A Trail of Two Cities, Paradise & Munising MI, by Great Lakes Endurance Founder, Jeff Crumbaugh
A Trail of Two Cities
By Jeff Crumbaugh
Editor’s Note: High school physics and chemistry teacher, longtime runner and founder/director of countless trail running events, including the Great Lakes Endurance Series that takes advantage of Michigan’s singular Upper Peninsula trails, Jeff Crumbaugh happens to run things eco-friendly, and is truly the proverbial nice guy.Despite COVID-19’s impact, Jeff reminds us that Paradise’s and Munising’s trails are still out there and amazing. Also, to savor the trail races we will return to once again.
In a moment of irony, two laid-back trail towns in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula are facing the best of times and the worst of times. With Charles Dickens’ ode to duality and resurrection aside, such is also the tale of Paradise and Munising, two small towns surrounded by an abundance of single track and Lake Superior shoreline. Both are quiet, friendly communities that rely upon seasonal tourism for much of their economic survival. With travel and events limited by the Coronavirus pandemic, I wanted to share their story with the hope that, when better times return, you may plan a trip there and discover what I have found are remarkable and regenerative havens for trail running.
My first visit to Paradise, Michigan was as an eleven-year-old with my grandparents and my two brothers in the 1970s. I was mesmerized by the waterfalls on the Tahquamenon River and the gentle flow of the tannin-colored waters. A backpacking trip there in the early ’90s with my wife introduced me to the wild backcountry north of the river, accessible via the Giant Pines, Clark Lake, and Wilderness Trails within Tahquamenon Falls State Park. Then, in 2006, having organized trail running races in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for several years, we decided to found Great Lakes Endurance, a company devoted to promoting environmental awareness through trail running events.
Shortly thereafter, at the suggestion of Karla Shandonnay, a science teacher at Whitefish Township School, we explored the possibility of a 25K trail running race that would take runners from a remote location four miles west of the river mouth all the way to the Upper Falls. The course was designed to follow the North Country Trail fifteen kilometers to the Lower Falls. This segment was a ribbon of single track flowing through carpets of reindeer moss and wild blueberries, along ridges overlooking lakes where, on occasion, a moose could be spotted. The remaining 10K would follow the River Trail, a challenging course over the undulating geography, along the river to Upper Falls. The race became a reality and has been an annual favorite for trail runners the first week of August.
Nearly a decade later, Tahquamenon Falls State Park superintendent, Craig Krepps, suggested a race from Muskallonge State Park to Tahquamenon Falls. The course would, again, follow the North Country Trail, but this time would measure out to 50K. The trail visited small campgrounds every five to seven miles, including the Reed & Green Bridge, Mouth of the Two Hearted River, and Culhane Lake. These locations would serve as aid stations, all accessible by spectators. After extensive scouting and logistical work, the Two Hearted Trail became a reality in 2015.
The course includes spectacular sections on high bluffs overlooking Lake Superior, and intimate sections along the shores of Culhane Lake as well as Little Two Hearted River. It remains one of the most wild and scenic 50K races in the Midwest. The event also features a marathon along much of the same 50K course. In addition, a half marathon allows runners to explore the rugged terrain north of the Upper Falls. The trail winds through a grove of 300-year-old giant white pines and along the high ridge overlooking Clark Lake.
Dining and Lodging in Paradise
With a wide variety of lodging in Paradise, my favorite is the Magnusson Grand Hotel Lakefront. Owned and operated by Laurie Winkler and her family for over forty years, the staff go above and beyond to welcome runners and other silent sports enthusiasts. The hotel overlooks Lake Superior.
Post run, you can relax on the front lawn in an Adirondack chair and watch freighters pass through Whitefish Bay, and see the rocky Gros Cap peninsula in Ontario far across the bay. The hotel features a large common area with expansive windows overlooking the lake, and a large, stone fireplace—a great place to meet with friends.
Winkler’s son Josh, a classically trained chef, operates a cozy restaurant only 150 meters from the hotel. The Inn Gastro Pub prepares all their food from scratch. All the meats are smoked in-house, and the fries are hand-cut from fresh potatoes. Even the ketchup is homemade. Entrees include their Spinach & Arugula Salad with walnuts, dried cranberries, goat cheese, red onion, and a cranberry orange vinaigrette. Josh also serves a variety of burgers and sandwiches, including his version of a hearty BLT, featuring house-smoked turkey breast, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and rosemary aioli on sourdough.
Heading west from Paradise via M123 and M28, in less than two hours you will arrive in the waterfront town of Munising. It’s also possible, albeit more ambitious, to hike there via the North Country Trail. Once in Munising, you will be greeted by a stunning view of Munising Bay, framed by a 300-foot ridge, that surrounds the downtown and its neighborhoods.
This is the headquarters of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and the Hiawatha National Forest. Pictured Rocks is a world class sea kayaking destination, and also features a 45-mile stretch of the North Country Trail. This section offers vistas atop 200-foot sandstone cliffs, shoreline birch forests, and the ethereal Grand Sable Dunes. Upper Peninsula trail running guru Jim Engel runs this stretch from Grand Marais on the east end to Munising on the west every summer. “It takes about ten hours,” Engel said, “and is the highlight of my summer—a great way to spend the day.”
In the fall of 2004, I asked Engel what he thought about holding a marathon on Grand Island, a 21-square-mile island in Lake Superior, a 5-minute ferry boat ride from the mainland. It had been a favorite running haunt for years. Engel said, “Let’s do it!” and the Grand Island Trail Marathon was born, held for the first time in 2005, now featuring a 50K and half marathon.
Below: Drone video of the Grand Island Marathon — Stunning!