Jewel of the Sylvania Wilderness: Day Trip to High Lake
Virgin growth white pines towering over us are the first surprise. I knew Sylvania (the word is Latin for “forest land”) was one of the few pockets of forest untouched by logging, but nothing prepares you for the height of the trees, the lack of underbrush, and the deep mossy quiet that you enter when you push off into Sylvania Wilderness.
Our chatty banter quickly hushed as we made the short paddle from the north end Crooked Lake to the High Lake portage. The lakes here are a favorite with loons, and they allowed us to drift alongside while they called and preened. Otters and songbirds dart along the shoreline, too many to count. Follow the shoreline through Crooked Lake to the east and you’ll come across the High Lake portage, its an easy 22 rods, great for a picnic in our case.
High Lake is the next surprise — deep and clear, the water is startlingly turquoise blue, a color I was not prepared to see outside of the caribbean, we’re dazzled. We paddled to the small island in the center, and pulled off for a lunch, a hike, and some fishing – the smallmouth bass were not biting that day, but the immense pines and the lapping of the water against the canoe cast a spell over us all the same.
Sylvania Wilderness Area is very popular with canoeists — a ‘smaller boundary waters’ they call it, and we encountered several canoe groups over the course of a few days. The ranger at the entrance station pointed out that the park has limited campsites and select canoe routes for multiple-day trips, so all sites must be reserved in advance, and they book up early in the season. We are the happy day-trippers — we stayed on Crooked Lake at the Sylvania Wilderness Cabins, picked up a rental canoe in Watersmeet and enjoyed the ease of exploring the lakes by day and having a cozy cabin to retreat to at night. Nestled in the heart of the UP and some of Michigan’s most treasured fishing areas, a trip into Sylvania is within easy reach of civilization, but its miles away from ordinary. Even the large group of teenagers we met coming off a week-long trip had caught the feeling of magic — or maybe they were just tired.