While we were in Michigan, I took the kids biking. I packed a lunch, told them to wear their swimsuits and off we went. Initially, they were full of complaints. It was a hot, muggy, oppressive day, with gray skies and that thick, heavy air you can feel on your skin. Thunderstorms were heading our way — eventually —  but we still had several hours to kill before the relief of rain.

We biked down the road for a bit, and then I pulled my bike over, hopped off, and reached into the thicket on the road’s edge. The boys stopped, staring.

I searched around for the little red berries, then showed one to the boys. “Raspberries?” Raines guessed.

“Nope,” I responded, and popped one into my mouth. They gasped.

“MOM!” Pax said sternly. “They could be POISONOUS!”

I continued to root around — it was a little early in the season for a good crop, but there were a few ripe ones here and there — until I found a few more, perfectly formed. I carried them over to the boys, who were looking both suspicious and unhappy. God, they are such city boys. I held out my hand, berries in my palm. “THESE” I said, “are thimbleberries.  They only grow in a few, wild, secret places….and this is one of them.”

They each cautiously took one, sniffed it, and — with a nervous glance at each other — ate it.

“MWAH HA HA” I crowed, making Pax jump. Raines rolled his eyes. “Mom” he said. 

I showed the boys what to look for — Thimbleberries are, quite frankly, hard to pick since the plant itself is somewhat fuzzy, but in a scrape-you-up kind of way — and we hunted around for more berries (or at least enough for Mike to try), the boys gingerly stepping into the underbrush.

After finding a few more, we hopped back on our bikes.

We're taking the kids on a little family friendly adventure in the Upper Peninsula...biking, berries & bikinis on a secret beach in Michigan.

 

Our destination?  A little beach I’ve been going to since I was old enough to roam around on my own. In middle school I’d come here to swim and throw rocks in the water, in high school we’d sneak down at night for beers around a campfire. 

We're taking the kids on a little family friendly adventure in the Upper Peninsula...biking, berries & bikinis on a secret beach in Michigan.

We're taking the kids on a little family friendly adventure in the Upper Peninsula...biking, berries & bikinis on a secret beach in Michigan.

The beach has gotten smaller over the years — I remember more lakefront at one point — but the water is still crystal clear, icy cold, and the beach itself still wild

We're taking the kids on a little family friendly adventure in the Upper Peninsula...biking, berries & bikinis on a secret beach in Michigan.We're taking the kids on a little family friendly adventure in the Upper Peninsula...biking, berries & bikinis on a secret beach in Michigan.We're taking the kids on a little family friendly adventure in the Upper Peninsula...biking, berries & bikinis on a secret beach in Michigan.

We're taking the kids on a little family friendly adventure in the Upper Peninsula...biking, berries & bikinis on a secret beach in Michigan.

Part of the charm is the total isolation. Marquette, my hometown, is a seven hour drive from Detroit, a little less from Chicago, maybe. The nearest ‘big city’ is Green Bay, WI (go Packers!), and that’s a good three-hour drive away. 

Our winters last roughly 6 months out of the year — and we’re talking real winters: my childhood memories are full of epic snowstorms and temps below 0F. But once July hits?  Glorious.  

And, despite the threat of storms, the sun peeked out.

We're taking the kids on a little family friendly adventure in the Upper Peninsula...biking, berries & bikinis on a secret beach in Michigan.

We're taking the kids on a little family friendly adventure in the Upper Peninsula...biking, berries & bikinis on a secret beach in Michigan.

We're taking the kids on a little family friendly adventure in the Upper Peninsula...biking, berries & bikinis on a secret beach in Michigan.

We're taking the kids on a little family friendly adventure in the Upper Peninsula...biking, berries & bikinis on a secret beach in Michigan.

We're taking the kids on a little family friendly adventure in the Upper Peninsula...biking, berries & bikinis on a secret beach in Michigan.

We're taking the kids on a little family friendly adventure in the Upper Peninsula...biking, berries & bikinis on a secret beach in Michigan.

We're taking the kids on a little family friendly adventure in the Upper Peninsula...biking, berries & bikinis on a secret beach in Michigan.

We're taking the kids on a little family friendly adventure in the Upper Peninsula...biking, berries & bikinis on a secret beach in Michigan.

It did storm that night — lightning and thunder so loud that it shook the house awake. We stood together on our porch as the wind howled and the rain came sideways, illuminated by the flashes. 

Wild.

The Details

These pictures were shot in Big Bay, Michigan, population 310. The secret beach? It’s easy — just follow the thimbleberry bushes. (And if you can kayak along the shoreline, do. There are tiny little caves to explore.)

We're taking the kids on a little family friendly adventure in the Upper Peninsula...biking, berries & bikinis on a secret beach in Michigan.

top – xs | shorts – 27 | waterproof Birks (in copper) | Maaji top and bottom (both medium)| Pendleton towel-for-two – or smaller one here

xo,

S

22 COMMENTS

  1. Shana! You glorious Yooper, I JUST left the UP after a magical night in a cabin on Marquette Mountain and a beautiful drive through the national lakeshore at Munising. I fell in love with the whole region (there was talk of buying a house bikable distance from Presque Isle Park) and now I can’t wait to return and take this advice–would love kayaking and taking in all the amazing caves and rock formations. I’ve never even heard of a thimbleberry (is Wisconsin too far south?) But now I MUST try them.

    • A house bikeable distance from Presque Isle is SUCH a good life goal!! (One of mine, too.). Love this. xoxoxoxo. (And come say hi if you see Scotti or I….)

  2. My proudest work-from-home, COVID-19 quarantine parenting victories has been teaching my clumsy Vermont toddler to become an expert thimbleberry and wild blackberry picker. Here’s to wild places in a wild year.

    • YESSSSSS. VT has thimbleberries? I didn’t know. Any I may be hitting you Vermonters up for places to go. I have some dreams I’m dreaming…. 😉

  3. Loved reading this post. We have a rustic cabin in the woods near Dead River Basin and try and get up there at least 4-6 times a year. We enjoyed picking blueberries at the end of July. The drive from Chicago seems like it takes a long time but once there, it is magical. Can’t wait to go up in mid-October to see the leaves!

  4. I think the Great Lakes are some of the most magical, wonderful things on the planet. I live nearer to the ocean now and would choose a Great Lake any day. It’s a special thing indeed to be able to explore the shores of Lake Superior!

  5. I love this post. I’m an Oregon native and grew up eating wild salmon berries along river trails. There’s something so satisfying about foraging with our kids! I’d like to think it’s just as important as anything they learn from books. Good on ya! And your secret beach is beautiful.

  6. I live in NE Wisconsin and this past July, the lake side of Door County between Jacksonport and Whitefish Dunes SP had TONS of thimbleberries. They sort of taste like a more intense raspberry and make delicious jam!

    • YES. The JAM. My mom would always make some every summer…but there would only be enough for one, maybe two jars. They were treated like gold. 🙂

  7. I loved this post, Shana. The simplicity of it really got me. Also the beauty, the sweetness, the wildness and nostalgia—and sharing it all with your boys. It felt refreshing and so lovely to read. Thank you for sharing it with us!

  8. And the overhead pics that must have been taken with a drone! So creative and beautiful! I love the big rocks on that beach and the crystal clear water….gorgeous!

    • Thank you!!!! And the water really IS something special. It’s amazing how far out you can get, yet still see clear to the bottom. No mucky, slimy bottoms here.

  9. You can find thimbleberries on some of the trails at the Iron Ore Industry museum near Negaunee- access off of 41 or the old road to MQT by the
    Negaunee cemetery.

  10. Thank you for taking us along on your journey!! I’m an east coast gal but I have had the fortune of visiting each of the Great Lakes and I agree they are soo beautiful!! “Dirty Myrtle” has nothing on them!

  11. This is just a beautiful post. Your boys are lucky to have you to show them these things. Also, East Coast girl here…small, muddy pond…🤣🤣🤣 #guilty

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