I’ve been lucky enough to travel around the heart of the country and will still 100% say northern Michigan is my favorite area. Yes, Colorado is beautiful with the mountains and yes, Utah comes in right behind that but northern Michigan is my #1. Don’t think Detroit, Lansing, or Ann Arbor, think about when you cross the 45th parallel and the air gets crisp.
Think about passing those Gaylord exits knowing every mile leaves the flatlanders behind and gets you closer to the bridge. Passing Indian River and still heading north without stopping until you round the last corner on I-75 and see the Mighty Mack, the smile on my face grows just like it did on my first trip across as a teenager.
Mackinaw City is well worth the stop but I’m not slowing down until the Yooper in the booth charges me for the trip across the iconic bridge. Tolls are always subject to change, check with Mackinac Bridge Authority for current fees. Once you make into Yooper territory, a whole new world opens up. Now, those of us coming up from the Ohio/Michigan border are about 5ish hours into this drive but it feels like nothing knowing you can run west on US-2 and stop for some fresh beef jerky at Gustafson's Smoked Fish or keep heading north to The famous Soo Locks, about an hour north in Sault Ste. Marie. The locks connect Lake Superior to the rest of Great Lakes and keep the freighters moving goods. You can take a boat tour of the locks and you’ll definitely see some of the massive freighters that transit the lakes.
If you want to see The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, head north on M-123 towards Paradise. Keep driving north following the shoreline while admiring the crystal clears waters of Whitefish Bay. You’ll know when you get to the museum, that’s as far as you can get without taking a swim off Whitefish Point. The museum is well worth it to anybody interested in the Great Lakes maritime history, I seriously lost track of how many times I’ve been there. Knowing the maritime history of the Great Lakes and tragedies of lost ships is something everybody should learn.
The museum gives a rich history dating back to the early days of commerce on the lakes. The museum isn't the only thing to see at Whitefish Point, you can tour the lighthouse grounds and walk right out to the beach and see where the fateful last minutes the Edmund Fitzgerald sailed before abruptly sinking not far off the point. If you are there between March 25 and winter, you're almost guaranteed to see one of the massive freighters sailing by. Definitely plan your day around seeing everything there is to see at the point, the UP won't let you down. The cool blue waters of Lake Superior are lined by pristine beaches, again, swim if you can take the cold.
A short ride south west from Paradise is the Tahquamenon Falls State Park, make sure you
go see both the upper and lower falls. The paths are paved and easy for any level, all the views are easily accessible without hiking down steps. The Tahquamenon Falls Brewery & Pub at the upper falls is right at the parking lot and trail head. Plenty of parking for even the biggest rigs, make this a definite stop even if you are traveling through to another area.
As I write this I made the decision to break up the UP blog into east and west areas with Munising as the divider. The northern lakeshore along Lake Superior is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Make your way to Grand Marais and enjoy the town before heading west on H-58. The sandy beaches are so clean and welcoming, take a swim if you like the polar plunge even in summer. Driving H-58 between Grand Marais and Munising has you entering Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
Take the time to make the stops along the route and bring some good walking shoes, dedicate a full day if you want to see it all. The highlights are Sable Falls, again, it is not an easy walk down to the falls and shoreline. The Log Slide overlook will give you a great view from high above Gitche Gumee (Lake Superior) and give you a chance to have the best workout of your life if you want to slide down to the water and climb back up.
Making the walk to Miners Falls is worth every step to the observation deck and back to the parking lot. Some of us have even been foolish enough to make our way all the way down to the falls to feel the water pouring over the edge. NPS website states, “The fast-flowing
Miners River drops about 50 feet over a sandstone outcrop, creating the park's most powerful waterfall.”
The park headquarters is closer to Munising and has some of the most iconic views that most people think of when talking about Pictured Rocks. From there you can head into Munising for dinner and plenty of hotels. The entire route on H-58 is around 50 miles, even the drive in between stops is a highlight as the road twists, bends, and winds through the woods. Camping is available along the lakeshore and picnic areas are common at the different stops. I believe you can open backpack/camp along the lakeshore but I don’t have information at time of this post. If you are a serious hiker, you already know how to find that info.
Only a couple more highlights since this is getting longer than I wanted for this post. The Two Hearted River, made famous by Ernest Hemingway, is an area devastated by forest fires but nature is coming back. Years ago, before the fires, I did a four hour canoe trip that ends at the campground where the river dumps into Lake Superior. I’m not sure if there is still a kayak/canoe rental service in the area.
Lastly, a trip south from Munising towards Manistique will have you pass through the Hiawatha National Forest, and, if you do it right you’ll end up at Palms Book State Park.
What’s in the park? Kitch-iti-Kipi, a very unique freshwater spring where you can go out on the pontoon and look directly down to the bottom in the clearest water I’ve ever seen. There are plenty of overhead pictures on the internet but nothing compares to seeing it in person.
The best part of the UP is it doesn’t slow down during the winter months, in fact, it actually speeds up during snowmobile season. The wide open trails and deep snow makes it the perfect place to ride, plus you can see all the places I talked about on a sled, adding some more fun to the amazing Michigan UP.