Exploring the Upper Peninsula of Michigan: The Ultimate Road Trip Guide

Introduction to the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan

Table Of Contents

Lake Michigan is one of the five Great Lakes of North America, the second largest of the Great Lakes by volume and the third largest by area. It is bounded on the north by Lake Superior, on the east by the St. Marys River, on the south by Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, and on the west by Wisconsin. It has about 1,700 miles of continuous shoreline with the Great Lakes.

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is known for Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, hiking and the best waterfalls in the world. Natural attractions include Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Arch Rock, Tahquamenon Falls State Park, Fort Mackinac and the Soo Locks. Experience the beauty and adventure with a drive on the Michigan Upper Peninsula Road Trip Route. This article will take you from spectacular waterfalls to lush forests and crystal clear lakes.

Planning Your UP Road Trip

Choosing the right time to visit

The best time to visit Michigan is between May and October, during spring and autumn. That is ideal weather to enjoy the host of outdoor activities the Upper Peninsula has to offer.

Selecting the ideal duration for your journey

Accomplish the tour in a few days, or extend it to two weeks or more to have enough time to explore all the best. Select your stops and to-do activities depending on the time you have.

Mapping out the route

Map the route following your best stops. That is why you need to plan your trip before you start driving. Consequently, the most scenic route for a better experience.

Must-Visit Destinations in the UP

Marquette: A bustling lakeside town

Marquette is a must-visit on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula featuring iron mining and exports. The city also offers public access to trails with the most beautiful backdrops in the region, including natural lakes.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Majestic cliffs and pristine beaches

The lakeshore features 15 miles of cliffs along its 42-mile length. Within the park, almost 100 miles of trail lead to remote trout streams, hidden bogs, wild Lake Superior beaches, and 22 backcountry campgrounds.

Mackinac Island: Step back in time

It features world-famous Mackinac Island Fudge, historic Fort Mackinac, unique shopping, and diverse dining. Get ready to experience beautiful sunsets, awe-inspiring sunrises, and over 70 miles of hiking and biking trails.

Tahquamenon Falls State Park: Stunning waterfalls

It is the second most voluminous waterfall east of the Mississippi River in the United States, behind Niagara Falls. This water wonder is known for its stunning Upper and Lower Falls.

Copper Harbor: Outdoor enthusiast’s paradise

Explore some mountain biking at Copper Harbor. The forest has gained popularity due to its wildlife and scenic views. Copper Harbor is a unique Midwestern mountainous terrain, featuring 40-plus miles of trails and a wilderness that entrances hikers. Bring your hiking boots and adventurous nature, as this area has plenty of fun for everyone.

Embracing Nature’s Beauty

Hiking trails and scenic viewpoints

  • Canyon Gorge Trail
  • Manistique Boardwalk and River Walk
  • Botanical Trail 
  • Bare Bluff Trail 
  • Sugarloaf Mountain Trail 
  • Piers Gorge Trail 

Wildlife watching opportunities

  • Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
  • Presque Isle Park
  • The Original Mackinac Island Butterfly House & Insect World
  • Oswald’s Bear Ranch
  • Palms Book State Park
  • Chapel Rock and Beach
  • Black River Harbor Recreation Area. Nature & Wildlife Areas
  • Wings of Mackinac Butterfly Conservatory

Exploring the shorelines of Lake Superior

Lake Superior is ideal for hiking, swimming, sunbathing, or rock hunting. It has more than 300 known shipwrecks, including the infamous Edmund Fitzgerald. Whitefish Point features the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum (Shipwreckmuseum.com). Your knowledge of maritime history on Lake Superior tends to broaden. 

Immerse in UP’s Rich History

Mining heritage and museums

  • Coppertown USA Mining Museum
  • Cliffs Shaft Mine Museum
  • Michigan Iron Industry Museum
  • Carnegie Museum of the Keweenaw

Native American cultural sites

  • Delta County Historical Museum
  • Mackinac Island State Park, Mackinac
  • Menominee Range Historical Museum
  • Museum of Ojibwa Culture & Gift Shop
  • Potawatomi Heritage Center
  • Tower of History

Lighthouses and Maritime History

There are over 40 lighthouses in the Upper Peninsula, featuring the Great Lakes shoreline. The Whitefish Point Light is the oldest operating lighthouse on Lake Superior.

Indulging in Local Cuisine

Pasties: A UP delicacy

The traditional pasty in the Upper Peninsula is a beef pasty loaded with beef, potato, rutabaga, and onion. They also serve up mini pasties, which you can order by the dozen. They are in different sizes, such as 12 ounces or 17 ounces.

Freshwater fish dishes

Unique dishes in the Upper Peninsula are fresh fish dishes. These include a variety of species, including chinook, coho, lake trout, whitefish, steelhead, splake, bass, and perch. You can also fish from places like Au Train Point near Munising and Keweenaw Bay near L’anse and Baraga (Shipwreeckmuseum.com).

Craft breweries and local flavors

Amongst the craft breweries in the Upper Peninsula are the LaTulip Brewing Company, Upper Peninsula Brewing Company, and the East Channel Brewing Company. There is the famous Coconut Brown Ale and Grand Rabbits Cream.

Connecting with the Local Art Scene

Art galleries and studios

  • Downtown Art Place
  • First Street Art Gallery & More
  • Amy’s Art Studio & Gallery

Indigenous arts and crafts

  • Totem village
  • Library of Michigan
  • Misshepeshu, the Horned Lynx

Music and cultural festivals

  • Plaidurday
  • Emberlight Festival
  • Festival Ironwood
  • Menominee Giant Pumpkin Festival
  • Copper Harbor Trails Fest
  • U.P. Fall Beer Festival
  • Bessemer Pumpkinfest

Outdoor Adventures in the UP

Kayaking and canoeing opportunities

Experience kayaking and canoeing at The Woods Tahquamenon River Canoe and Kayak Rental, Poupard Bay Paddlesports, and Autrain River Canoe & Kayaks. 

Fishing and boating adventures

For fishing and boating adventures, consider Lake Superior Boat Tours, Riptide Ride, and Kimar’s Charters. For the fishing tour, try North Shore Sport Fishing Charters, Marquette Adventures, Sturgeon Bay Charters, Sand Point Charters, and Keweenaw Charter.

ATV and off-road trails

  • Huron Shores ATV Trails
  • Keweenaw Peninsula ATV Trails
  • Brundage Mountain ATV Trails
  • Marquette Off-Road Trails 
  • Ontonagon ORV Trail System

Exploring UP’s Charming Small Towns

Munising: Gateway to Pictured Rocks

Munising is a name from the Ojibwe meaning island. That is the gateway to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, with the largest and closest city to the area. Other famous attractions in and around Munising include the Hiawatha National Forest and the Grand Island National Recreation Area.

Sault Ste. Marie: Historic waterway town

Saint Mary’s River has been a factor in Sault Ste. It is also known as Soo Locks International Bridge. The city’s downtown is on an island, close to the St. Mary’s River and Soo Locks to the north. ClimateEdit.

Escanaba: Cultural and recreational hub

Escanaba is the arts and culture hub of the Upper Peninsula. Escanaba Michigan, is on the western shore of Lake Michigan. What makes it popular are beautiful Great Lakes beaches, pretty lighthouses, Fayette Historic State Park, and William Bonifas Fine Arts Center.

Captivating Lighthouses of the UP

Big Bay Point Lighthouse

Big Bay Point Lighthouse is 25 miles north of Marquette, on the cliffs of Lake Superior. This unique bed-and-breakfast inn is on the National Register of Historic Places. Mariners have relied on Big Bay Point’s light to guide them along this rocky stretch of Michigan coastline. You can hike, bike, Ski, or snowshoe along the shore.

Point Betsie Lighthouse

Point Betsie Lighthouse is on the beautiful Lake Michigan shoreline south of the Sleeping Bear Dunes and north of Frankfort, Michigan. It is a beautiful attraction with park amenities, historical significance, and a beach.

Whitefish Point Lighthouse

The Whitefish Point Light is the oldest operating lighthouse on Lake Superior. It is ideal for rock collectors, ship watchers, and bird watching. Whitefish Point’s land and water provide a pathway for birds, making it a migratory route of world significance. It is a Bird Area where the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory conducts its research.

Unwinding at UP’s Beaches

Sand Point Beach

Sand Point Beach is a quiet water beach with great views of Grand Island. It is four miles northeast of Munising. What makes it famous is the soft white sand and views of Munising Bay, Grand Island, and the East Channel Lighthouse.

Little Presque Isle Beach

Presque Isle Park is one of the most visited sites in Marquette County due to ease of access. Experience unmatched views of Lake Superior. This is a sandy/rocky beach on the shore of Lake Superior off Big Bay Road. Little Presque Isle stands offshore from the beach and a shallow sand bar connects it to the mainland.

Miners Beach

Miners Beach is a beautiful, mile-long stretch of sand with the main parking area at the west end. It is an excellent spot for swimming and picnicking. Launch your sea kayak and explore the lakeshore. 

Camping and RVing in the UP

Campground options and reservations

  • Presque Isle Campground
  • Union Bay Campground
  • Au Train Beach Campground

RV-friendly sites and amenities

  • Straits RV Campground 
  • Rivermouth Campgrounds 
  • Soo Locks Campground 
  • Gitche Gumee RV

Campfire stories and stargazing

  • Lake Hudson Recreation Area 
  • Negwegon State Park
  • Beaver Island

Tips for Photographers

Sunrise and sunset photography spots

  • Shiras Park 
  • McCarty’s Cove 
  • Presque Isle 
  • Clark Lambros Park
  • Pebble Beach 
  • Presque Isle Breakwall 
  • Picnic Rocks

Capturing waterfalls and landscapes

Visit the area’s enchanting waterfalls and capture photos from majestic cliffs in the clouds. Take pictures of the beautiful Wagner Falls, Bond Falls, and Tahquamenon Falls.

Wildlife photography opportunities

  • Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
  • Presque Isle Park
  • The Original Mackinac Island Butterfly House & Insect World
  • Oswald’s Bear Ranch
  • Palms Book State Park
  • Chapel Rock and Beach
  • Black River Harbor Recreation Area. Nature & Wildlife Areas
  • Wings of Mackinac Butterfly Conservatory

Weather and Packing Essentials

Seasonal weather variations

High temperatures in the Peninsula range from 70°F (21.1°C) and 24.8°F (-4°C), with far warmer temperatures in the later months. Rain is rare, with 0 to 1 day of significant precipitation per month.

Clothing and gear recommendations

  • Lots of layers
  • Beach gear
  • Hiking boots
  • Sunglasses

Safety precautions for outdoor activities

  • Prepare for changes in your plans and the weather.
  • Stay on designated trails and within marked campsites
  • Dispose of your trash and waste
  • Be careful with fire
  • Leave no trace that you visited

Engaging with Local Communities

Learning about Ojibwa and other indigenous cultures

Ojibwe people are one of the largest tribal populations among Native American peoples in the United States. They believe in religious practices, oral tradition, herbal medicines, and traditional crafts, and rely on maple sugaring and collecting wild rice.

Supporting local businesses and artisans

In the Upper Peninsula, goods, artwork, crafts, edibles, and other signature products. Buy gifts from shops like Mackinac, The Jampot, Island House Bike Shop, or Gustafson’s Smoked Fish. 

Participating in community events

Bring family and friends to celebrate the Humungus Fungus in Crystal Falls. This is where you get to see your reflection in the grilles of classic cars, watch fireworks, tailgate at the annual Continental Cup Ski Jumping Tournament at Pine Mountain or play broomball at Houghton’s Winter Carnival. Parades are done on foot, bikes, snowmobiles, skis, dogsleds, and in outhouses. They showcase antique wooden boats and have fairs, art shows, and harvest festivals.

Scenic Drives and Hidden Gems

Lake Superior Circle Tour

The Lake Superior Circle Tour is a 1,300-mile self-guided tour around the world’s largest lakes. Travel around the lake by land or water. It is ideal for hiking, camping, and waterfall discovery.

Keweenaw Peninsula Loop

The Keweenaw peninsula is in Upper Michigan and extends into southern Lake Superior. Its stunning natural landscapes, rich mining history, and diverse outdoor activities make it popular. Experience the rugged cliffs of Bare Bluff and the serene waters of Lake Superior, making it ideal for adventure seekers and nature lovers.

Keweenaw Waterway Byway

The Keweenaw Waterway is partly natural, cutting across the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan. It separates Copper Island from the mainland. 

Accommodation Options in the UP

Cozy cabins and lodges

  • Kouw’s Cozy Cabins
  • Upper Peninsula Lakeside Secluded Cabins
  • Aqua Log Cabins Resort

Lakeside resorts

  • Keweenaw Waters Resort
  • Keweenaw Castle
  • Baraga Lakeside Inn
  • Lindberg’s Cove Resort

Budget-friendly motels

  • Cedar Motor Inn
  • Continental Inn
  • America Best Value Inn Marquette
  • Two Rivers Motel and Cabins

Exploring UP’s State and National Parks

Hiawatha National Forest

What makes Hiawatha National Forest popular is its spectacular scenic beauty. It comes in Great Lakes beaches & cliffs, Great Lakes islands, inland lakes, and brilliant autumn colors. It is the only National Forest with six lighthouses, four are fully federally owned.

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

The Porcupine Mountains is a combination of small mountains spanning the northwestern Upper Peninsula of Michigan in Ontonagon and Gogebic counties, near the shore of Lake Superior. It is a popular destination for hiking, biking, fishing, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing.

Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale is home to adventures for backpackers, hikers, boaters, paddlers, and divers. Isle Royale National Park is known for its timber wolf and moose populations.

Summary: A Road Trip to Remember

Visiting the Michigan Upper Peninsula on a road trip can be a unique and beautiful experience only if you have an outline of places and activities to do. Get ready to experience some hiking and scenery with unparalleled natural beauty and towns with unique cultures. Stop and appreciate the beautiful Michigan sunsets along the way. Pack your bags, take to the open roads, and explore the Upper Peninsula on a road trip.

FAQs for Your UP Road Trip

What’s the best time to visit the UP?

The best time to visit Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP) is typically summer, from late May to September. This period offers pleasant weather for outdoor activities like hiking, camping, fishing, and exploring the natural landscapes. You can also enjoy water-based activities in lakes and rivers.

Summer hosts many local festivals and events, allowing you to immerse in the culture and traditions of the UP.

However, other seasons have their charms too. Fall offers vibrant foliage for leaf-peeping, and winter provides opportunities for snowmobiling, skiing, and snowshoeing.

Ultimately, your choice depends on your preferences and the activities you want to enjoy in this beautiful region.

How long does it take to explore the Upper Peninsula?

Exploring Michigan’s Upper Peninsula can be a great experience, and the ideal duration depends on your interests. While a shorter visit can offer a taste of the region, spending two weeks allows for a more immersive experience.

The Upper Peninsula boasts diverse attractions, including natural wonders like Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Isle Royale National Park, charming towns, and cultural sites. If you want to fully enjoy hiking, historical exploration, and water-based activities, two weeks provides ample time.

Due to the region’s vastness, travel between destinations can take longer. A two-week visit ensures a relaxed pace, letting you fully appreciate the unique atmosphere. While shorter trips are possible, planning for two weeks offers a more immersive experience.

Are the roads in the UP well-maintained?

Road conditions in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan can vary due to factors like harsh winters and differing maintenance levels. Major highways and main routes are usually well-maintained. In remote or less populated areas, road conditions may be worse due to heavy snowfall and limited resources for maintenance.

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