The 47-mile National Scenic Byway heading north from Grand Rapids lives up to its name, winding through a wilderness of rolling hills, lakes and the dense woods of Chippewa National Forest. The Edge of the Wilderness byway can be spectacular in the fall, a tapestry of golden aspen, crimson maples and green pine. A “Discovery Guide” with a map and highlights of the byway is available at the Grand Rapids visitor center downtown and at the Edge of the Wilderness Discovery Center, 27 miles north of Grand Rapids.
The byway follows Highway 38 north from this bustling north woods city, home to the Judy Garland Museum, the Forest History Center and many interesting shops.
To explore the forest, there’s a 1.5-mile interpretive trail at the Laurentian Divide along the byway. For a longer trek, a road off the byway leads to trailheads for two- or three-mile hikes to the remote, historic Joyce Estate, a wilderness compound built as a vacation home for a wealthy Chicago family.
The Edge of the Wilderness Discovery Center has interpretive displays and a gift shop, and Chippewa Forest staff can offer tips on visiting the byway. It’s at the site of the Marcell Ranger Station, a historic complex of rustic, log buildings. Tiny Marcell, Bigfork and Effie are the only towns along the byway.
At Bigfork, the Edge Center for the Arts has a gallery open weekends and a theater for performances. Scenic State Park is a few miles to the east of Bigfork on Co. Rd. 7, and you can follow this road to make a scenic loop back to Grand Rapids.