Big Two-Hearted River – Hemingway Revisited

Hemingway Revisited

By Mikel B. Classen

I stepped into the stone and sand bottom river with my waders on and fly rod in hand. My creel bounced against my side making a hollow sound as I braced myself against the force of the current. From the start I’d made the decision to do it exactly as he had in the story. Sort of indulge a fantasy. The Big Two Hearted River, one of Ernest Hemingway’s finest short stories, is set here in the U.P.. The river runs north of Newberry. The story is about trout fishing the river and is the epitome of outdoors writing. It is a well-known fact that Hemingway spent a good amount of time fishing the area and the story makes understanding better how truly wonderful trout fishing is and the near reverence afforded the sport by the avid trout man. When I read it I thought it might be interesting to take an excursion up to the Two-Hearted River and see if all the luck he seems to have was simply writer’s license. What I found was a lot more than just a good fishing hole.

No doubt, Hemingway would probably no longer recognize the area, but I’m sure he would still find it as enjoyable. Over the years, much of the area has been logged by clear cutting and still is in some areas. Consequently, there are tracts of completely clear sections, full growth areas, and every stage of development in between. Don’t get me wrong, this method has proven to be not all bad and I’ll get into why later. The river and its bed remain unchanged and sports the old deep hard and soft wood mixture that is so wonderfully panoramic that is so typical for the U.P.

The mouth of the Two-Hearted River is located 30 miles north of Newberry. Take M-123 north 17 miles to County Road 500. This goes north 6 miles to County Road 414. Take this west for 4 miles. You’ll go by a place called Pike Lake. It’s worth a stop for a look and maybe a swim or some fishing. There’s a campground and a store here. Continue to County Road 412 and go north 3 more miles. This is the place to go for the base of your activities. Here is a Michigan State Park Campground that consists of 45 sites that cost only a couple of bucks a night. These are primitive sites without electrical or water/sewage hookups.

The campground is situated right on the river mouth which has a long beautiful sand bar for a beach. It is said that this is prime agate hunting area. The beach runs for hundreds of yards between the river and Lake Superior. Connecting the park to the beach is a suspension footbridge that sways in the wind giving an eerie feeling but it is exceptionally safe.
The bridge leads to a site of historical note. This was the site of the first of the volunteer life saving teams which eventually evolved into the modern day Great Lakes Coast Guard. They were a group of the hardiest men of their time. When a ship was spotted in distress, they manned lifeboats (large rowboats) and would row out to the floundering vessel rescuing all that they could. They were an essential and integral part that kept the lake from claiming more lives than it did. This area is part of the famed shipwreck coast that runs from Grand Marais to Whitefish Point. A Historical Marker and old foundations reveal the spot.

From here there are many things to do to enjoy the area at any time of the year. The river and surrounding land is excellent for any kind of activity there is. Of course the fishing here is some of the best for trout and has heavy late year salmon runs. Also there are several inland lakes within 5 miles of the Two-Hearted River that have Northern Pike, Muskelunge, Walleye, Bass, and all of these small lakes have public accesses with primitive campgrounds. The usual abundance of facilities and low fishing pressure makes the area a rare opportunity for fisherman.

Though it is more famous for its fishing, there are so many other things to do here. Because of all the logging in the area, I said I’d get to this, an extraordinary diversity for wildlife exists. There is an abundance of black bear, deer, and game birds making this a hunter’s paradise too.

A by-product of the logging is a vast number of trails which access many places that normally would have been unreachable. There are hundreds of miles of trails just waiting to be explored by 4-wheelers (most trails you don’t even need that), motorcycles, bicycles, hiking, or backpacking. On the flip side is winter with unlimited snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing or winter camping and backpacking possibilities if you’re hardy enough to take it. This is an all year recreation area that can be used for literally anything.

Located at the mouth of the river is an establishment called the Rainbow Lodge. They have a small store that has everything. You’ll find groceries, baits, souvenirs, alcohol, and all supplies for camping that one might need or run out of. There are also gas pumps here.

If you really don’t want to stay at the campground or it’s the wrong time of the year and your particular constitution won’t take roughing it, the Rainbow Lodge has accommodations. You get a nice size room which includes double bed, couch that folds out into a sleeper, kitchen table, bathroom with shower, sink, range, dishes with pots, pans and utensils. You have to bring your own cooler. It’s like renting a small efficiency apartment. It’s a good deal for the money and the hosts are very accommodating.

The Rainbow Lodge also has a spotting service with canoe and equipment rental for the general public. If you have your own canoe and equipment they’ll be happy to drop you wherever you wish. A canoe trip down the Two-Hearted is one of the absolute highlights of the area. This is the finest way to relax and get the feel for the personality and charm of the river. There are three basic drops which result in 2-3 hours, 4-6 hours, or 2-3 days to complete. For the last one there are canoe camps located along the river. On the canoe trip that I took, I saw one of these camps and they are nice, well-kept facilities with fire pits, outhouses, and water pumps. This is a classic trip for anytime of the year except winter of course, but I’ve been told that some do it. The river is fast enough that it stays open all year though it isn’t my idea of fun.

And speaking of open year around, the Lodge is too. They tell me that fall and winter is their busiest time of the year so if you decide to stay at the lodge it doesn’t hurt to call ahead and make a reservation or you might not get in. Their number is (906) 658-3357. Also check their website:

A trip to the Two-Hearted is well worth the effort any time of the year, but it’s a real playground for late in the year and winter activities. So go visit what captivated Hemingway so. You’ll end up like him and be back again and again.

Content copyright . Mikel Classen. All rights reserved.