Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is known for its small towns surrounded by wide swaths of thick forests that in the late summer are swallowed in heavy early morning fog coupled with winding dirt roads—you can literally count the number of cars you pass on one hand. While it may sound like the perfect setting for Stephen King’s next chilling novel, The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is also home to a diversity of natural beauty untouched by humans.
Places to Visit in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
I won’t lie, Michigan’s UP wasn’t always on my travel list. I had heard about its flawless beauty but as a vegan, I thought I would starve in a land that prides itself on its hunting prowess. Dining amongst horned and furry trophies just didn’t appeal to me.
But then our travel lives changed. We began switching out jaunts across the pond for staycations and the allure of mineral-stained cliffs and turquoise waters beckoned me to Northern Michigan. I’m glad they did. I was in awe of the beauty that had been beneath my nose all these years.
Even if you’re not an avid outdoorsman wanting to connect with Mother Nature, I promise, you too, will be in awe of its amazing scenery. Need more convincing? Check out these 8 reasons to visit Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Marvel at Michigan’s largest waterfall, Tahquamenon Falls
Whether you visit in the warmth of summer, in the midst of autumn’s kaleidoscope of colors, or during winter’s chilling wonderland where trees are perfectly covered in a blanket of lush white snow, a visit to Michigan’s largest waterfall is a must! Located in the second largest park, Tahquamenon Falls State Park houses two powerful waterfalls-the Upper and Lower falls. Nicknamed “The Rootbeer Falls” by locals, the falls have an unusual brown tinge to the water thanks to cedar tannins that have made their way into the water. Nothing to be concerned about but it creates an interesting color to the flowing falls that you’re sure not to forget!
Tips for visiting Tahquamenon Falls
Most flock to the Upper Falls first, but if Tahquamenon isn’t your final destination, I would stop at the Lower Falls and then continue to the Upper Falls because Google will most likely have you continue your travels south along 123.
At the Lower Falls consider renting a rowboat for $7 a person or $20 per boat to get an up-close view. If you’d rather stay on land there are a myriad of hiking and biking trails, including a short trail with a ½ mile jaunt to scenic overlooks and a 13-mile Rivermouth Trail. Whatever your choice there is plenty of room to explore! And, if you want to stay a little longer, consider renting a rustic or modern campsite.
Enjoy one of four National Lakeshores in the United States, Pictured Rocks
Best known for its wildly rugged cliffs that look as though someone unleashed a toddler with a paintbrush, The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a must-see destination in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The lakeshore stretches 42-miles from Munising to Grand Marais and offers visitors the opportunity to explore over 100 miles of trails, 12 miles of pristine white sand beaches with Caribbean blue waters, multiple sand dunes, an array of flora and fauna (including black bears!), and so much more.
You may be wondering what caused the painted cliffs of the National Lakeshore? The cliffs’ coloring actually comes from deposits of iron, copper, manganese, and limonite that, when mixed with the groundwater running down the face of the cliffs, creates exotic coloring of orange, white, red, blue, and green. The end result has become one of the most photographed spots in the UP because of its unique beauty.
Cliff dive in Presque Isle State Park
Not to be confused with Presque Isle in Pennsylvania (always Google it with Marquette in the search), this 323-acre park is located just outside downtown Marquette. The park looks as though it has truly been untouched by man, and to some degree, that’s true, thanks to Fredrick Law Olmsted. Olmstead is known for his involvement in designing New York City’s Central Park and in the late 1800s, he made a visit to Marquette to advise the city on how to utilize Presque Isle. His advice was simple, “don’t touch it.” Over 100 years later his advice is still being followed.
Visitors can take a break from the hustle and bustle of life and hike through the park’s many trails or consider biking the 2-mile Peter White Drive loop, which circles the entire park and takes visitors through canopies of fragrant pines and skinny birch trees. Every once in a while, the forest breaks to reveal Lake Superior.
But, the number one reason visitors flock here in the summer is to tackle their fear of heights and jump from the park’s 10-15 ft. black rock cliffs and cool off in Lake Superior. To find this special place, head to the northern tip of the park where, in the heat of summer, you’ll see cars lined up along the road. A small parking lot is also available.
Even if you don’t want to take the plunge, it’s fun to watch others hesitate, re-consider, and ultimately jump into the emerald waters.
Enjoy lunch in the UP’s largest town, Marquette
After exploring Presque Isle Park, head back into the charming college town, Marquette. With just over 20,000 people it clocks in as the UP’s largest town and one of the few places in the UP where you can enjoy the charismatic small-town vibe and shop at well-known stores to stock up on creature comforts.
The town offers a great mix of dining from greasy pizza to dishes sourced entirely from local Michigan farms. My suggestion is don’t miss The Bodega, this LGBTQ-women-owned restaurant sources almost its entire menu from local Michigan farms and prepares everything from scratch, daily. Dining here is a treat! The menu is well marked for vegan and gluten-free dishes, making it the prime spot to experience the fresh flavors of Michigan for all its diners. I also suggest you try the sweet potato-filled Que Pasa tacos.
Where to stay in Marquette – Landmark Inn is a lovely boutique style historic inn that is located downtown Marquette.
Hike or bike until you just can’t go anymore
If you love to work up a sweat and get your heart pumping, then the UP is the place for you! Michigan is well on its way to being known as a “Trails State,” with thousands of hiking and biking trails that weave through heavily wooded forests and snake along sandstone cliffs on Lake Superior.
Bike to Munising or Grand Island
If you want to clip in and explore the terrain with two wheels, head to Munising! The city has been hard at work creating a variety of trailheads to entice bikers to saddle up. The trails are all located within easy reach of downtown Munising but the track you don’t want to miss is on Grand Island. Hop on the Grand Island Ferry for $20 and get ready for rustic wilderness and 40 miles of trails to explore. The trails range in difficulty but if you’re looking for a scenic work-out then hit the island’s 20-mile 2-lane perimeter track.
For those of us who’d rather stick to exploring with our own two feet, there are an endless array of trail options that range in difficulty, many come with Instagram-worthy views, waterfalls, and hidden beaches! A few spots not to miss include The Chapel Loop Trail in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Sugarloaf Mountain in Marquette, and The Lake of Clouds in the Porcupine Mountains.
Kayak in Lake Superior’s Caribbean blue waters
Lake Superior’s emerald and turquoise waters beckon visitors to jump on in! Not only is it a fun activity but it’s the best way to view the mammoth Pictured Rocks.
For seasoned kayakers, you can bring your own and get paddling, but if you don’t own a kayak or are maybe unsure of your paddling prowess, consider joining a guided tour. The guided tours in Pictured Rocks take paddlers by many gorgeous sites like Bridalveil Falls, Chapel Rock, Kissing Rock, and Lovers Leap Arch, among others. The tours are leisurely paced and take anywhere from 2 – 6 hours.
If you’re paddling on your own be sure to keep an eye on the small craft water advisories as Lake Superior can become choppy quickly! If that happens, take off from Sandpoint Beach and paddle to Grand Island. The waters are sheltered around the island creating a smooth ride and Grand Island has great painted cliffs too.
Capture beautiful views from Sugarloaf Mountain
If you want a breath-taking view but don’t really want to spend hours hiking to find it, then head to Sugarloaf Mountain. The trailhead is located just a few minutes outside of downtown Marquette. There are two trail options, easy and difficult, but to be honest, they both take about 15-20 minutes and require a fair amount of stair-climbing. It’s worth it once you make it to the top, you’re rewarded with unobstructed views. On a clear day, you’ll be able to see Lake Superior, Marquette, Presque Isle Park, and Little Presque Isle as well as Hogsback Mountain and the large swath of forest between Marquette and Big Bay. ?
It’s a great spot to enjoy the changing fall colors too.
End your day with spectacular sunsets
For most city-dwellers, sunsets are obstructed by buildings, power lines, and more making it difficult to get a clear view of the pink and orange sun-soaked sky. Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is filled with countless miles of wide-open sky and sea, making it the perfect place to sit back, relax, and enjoy the view.
A few great spots to enjoy the view include Sandpoint Beach in Munising, Grand Sable Dunes in Pictured Rocks, Brockway Mountain Drive in Copper Harbor, and White Fish Point in Paradise.
These are 8 amazing reasons to visit the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. If you are looking for adventure, outdoors and a great food scene, be sure to add Michigan to your travel list.
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