Are you weighing whether you can afford to take a summer vacation this year? You can in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We specialize in relaxation that doesn’t empty your wallet. Put together the most carefree summer vacation ever with these FREE things to do in the U.P.
Build your trip around these top free summer activities.
The U.P. is one of the few places where the land touches three of the largest freshwater lakes in the world — Lake Huron, Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. With 1,700 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, most of it with free access, you will have no trouble finding a place to spread your blanket, toss a Frisbee, build a castle or splash in the water. Our beaches offer a variety of picturesque landscapes from towering dunes, soft, golden sand, black lava boulders and some of the most colorful stones you will ever see. Find a beach near where you are staying.
As you drive along the Great Lakes coasts, pull off to see our life-saving sentinels. Most U.P. lighthouses have weathered some of the most brutal storms since the mid-1800s. A few charge fees to tour the lighthouse keepers’ quarters or museums, but there is no cost to view or photograph them from the outside. Add these lighthouses to your itinerary.
You probably can’t visit all of the Upper Peninsula’s refreshing inland lakes in your lifetime, although it’s worth the challenge. If you like to swim, boat, fish, water ski, kayak, picnic or sit by the shore with a good book listening to the haunting call of the loons, make at least one of these lakes your summer destination. You can find free public access, beaches and parks at many of them. The largest inland lake is Lake Gogebic. Other popular places to spend days at a time are the Manistique Lakes, Trout Lake and Portage Lake. Choose a lake.
Several free museums across the Upper Peninsula share the fascinating history and cultures of this region. As you plan your travel itinerary, include the Museum of Ojibwa Culture in St. Ignace to learn more about the original inhabitants of the Great Lakes. The Michigan Iron Industry Museum in Negaunee takes you on a journey from iron’s ancient geologic origins through the 20th century. You will leave knowing how the U.P.’s iron ranges played a huge role in the industrialization of America.
Be sure to visit two of the U.P.’s newest museums in Escanaba. The U.P. Military Museum tells the stories of the brave women, men and animals that helped preserve America’s freedom from the U.S. Civil War until now. It’s a rare opportunity to learn more about the U.P.’s Polar Bears of World War I and the Fly Girls of World War II. The second museum is the Webster Marble: Inventing the Outdoors Museum. Many say Webster Marble put the Upper Peninsula on the map. He became one of the early 20th century’s greatest entrepreneurs, inventors and marketing geniuses by setting the standard for knives, axes and other tools for millions of outdoor enthusiasts including Robert Peary, Teddy Roosevelt and Charles Lindberg. Explore all of our museums (free and admission required).
Most of the Upper Peninsula’s waterfalls are accessible by foot and several can be reached by wheelchair. Park your vehicle and hike to see magnificent sites such as Black River Falls, Bond Falls, Eagle River Falls or the Great Conglomerate Falls. Visit as many waterfalls as you can.
Put in your kayak or raft and ride the whitewater rapids of the Menominee River. Ease your canoe down the Two-Hearted River, made famous by author Ernest Hemingway. Take a day or multi-day kayak trip down the magnificent, 71-mile Manistique River that flows through the Seney National Wildlife Refuge. These are only a sampling of where to dip your paddle! Ply our scenic waters.
Whether you are a casual walker in search of some of America’s most beautiful wilderness and Great Lakes scenery. Or, if you want to test your grit on mountain climbs or over long distances, grab your boots and head to the U.P. The North Country Trail crosses from Ironwood to St. Ignace, the Piers Gorge and Canyon Gorge Trails take you to breathtaking waterfalls and the Mt. Arvon trail brings you to the highest point in Michigan. Choose your paths to adventure.
If you like biking, there is no place in Michigan more picturesque, more varied in its terrain or more thrilling in its adventures than the Upper Peninsula. Besides 28 designated mountain biking trails, there are thousands of miles of logging roads, abandoned railroad grades, state and national forest trails, single tracks, off-season cross-country ski trails, low-traffic highways and paved road bike trails that welcome lone riders to tour groups. Pedal the U.P. for free.
Week after week, all across the U.P., you can show up for free outdoor music concerts — often by the water — parades, classic car shows, amazing fireworks displays, art shows, free fishing and ORV weekends and rollicking festivals. Check out our summer events.
The horizons in the Upper Peninsula put on the most incredible sky shows at dawn and dusk. Blazing colors as the sun rises and sets, summer storms, Northern Lights and a dome of twinkling stars and shooting meteors. Some of the darkest skies in the world are over the Upper Peninsula, including the free Keweenaw International Dark Sky Park in Copper Harbor. Stargaze at the best places in the U.P.