December 01, 2016
Mount Arvon, located in the Huron Mountain Range of Baraga County, is designated as Michigan’s highest point. The definition of a mountain is pretty vague though. Some sources say, “rising over 1,000 feet from surrounding levels”. Others say, “rising 2,000 feet above sea level”. At 1,979 feet of elevation, Mount Arvon falls a measly 21 feet short of true “mountain” status. However, Mount Arvon is about 1,300 feet above the level of nearby Lake Superior, if that counts. Anyway, here in Michigan we consider Arvon a mountain.
Our quest to climb Mount Arvon began at the Baraga County Visitor Center in L’Anse where we picked up a pamphlet containing the driving directions. The first part of the 27 mile trip from L’Anse was on paved roads, then gravel, then logging trails. Active logging is in progress in the area and a maze of logging roads wind through that part of the Huron Mountains.
With my wife, Dawn, watching the written directions and me watching the mileage as we drove, we worked our way through the tangle of two-track trails. It had been raining and the roads were wet and muddy in places, rocky and steep in other places. I wouldn’t say that you need four wheel drive to reach Mount Arvon, but it was nice to have it in case we did need it. The road became fairly narrow, but we never met another vehicle so it didn’t matter.
The visitor center has placed signs at the tricky corners to help guide visitors to the mountain. By following the directions and signs we soon found the small, grassy parking area near the top. A short walk up a foot trail took us to the summit of Mount Arvon.
A nice, blue sign assured us we had reached Michigan’s highest point. Next to the official U.S. Department of Interior Geological Survey benchmark sat a picnic table and a small charcoal grill. A nearby mailbox contained a notebook for visitors to sign their name and the date. It was interesting to see where the various visitors were from. There’s even a group called the High Pointers Club, whose goal is to reach the highest point in each of the 50 states. I figured the note, HP-20, next to a name meant that he had conquered 20 states highest points. I guess this was HP-1 for us.
From the summit, a short walk takes you to an area where there is a great view out across the forest, as it falls away below the mountain, to the shore of Lake Superior and on over the huge expanse of the lake into infinity. The view is breathtaking. However, there wasn’t always a view. The mountain is actually private ground, owned by Weyerhaeuser Timber Company, but open to the public. In recent years the timber company selectively cut the side hill to open up the impressive view that visitors now enjoy. That activity also improved the road to Mount Arvon.
A day trip to the summit of Mount Arvon is a great experience which is do-able for just about everyone to enjoy. Dawn and I recommend it.
Mount Arvon wasn’t always considered to be the highest point in Michigan. Government Peak, 60 miles to the west in the Porcupine Mountains, was designated as Michigan’s highest point up until the 1950s when a USGS re-survey gave Mount Curwood that honor. For the next 30 years Mount Curwood was listed on our road maps as the highest point in Michigan. Then, in 1982, another USGS re-survey awarded Mount Arvon the designation of being Michigan’s highest point, by being only 11 inches higher than Mount Curwood.
Mount Curwood is only about 6 miles South West of Mount Arvon as the raven flies. Since we were in the area, we decided it would be fun to climb Mount Curwood, just in case the USGS changes its mind again. Heading that way on the logging roads got us slightly lost, so it was back to L’Anse to start over on a different approach.
Tracy, at the visitor center, had given us someone’s old written directions but warned us that some things, like roads, might have changed. We started out on Dynamite Road (really) with new hopes and the old directions. There were no signs this time and the directions said confusing things like, “Veer left. Y in road veer right.” Once we were directed to an, “intersection of 3 roads. Road on right is hard to see. Move up, veer right and you will see the road on right. Take center road.”
The roads to Mount Curwood were rougher and less traveled than the roads to Mount Arvon. There were several rock outcroppings to climb, where our four wheel drive felt good, and a couple of hills where we couldn’t see the road over the truck hood until we topped over and started down. It had recently rained and when our old directions warned of “wetlands ahead” I decided to park and check it out on foot.
From the map I figured we were within a mile of the summit of Mount Curwood. I threw a rain jacket and bug net in my daypack and started out. The old lumber road I was following didn’t appear to have been used lately but it did pass near my destination. As I walked, the higher ground was to my left. When I noticed a faint foot trail leading uphill I went to check it out. A small, very faded American flag tied to a tree told me this must be it. A short climb later I found the USGS benchmark, “Mount Curwood”, and a pile of rocks holding up a stick with an old coffee can on it. Inside was a water soaked notebook in which visitors had signed their names; but not lately. There was no spacious view from the top of Mount Curwood, just a view of the surrounding trees.
As I stood there, alone in the silence of the northern forest, I decided that I liked Mount Curwood best. It was more remote and seemed wilder somehow. Even though she had lost her official “high point” status 35 years ago over a measly 11 inches, I imagined that the timeless mountain didn’t care about that at all. It’s more peaceful this way.