Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is an outdoor lover’s dream. The UP contains 16,377 square miles of pristine land, much of which is undeveloped. There are thousands of miles of trails, hunting land and waterways perfect for all sorts of activities.
Once you cross the Mackinac Bridge, the busyness of everyday life is left behind. The pace slows down, the sights become more beautiful and you will be ready to relax. Since it can take nearly six hours to get across the entire UP, I am going to focus on the highlights on the eastern half of the area.
s soon as you cross the Mighty Mac you have the choice to head east to explore St. Ignace, north toward Sault Ste Marie or west toward Manistique. You really can’t go wrong with your choice. Let’s start with the choice to visit St. Ignace, which is a great location to take day trips to Mackinac Island, the Soo Locks and Tahquamenon Falls.
- Highlights of St. IgnaceStraits State Park — We have camped at this state park many times and are never disappointed by the wooded campsites and great views of the Mackinac Bridge and the Straits of Mackinac. It is a great location to enjoy the wilderness and a perfect starting point for day trips. www.michigandnr.com/parksandtrails/details.aspx?id=427&type=SPR
- Ferry to Mackinac Island — The two main ferries that go to Mackinac Island are Shepler’s and Star Line. They both offer an enjoyable way to get to Mackinac Island and will even ferry your personal bikes to the non-motorized island. Make sure to grab a jacket, the ride over can be a bit chilly! www.sheplersferry.com or www.mackinacferry.com
- Let’s RV published a feature about all that Mackinac Island has to offer earlier this year. You can read it by clicking here.
- Castle Rock — Still only $1 for admission, Castle Rock is a great place to climb and see the amazing views of the straits. www.castlerockmi.com
Sault Ste. Marie
About 50 miles north of St. Ignace is Sault Ste. Marie, an area well known for the Soo Locks, which are the world’s busiest canal in terms of tonnage passing through it.
- Soo Locks — It is quite amazing to see giant ships pass through what seems like a small opening by being raised 21 feet through the locks. You can view the ships from the observation deck or by taking a cruise through the area. www.saultstemarie.com/soo-locks-46
- Museum Ship Valley Camp — Take a stroll through the actual ship and visit the 20,000 square foot, 100 exhibit museum. A major highlight here is the Edmund Fitzgerald memorial and exhibit. There is an admission fee, but it is worth every dollar. www.saulthistoricsites.com/museum-ship-valley-camp
Heading west from the Soo Locks, you will reach Tahquamenon Falls in about an hour. The falls are certainly a highlight on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and you don’t want to miss them. The best way to experience the Falls is to stay at Tahquamenon Falls State Park which encompasses nearly 50,000 acres and explore from there. For more information, click here.
- Tahquamenon Upper Falls — The Upper Falls, one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi has a drop of nearly 50 feet, more than 200 feet across and a water flow of more than 50,000 gallons per second. It is quite the sight to see and there are places to relax after enjoying the Upper Falls. Grab a bite to eat at the brewery or sit out on the deck and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
- Tahquamenon Lower Falls — Four miles downstream is the Lower Falls, a series of five smaller falls cascading around an island. Although not as dramatic as the Upper Falls, they are equally magnificent. The falls can be viewed from the river bank or from the island, which can be reached by rowboat rented from a park concession. The lower falls have a cafe in the gift shop where you can grab a bite to eat or indulge in some delicious ice cream after you enjoy the falls.
- You can also hike between the Upper and Lower Falls. It is four miles long on quite unlevel terrain, but it is a beautiful hike beside the river connecting the falls.
The greater Manistique area is often overlooked, but it is filled with so many things to do and see.
- Indian Lake State Park — This state park is filled with beauty. It is a short distance from Manistique and just two miles from the Thompson Fish Hatchery, which is free to visit. There is a great campground here and an incredible beach. The water is a reasonable temperature especially for the upper peninsula, and the lake is very shallow in the beach area. For more information, click here.
- Palms Book State Park — Home to one of Michigan’s alluring natural attractions, Kitch-iti-kipi, which is Michigan’s largest freshwater spring. It is a breathtaking view to take in. Click here for details.
Manistique Boardwalk along Lake Michigan — The nearly two-mile boardwalk extends along Lake Michigan to the downtown district in Manistique. Enjoy the view, see wildlife, and stop for a picnic lunch along the way. www.visitmanistique.com/boardwalk.shtml
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore runs along the Lake Superior lakeshore for 40 miles. The National Park Service maintains this area which includes the picturesque colored rocks, waterfalls, hiking and boating opportunities. Make sure to set aside plenty of time to explore this area but even if your visit is short, it is worth the stop. www.nps.gov/piro/index.htm
- Visit Grand Island — A small island located a half-mile from the mainland, Grand Island boasts its pristine beaches, breathtaking overlooks and deep woods which are great for hiking and animal sightings. Take the ferry tour or private boat to enjoy your day on the island. For more information, click here.
- Take a boat tour — If you are short on time, a boat cruise is the way to go. Enjoy 2.5-3 hours of visually stunning shoreline as you cruise down the 40 miles of Lake Superior crystal clear waters. http://www.picturedrocks.com
- Hike to a waterfall — There are many to choose from, but one of the best is Munising Falls which is right by one of the visitor centers. The visitor center is a great place to start and pick the brains of the rangers. www.nps.gov/piro/planyourvisit/waterfalls.htm
Other stops worth making
- Fayette Historic State Park — This area houses a historic town site, which represents a prior industrial community. There are many buildings that you can still go in and an immense lakeshore which is great for rock throwing and finding iron slag. Click here for details.
- Oswald Bear Ranch — The complex is the largest bear-only facility in the entire United States Located just 20 minutes from Tahquamenon Falls, Oswald’s is home to 29 bears and is a Top 10 Michigan family attraction. www.oswaldsbearranch.com
- Shipwreck museum and Whitefish Light Station — Located in Sault Ste. Marie, the Whitefish Point Light is the oldest operating lighthouse on Lake Superior. You can see the light station and view the highlights of the museum. www.shipwreckmuseum.com/whitefishpoint
Michigan’s upper peninsula is often overlooked because of the harsh, cold winters, but it is an area that is worth the extra drive in the summer months. Although the thaw is later than most other parts of the country, there is still plenty of time to enjoy the outdoor wonders of this area from May to October.
Fayette Historic State Park Rock Beach
Pictured Rocks view
View of Big Springs in Manistique, MI