Go Big. Go UP This Summer, Eh?
Top 10 summer spots to visit in Michigan's Upper Peninsula
By Ross Boissoneau | May 18, 2019
Summer isn’t summer without a trip to the Upper Peninsula. Huge forests, wee towns, long stretches of uncrowded beaches, and endless character (and, some ight say, characters), the UP is home to a unique host of delights you can’t readily find in our neck of the woods. This summer, make a point to flee your own heavily touristed town and try being a tourist — aka, troll, as those below the bridge are known — yourself for a change. Plenty of natural wonders and kitch-fabulous man-made amusements await. Here, a list of some of our favorite wonders of da Yoop.
1. Once you’re across the mighty Mackinac Bridge, continue north till you can head east on M-134 to Hessel. The charming lakeside town is the gateway to the Les Cheneaux Islands, an otherworldy group of 36 islands of varying size.
Time it right — namely Aug. 10 — and you can attend the Les Cheneaux Islands Antique Wooden Boat Show & Festival of Arts. All told, over 150 antique and classic boats, some dating back to the early 1900s, are registered and displayed in the water, making it one of the largest shows of its kind in the country. Side Boat-Nerd Note: Mertaugh Boat Works, at the eastern end of the boat show, was the first Chris-Craft franchise in the United States.
Held in conjunction with the boat show, the festival of arts includes numerous media, such as photographs, painting, pottery, stained glass, textiles and jewelry. Many of Midwest’s finest artists participate in this juried show.
2. The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, north of Paradise, on Whitefish Point
displays information about and numerous artifacts from shipwrecks from the Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve in several historic buildings, including the bell from the SS Edmund Fitzgerald. Whitefish Point Lightis the oldest operating light on Lake Superior. It overlooks the area of Lake Superior known as the "Graveyard of the Great Lakes,” so named because it holds more shipwrecks than any other area of the lake.
It’s also part of the Seney National Wildlife Refuge and a favorite spot for birdwatchers. In fact, Whitefish Point Bird Observatory operates as a nonprofit affiliate education and research facility of the Michigan Audubon Society; together, the two organizationshave recorded over 300 species of birds at Whitefish Point.
3. Tahquamenon Falls is actually two falls in one. The Lower Falls is a series of five smaller falls cascading around an island, which can be reached by rowboat. The Upper Falls is much more dramatic, stretching more than 200 feet across, with a drop of approximately 48 feet. Atrail of approximately four miles connects the two, part of approximately 40 miles of hiking trails in Tahquamenon State Park.
At the Upper Falls you can (and should) visit the in-park Tahquamenon Falls Brewery & Pub. The menu includes UP staples like pasties and whitefish as well as a complete selection of salads, appetizers, sandwiches, and entrees. You can also sample from its 10 beers, four of which are on tap at any one time. If their blueberry ale is on tap, you’ll want nothing else.
4. But don’t stop at Tahquamenon. There are many other waterfalls in the UP.
Most are clustered around the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Around Munising proper, you can visit Wagner Falls, Spray Falls, Miners Falls, and others. In the Keweenaw Peninsula, Hungarian Falls cascades for about 30 feet. Downstream of the dam and pond lie three more waterfalls.
Jacob's Falls flows along a 40-foot drop on the south side of M-26, three miles northeast of Eagle River. Do pull over and hike the trails that run along the steep rock into the woods upstream. Five striking waterfalls dot the Black River National Forest Scenic Byway on its way to Black River Harbor near Ironwood, and signs along the route explain the fascinating rock formations over which the water frequently flows. Potawatomi Falls in Ironwood is one of the easiest to access, but even it has quite a few stairs to the overlook. Note: The earlier in the season you plan your trip, the bigger falls you’ll see.
5. More water, but less falling. Big Spring, a.k.a. Kitch-iti-kipi, is located just west of Manistique at Palms Book State Park. The pond is 200 feet across and 40 feet deep, and you can see right to the bottom of this crystal clear water from the self-operated observation raft. Over 10,000 gallons a minute flow from the fissures in the limestone bottom. At the bottom you’ll see ancient tree trunks and mineral-encrusted branches, while huge trout swim round and round through crystal waters far below. Clouds of sand are kept in constant motion by the gushing waters, which maintain a temperature of 45 degrees year-round.
6. Now head to the southern tip of the Garden Peninsula (yes, the UP has its own peninsulas). Fayette was once of the Upper Peninsula's most productive iron-smelting operations, but today it is a ghost town. From 1867 to 1891, Fayette's blast furnaces produced nearly 230,000 tons of iron, using local hardwood forests for fuel and quarrying limestone from the bluffs to purify the iron ore. When the Jackson Iron Company closed down the operation, it was the death knell for the town.
Located in Fayette Historic State Park, Fayette includes 19 buildings, once the homes and workplaces of the 500 people who lived there. Attractions include a visitor center, museum exhibits, a 26-station walking tour, and a scale model of the original townsite. Scheduled tours are offered to visitors from mid-June through Labor Day. Fayette Heritage Days feature period displays, food, and music. It takes place the second Saturday in August, which means you’ll have to choose between this and the wooden boat show, above.
7. While the Upper Peninsula has plenty of natural and historic sites to explore and enjoy, it also offers culture and city life. The UP’s largest city, with a population of over 21,000, Marquette is also the home of Northern Michigan University. It was founded in 1849 and showcases a rich history through multiple museums.
But it’s not just about history. Marquette boasts numerous excellent art galleries (don’t miss Art Week in June), plus there’s the Blueberry Festival and Baraga Avenue Harvest Festival, Classic Cars on Third Street car show, live music and numerous outstanding restaurants, bars, and brewpubs. Historic brownstone buildings, trees, benches, and street lamps line Washington and Front Streets.
8. One of the UP’s most famous attractions is the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, between Grand Marais and Munising. Hiking (over 100 miles of trails), camping, and oh my, the views. One of the best ways to experience the beauty is from the water. Pictured Rocks Kayaking takes you out on the big water and launches your kayaks, so you can take it all in, from Painted Coves to Chapel Rock.
And while the sandstone cliffs and rock formations on the Lake Superior Coast are the primary attraction, they are just part of the Pictured Rocks. Beaches, sand dunes, waterfalls, inland lakes, deep forest, and the rest of the shoreline beckon visitors as well.
9. Michigan does have its own mountain range, the Porcupine Mountains (pictured above). Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is 60,000 acres of hundreds of wild waterfalls, majestic woods, and 21 miles of pristine Lake Superior beaches.Scenic trails wind through the hemlock, maple, basswood, and birch trees. You can visit abandoned copper mines like Mead Mine, Nonesuch Mine and Adventure Mine; the lattermost offers four underground tours, including one that requires participants to rappel to the second level of the mine.
Don’t forget the most-photographed feature of the Porkies: Lake of the Clouds. This turquoise gem in the midst of the surrounding forests is famed for, among other things, bass fishing (catch-and-release only).
10. Situated at the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, Copper Harbor provides something very few places in the world still do: the ability to disconnect. The town is the northern terminus of US 41 and the eastern end of M-26. Translation: You don’t get here on your way to anywhere else. Beaches, two-tracks, and peace beckon visitors to the northernmost point in Michigan, excepting Isle Royale, which is also accessed from here.
We’re at the end already? Don’t worry, there are still plenty more options beyond this list, from unique islands (Bois Blanc and Drummond) to the always-popular Oswald Bear Ranch, the Soo Locks, and Castle Rock just north of St. Ignace. Michigan’s Upper Peninsula might not have it all, but it’s darn close.