretch north of Grandma Ray.
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Re: Road trip around Lake Superior
« Reply #5 on: December 10, 2012, 02:41:08 PM »

Pickle lake (Hwy 599) is further north than Red Lake (Hwy 105 and 125).
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Re: Road trip around Lake Superior
« Reply #6 on: December 10, 2012, 03:30:31 PM »

Pickle lake (Hwy 599) is further north than Red Lake (Hwy 105 and 125).

and further east.   the direct route from International Falls to Pickle Lake is almost perfectly normal to the aurora equipotential circle.  so that is, indeed, the way to go.  what is the road quality of 599 to Pickle Lake?  I'm assuming it is paved?

what about route 808?  what is that like during the winter?  I'm guessing that won't be passable in a compact car with non-studded tires.
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Re: Road trip around Lake Superior
« Reply #7 on: December 10, 2012, 03:35:28 PM »

http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=394825
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_Ontario_Resource_Trail
Looks like *north* of Pickle Lake to Windigo Lake (old 808) is good quality gravel.
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Re: Road trip around Lake Superior
« Reply #8 on: December 10, 2012, 03:49:09 PM »

http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=394825
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_Ontario_Resource_Trail
Looks like *north* of Pickle Lake to Windigo Lake (old 808) is good quality gravel.

good stuff, thank you!  I'm guessing south of Pickle Lake, the road is all paved.
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Re: Road trip around Lake Superior
« Reply #9 on: December 10, 2012, 05:41:16 PM »

Quote
I don't know how far south of the border is the nearest U.S. gas station

About 3/4 mile.

texaskdog hinted at this, but MN 61 is not as remote as one would otherwise expect.  Your longest distance without gas is basically the 42 miles between the border and Grand Marais.  For "fast food", there's a Subway in Grand Marais and both Subway and McDonald's in Two Harbors, but there are several small cafes/restaurants in Grand Marais, Lutsen, Silver Bay, and Two Harbors (including Betty's Pies outside Two Harbors).
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Re: Road trip around Lake Superior
« Reply #10 on: December 10, 2012, 08:02:25 PM »

I did this trip on a family vacation as a teenager and come up the North Shore almost yearly.

Ontario:
ON 17 is a very good highway; well maintained, lots of passing lanes, plenty of cool views.
The way you're going around, once you pass the airport in Thunder Bay, you're out of town as far as services go.
There is no duty free store for American-bound travelers at the Grand Portage port of entry so if you were looking to resupply with tax-free liquor, you're SOL.

Minnesota:
I highly recommend Sven & Ole's in Grand Marais.  Great pizza.  Turn toward the lake at the traffic light and park in the public lot on your left.
http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&ll=47.749442,-90.332884&spn=0.002305,0.005681&t=m&z=18
MN 61 is, in my opinion, one of the most scenic highways in the entire country.  Take advantage of the many turn offs and soak up the view.  There are several spots where waterfalls cascade right next to the highway.  And there's some pretty impressive mining-related industry in Silver Bay and Taconite Harbor.
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Re: Road trip around Lake Superior
« Reply #11 on: December 11, 2012, 07:13:13 PM »

http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=394825
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_Ontario_Resource_Trail
Looks like *north* of Pickle Lake to Windigo Lake (old 808) is good quality gravel.

good stuff, thank you!  I'm guessing south of Pickle Lake, the road is all paved.

The latest detailed Ontario road atlas says the road up to Pickle Lake is paved.  Looks like you're set.
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Re: Road trip around Lake Superior
« Reply #12 on: December 11, 2012, 08:52:24 PM »

MN 61 is still scenic, but it's been degraded considerably in the quarter century of so I've been driving it. More and more developement and widening and straightening projects, with modern shoulders and clear zone. The scenic route between Two Harbors and Duluth was totally bypassed so they left the old road in it's scenic, dangerous beauty. There are three modern rest areas, two adjacent to state parks, and a nice parking area at the Silver Creek Tunnel where you can walk on the old road around the edge of the cliff which is now a bicycle trail.

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Re: Road trip around Lake Superior
« Reply #13 on: December 12, 2012, 09:37:11 AM »

The latest detailed Ontario road atlas says the road up to Pickle Lake is paved.  Looks like you're set.

the weather is looking pretty iffy (overcast/snow) so it might be a very last-minute decision to cross into Ontario or not.  I may actually end up driving only up to 17 and then taking old 61 down from Thunder Bay.  I've only done enough of that road to clinch the last county in Minnesota, and I did it at 2am in a rainstorm, so I definitely didn't see much!
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Re: Road trip around Lake Superior
« Reply #14 on: December 12, 2012, 09:45:41 AM »

Pickle lake (Hwy 599) is further north than Red Lake (Hwy 105 and 125).

and further east.   the direct route from International Falls to Pickle Lake is almost perfectly normal to the aurora equipotential circle.  so that is, indeed, the way to go.  what is the road quality of 599 to Pickle Lake?  I'm assuming it is paved?

what about route 808?  what is that like during the winter?  I'm guessing that won't be passable in a compact car with non-studded tires.

Peter Egan of Road & Track wrote a column a few years ago about driving an old Jaguar, I believe an E-Type, to Pickle Lake, although the trip was during the summer. Seems he made it with no mishaps, which certainly suggests the road ought to be OK when the weather is decent. The column was in the May 2005 issue (based on a reference to it that I found online).
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