Four days exploring gorgeous shorelines, intriguing history and attractions you can see only here
Whether you come from the east or west, the heart of the Upper Peninsula is not a pass-through. You can easily fill months, exploring the Central U.P.’s beautiful Lake Michigan and Lake Superior beaches and bays, stunning wilderness, crystal-clear inland waters and the historic communities that have welcomed travelers for centuries.
This four-day itinerary highlights some well-known and lesser-known places to park your vehicle and take a closer, longer look. Follow along and find destinations on this Google Map.
DAY 1 – Garden Peninsula
The Garden Peninsula, named for its farmland and orchards, is also a treasure trove of history and gorgeous views of the Big Bay de Noc and Lake Michigan. This is a good day to bring a picnic lunch and enjoy it at a park or beach.
Fayette Historic State Park & Townsite can easily fill your morning with exploring this 19th-century iron-smelting site. A ghost of its former self, you can learn the story of this boom town gone bust at the visitor center and while exploring its 20 buildings. Walk or bike 3.5-miles of trails with overlooks of Snail Shell Harbor. The white limestone bluffs topped with ancient cedars— some of which are 1,400 years old — rival the beauty of the Pictured Rocks near Munising. The Harbor is also a great place to paddle and scuba dive.
From the park, take II Road south to the secluded Sac Bay Park Beach to enjoy a picnic lunch and relax along Lake Michigan. Another secluded beach you won’t want to miss is Portage Bay Beach with its white sands, beautiful Lake Michigan views and a nearly 3-mile Ninga Aki Pathway for hiking under towering trees.
There are two side trips youmay want to include in your first day’s plans. One is the Bishop Baraga Historic Site at Indian Lake. Baraga was a missionary in the mid-1800s, and the site includes a chapel, Chippewa dwellings and buildings. The other is one of Central U.P.’s most popular natural destinations, Palms Book State Park and Kitch-iti-kipi, Michigan’s largest freshwater spring. A self-guided raft lets you cross the water, see and photograph the fascinating world below. (You will need a Michigan Recreation Pass or day pass to enter the park.)
For dinner, return to US-2 West, and stop at the Nahma Inn. Choose from a variety of salads, sandwiches and burgers.
Find lodging in Gladstone or Escanaba for the next two nights.
DAY 2 – Gladstone/Escanaba
Gladstone and Escanaba are the two largest communities on the Little Bay de Noc. Both can fill your day with your favorite recreation mixed with digging deeper into the area’s fascinating history and the people who helped to shape it. Pick and choose from these suggestions and make plans to come back for the ones that didn’t fit into this trip.
This is a year-round playground so when you come in the winter, substitute snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, fat-tire biking, snowshoeing, ice fishing and ice sailing for the warmer-weather suggestions below:
Bike between the two cities on the paved Little Bay de Noc Trail. It’s 2.5 miles of beautiful Bay scenery.
Paddle between the two cities along the same shoreline the Little Bay de Noc Trail hugs.
Hike the Days River Pathway. Five loops offer up to 9 miles of hiking and mountain biking, plus cross-country skiing in the winter. It is considered one of the best trails in the U.P. with its pine, spruce and cedar ridges along the Days River and opportunities to see wildlife along the way. Here’s the trail map.
You can rattle the basket chains at several disc golf courses in the area. One of the best in the Midwest is North Bluff Disc Golf Course on North Bluff Drive in Gladstone. Eric McCabe designed this 27-hole course for all skill levels.
There are also several golf courses to challenge your skill levels in and around Escanaba. Four public courses that get exceptionally high reviews are Escanaba Country Club, Highland Golf Club and the two courses at the Island Resort & Casino in Harris, Sweetgrass and Sage Run.
If you are an angler, fishing in this area’s rivers, such as the Rapid River, and on the Bays de Noc is some of the best in the country. Known as the Walleye Capital of the U.P., it is also a good place to reel in Smallmouth, Largemouth and Rock Bass, Yellow Perch, Bluegill, Redear Sunfish and Northern Pike.
History buffs will enjoy hours learning more about this area’s stories that date back to the first Ojibway families who called their village Escanaba. There are two new museums in the area, both are located in the Chamber of Commerce building near the U.P. State Fairgrounds at 1001 N. Lincoln Road, Escanaba. The Webster Marble Inventing the Outdoors Museum teaches about Marble, an inventor and entrepreneur who created outdoor products that have been used by millions around the world. The U.P. Military Museum honors the men and women who fought and made contributions in all major wars.
Take time to drive to the area’s lighthouses. Gladstone Lighthouse and Sand Point Lighthouse in Escanaba are the closest. Sand Point also serves as a maritime museum. Peninsula Point Lighthouse is at the tip of Stonington Peninsula. It is worth the 45-minute drive on US-2 East to County 513 T Road, especially in late August to early September when thousands of migrating monarch butterflies layover here on their way to Mexico. This is a great place to rock hunt as well as see a variety of migrating birds in the spring and fall.
Hungry? There are plenty of options whether you want American, Old World recipes or a quick snack. For lunch, try the Swedish Pantry in Escanaba. Their wall of musical clocks is almost as much fun as emptying your dessert bowl of cardamom bread pudding. Looking for a mid-afternoon treat? Join travelers and locals alike at Escanaba’s Sayklly’s Confectionery & Gifts to pick your favorite chocolates, nuts and caramels. If you want to narrow your dinner choices, enjoy views of Little Bay de Noc at Freshwater Tavern in Escanaba or the ambiance of a downtown Escanaba historic building at Hereford & Hops Steak House and Brewpub. You will also find several dining options at Island Resort & Casino after an afternoon of golfing.
Spend a second night at your lodging in Gladstone or Escanaba.
DAY 3 – Menominee – Iron Mountain
When you cross the northeast Wisconsin border, don’t be in a hurry to go deeper into the U.P. Take in the adventures that begin in Menominee.
Park your vehicle downtown and take the Historic District Walking Tour, finishing your visit at the Menominee Heritage Museum. You will be awed by this Lake Michigan resort town’s architecture and the stories of the Menominee tribal families, European fur traders, loggers and others who shaped this gateway to the U.P.
Next, visit Menominee’s North Pier Lighthouse and enjoy some relaxing beach time at John Henes Park, Tourist Beach or Fat Ladies Beach. If you are towing a personal watercraft, this is the place to put it in the water and make some wake on Green Bay.
Ready to see some wilderness? Piers Gorge Trail, an hour north in Norway, is a must-hike. This moderately difficult trail is 2.6 miles in and back with overlooks of the Menominee River falls and its rushing Class III and IV rapids. This is one of the most beautiful river-gorge settings in the Midwest. If you’re a skilled paddler seeking an adrenaline high, launch your kayak or canoe and ride that frothing whitewater or experience white water rafting with True North Outpost.
Take US-2 East from Iron Mountain toward Escanaba. US-2 joins with US-41. Take this to Rapid River and head North to stay on US-41. This will lead you to Harvey then where you can then take one of the most scenic roads in the United States, M-28 East, along Lake Superior’s shoreline.
Stop for lunch at the Brownstone Inn in Au Train. This may be a good time to try a Whitefish sandwich and discover how amazing the flavor is when it is fresh from Lake Superior.
Continue on M-28 East to Christmas. You can’t pass up taking photos with the giant cutouts of famous North Pole characters.
When you reach Munising, stop at the Grand Island Harbor Scenic Lookout to see this emerald-green gem in Lake Superior. If you’re not faint of heart, get a closer look at this historic island by taking the Riptide Ride. It’s an amazing combination of turns, spins and speed with some of the most beautiful scenery including Pictured Rocks, bald eagles, waterfalls and the highest lighthouse above sea level in the world!
For a slower-paced view of the magnificent Pictured Rocks cliffs, board the Pictured Rocks Cruises, LLC. Choose from a Classic, Spray Falls or Sunset Cruise. Seeing this phenomenal scenery is best by water!
Another must-do experience is taking a Glass Bottom Shipwreck Tours excursion on Lake Superior to look into the water depths at this maritime museum. You will visit two shipwreck sites as well as see rock cliffs and caves, a historic lighthouse and the exquisite beauty of Munising Bay and Grand Island.
Next, drive your vehicle to two highlights along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore — Miners Castle and Miners Beach and River. Miners Castle, 5 miles east of Munising, is the only cliff in the park accessible by vehicle. The nearby sandy beach stretches for nearly a mile and is a good place to relax and marvel at the cliffs at either end.
We’ve included some local favorite dining choices in this itinerary, but you can peruse more dining options here. You can also search for lodging by city here. While you are in the Central U.P., you have easy access to more adventures to the east and west. See what’s waiting for you in these Eastern and Western U.P. itineraries. You will quickly discover that there are dozens of reasons to stay longer and come back often!