Going up north – A Michigan tradition

Thanks to Matt Eder, co-creator of MichiganDads.com, for sharing his experiences from his recent family trip to Oscoda.

The water was cool but the sand was warm. The birds happily chirped as the squirrels scampered around the lush trees and green grass looking for food. Sure, it rained a bit – seems like it does every year – but it was brief and could not dampen the spirits of our surroundings. My two-and-a-half-year-old son squealed with joy as Lake Huron nipped at his toes. Even six-month-old Anabelle seemed happier breathing in the fresh “up north” air.

For many Michiganians, the trek up north is steeped in tradition. Maybe it was summers at the family cottage on Houghton Lake or winter weekends snowmobiling in Munising. When talking about taking trips up north the final destination and activity was almost irrelevant – the only thing that mattered was the departure date.

I spent plenty of time up north as a younger lad, but over the last 10 years or so, my wife and I have made an annual canoe trip with her family to Oscoda. We would lazily canoe (float) down the Au Sable River for the better part of an afternoon drinking, munching and enjoying the views. Our getaway weekend often coincided with the longest, non-stop canoe-only race in North America, the Au Sable Canoe Marathon, which starts in Grayling and finishes in Oscoda. Now that we have young kids we’ve unfortunately had to forgo the canoe portion of the trip, but fun still abounds.

For the past two years we’ve rented cabins from Perfect Landing. The cabins are on Lake Huron just north of downtown Oscoda. They are clean, well maintained and full of the amenities that make you feel right at home (cable TV, washer/dryer, full kitchen, grills, fireplace, etc.). Plus, the price is reasonable so I see no reason why we won’t be back again next year.

With a grill, fire pit, Lake Huron and plenty of seating in the backyard, cooking for ourselves has become the favored option for meals. The kitchen is serviceable, so breakfasts, brunches or lunches are easy enough to prepare. And who doesn’t enjoy a bonfire with barbeque and s’mores at night? When we do venture out for a meal, it’s usually to Bavarian Bakery & Restaurant for breakfast or Au Sable Inn for the all-you-can-eat perch or cod dinner (I prefer the lake perch). Oscoda is not a foodie town, but both of these places offer quality food at reasonable prices. Add in a dose of kid-friendliness and decent service and you’ve had a good meal and an enjoyable experience. Plus, someone else washes the dishes!

If playing in the backyard and swimming in the lake isn’t your cup of tea, Oscoda has plenty of fun activities to keep you entertained. Canoeing and tubing down the Au Sable River rank at the top of my list and Oscoda Canoe Rental has always served us well. If floating down the river sounds like too much work, you can also tour the Au Sable River from the cozy confines of the Ausable River Queen. And of course, there are gems to be found exploring quaint downtown Oscoda in addition to up north staples like putt-putt golf (or real golf if you’re lucky enough) and various museums like the Oscoda Historical Museum or the Wurtsmith Yankee Air Force Museum.

The museums sound interesting but I can’t vouch for them because I haven’t been able to pry my son away from the sand and water. And to be honest, I haven’t wanted to. Being barefoot in the sand and splashing in the waves provides a release for me like nothing else can. Maybe it’s being outdoors and enjoying the company or, maybe it’s being on the same emotional and intellectual level as a two-year-old for a change. Maybe it’s a combination. Either way, it’s Pure Michigan and I love it.

Our trip home wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the Big Red Barn, a well-known Oscoda gift shop that sells every imaginable sort of nick-nack.  From there it’s US-23 South to I-75 South back to reality. During the car ride home my son said, “Daddy, maybe we go back to cabin up north soon?” He is already hooked on northern Michigan and he’s not even three yet. I am certain it won’t be long before our daughter is expressing the same feelings. The tradition continues.

What are some of your favorite up north destinations? Do you have any fun, unique up north traditions? Please share them with us in the comments section.

Matt Eder is a lifelong Michigan resident who is passionate about his family and his home state.  He works on marketing and branding issues for a Michigan-based manufacturing company by day, spends evenings and weekends with his family and devotes the rest of his waking hours to making MichiganDads.com another home-grown success story.
  • Patricia Self

    Thank you- I love Michigan and all the beauty she has myself!!!!

  • Judy Adams

    Hi Matt,
    What a wonderful story about Oscoda. My family, too, has been visiting Oscoda for about 50 years now. Yes, 50 years. I know because I am 51 years old and the saying is “we’ve been going there since you were 1 year old!” We did have a short break when Mr. Sousie of Sousie’s Resort (we could walk from her to The Red Barn) passed away and we had to find another resort with at least 5 cabins to hold all of our “gang”. We now stay at El Cortez and yes, we too, do not miss visiting The Red Barn each year. We have 4th generation with us now and our week in “Sunny Oscoda” (fly capital of the world, cause when they start biting you know it!) is the highlight of our years… aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, this is the week no one misses. Even if you can only come for a day or two, no one misses coming to Oscoda. Oscoda has been part of our lives for many years, even a couple deaths of those who started us out on this tradition didn’t stop us from coming up…we knew our dearly departed wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Sure, Disneyland or the Bahamas or Myrtle Beach would be nice, but it wouldn’t be filled with 11 cabins of family at El Cortez one week every year!!…nothing compares to it!! Oh, and yes, during our week we ALWAYS take a canoe trip at Oscoda Canoe Rental!! Oh, and don’t forget Desi’s for a great place to eat or The Dam Store for great souveniers!!We leave July 10th!! can’t wait!!

  • http://www.charliecurve.com Charlie Wollborg

    I’m a pinky man, Matt. Every summer, our family is drawn to the Leelanau Peninsula for sugar sand dunes, crystal blue waters and lush green forests. The days are packed with hiking, biking, swimming, tennis, wine tastings, pleasure dining, campfires and star gazing. I’ve traveled around the world but still no where quite matches up to summertime in Michigan.

    We have a Pure Michigan story for every season. The mitten truly is a vacationland paradise.

  • http://michigandads.com Matt Eder

    Thanks Patricia, I hope you’re able to enjoy some of Michigan’s beauty over the holiday weekend.

    Judy, thank you for reading and sharing your Oscoda experiences, what a special tradition your family has forged over the years. It’s easy for me to see why your family became so attached to Oscoda, we certainly are! Also, thanks for the Desi’s recommendation, we’ll try it next time we’re there. All the best for a happy holiday weekend.

    Charlie, thank you for painting the Pure Michigan picture that is the Leelanau Peninsula. If I hadn’t married into the Oscoda tradition I’d be making a strong case for the Leelanau area to be our vacation spot, it is breathtakingly beautiful. Thank you for sharing and for doing all that you do to strengthen and promote this great state we call home. Happy 4th of July!

  • G

    I really enjoyed this story about Matt’s family trip to Oscoda and agree that Michigan is a wonderful place to spend time on the sandy beaches, cool waters and all the pines and trees. Who can resiste our Great Lakes? No place like it; we go to other places for vacation, but the year isn’t complete without long periods spend somewhere in Michigan.

  • http://michigandads.com Matt Eder

    Thank you for the comment, G. I always remember HOMES – Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior. Hope you are having an excellent Independence Day.

  • George Polovich

    I recently heard (stated as a fact) that folks from Michigan are the only people in the U.S.A. that use the phrase, “going up north” to mean that they are planning to travel somewhat farther north in Michigan that they already are (as opposed to leaving the state or the country).
    Evidently, if you say, “up north” in Miami, they think of Maine or Minnesota (or Canada), not Orlando. Say, “up north” in Los Angeles and they’re thinking Seattle, not San Francisco.
    In Michigan, when someone in Pontiac talks about going north it could mean Caseville or the Keweenaw.
    Is there any validity to this theory?

  • Pure Michigan

    That’s a really interesting observation. We have never heard that stated as fact, but it may be right. It would be interesting to find out what people in other northern-most states consider “up north”. We will be discussing what our Facebook fans consider “up north” tomorrow. If you are a fan on Facebook, you might want to bring up this question in the discussion forum. Here’s a link: http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=36261648288&topic=17280