Wildlife in the Upper Peninsula
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is home to many of the Midwest’s most treasured wildlife species. From playful otters to wily wolves, blue racer snakes and towering moose, from reclusive cougars to gregarious red squirrels, from quick-as-a-blink whitetail deer to plodding painted turtles you can spy hundreds of insects, mammals, reptiles, fish and birds in our wilderness.
Experience the thrill of a lifetime in the U.P. wilderness
A bull moose, its antlers spreading a massive five feet across, dips its head and laps the still water of an inland lake. Crouching in the tall tawny grass, a Canada lynx springs then drops on a grazing snowshoe hare. Two bear cubs tussle, chase each other and scramble up a nearby pine tree.
These are some of the stop-in-your-tracks wildlife-watching experiences you can have in the untamed Upper Peninsula. While there are no guarantees you will spot the wily wildlife that lives here when you do, it is a thrill you won’t forget.
Below is a sampling of the wildlife you can see in their natural habitats in the Upper Peninsula. There are dozens more species. Good resources to slip into your backpack are Stan Teksida’s Michigan Mammals © 2005 and Reptiles & Amphibians of Michigan Field Guide © 2004.
Watch for badgers throughout the U.P. along roads, woodland edges, fields and prairies in the spring through fall. While rarely dangerous to humans, they will snarl and growl if threatened.
See beavers at night in rivers, streams, ponds and lakes. Listen for the loud slap of their flat tails hitting the water. Beavers fell trees to build lodges and dams from large branches, creating ponds where moose eat and escape insects.
Big brown bats roost in caves, abandoned mines, hollow trees and barns. During the spring through fall, they fly out 20 minutes after sunset to hunt for insects. Learn more in the Millie Mine segment below.
These beautiful salamanders live all across the U.P. in forests and overwinter under rocks and logs and along the edges of ponds. A renowned place to watch them migrate in late March or April is Marquette’s Presque Isle Park.
These cats have distinctive black tufts of hair on their ears and a short, black-tipped tail. They live in the U.P.’s coniferous forests and rocky outcrops. The adults are very secretive, so look for the young during the day.
Coyotes have large ears and a narrow, pointed snout. They bark like a dog and their calls to other coyotes result in a high-pitched chorus of yips and howls. Watch for them several hours after sunrise or before sunset.
This is one of the most thrilling animals to check off your wildlife bucket list. Look for them in forests and wetlands. When content, they make loud chuckles and purr-like noises but will growl fiercely when threatened.
This is the largest wild dog species. Wolf packs live on Isle Royale and throughout the U.P. They travel great distances hunting for animals, berries, insects and fish. Wolves are shy around people, so it’s difficult to see them.
This species is on many U.P. wildlife watchers’ lists. Common sightings are in forests and wetlands on Isle Royale and in Van Riper State Park, Seney National Wildlife Refuge and in the Tahquamenon Falls area.
Short and stocky, porcupines live in U.P. coniferous and deciduous forests and prairies. While slow-moving, they are quick to protect themselves with 30,000 barb-tipped quills on their rumps and tails. Always watch from a distance.
Look for otters in rivers, streams and medium-to-large lakes. They are very playful, social animals that spend most of their time in the water. They enjoy entertaining you while you watch, so stay a while.
This is the largest turtle species in Michigan, growing up to 50 lbs.. Look for them in U.P. lakes, ponds, creeks, rivers and permanent water sources. Give them distance. They are quick to strike and bite with powerful jaws.
These are the U.P.’s most commonly seen large animals. Watch for white-spotted fawns in May or June and be on the lookout for does and bucks dashing across U.P. roads during the October through November rut. Learn more.
Eastern Upper PeninsulaBack to Top of List
Garnet Lake State Forest Campground & Big Knob Forest, near Garnet and Rexton
This small campground in Mackinac County is only 18 miles away from Big Knob Forest where you can watch for bald eagles, gulls, deer, black bears and more along lakeshores, dunes and woods. LEARN MORE
Harbor Island National Wildlife Refuge, Potagannissing Bay, Lake Huron, near Drummond Island
This refuge consists of two islands, Harbor and Standerson. Access is by personal boat only. Over 120 species of birds, 15 species of mammals, three species of snakes and four species of amphibians have been seen on the islands or surrounding waters. Resident species include ruffed grouse, gray jays, magnolia warblers, snowshoe hares, white-throated sparrows and white-tailed deer. LEARN MORE
Horseshoe Bay Wilderness Area, Foley Creek Forest Campground, near St. Ignace
This scenic wooded area is home to white-tailed deer, raccoons, red squirrels, waterfowl, great blue herons and songbirds. It’s not unusual to spot bald eagles perching in the white pines facing Lake Huron. LEARN MORE
Munuscong State Wildlife Area, Newberry, near Sault Ste. Marie
This diverse wildlife viewing area is over 14,200 acres in size. It has grasslands, marshes, potholes (very small ponds/lakes created by glaciers), and forested habitats. Birders can expect to see LeConte’s sparrows and sharp-tailed grouse, mallards, herons, wood ducks and mergansers. Rough-legged hawks and snowy owls winter here. Many mammal species also call Munuscong home including white-tailed deer, beaver, muskrat and mink. LEARN MORE
Oswald’s Bear Ranch, Newberry
You will see black bears on this 420-acre rescue refuge. It is the largest bear-only ranch in the entire United States and gives bear cubs a second chance to survive in natural habitats and comfort. Open Memorial Day Weekend through early October. LEARN MORE.
Tahquamenon Falls State Park, Paradise/Newberry
The gushing Upper Falls, Michigan’s largest waterfall, is about 200 feet across with a nearly 50-foot drop into the Tahquamenon River. Each second you spend at the viewing platform, more than 50,000 gallons of water are flowing right before your eyes. Downriver four miles, five smaller, tranquil waterfalls cascade around a small island, creating the Lower Falls.
In this wilderness, you can spot wolves, otters, coyotes, deer, porcupines, beavers, bears, mink, 125 species of nesting birds and more. Moose are occasionally seen feeding in the wet areas of the park, especially along M-123 between Paradise and the Lower Falls. The abundant birdlife includes spruce grouse, pileated woodpecker, bald eagle and a variety of waterfowl and songbirds. LEARN MORE
Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, Paradise
This is the premier migration hot spot in Michigan. Every spring and fall, thousands of birds use this flight path to reach points north or south of this Lake Superior stopover. Sightings of over 340 bird species have been recorded in this Globally Important Bird Area. Expect to see bald and golden eagles, saw-whet, long-eared boreal and great gray owls, northern harrier, goshawk, red-tailed and rough-legged hawks, common loons, songbirds, water and shore birds, including the federally-endangered piping plover. LEARN MORE
Central Upper PeninsulaBack to Top of List
Fumee Lake Natural Area, near Iron Mountain
This natural area’s 1800 acres offer four seasons of non-motorized outdoor encounters with nature and wildlife. Fumee Lake and Little Fumee Lake provide a total of five miles of undeveloped shoreline. In addition to numerous wetlands, 507 acres of surface water holds a fishery deemed "very remarkable and unique” — so much so, no fishing equipment is allowed in the area! Since no recreational fishing has occurred for over 100 years, the fish species are larger and you can observe the bass spawning beds near shore.
The Fumee Lake region is home to rare or endangered species such as bald eagles, common loons and 19 species of orchids. Three plants on Michigan's Threatened Species list are found here: walking fern, purple cliff-brake and marsh grass-of-parnassus. You can also spot a variety of amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds. White-tailed deer sightings are the most common, but with luck, you will see river otters, black bears, fishers, big brown bats, northern flying squirrels, pygmy shrews, star-nosed moles, coyotes, minks, snowshoe hares, badgers and woodchucks. LEARN MORE
A small, inconspicuous, abandoned vertical iron mine just off of U.S. 2 is home to one of the largest hibernating/breeding bat colonies in North America. Tens of thousands of big brown and little brown bats come and go as they please through the special steel grate that prevents people from plummeting down the 360-foot steep shaft. These bats feed on insects (many of them considered pests) at night. This self-guided interpretive site is only a short walk from the parking lot and you will leave with a better understanding of the benefits of bats and the need to protect them.
The best time to view the bats is at dusk in September/October and April/May when they enter the mine to hibernate or leave. Some live in the mine year-round, but many of them return to their summer home areas throughout the Great Lakes region. LEARN MORE
GarLyn Zoo Wildlife Park, Naubinway
This intimate, child-friendly zoo is nestled amid tall pines. See U.P. species such as fox, wolf, bobcat, white-tailed deer, cougar, river otter and porcupine as well as exotic animals from around the United States and the world. LEARN MORE
Peninsula Point, Rapid River
Jutting into Lake Michigan, this point on the Stonington Peninsula is renowned as a rest stop in August and September for migrating monarch butterflies. Thousands of these insects follow an ancient 2,000-mile flight path to Mexico, a trip none of them have made yet know exactly where to go. LEARN MORE
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Munising
The nation’s first national lakeshore has so many reasons to visit it, that wildlife viewing often gets tabled for “next time.” But when you can fit it into your itinerary, do so. The national lakeshore contains nearly 300 native vertebrates, with 58 fish, 12 amphibians, 5 reptiles, 182 birds and 42 mammal species currently identified. One Federally listed endangered species, the piping plover, can be seen at the far eastern end of the lakeshore.
The park is a long, narrow stretch of shoreline so mammals tend to move in and out of the area.
When it comes to mammal sightings, you will see lots of chipmunks. The park’s dense foliage and large tracts of roadless land provide many hiding places so other animals are rarely seen.
Want to see a moose? Sightings are extremely rare, but you could see one or more in the park’s Beaver Basin Wilderness. Black bears wander throughout the park but you are more likely to see one cross a road than along trails in the woods.
White-tailed deer, beavers, coyotes, red foxes and bats can be seen at many points in the park and porcupines and snowshoe hares are occasionally spotted on backcountry hikes. You may be one of the rare individuals who spot a cougar, bobcat or a pack of gray wolves passing through the area — an experience you can boast about when you return home. LEARN MORE
Seney National Wildlife Refuge, Seney
This 25,150-acre wildlife refuge area is a classic story of nature over entrepreneurs. Once a heavily logged, burned, ditched, drained and cultivated area, the soils and weather conditions proved to be too harsh for sustaining housing settlements and agriculture development. So, nature reclaimed the land. Now it is a breeding ground for migratory birds such as common loons, trumpeter swans, Canada geese, bald eagles and osprey. Visit in spring to listen to the birds’ mating calls and, if you are lucky, see sandhill cranes dancing.
Mammals that call the refuge home include beavers, muskrats, otters, white-tailed deer, fishers, mink, black bears, coyotes and wolves. On a smaller scale, this is a good place to look for turtles, spring peepers, green and mink frogs, toads, snakes, salamanders and the more elusive crab spider. LEARN MORE
Western Upper PeninsulaBack to Top of List
Brockway Mountain Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary, Copper Harbor
During the spring and fall when bird migration reaches its peak periods, this area is known as the Hawk Highway. 18 American raptors have been sighted on this flight path aided by south and southwest winds. Set up a chair at a good vantage point on the mountain and watch the show — the common ravens soaring like kites along the cliffs will add to your entertainment. LEARN MORE
Deer Marsh Interpretive Trail, Ste. Kathryn Campground, Sidnaw
Novice and intermediate hikers will enjoy an up-close look at this northern wetland ecosystem. Viewing platforms, benches and interpretive signs are along the 3.1-mile fiber-chip walking loop trail. Families with children should plan on a four-hour adventure. Pack in drinking water, there is none available on the trail.
Birdwatchers look for hooded mergansers, wood ducks, Great Blue Herons, American bitterns, bald eagles and ospreys. Rarer sightings of black-backed woodpeckers, boreal chickadees and trumpeter swans have been reported.
Common animals in the marsh include beavers, river otters and white-tailed deer. You might also see black bears, pine martens and eastern gray wolves. LEARN MORE
Isle Royale National Park, Isle Royale
Isle Royale (Minong “the good place” in Ojibwe) is one of the least visited national parks in the country. Conversely, it is also one of the most revisited and among National Geographic’s “Best of the World '' list for 2021. This rugged archipelago wilderness in Lake Superior has 450 islands, 160+ miles of wilderness trails, four lighthouses, sunken shipwrecks and no cars. It’s one of the few places in Michigan that increases your odds of seeing moose or gray wolves in the wild (you almost certainly will hear them howl).
Wildlife that is commonly found on the Upper Peninsula mainland is not always seen on the very remote Isle Royale. There are numerous amphibians and birds, a few reptiles and 18 mammals, including gray wolves, moose and beavers. Each species has either made the journey or been reintroduced to the island. Other mammals to look for while hiking or paddling include red foxes, ermines, mink, five types of bats, Isle Royale red squirrels and possibly Canada lynxes. Isle Royale wildlife checklist. LEARN MORE
Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Visitor Center, Silver City
At nearly 60,000 acres straddling Ontonagon and Gogebic Counties, this is Michigan’s largest state park. To view wildlife, over 90 miles of hiking trails will take you to the park’s wide diversity of habitats including mature hardwood and hemlock forests, open cliff tops, the Lake Superior shoreline, wetlands and aspen and birch forests. Birdwatchers enjoy the park’s variety of seasonal birds, including bald eagles, barred owls, pileated woodpeckers, whip-poor-wills, great blue herons and American bitterns to name a few.
Mammals are more challenging to see, but keep on the lookout for black bears, fishers, striped skunks, hares, gray wolves, red foxes, coyotes, bobcats, porcupines and an occasional moose. If your wildlife passion is insects, the Porkies have a diversity of species including horn-tails, giant ichneumon wasps, dragonflies and stoneflies.
When planning your visit, take in some of the popular U.P. attractions including Lake of the Clouds, Summit Peak, Lake Superior and 15 waterfalls. LEARN MORE
Sturgeon River Sloughs Wildlife Area & Devriendt Nature Trail, Chassell
This is one of the few areas in the Upper Peninsula with a southern-floodplain microclimate. As you hike the 1-3/4 -mile nature trail you will cross through marshes, fields and forests with abundant wildlife. Viewing highlights include black bears, raccoons, white-tailed deer, wood turtles, American bitterns, Canada geese, Northern harriers, American woodcocks and eastern bluebirds. LEARN MORE
Sylvania Wilderness, Ottawa National Forest, Watersmeet
The Sylvania Wilderness encompasses 18,327 acres of primitive lands and is part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. Among the wildlife that calls the national forest home are black bears, coyotes, gray wolves, white-tailed deer, bald eagles, hawks, ruffed grouse and many smaller birds and animals. LEARN MORE
- The best viewing times are dawn and dusk. But use caution when walking, biking or driving during these low-light times of the day.
- Move slowly and quietly when viewing most animals. Animals will hear or smell you before they see you so stay downwind when you can. If the animal notices you and leaves, stay still. It may return. The one exception to this tip is when you are in bear country, make noise.
- Give animals room to roam. Wild animals and birds are unpredictable — especially when approached or surprised. On arrival, check with the park or refuge center for their required distances. For most animals, stay a minimum of 25 to 50 yards away from them; for predators, such as black bears and wolves, keep a distance of at least 100 yards. To ensure you get good views or photos, use binoculars or a 200mm or longer camera lens.
- Snowmobilers and ATVers, never bother or chase wildlife.
Do not disturb wildlife
If you come across turtles, frogs and snakes, leave them alone. The same is true if you find a baby bird or animals, such as a fawn, rabbit or raccoon. It is natural to want to help them, but wild animals and birds have a better survival rate if they stay in their natural environment. Their mothers have hidden them and will return as soon as they feel it is safe. The best thing to do is to leave them be and exit the area as quickly as possible so as not to attract predators. LEARN MORE
Do not feed wildlife
As tempting as it is to toss picnic scraps to hovering seagulls or eagerly awaiting chipmunks or squirrels, never feed any wildlife. Here are some reasons why:
- Human food is not healthy for wild animals.
- Animals tend to congregate where there is food readily available. This can lead to easier disease transmission both to animals and humans.
- When wild animals or birds grow accustomed to people, they can lose their sense of fear and become dangerously aggressive. It may be necessary to destroy the animal to protect people and property.
- Keep pet food and compost food scraps and vegetables where wild animals cannot eat them. Put away bird feeders and greasy outdoor grills between October and December. That’s when black bears eat up to 20,000 calories per day to prepare for hibernation.
In the Upper Peninsula, you will rarely encounter a black bear up close and even rarer that it will be aggressive when it sees you. However, bears are wild and unpredictable. Here are some steps from the U.S. Forest Service to help you and the bear stay safe.
- Let someone know where you will be hiking and when you plan to return.
- Carry bear spray where you can quickly access it. Know how to use it.
- Check with the park or natural area’s visitor center for guidelines and wildlife precautions where you will be hiking.
- Read all signs at trailheads.
- Stay alert, do not wear headphones and cautiously approach blind curves in the trail.
- Make plenty of noise.
- If you see a bear, maintain a safe distance and alter your route. Never block a bear’s travel route.
- If you see a cub alone, stay clear. A protective mother bear is likely nearby.
When camping or picnicking
- Never feed bears or wildlife.
- Visit or call the campground office or forest service to learn of any special requirements or guidelines for the area you will be camping in.
- Keep a clean campsite. Thoroughly clean utensils and food prep area.
- Do not store food or clothing with food residue in your tent.
- Do not leave food unattended at the campsite.
- Use bear-resistant food lockers and dumpsters. Do not store garbage at your campsite.
- At rustic sites, cook and store food away from your sleeping area.
If you meet a bear
- Remain calm.
- Group together and pick up small children.
- Continue to face the bear and back away slowly, talking calmly so it identifies you as a human.
- If the bear continues to approach, make yourself as large and imposing as possible by stretching your arms overhead and making loud noises.
- Use your bear spray to deter a charging bear.
As thrilling as it is to see wildlife in the Upper Peninsula, there is one time when these wild animals and birds are not a welcome sight — that’s when they are about to collide with your vehicle. In the latest State Farm Insurance report (2020), Michigan ranks No. 2 in the country for collisions with animals in its two peninsulas. Deer cause more than 70% of those collisions and October and November are peak months for animal crashes.
Wildlife moves when foraging for food or during mating season. Many cross roads at dawn, dusk and nightfall when it is more difficult to see them.
Here are tips to protect you and your vehicle when wildlife is on the move while foraging for food or during mating seasons:
- Stay alert, awake, aware and sober.
- Notice where deer, moose or other animal crossing signs are posted.
- Slow down. Be prepared to stop if deer are near the road. If a deer or another animal stops and stays on the road, do not try to go around it. Put on flashers to warn oncoming and approaching vehicles.
- Be aware of your surroundings, and be prepared for deer to dash out in front of you.
- Scan the roadside while driving, especially woodlots, fencerows, field edges, orchards and areas near water, which deer use for feeding.
- Deer typically follow one another in a single file, so if you see one deer, there are likely more nearby. The same is true for wild turkeys.
- Safely use high-beam headlights and additional driving lights to see the road better.
- Look for the reflection of headlights in a deer’s eyes and deer silhouettes on the shoulder of the road.
Share your U.P. wildlife photos
We would love to see your wildlife photos taken in the Upper Peninsula! Use our hashtag #uptravel for an opportunity to be featured on our social media, website or in our marketing materials. You can also upload your photos to our Wildlife Photo Crowdriff Collector below.