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Au Train Lake, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, was of historical significance long before Europeans reached the area. Located only five miles south of Lake Superior, the Au Train River offered water access to Au Train Lake and facilitated the southbound canoe portage trail between Lakes Michigan and Superior following the Au Train and Whitefish Rivers. The area that was to become Au Train Village just north of the lake had seen occasional short-term visits from European explorers since the mid-1700s. Settlement began when the Detroit, Mackinac and Marquette Railroad was built through the area and was officially founded in 1881. The name Au Train is based on the french word 'trainerant', meaning to drag. The river dumped so much sand into Lake Superior at its outlet that adventurers following the shoreline in their canoes found it easier to just get out and drag them across the sandbars. For a time, Au Train Village was a dog-team stop on the winter Upper Peninsula mail route.
As first iron ore mining and then lumbering populated the area, Au Train Lake soon became a favored spot for summer cottages. A great many Finnish immigrants settled in the area, working the logging and mining interests. The Au Train River allowed logs to be floated to Lake Superior for transport by ship. As mining and timber interests from Detroit and points south came to handle industry business, they discovered the beautiful 839-acre lake and soon developed much of the western shore. Lake Superior, due to its depth, remains quite cold for swimming, but the shallower waters of Au Train Lake were much more hospitable to summer activities. With an average depth of 12 feet, it warms quickly and encouraged the development of the resort camps on the lake. There are at least five camps in existence today, with many more private rental facilities available through local realtors.
Fishing is the main event for the visitor to Au Train Lake. Known for big walleye and northern pike, the lake also sports smallmouth bass, bluegills, perch and rock bass for the less adventurous angler. Ice fishing is a populuar winter sport, and most resorts stay open year round. Canoe, kayak, and boat rentals are available for visitors who don't bring their own watercraft. For the novice big-game angler, inland charter tours will practically assure that you fish the best spots and come back with bragging rights. Resorts in the area realize a family vacation isn't peaceful if the kids are bored, and provide activities to keep all members of the family busy, including shuffleboard, camp games and video arcades. Television is entirely optional. The sandy beaches combined with the warm days and cool nights invite visitors to the shore, either to sunbathe or don a sweater for nightly campfires.
A large part of the south shore of the lake is encompassed within the Hiawatha National Forest and provides camping, boat launch facilities and nature trails. Groceries can be conveniently purchased at Au Train businesses, which provide everything needed, such as deli, beverages, groceries, hardware and gasoline.
The entire area is a nature-lover's paradise, with water birds and waterfowl in profusion around the 6.6 miles of shoreline. A separate three-mile Songbird Trail, a short distance from the campground, is a favored destination of birdwatchers. Several types of warblers can be seen here, and locations in Au Train rent tape recorders and tapes with representative bird songs, binoculars and bird guides. The Bay de Noc-Grand Island Trail attracts hikers and horseback riders who follow the path of the early Native Americans on their annual trek south to Lake Michigan. The Valley Spur Mountain Bike Trail is favored by cycle enthusiasts. In the winter, both hunting and skiing accommodations can be had, with plentiful information as to the where, how and when of your favorite winter sport.
Nearby Lake Superior and Pictured Rocks provide some of the best photographic opportunities in the north. East of Au Train toward Munising, the area sports sixteen natural waterfalls. The shoreline road, M-28, travels through deep pine woods and along the sandy coast, much of which is open to the public. The road is known to become treacherous in winter, with sudden squalls and white-outs blowing in from Superior, so as with most winter activities in the area, it is wise to plan with the weather in mind.
Near Au Train, Harold Rathfoot Roadside Park provides a viewing area of 'The Face in The Rock'. For centuries, the 'face' carved by wind and wave into the sandstone was a landmark for Ojibwa and voyagers alike. Henry Rowe Schoolcraft wrote of the 'face' during his first trip along the Lake Superior shoreline in 1820. Of some religious significance to local Native Americans, it no doubt was a welcoming sight when they paddled along the shore in the fall and signified that the Au Train River, their path south, was near. Truly, they needed to leave Superior before the treacherous winter storms trapped them there. Lake Superior is not terribly friendly to winter travelers, as evidenced by the shipwrecks at Alger Underwater Diving Reserve in nearby Munising.
A side trip to nearby Grand Island shouldn't be missed. The Ferry leaves Munising on a regular schedule, and a tour bus is available on Grand Island to see that you get the grand tour. You can also take a shipwreck tour from Munising and view several underwater wrecks from over a century through the large glass portals built into the hull. The lake here is amazingly clear, with 50 ft visibility the norm.
Prospective property owners will appreciate the bargain prices for lakefront housing at Au Train Lake and along the Au Train River. Because employment opportunities in the area are limited, many home and cottage owners are retirees. The area is a bit distant from major metropolitan areas: 380 miles to Chicago and 400 to Detroit, but it's only 12 miles to Munising and 30 miles to Marquette for shopping excursions. Resort cabins on the lake are equally affordable. For the adventuring soul, a trip to Au Train Lake is well worth the miles. It's a vacation you'll never forget.
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