Eleven Abandoned Places in Cook County

In 2021, because tourism was still ridiculous on the North Shore, Elliott and I chose to visit eleven abandoned places of Cook County. There are a lot of abandoned places, and some of those we selected were more “historic” than “abandoned,” but we used the term loosely.

1. We camped at Sawbill Campground in the Superior National Forest (definitely not abandoned, could use more abandonment) and in the morning visited our first site, a former CCC camp area where there was also a former railroad. Walking around the area was pretty cool — although there was no debris left over from this era, we could still tell that this place used to be something. It would be fun to explore further in, but for this day we just had to keep moving.

2. We visited Chippewa City and its church, which by all accounts was going to be open, but alas was not. That’s okay; it was pretty from the outside and definitely added to the feeling of abandonment. We walked around for several minutes and saw no one else, besides of course a steady stream of traffic on Highway 61.

3. Next up was an old fish house located near The Outpost Motel. There are several of these on the North Shore. This one is one of the easiest ones to get to. There is a beach not far from here named for fish houses, but when we tried to go there we sure got a private land vibe, so we left that spot and contented ourselves with this one.

4. We swung by the old Hovland Dock (also known as Chicago Bay), where a sign proclaims that help is coming to the dilapidated structure sometime in the 90s. I hope it does come soon. I wonder what those who installed the optimistic sign would say if they knew that in 2021 it still had not happened. The dock looks sketchier in real life than in photos; I did not go out to the end.

5. Continuing north, we visited the Grant Portage National Historic Park and saw everything there was to see. It was Elliott’s first time there. We went to the traditional museum and walked through every part of the open-air museum. It was very smoky from wildfires.

We also went to Grand Portage State Park to see the High Falls, but that doesn’t count.

6. We drove for approximately ever on an increasingly small road to reach the now-abandoned Outlaw Bridge. This is a location where locals constructed an unofficial bridge between Canada and the United States. The bridge over the Pigeon River must have been a sight to behold. It is no longer there, but evidence of the road being once-busy, perhaps with infrastructure beyond a road, was obvious. This was one of the spots that felt the strangest. It was fun to gaze into Canada.

We were wiped out so we drove over to the Arrowhead Trail, hung a left onto Esther Lake Trail, and ended up camping at Devilfish Lake Campground. An argument could be made that this place counts, but it doesn’t.

7. In the morning we ate breakfast at Chester Lake (former) Campground. Even from the sign, it is obvious that this used to be something besides a boat launch! Many maps still show this as a campground, and it is very disappointing that it is no longer a campground. While there are two others nearby, those are harder to get to and some of the sites are not necessarily accessible by a normal vehicle. Chester Lake is pretty easy to get to by comparison, and the sites still exist — but camping is no longer allowed. A shame.

8. After driving the perhaps-too-sketchy Tom Lake Road to meet up again with Arrowhead Trail heading back to 61, we took a left onto Jackson Lake Road and after driving past the point in question and doing a 10-point turn on the narrow road, we reached the memorial for a plane crash. Lore says the plane crash was discovered by people scouting for the future route of the Superior Hiking Trail. The plane had been missing a long time. There are many such locations along the Appalachian Trail and all feel somber.

9. We parked at the Hovland Post Office to access a lost Hovland Campground. Like Chester Lake, I am at a loss for why this campground would ever have closed. The campsites still exist. It needs a lawnmower, some gravel for the road, and a porta-potty and it would be in business again. Very eerie.

10. In downtown Grand Marais we visited many sites, then we got around to visiting the tugboat/fishing house museum. I have camped at the campground in town many times and I never realized there was a tugboat here!

11. Our final stop was at Lamb’s Resort to see the old lumber company barn. It is really only easily-accessible to people staying at Lamb’s Resort and you have to wonder if it couldn’t be made into more of an attraction to visit.

There are, of course, untold numbers of other abandoned places and things and this was just a weekend’s worth.