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Author Topic: Over the Great Lakes  (Read 3711 times)

Jim

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Over the Great Lakes
« on: January 20, 2015, 10:56:26 PM »

I'm just beginning to plan for a summer trip that will likely start with a drive from upstate NY to Omaha.  I have little interest in the I-90 to I-80 route to do so, and I'm thinking about taking a few extra days and going through Canada over the Great Lakes.  It seems the following schedule would be pretty easily doable:

Day 1: to Ottawa
Day 2: Ottawa to Sudbury or at least North Bay
Day 3: to Marathon
Day 4: to Duluth
Day 5: to Omaha

I wonder if I could be a little more aggressive and do this in 4 days instead of 5.  The trip is with family including a young child and a dog (all seasoned travelers) so I would want time to take a couple of breaks each day.  We can do 8-10 hours per day in the car, 12 if we make a more significant stop or two during the day.  I don't know how fast or slow the ride out TCH 17 will be and I'd be interested in first hand accounts.  I'm also interested to find out about which towns or other places along the way are most likely worth spending a bit of time looking around.  There are pretty long stretches between reasonably large towns where we'd likely find some hotel choices, so I want to make some reservations well ahead, especially since I need a pet friendly option.

Any insight those who have made all or part of this drive might want to offer would be great.
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oscar

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Re: Over the Great Lakes
« Reply #1 on: January 20, 2015, 11:44:53 PM »

Just a quick partial response, as someone who's done pretty much all of that route at least twice.

Especially if you prefer chain restaurants and lodgings, things get pretty thin between Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay.  There's a Tim Hortons and a Subway in Wawa (both with wi-fi), and at least a Tim Hortons in Nipigon.  I think there might be an A&W in Marathon.  Other than that, it's all local eateries.  For lodgings, there's an on-highway motel in Marathon that used to be part of the Travelodge system but is now independent.  I liked it when it was part of Travelodge, and would check it out tp see if it still gets good ratings (I have no idea whether it's pet-friendly, though).  There are also some non-branded motels here and there.  Marathon would be an adequate overnight stop if its motel is pet-friendly, but otherwise I'd be tempted to start the day in SSM and end it in Thunder Bay. then aim to hit the Twin Cities the next day (allowing time for scenic stops and curves on MN 61), and arrive in Omaha the middle of the following day.

There are a lot of quick scenic viewpoints along the way, but nothing else worth stopping for between SSM and Thunder Bay except for fuel and eats.

The last time I did TCH 17 around Lake Superior, it was a bit of a slow slog due to curves, but I had no trouble doing Thunder Bay to SSM in a day, and even worked in a detour via Chapleau and Thessalon (just a pure route-clinching thing, probably faster for you to go through SSM).

I wasn't excited about Sudbury, but my then-teenage nieces loved some of its tourist attractions, so I suggest more research. 

If you've thinking about taking the northern TCH 11 route instead, don't.  Exceedingly boring between Cochrane and Nipigon with few traveler services, trades the Great Lakes for the Canadian Shield which is not an even trade. 

EDIT:  Thunder Bay is pretty unexceptional (though an abundance of traveler services), but do stop by the Terry Fox memorial/rest area northeast of the city (amputee Fox had to end his famous cross-country run near Thunder Bay, after recurrence of the cancer that soon killed him).  SSM has the Canadian side of the Soo Locks, but nothing else I'd go out of the way for.
« Last Edit: January 21, 2015, 01:44:49 PM by oscar »
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froggie

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Re: Over the Great Lakes
« Reply #2 on: January 21, 2015, 01:23:21 PM »

Duluth to Omaha is certainly doable in a day, even with short stops here and there.  I would suggest taking MN 23 south out of Duluth (though you technically never leave Duluth until after MN 210)...it has an interesting old-industrial feel to it.  It was originally 4-lane undivided, but due to very low traffic volumes much of it has been reduced from that...from CSAH 3 down to MN 39 was restriped as a 3-lane, and most of it from MN 39 to MN 210 was restriped down to 2 lanes with a wide shoulder.

Check out the MN 39/WI 105 bridge...it's a bi-level bridge with railroad tracks above the roadway.

Just south of MN 210 is the famous stretch of MN 23 that nicks a corner of Wisconsin.  There's about 1/2 mile that's in Wisconsin, but is still maintained by MnDOT.

MN 210 between MN 23 and Jay Cooke State Park was a very twisty but very scenic roadway, but part of it was washed out in a flood 2 years ago.  MnDOT plans to rebuild it, but it won't be open until later in 2016.

If by chance you find yourself in or near Carlton (you can get there from MN 23 by continuing through the WI corner then taking CSAH 18 to CSAH 1), the main part of Jay Cooke State Park (still accessible from Carlton via MN 210) features a pedestrian suspension bridge (the "swinging bridge") over the St. Louis River.

From Minneapolis, there's only about a 10 mile difference between going to Omaha via I-35/I-80/Des Moines and going via Mankato/Worthington/Sioux City (US 169/MN 60/IA 60/US 75/I-29).  Going via US 169 will take you through the "Valley of the Jolly Green Giant" (Green Giant started in Le Sueur, and the "valley" refers to the Minnesota River valley).  There's about 11.5 miles of 2-lane road remaining on the corridor, along MN 60 between Butterfield and Windom (4 miles around Mountain Lake were already 4-laned, and Butterfield to St. James was completed this past year).  Minnesota and Iowa both typically post 70 MPH speed limits on rural Interstates, and a 65 MPH limit on rural 4-lane highways.
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1995hoo

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Re: Over the Great Lakes
« Reply #3 on: January 21, 2015, 02:00:56 PM »

I recall Sudbury being unexciting as well. The "Big Nickel" was about the most interesting thing there was to see. Killarney Provincial Park might be a better place to take a break from driving, especially with the dog. In North Bay, the "Gateway to the North" sign is a nice enough photo stop.

You didn't mention this alternative, but given your routing and timetable, it would not make any sense at all to cut around to Owen Sound and up the Bruce Peninsula to take the ferry to Manitoulin (the Chi-Cheemaun is its name) because it wouldn't accomplish anything. I went that way once on a trip back from Isle Royale National Park in Michigan (across the UP to Sault Ste. Marie, over to Manitoulin Island, camped there for a day or two, then the ferry, followed by a day or two in Sauble Beach), but that was on the return leg and there was no fixed itinerary other than the time by which it was necessary to get home. This sort of route might be something to consider on your way home sometime if you're coming from Duluth, Wisconsin, or the UP and you haven't been to that area. Georgian Bay has some nice provincial parks and scenery.

Oscar mentioned the northern route via Cochrane. I have been to Cochrane and thence north on the train to Moosonee and Moose Factory, but I have only been west as far as Greenwater Provincial Park (camped and fished there....didn't catch any fish and later learned the place became too popular and the fishing was no longer very good). Based on that limited exposure to the northern route, I must heartily agree with Oscar that it'd be mind-numbingly boring compared to the much more direct alternative along the Great Lakes. The Chimo polar bear statute in Cochrane is a nice photo stop, as is the Arctic Watershed sign on the TCH near Sesekinika, but those are trivial points not worth going that far out of the way to see. The stretch from North Bay up to Cochrane felt long enough as it was. I'd have no desire to haul west across that long segment to Lake Nipigon.
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Jim

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Re: Over the Great Lakes
« Reply #4 on: January 21, 2015, 07:03:54 PM »

Already lots of useful information here, thanks.  I'm thinking it might make more sense to aim for overnights in SSM and Thunder Bay.  It's a significant travel day from Ottawa or nearby to SSM but also not that much that seems of interest to see.  I'd rather have some extra time along Lake Superior, and the longest driving day early in the drive.  Then the next day, Thunder Bay to MSP, arriving early enough to poke around there a bit, followed by an easy day into Omaha (almost definitely using the US 169, etc., alternative).
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oscar

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Re: Over the Great Lakes
« Reply #5 on: January 21, 2015, 08:18:22 PM »

If you overnight in SSM:  I was underwhelmed by the Howard Johnson's.  In another recent thread, asphaltplanet said nice things about the Super 8 there, which opened since the last time I overnighted on SSM's Canadian side.  There should be plenty of other options.

In Thunder Bay, I stayed at the Super 8 on one trip, and the Comfort Inn on another.  I didn't like the Super 8.  The Comfort Inn was OK, but you can probably do better.
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froggie

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Re: Over the Great Lakes
« Reply #6 on: January 22, 2015, 09:11:29 PM »

Jim:  if you have any questions about MSP, just let me know.  It's my home stomping grounds.
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brianreynolds

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Re: Over the Great Lakes
« Reply #7 on: January 23, 2015, 10:35:18 PM »

In SSM and probably elsewhere along this route there are cabins available for overnight stays.  Usually a well-equipped kitchen suitable for home-cooked supper and breakfast.  Almost certainly kid and dog friendly.  Prices are usually comparable to a motel.  Worth considering.  My last stay in SSM was many years ago, but I have pleasant memories of the cabin there.
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