There's a lot of appeal to a vacation that doesn't require airports, Ubers or a large wallet, and Michigan's Upper Peninsula ticks all those boxes. It offers a wide variety of activities and sights, from recreation on the Great Lakes, inland waterways, forests and trails to peeping the Northern Lights, waterfalls and lighthouses. The UP boasts more than 40 lighthouses, 300-plus waterfalls and thousands of miles of trails, making it an ideal travel destination—all year round. Let's explore the three regions.
If you're coming from the mitten part of Michigan, then the Eastern Region is a great area to explore with just a quick hop over the bridge. Sault Ste. Marie is not only Michigan's birthplace, it's also home to the Soo Locks, with two of the longest locks in the world. About half a million visitors come each year to freighter gaze and marvel at this masterful feat of engineering. There's also plenty of shopping and dining nearby, as well as overnight accommodations.
Keeping in the maritime theme, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum is another popular attraction. Located on Whitefish Point, a little over an hour from the Sault, this museum complex features sailors' tales, exhibits and underwater films, as well as a number of historic structures. Among other interesting artifacts is the bell recovered from the wreck of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald.
Another absolute must in the Eastern Region is Tahquamenon Falls, which reside in the aptly named city of Paradise. No matter the season, the falls are absolutely breathtaking. Though you could easily spend the day just reveling in the rushing waters, the 48,000-acre surrounding park also has miles upon miles of trails for all-weather recreation, plus several inland lakes and an abundance of flora and fauna to see along the way.
Venturing into the Central Region, the historic village of Grand Marias is an excellent stop to add to your itinerary. Situated on the Lake Superior shoreline, it's a favorite relaxation spot for enjoying ice cream or food truck fare—or grabbing a meal and a craft beer at Lake Superior Brewing Company. Grand Sable Dunes, Au Sable Light Station and the Log Slide are points of interest, and it's also a hotspot for rockhounding and ATV/ORV riding.
Many travelers will want to head southward to Kitch-Iti-Kipi, the largest natural, freshwater spring in Michigan. A sparkling crystal oasis in Palms Book State Park, The Big Spring, which bubbles up 10,000 gallons of water per minute from limestone fissures, can be viewed from a self-operated observation raft. Onlookers can extend their stay with a picnic on site and camping at the adjacent Indian Lake State Park.
Heading northwest and back toward Lake Superior, road trippers will find Marquette, the UP's largest city. In addition to a bustling downtown with shops, restaurants and breweries, there's also the Marquette lighthouse, several waterfalls and the Upper Peninsula Children's Museum. Adventurers can cliff jump at Blackrocks at the tip of Presque Isle Park or hike Hogback or Sugarloaf Mountains, taking in spectacular views. Swimming, kayaking, paddling and beach bumming are other draws to the area—as well as the possibility of an Aurora Borealis sighting.
Don't stop now; there's still much to see and do in the UP's Western Region, especially in Keweenaw. Speaking of the Northern Lights and stargazing in general, the peninsula is home to Keweenaw Dark Sky Park at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge. Weary travelers can rejuvenate at Mount Bohemia Nordic Spa and find posh accommodations at Laurium Manor Inn and The Vault Hotel. And, area experts tell us that Fitzgerald's Hotel and Restaurant and Harbor Haus offer some of the best dining in the county.
While in the area, take a ferry from Copper Harbor or Houghton to Isle Royale National Park, which is proudly the least visited national park in the lower 48 states. Known for its isolation, serenity and natural beauty, it's the perfect spot to truly unwind. Note that it's open from mid-April to the end of October.
Finally, there's Iron Mountain, which is right near the Wisconsin border. Many visit for the FIS Continental Cup at Pine Mountain Ski Hill, and enjoy skiing, snowmobiling and snowshoeing in winter. In the warmer seasons, guided rafting along the Menominee River near Piers Gorge and birding, biking and hiking in Fumee Lake Natural Area are popular activities. The city has many historical offerings as well, including iron mine tours and the Cornish Pumping Engine and Mining Museum.
Allison Kay Bannister has been a West Michigan resident since 1987 and a professional writer since 2002. A GVSU alumna, she launched her own freelance writing business in 2017. Allison is a cookie connoisseur, word nerd, aspiring gardener, and metastatic breast cancer thriver who loves traveling in Michigan and beyond, and enjoys art, world cuisine, wine, music, and making homemade preserves.
This article originally appeared in the Jun/Jul '23 issue of West Michigan Woman.
Photo Courtesy of @woolcapphotos/Instagram.