The Upper Peninsula’s vastness is itself an attraction. While getting literally lost in the woods may appeal to some, it’s better that feeling features a more figurative lean. With more than 16,000 square miles of land, it’s a destination best tackled with a comprehensive plan.
Its outdoor playground features diverse wildlife, 1,700 continuous miles of shoreline, 4,000-plus inland lakes, 300 waterfalls and comprises 45 percent of Michigan’s designated state forests. There are innumerable ways to spend a day. Itineraries created to traverse such a natural profusion can be as unique as the fingertips that drew it up.
First-time travelers seeking a summertime immersion in Upper Peninsula’s splendor may not know where to begin within the beautifully daunting environment. Use the five tips below as your compass to find your bearings and develop your adventurous path into the stunning summertime Upper Peninsula.
1. Think In Thirds
A divide-and-conquer strategy is conducive to a fulfilling Upper Peninsula trip. Split the Upper Peninsula into thirds — Eastern, Central, Western – when deciding where to stay and explore on your visit. Its massive size stretches you too thin for an impactful experience in a single visit. Each region packs distinctive highlights that occupy days of extensive exploration. Below are some essential attractions among each region — and this is only touching the surface.
- Eastern: Michigan’s oldest city (Sault Ste. Marie), Mackinac Island, 12 historic lighthouses, Tahquamenon Falls, Soo Locks, Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum
- Central: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Fayette Historic State Park, Grand Island, Marquette, Pine Mountain Ski Jump, Hiawatha National Forest
- Western: Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Lake Gogebic, Isle Royale National Park, National Black River Scenic Byway waterfalls, Keweenaw National Historical Park
2. Know The Scenic Drives
The Upper Peninsula’s unspoiled nature promotes awe-inspiring views even from the car. While long hikes and canoe excursions best immerse you in flourishing beauty, time in the car can get a lot of mileage — literally — out of the Upper Peninsula’s sweeping landscapes. If you’re adamant about seeing as much of Michigan’s upper hand as you can in one visit, seeking out some specific driving routes affords rewarding memories. Below are a few routes that are highly recommended.
- Brockway Mountain Drive: This 9.5-mile stretch in Copper Harbor is the highest above sea level drive between the Rockies and Alleghenies. The exhilarating ride provides breathtaking views of Lake Superior and acres upon acres of the Keweenaw Peninsula.
- M-28 from Marquette to Munising: This 53-mile stretch largely follows the Lake Superior shoreline. Numerous attractions rest upon this drive, including Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, a bounty of waterfalls and several quaint beaches. For those who truly want a road trip experience, M-28 crosses nearly the entire Upper Peninsula east to west.
- U.S. Route 2: Starting from Mackinac Bridge, this route takes you along the northern edge of Lake Michigan and spills out into the southwest. 305 miles in length, abundant towns for fun exploration dot the route.
- H-58 from Munising to Grand Marais: the 49-mile stretch between Munising and Grand Marais packs tons of adventure. It’s the only highway that runs along the entirety of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
3. Pack Layers
Locals love to joke about the Upper Peninsula’s capricious climate: if you don’t like the weather just wait five minutes and it’ll change.
When it’s time to pack for your trip include layers. Summer nights can still have a nip in the air, so toss that favorite hoodie of yours in your luggage — especially if you are camping. Outside of a few weeks in the heart of summer, most days you’ll want a light jacket in the morning and cozy sweats come evening.
Also bring some waterproof or moisture-wicking clothes and have it nearby while out and about – especially in proximity of the Great Lakes. Pockets of rain can manifest quick but then return to sunny skies within 15 minutes. Pay attention to the forecast but know it’s susceptible to sudden changes. It’s a climate that can keep you on your toes. Preparation is everything.
4. There’s An Array Of Lodging Options
Camping practically feels synonymous with the Upper Peninsula, however it’s not the sole lodging option. Expansive nature may be the allure that inspires your trip, but sleeping bags aren’t required to appreciate it. Those who still prefer their creature comforts after becoming one with nature will discover plentiful options — branded hotels, boutique hotels, resorts, mom-and-pop motels, charming bed and breakfasts, cottage rentals — throughout the entire region. And those who desire an overnight stay at one of the state parks without needing a tent will find plentiful cabin rental options. Whatever your preferred lodging experience is when you travel, the Upper Peninsula has it.
5. Gain Local Insights
Traveling like a local best captures an authentic Upper Peninsula experience. Many towns have a visitor center where you can pop in to learn about the area’s nooks and crannies that may not receive as much digital attention. For the places without one, the local coffee shop becomes the perfect substitute. Don’t hesitate to ask questions about what to do. There they can caffeinate you with insider knowledge about the immediate area and recommend the most satisfying activities.
Pick your third and start plotting. The wilderness of the Upper Peninsula calls for you. And in between becoming figuratively lost in the woods while you’re here, the region offers diverse spots for lodging, dining and shopping to provide a robust traveling experience.
This article was published on MLive.com.