8 things to know before you go to the Upper Peninsula

When you cross into the Upper Peninsula, you will feel differently. A wondrous sense of awe, calmness and exhilarating freedom will wash over. But like all international treasures, this peninsula that juts into three of the world’s largest freshwater seas — Lake Michigan, Lake Huron and Lake Superior — is as fragile as it is rugged. 

Please show that you care about the U.P.

All of us who call the Upper Peninsula home understand why you come to this remarkable place. And while your visit is a deeply personal experience — and at times might feel like you and your traveling companions are the only ones here — wherever you go in the U.P., you are always on beloved land and water. To safeguard the U.P., we must all do our part to keep our forests, lakes and waterways healthy, our wildlife strong, historic places telling their incredible stories and to make sure everyone feels respected and welcomed. 

Please follow these eight ways to care for you and our priceless peninsula:

Decide before you go, where you will visit.

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The U.P. is 16,452 square miles of paradise, 84% of it covered by forest. There are lots of things to see and do in all four seasons, but it can take hours to get from one favorite destination to the next. While the journey throughout the U.P. is beautiful, you cannot see all of it in a day, a week or probably in your lifetime. However, once here, you will know why this is a repeat destination. We hope you will come back so you can check off more of the things on your U.P. bucket list.

While a certain amount of spontaneity is fun while traveling in the U.P., its vastness and sparse population (the U.P. is only 3.1% of Michigan’s total people count) make it important to research where you are going before you take your trip. Know ahead what natural and historic landmarks you will visit, what trails you will use, where you will stay overnight or camp, what the weather will be and the route you will take to reach each of your destinations. Once you know where you are staying, reserve your lodgings or campsite.

Before beginning your trip, print maps of the U.P. and any trails you plan to use or download them to your phone. Mobile service can be spotty in some areas of the U.P.

These links will make your planning easier:

U.P. Trip Builder
Trip Ideas and Four-Day Itineraries
U.P. Weather & Seasons

Prepare for changes in your plans and the weather.

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The weather, temperatures and road and trail conditions can be different from one end of the Upper Peninsula to the other. We have an adage in the U.P. that if you wait a few minutes, the weather will change. This is because Lake Michigan, Lake Huron and Lake Superior affect our climate. 

To ensure your and others’ safety and the protection of our wildlife: 

  • Pack snacks and drinkable water. Refill your stash when you reach a convenience or grocery store. You may go for dozens of miles before you see the next one.

  • Fill up your gas tank or recharge your EV battery every chance you get. Like convenience stores, fuel and charging stations are miles apart except in our larger cities. Watch the fuel gauge on your ATV, ORV, UV and snowmobile and carry some extra fuel on board in a safe gas can.

  • Dress for the weather and bring outerwear options with you. Wear layers so you can easily remove or add clothing. Include gloves or mittens, a hat and waterproof coat and boots. In the winter, snowshoes are helpful if you travel in our snowier regions. 

  • Carry a cell phone, flare, matches and a first aid kit. 

  • Know where the nearest medical clinics or hospitals are on your route and write them down. In case of an emergency, call or text 9-1-1. All 15 counties in the U.P. have emergency dispatch centers. 

Stay on designated trails and within marked campsites.

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Whether you are hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling or ORVing, stay on designated trails. This is for your safety and to protect plants alongside the trail, wildlife and private property. 

While it is tempting to take shortcuts, don’t. Sticking to the trail is the surest way to prevent erosion or trail widening. When possible, avoid going out on wet or muddy days. If this is unavoidable, go through mud or puddles rather than veering off the trail. 

When camping, set up your tent, etc., only in the designated campsite area. That lovely spot off the site is set aside for the vegetation sharing your space. 

Thousands of miles of trails

Properly dispose of your trash and waste.

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One of the most important ways you can protect our land, water sources, plants and wildlife is to leave no trash behind. Trash, including crumbs, peels, cores and other food waste, can take years to decompose and is not safe or healthy for wildlife or aquatic life. Put all of your trash, including pet waste, in a garbage bag and dispose of it in a covered trash container or at home. 

When you are in the wilderness and no restrooms are available, bury your human waste in a hole six to eight inches deep and 70 big steps away from trails, campsites and water. 

Be extremely careful with fire.

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Fire is one of the biggest threats to our wilderness and historic sites, so please be extremely careful if you smoke, light a match, use kerosene lanterns or build a campfire. Know before you go into an area if any red flag fire weather warnings are in effect. Check local regulations and state and national park and forest signage to make sure campfires are permitted or if it is safe to build a fire where you are visiting. Always use the existing fire rings to protect the ground from heat. 

Buy your firewood locally or gather it on the site if allowed. Do not bring firewood from home or outside the area. This wood can harbor tree-killing insects and diseases that can devastate our forests. 

When you build your fire, keep it at least 15 feet away from tent walls, vehicles, shrubs and other flammable materials. Make it small and within the ring or fire pit. When possible, burn all the wood to ash. Then extinguish the fire completely by dousing the ash and all embers with water, not just the red ones. Stir the doused campfire with a shovel and test for any remaining heat with the back of your hand. Continue dousing the ashes and embers until the fire is completely out. 

If you smoke tobacco, etc., discard butts and ashes in an unburnable/unmeltable can filled with sand. NEVER toss cigarettes on the ground. They can smolder for 45 minutes and cause wildfires. Also, e-cigarettes can be a fire hazard. Their lithium-ion batteries can explode, especially near open flames.  

Leave no trace that you visited.

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When you arrive at your natural or historic destination, look around you. That is how it should look when the next person arrives and the next, etc. Please do not remove rocks, plants or other natural items so others can enjoy them, too. Be especially careful not to disturb Michigan’s endangered species

While we prefer you not to collect rocks, we know rockhounding is a favorite pastime in the Upper Peninsula. There is a 25-lb. annual limit for collecting rocks, minerals and fossils from state-owned land and lands held in the public trust. Learn more here.

One critically important way to protect our habitats and wildlife is to prevent invasive species from spreading in the U.P. Before and after you visit each of your destinations, brush off your shoes, boots and bike tires. 

Also, clean, drain and dry your watercraft and trailer before leaving the boat launch. It is against the law in Michigan to move watercraft and trailers unless they are free of aquatic organisms, including plants. If you are an angler, dispose of all unwanted bait in covered trash cans.

Keep wildlife wild.

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Stay a safe distance from all wildlife. Do not approach them or follow them. Wildlife’s reactions can be unpredictable. Give them extra space during mating, nesting, when caring for their young and in the winter. 

Do not disturb wildlife, especially their babies. If you come across turtles, frogs and snakes, leave them alone. The same is true if you find a baby bird or an animal, such as a fawn, rabbit or racoon. 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.

Do not feed wildlife. As tempting as it is to toss picnic scraps to hovering seagulls or eagerly awaiting chipmunks or squirrels, do not feed any wildlife. Human food is not healthy for wildlife and larger animals, especially, can lose their sense of fear and become dangerously aggressive. As mentioned earlier, always securely store your food and trash for everyone’s safety.

More wildlife tips

Treat everyone with respect.

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Nowhere is the Golden Rule more embraced than in the Upper Peninsula. Always treat others as you want to be treated. Most everyone comes to the U.P. to relax, connect with nature and refresh their spirits. Others love the adrenaline rush. So please be quiet in quiet places. Be courteous when you converse. Help out when someone asks for it. And cheer adventurers when they achieve a new feat. 

If you travel with your pet, keep it on a leash and under control. Shush barking. Not all people or wildlife enjoy your pet as much as you do. Always clean up after your pet and then dispose of its waste in a covered trash can.

When hiking, yield to uphill hikers, bikers yield to hikers and everyone yields to horses and wheelchairs. If you are passing on a trail, communicate verbally and go around carefully. Snowmobilers and ORVers, use recognizable hand signals to keep everyone safe.

Please be respectful of private property and its owners. They are deeply rooted in this land. Also, be respectful of staff at our lodgings, campgrounds, shops and restaurants. It isn’t always easy to fill shifts, so workers put in extra time and effort to take care of your needs. They are glad you are here. Please be patient and kind to them. 

Refrain from calling us Yoopers. We will refrain from calling you Trolls. When the name Yooper was first published in 1979, it described people who reside in the Upper Peninsula — U-Per. The name Troll then came to describe anyone living south of the Upper Peninsula, or below the Mackinac Bridge. While most everyone takes their name designation lightheartedly, some feel poked fun at, so please don’t use either name. If you can exchange first names with each other, it will make the U.P. even friendlier!