Picnicking and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula go together like peanut butter and thimbleberry jam. Our state and community parks, Great Lakes beaches and roadside lookouts offer easy places to throw a cloth over a table or a blanket on the ground. We picked our 16 favorite picnic places across the U.P., and added a few suggestions of picnic food ideas and where to find them. Please share your photos of where to picnic and what foods to pack at #uptravel or contact us. Your ideas may appear in future lists!
1. Picnic at Michigan’s (and likely America’s) first roadside park.
Larson Roadside Park | US 2, 5 miles east of Iron River
Fill a vintage wicker basket with your favorite foods, and spread a checkered tablecloth at the birthplace of Michigan's roadside picnic tables and pit stop. In 1919, the Iron County Board of Supervisors established Michigan’s first roadside park on this 320-acre track of forest preserve. This may be the first such park in America as well. Picnic during autumn; the park’s towering trees are one reason the U.P. repeatedly wins the number one fall color destination in the USA Today Top 10 poll.
2. Go waterfalling before picnicking at Black River Harbor.
Black River Harbor Picnic & Day Use Area | 15 miles north of Bessemer on Lake Superior
Arguably, driving along the Black River National Forest Scenic Byway, County Road 513, is one of the most beautiful routes in the Midwest. Plan to stop and hike to five gorgeous waterfalls along the way — the Great Conglomerate Falls, Potawatomi Falls, Gorge Falls, Sandstone Falls and Rainbow Falls.
At the road’s end, the beauty doesn’t stop. Enjoy a picnic at the Black River Harbor pavilion and then walk across an amazing suspension bridge to one of Michigan’s most beautiful beaches. There you can collect rocks, swim, watch a sunset or see sparks dance skyward from a bonfire.
3. Spend the day fishing or playing on the U.P.’s largest inland lake.
Lake Gogebic State Park | M-64 between US 2 and M-28, Marenisco Township
This state park is on the west shore of the U.P.’s largest inland lake — Lake Gogebic — with its 13,000 acres of pristine water and 36 miles of shoreline. You can swim and relax on the beach or launch your paddling craft, fishing boat, speedboat or personal watercraft and play on the water. Catch fish for your meal or pack a cooler with your favorite grilling meats or vegetables, sandwich makings or deli foods and claim your picnic table.
4. Hike to the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park’s highest point.
Sometimes, the place you stop to take a breather can take your breath away. Summit Peak is one of them. This observation tower is nearly 2,000 feet above sea level and offers views, on a clear day, of the Apostle Islands and Isle Royale in Lake Superior. A scenic picnic area is nearby.
5. Collect agates and minerals — if you can take your eyes off Lake Superior.
Esrey Roadside Park | M-26 between Eagle Harbor and Copper Harbor
Enjoy your picnic under a rustic pavilion, looking out at some of the most stunning views of Lake Superior. Before returning to the road, pocket a few agates, minerals and colorful stones.
6. Swim and picnic on one of the family-friendliest beaches in the U.P.
McCarty’s Cove | 117 West Washington St., Marquette
Just minutes from downtown Marquette, this is the perfect place to picnic with the family. The soft sandy shore along Lake Superior beckons you to soak up the rays and swim in the cool water. This beach is under the watchful eyes of a lifeguard during the summer months. A playground, volleyball courts, picturesque views of Marquette Harbor Lighthouse, grills and picnic tables create an entire day of playing and relaxing together.
7. Find your picnic oasis along the shores of Lake Superior
Au Train Beach | M-28, west of Munising
You can picnic at the mouth of the Au Train River (kids love splashing in its gently flowing water). Or take a sandy path from the parking lot to Au Train Beach. For a soul-stirring moment, walk to the water’s edge to see the sandstone carving made by a French voyager in 1820. It is the face of the lone survivor of a peaceful band of Grand Island Chippewas.
8. Relax at Pictured Rocks' only beach with picnic tables.
This is a family favorite! The water is shallow, less wavy and often warmer than other beaches along this national geologic treasure. It is the only beach in the park with picnic tables and includes one designed for wheelchair users. Even better, the park puts down a Mobi-mat from the paved parking lot so wheelchairs, strollers and other mobility devices can reach the water’s edge. Plus, there is a wheelchair-accessible, 0.5-mile marsh trail that is great for birding and wetland wildlife viewing.
9. Add swimming, paddling, disc golf, movies, music and stargazing to your picnic.
Ludington Park | Little Bay de Noc, Lake Shore Drive, Escanaba
It’s tough to top this picnic destination with all you can do here! Open from 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., pack a breakfast, lunch, dinner or a romantic stargazing picnic. Your table is steps away from reaching the pedestrian/bike bridge to Aronson Island and its beach, walking trail and barrier-free fishing pier. Explore the mile-long shore park on your bike, from your kayak or personal boat. There is disc golf, a self-guided fitness circuit, lighted tennis courts, sand volleyball courts, a barrier-free playground, weekly summer concerts, monthly outdoor movies, a historic lighthouse and museum, plus plenty of places to simply relax.
10. Bring your cooler to a secluded beach on Lake Michigan.
Sac Bay Park Beach | 30 minutes south of US 2 on the Garden Peninsula
Want a romantic, private place to picnic with your best friend? Here you will find a sandy, secluded beach and picnic tables with beautiful views of cedars along the shore. It is 15 minutes south of Fayette Historic State Park and Townsite. Be sure to stop and explore this preserved, story-filled, iron-smelting boom town gone bust. It’s naturally lovely and historic.
11. Marvel at the “Mighty Mac” Mackinac Bridge.
Bridge View Park | West of the Mackinac Bridge Authority fare plaza, St. Ignace
Gaze out from your picnic table at one of the largest suspension bridges in the world as it spans the Straits of Mackinac where the waters of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan meet. There is an observation building and lots of free, paved parking.
12. Enjoy an old-fashioned picnic below an American Revolutionary War fort.
Carry your picnic across on the ferry to this charming, car-free island. Or get takeout from a local restaurant or stop in Doud’s Market, family-owned since 1884, for deli lunches and picnic supplies. Then walk or bike to this spacious park along Lake Huron. You can watch the ferries and sailboats dock from the mainland or look up the hill at Fort Mackinac, built in the 1780s. Reader’s Digest named this park the best place to picnic in Michigan.
13. Picnic by a river gorge along a migrating bird flight path.
Cut River Bridge Roadside Park | US 2, Naubinway
This picturesque steel bridge spans 147 feet above the Cut River as it flows into nearby Lake Michigan. The view from your picnic table will keep you taking photographs. If you can descend and ascend the 230+ stairs, walk along river trails and out to the Lake Michigan beach. This area is a popular layover and breeding area for songbirds, warblers and other migrating birds, so it’s also a favorite picnic stop for birders.
14. Choose a table near two of Michigan’s most famous waterfalls.
Tahquamenon Falls State Park | Upper and Lower Falls between Newberry and Paradise
There are picnic areas by both the Upper and Lower Tahquamenon Falls. The breathtaking Upper Falls are over 200 feet across and drop up to 50,000 gallons of water per second over its 48-foot drop. It is the third-largest vertical waterfall east of the Mississippi River.
The Lower Falls, made up of five smaller falls, is a natural water park. You can rent a rowboat or take a pedestrian bridge across the river to the falls and play in the tumbling, swirling water.
15. Watch massive freighters as you eat along the St. Marys River.
Soo Locks Park | 329 W Portage Ave., Sault Ste. Marie
This picnic spot along the St. Marys River is a tranquil place to watch the domestic and international freighters make their way to and from the Soo Locks. Walk through the flower gardens during the day or come during the evening to see the lighted fountain’s water dance in-time with music. Before or after your picnic, observe the nearby Soo Locks in action from the visitor center or the boat tours.
16. Walk among giants on the shore of Lake Superior.
Big Pine Picnic Area | Hiawatha National Forest’s Lake Superior shoreline, west of Brimley
This is a picnic gem on the shore of Lake Superior. You can easily access the picnic area with tables and grills by following a paved trail from the parking lot. From there, the fun begins! Walk through century-old towering pines to an expansive beach. Swim, build sand castles, hunt for agates and rocks in a rainbow of colors, watch freighters and see sunsets paint the horizon.
The U.P. is home to unique foods that are perfect picnic fare. Pasties shops create tasty handheld pies in a variety of meat and vegetarian flavors. Escanaba’s Swedish Pantry bakes Old World sandwich breads, muffins and cookies. Grab a bag of U.P.-made Trenary Toast from dozens of stores. Include monk-made bread, preserves and desserts from The Jampot or wild thimbleberry jam from The Jam Lady in your Keweenaw Peninsula picnics.
Lake Michigan, Lake Huron and Lake Superior coastal towns have fish markets with fresh catches and delicious smoked whitefish dips. Gather up fresh vegetables, fruits and cheeses from weekly farmers markets across the U.P.
A great selection of grilling meats and homemade bratwurst awaits at Marquette Meats. You also can find fresh meats, seafood, produce, deli salads, picnic products and more at Meijer in Escanaba, Sault Ste. Marie and Marquette. Or visit SuperOne Foods and IGA stores in towns from Ironwood to Drummond Island.
As vast and ancient as the Upper Peninsula is, it is still a fragile wilderness. Please be overly careful to protect our beloved land and water for generations to come. Use a refillable, BPA-free water bottle. Carry reusable bags and cleaning cloths. When picnicking, pack washable plates, eating and cooking utensils and napkins. Properly dispose of your trash or pack it out. If you cook over a fire, make sure the embers are completely extinguished before you leave the site. For additional sustainable travel ideas, please read our blog:
8 Easy-to-Do Tips for Sustainable Travel in the Upper Peninsula
Looking forward to seeing you picnicking in the U.P. soon and often!