Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is known for its small towns surrounded by vast swaths of dense forest that is swallowed up by thick morning fog and winding dirt roads in late summer – you can literally count the number of cars you pass on one hand. While it may sound like the perfect setting for Stephen King’s next scary novel, The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is also home to a variety of natural beauty that is untouched by humans.
Landmarks on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
I’m not going to lie, Michigan’s UP wasn’t always on my travel list. I had heard of its flawless beauty, but as a vegan I thought I was going to starve in a country that prides itself on its hunting skills. I just didn’t like eating between horned and furry trophies.
But then our travel life changed. We began swapping excursions across the pond for stays, and the fascination of the mineral-stained cliffs and turquoise waters drew me to Northern Michigan. I am glad they did. I was in awe of the beauty that had been under my nose all these years.
Even if you are not an avid nature lover who wants to connect with mother nature, I promise you that you too will be amazed by the breathtaking landscape. Do you need more persuasiveness? Check out these 8 reasons to visit Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Marvel at Michigan’s largest waterfall, Tahquamenon Falls
Whether you visit in the warm summer, in the middle of the fall kaleidoscope of colors, or in the cool winter wonderland where trees are perfectly covered by a blanket of lush white snow, a visit to Michigan’s largest waterfall is a must! Tahquamenon Falls State Park is located in the second largest park and is home to two mighty waterfalls – the Upper and Lower Falls. The waterfalls, which the locals call “The Rootbeer Falls”, have an unusual brown tint thanks to the cedar tannins that have entered the water. Don’t worry, but it adds an interesting color to the flowing waterfalls that you are sure to remember!
Tips for visiting Tahquamenon Falls
Most flock to the Upper Falls first, but if Tahquamenon is not your final destination I would stop at the Lower Falls and then continue to the Upper Falls as Google will most likely continue your journey south along 123.
In the Lower Falls, rent a rowboat for $ 7 per person or $ 20 per boat for an up-close look. If you’d prefer to stay ashore, there are tons of hiking and biking trails, including a short walk with a ½ mile jaunt to scenic overlooks and a 13 mile Rivermouth Trail. Whichever you choose, there is plenty of space to explore! And if you want to stay longer, consider renting a rustic or modern campsite.
Enjoy one of four National Lakeshores in the United States, Pictured Rocks
Best known for its wildly rugged cliffs that look like someone dropped a toddler with a paintbrush, The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a must-see on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The lakefront stretches 42 miles from Munising to Grand Marais and offers visitors the chance to explore over 160km of hiking trails, 19km of pristine white sand beaches with Caribbean blue waters, multiple sand dunes, a variety of flora and fauna (including black bears!) and much more.
You may be wondering what caused the National Lakeshore’s painted cliffs? The coloration of the cliffs actually comes from deposits of iron, copper, manganese and limonite which, when mixed with the groundwater that runs down the cliffs, create exotic colors of orange, white, red, blue and green. The end result has become one of the most photographed spots in the UP due to its unique beauty.
Cliff jump in Presque Isle State Park
Not to be confused with Presque Isle in Pennsylvania (Always Google with Marquette in the search), this 323-acre park is just outside of downtown Marquette. The park looks like it’s really been left untouched by human hands, and that’s true to some extent, thanks to Fredrick Law Olmsted. Olmstead is known for his involvement in the design of New York’s Central Park, and in the late 19th century he visited Marquette to advise the city on the use of Presque Isle. His advice was simple: “Don’t touch”. Over 100 years later, his advice is still being followed.
Visitors can take a break from the hustle and bustle of life and wander the park’s many trails or consider the 2 mile Peter White Drive loop that circles the entire park and takes visitors through the canopy of fragrant pine and lean birch trees. Every now and then the forest breaks up to Lake Superior.
But the main reason visitors flock here in the summer is to overcome their fear of heights and jump off the park’s 3 to 15-foot black rock cliffs and cool off in Lake Superior. To find this special place, head to the northern tip of the park, where you line up cars along the road in the heat of summer. A small parking lot is also available.
Even if you don’t want to take the plunge, it’s fun to watch others hesitate, rethink, and finally jump into the emerald green waters.
Enjoy lunch in the UP’s largest city, Marquette
After exploring Presque Isle Park, return to the charming college town of Marquette. With just over 20,000 inhabitants, it is the largest city in the UP and one of the few places in the UP where you can enjoy the charismatic small-town atmosphere and shop in well-known shops to stock up on amenities.
The city offers a great mix of foods, from greasy pizza to dishes sourced exclusively from local Michigan farms. My suggestion is not to miss the bodega, owned by LGBTQ women, this restaurant gets almost its entire menu from local Michigan farms and cooks everything from scratch on a daily basis. Eating here is a pleasure! The menu is well marked for vegan and gluten-free disheswhich makes it the best place to experience the fresh flavors of Michigan for all of its guests. I also recommend you try the Que Pasa Tacos filled with sweet potatoes.
Overnight in Marquette – Landmark Inn is a beautiful historic boutique style inn located in downtown Marquette.
Hike or bike until it is no longer possible
If you like to work up a sweat and make your heart beat faster, then the UP is the place for you! Michigan is well on its way to being known as the Trails State, with thousands of hiking and biking trails winding through thickly forested forests and winding along the sandstone cliffs of Lake Superior.
Bike to Munising or Grand Island
If you want to hook up and explore the grounds on two wheels, head to Munising! The city has worked hard to create a variety of starting points to encourage bikers to saddle up. The trails are all located near downtown Munising, but the one not to be missed trail is on Grand Island. Hop on the Grand Island Ferry for $ 20 and get ready for the rustic wilderness and 64 miles of hiking trails to explore. The trails vary in difficulty, but if you’re looking for a scenic workout then head for the island’s 20 mile, two-lane circuit.
For those of us who’d rather explore on our own, there is an endless variety of trails of varying difficulty, many with Instagram-worthy vistas, waterfalls, and hidden beaches! A couple of places not to be missed are The chapel trail in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Sugarloaf Mountain in Marquette, and The Lake of Clouds in the Porcupine Mountains.
Kayaking in the Caribbean blue waters of Lake Superior
The emerald green and turquoise waters of Lake Superior invite visitors to jump in! Not only is it a fun activity, but it’s the best way to see the Mammut Pictured Rocks.
For experienced kayakers, you can bring your own and paddle. However, if you don’t own a kayak or are unsure of your paddling skills, consider taking a guided tour. The guided tours in Pictured Rocks take paddlers to many beautiful locations such as Bridalveil Falls, Chapel Rock, Kissing Rock and Lovers Leap Arch. The tours are leisurely and last between 2 – 6 hours.
If you’re paddling alone, keep an eye on small boat water advice as Lake Superior can get choppy! When that happens, take off from Sandpoint Beach and paddle out to Grand Island. The waters around the island are protected and make for a smooth ride, and Grand Island has great painted cliffs too.
Take in the beautiful view from the Sugar Loaf
If you want breathtaking views but don’t really want to hike for hours to find them, head to Sugar Loaf Mountain. The trailhead is just minutes outside of downtown Marquette. There are two trail options, easy and difficult, but to be honest they both take around 15-20 minutes and require quite a bit of climbing. Once at the top, it’s worth it, you’ll be rewarded with a clear view. On a clear day, you can see Lake Superior, Marquette, Presque Isle Park, and Little Presque Isle, as well as Hogsback Mountain and the great forest between Marquette and Big Bay. ?
It’s also a great place to enjoy the changing fall colors.
End your day with spectacular sunsets
For most city dwellers, sunsets are obscured by buildings, power lines, and more, making it difficult to get a clear view of the pink and orange sunlit sky. Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is filled with countless miles of wide open skies and oceans, making it the perfect place to sit back, relax, and take in the views.
Some great places to take in the views are Sandpoint Beach in Munising, Grand Sable Dunes in Pictured Rocks, Brockway Mountain Drive in Copper Harbor, and White Fish Point in Paradise.
These are 8 amazing reasons to visit the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. If you’re looking for adventure, the outdoors, and a great food scene, then make sure to add Michigan to your travel list.
Read more about Michigan travel