Want to find the 10 Best Places to visit in Upper Peninsula, Michigan?
You’re in the right place.
And here are my picks for the 10 Best Places. Feel free to jump directly to a particular tour stop:
- Getting There: Crossing the Mackinac Bridge, heading East
- Drummond Island
- Sault Ste. Marie: The Locks from Up Top and Down Low
- Whitefish Point: The Shipwreck Museum
- Tahquamenon Falls
- Munising: Hiking the Au Sable Point trail
- Lakenenland: Found Art Sculptures
- Marquette: College Town meets Lake Superior resort
- AJ’s Walleye Lounge: A great base for hikers who don’t want to rough it
- Mackinac Island: Mansion ogling, biking, and peace and quiet after dark
10 Best Places to Visit in Upper Peninsula Michigan, Stop #1: The Coast heading East
While you can approach the UP from from the west via Minnesota or Wisconsin—or, when restrictions lift, from Ontario in the north—our entry point as Michiganders is from the south. And that means crossing the Mackinac Bridge.
(If you happen to be coming from or through Ann Arbor, check out our guide.)
I will admit to be a tad bit apprehensive about this; there’s a rather infamous story of a small car being blown off the bridge and into the Mackinac Straits. Relax. It’s a wide bridge with beautiful views of the water, and doesn’t even feel that high, particularly if you’ve driven over something like the Golden Gate or even parts of the Chicago Skyway. Also, that car that got picked up by a heavy wind and landed in the lake? Was a Yugo. Which, I think, may be made of Legos.
Once you cross the bridge, you’re going to hang a right and head east to our next stop. But on the way, be sure to pull over—there are lots of options—for a beach walk. This was at a rest stop probably 25 minutes or so from the bridge. Heavenly.
10 Best Places to Visit in Upper Peninsula Michigan, Stop #2: Drummond Island
Drummond Island doesn’t necessarily pop up on everyone’s radar. This is wonderful, because when you get there, you feel you’ve discovered a true hidden gem. I mean, it’s not completely hidden, which is a relief should you just miss the ferry, which crosses pretty regularly. Changes are in season, you won’t have much more than a half hour wait. Still, be prepared to sit for a little bit.
Steve and I stayed at The Drummond Island Resort (you can find out all about the island, and about this and other places to stay at this link). Our room was spacious and comfy. We loved the hiking trails on the premises, and ran into this guy on a hike.
For dinner at the resort, I had fish and chips, except I had onion rings instead of chips, and they were giant, like bracelets. Steve had pulled pork. We both had small mountains of the best coleslaw I’ve eaten in many a moon.
After a dinner like that, a waddle was necessary. We headed to the Maxton Plains Preserve, just a couple of miles away. It’s something called an alvar, so you’re actually on bedrock a lot of the time. There are three alvar areas in the world: the Baltics, the Great Lakes Basin (where we are), and….someplace else. It’s hard to describe, but it’s super cool to look down and go, whoa. Bedrock. Those are my feet, not Fred Flintstone’s. They are often mistaken for his…
In the morning, before hitting the road for our next stop, we followed a reco from the woman at the desk to see the Potaganissing Wildlfe Flooding area. I’ll admit that “wildlife flooding” doesn’t exactly sound like something anyone would want to see. I imagine a bunch of animals, paddling around listlessly, and a waterlogged car. Yet it’s a lovely deserted place. The dam is small and not some massive concrete structure; it’s like a baby step up from a culvert. And how can you turn down a local tip?
As promised, we had it utterly to ourselves.
10 Best Places to Visit in Upper Peninsula Michigan, Stop #3: Sault Ste. Marie
It takes us about an hour to drive up to Sault Ste. Marie. Everybody calls it The Soo, and that’s how they pronounce “Sault,” which is actually the French word for falls, as in the water variety, and in French is prounced “So,” but with a French accent, and, probably, a slight sneer.
The drive takes a little less than an hour and a half. To get our bearings, we headed to the Tower of History. Before ascending the elevator the equivalent of 20 stories, you can get an overview of the Sault Ste. Marie canals and locks on a very old-fashioned but still worthwhile video. It starts off with this Exciting Music of Discovery and that guy who narrated everything from about 1941 through 1975. Sadly, there are a lot of references to the “war-like Iroquois” versus the nice, kind, cooperative Chippewa. So…you’ve been warned. And yes, it’s a movie of its time, but it’s seriously time to shoot a new one that gets away from the stereotypes.
All the stuff about constructing the Locks is really interesting, and helps you appreciate what you’re about to see, and not think that it’s just some big passageway for giant-ass boats. Originally, the passage was this dramatic, rocky, super dangerous water staircase from Lake Superior in the west, down to the St. Mary’s river in the east. Also, Lake Superior was called Gitchie-Gumi in Ojibway, just like in that poem, and Michigan is a Chippewa word for flowing waters. And Steve didn’t even know that and he grew up here.
After the video, ascend the tower, and get some pictures. It’s not easy to get a great shot through the glass, but it’s very worthwhile to see it from up above.
Afterward, walk down along the park to get close to the locks, on the other side of a giant iron fence. (I think that part was due to COVID restrictions, so you may not have to deal with that.) If you have time, you can book a cruise through the locks. Sault Ste. Marie would be a nice first stop in the UP if you want to skip Drummond Island; you can learn more here at the Sault Ste. Marie website.
10 Best Places to Visit in Upper Peninsula Michigan, Stop #4: Whitefish Point
The drive to Whitefish Point takes about an hour and 20 minutes, much of it along a really beautiful coast. You’re heading to the Shipwreck Museum, a big complex with several active Coast Guard buildings, the Lighthouse and Lighthouse Keeper’s Quarters, and of course the museum itself.
Whitefish Point, due to a combination of fog, 200 miles of open sea that create crazy storms, and tons of traffic up until about 50 years ago, is apparently the Shipwreck Capital of the World. Its biggest claim to fame is that it’s very near the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. You know, that song that is seriously the longest song ever written, where Gordon Lightfoot drones on and on and has anyone ever listened to all those lyrics?
So that song is playing and I figure about the time it takes to circle the museum, the song will be done and then it’ll play again, because it’s like 20 minutes long. (It is really only about 5 minutes long and they play other stuff, and it does take about one cycle of the playlist to get through the museum.)
You may notice, as did my husband, that some of these ships were wrecked for the Dumbest Reasons. For instance, one big massive ship effectively broke in half because it got too close to another ship in its same fleet in order to wave hello. Being on Whitefish Point, where it’s chilly even in late July, the wind going at a good clip—the stories sink in, the awfulness of dying in that freezing water on a dark night is pretty darn sobering.
The Edmund Fitzgerald part of the museum is the capper. It’s a great story, mysterious and tragic, and the exhibit is beautifully done. There’s a lot to read displayed next to a model of the ship, some of the very few artifacts that have surfaced, this crazy deep sea diving suit that’s been used to descend to the bottom of Lake Superior to salvage bits and pieces. Most moving is a slide show of the crew members. So many are so young. The ship wrecked in the 70s, so some of the guys wear super groovy bellbottoms and paisley shirts—the photos tend to be cropped from prom pictures and family portraits. Other men look like confirmed old salts with a permanent roll in their gait.
This bell was attached by one remaining cable to some of the ship’s wreckage still at the bottom of the lake. In the 90s, they managed to cut the cable and the bell simply floated to the top. Family members of the crew had gathered for the retrieval. It’s easy to imagine, and seriously moving.
Afterward, wander through the grounds, and be sure to check out the Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage. That daft little song from the movie version of Clockwork Orange, “I Want to Marry a Lighthouse Keeper,” pops into my head any time I have access to a lighthouse. The lighthouse keeper’s quarters are snug and adorable, and we wandered through them. But I am very glad I didn’t marry a lighthouse keeper. I would be a crappy lighthouse keeper’s wife, constantly whining about the lack of a nearby Trader Joe’s….
Insider Tip for Coffee Drinkers: Be Prepared
There are not tons and tons of places to get any kind of espresso drink in the UP; in the cities, of course, including Sault Ste. Marie and Marquette. But oustide them? If you’re a coffee freak, bring your aeropress or French Press and hot water kettle or whatever. Or be quite cranky. Speaking, alas, from experience.
10 Best Places to Visit in Upper Peninsula Michigan, Stop #5: Tahquamenon Falls
Tahquamenon rhymes with “phenomenon.” I love handy signs that tell you how to pronounce hard words like Tahquamenon. Here’s the view from the Upper Falls overlook. All that red? It’s not iron, but tannin, mostly from the cedar trees.
There are lots of hiking trails, including the River Trail, which takes you from the Upper to the Lower Falls. It’s through a forest, about 5 miles, and you are told right at the outset that you will get muddy and that the trail is difficult. After initially assuring me that “We can walk around the mud,” my ever-optimistic spouse decided, after 10 minutes, that “This could be kind of boring.” (I’m sure it isn’t boring as long as you’re prepared. We weren’t, and I was glad he sort of admitted it.)
We did take the White Pines trail to see the two oldest pines in the forest. They’re each about 6 feet in diameter and really old. Queen Isabel—you know, the one who backed Colombus to subjugate as many natives as possible—wasn’t even kicking the slats out of her cradle when these trees started growing.
When we find the pines, they are indeed beautiful. Steve and I would be hard-pressed to get our arms around the tree below if we each hugged one side and tried to meet in the middle. My arms are long, his are Super long.
The trail continued another 2.5 miles, and the local mosquito community appeared to have issued an APB to the effect that “Meat’s on the lunch menu!” Back we tracked, walking fast, swatting, dodging mud. We took the short drive to the Lower Falls.
Less spectacular, but no less beautiful, the Lower Falls are very stair-steppy; we figured this is what the Sault Ste. Marie rapids must have been like before the locks. We rented a rowboat and headed across the water to a small island. Once you get out, there are walkways built in a ring shape around a small island. First, you’re greeted by a sign that basically says, don’t play in the water: There’s a current and undertow, the rocks are slippery, and, well, just don’t. This is paid attention to about as much as you would expect. That said, the folks in the water did not appear to be doing dumb things.
The falls, up close, are wonderful. The water is so clear you can see the rocks below. The water runs red. On one of the signs, we found out that there’s so much foam because the debris in the water actually gives it a protein content. The foam, it says, is kinda like egg whites.
There are tons of what Steve calls “cairns” and what a Buddhist friend calls “stupas.”
Leave enough time after your trip to the Falls to drive to Munising—it’s pronounced Myu-nising, like the U in unicycle—which has more places to stay. If you make it by about an hour before sunset—which is late up here in the summer—you may be able to snag a ride on the sunset cruise to Pictured Rocks. Be forewarned that, while magical on a clear day, the cruise may not be particularly special if you hit clouds and fog, which are unpredictable and frequent. Meanwhile, it’s a lot easier to get a ticket if you book ahead. Just know, you’re looking at a bit of a gamble. The pre-bought ticket will hopefully coincide with perfect Pictured Rocks viewing weather, but it might not. Meanwhile, waiting for a perfect evening to buy your ticket could mean the boat’s sold out. So….you decide.
10 Best Places to Visit in Upper Peninsula Michigan, Stop #6: Munising
Pictured Rocks National Park is THE Munising must-see—but, as noted above, you may not necessarily be able to time your arrival with glorious clear skies and sunshine to best appreciate the views. Ideally, you’ll get this:
Our day, however, was for from ideal. In mid-July, we encountered a whole lotta fog and not much sun. In other words, a perfect day for a hike to the Au Sable Point and the Log Slide. We parked at the Hurricane River campground, which is a good 45 minutes or so drive from Munising. You’re heading for the lighthouse, and on the way there, you can hike right on the lakeshore. It’s stunningly beautiful.
There are so many fallen trees, some of which you may have to clamber over. I became mildly obsessed with birch bark.
The lighthouse itself is a mile or so in. Since we went during COVID, we couldn’t tour it. Check to see if the restrictions have lifted for your trip. The view from the top has to be incredible.
Stop just beyond the lighthouse on this platform, for a view of Au Sable Point, where you’re headed.
You’re taking a beautiful walk through the woods, over one unnervingly tilted but strong bridge:
Past dense ferns:
And finally to this point, the Log Slide. Where you see the sharp drop of sand? That’s it, about 1/4 mile pretty much straight downhill that they’d send the sawn trees down. Over and over, you are told that the hike down takes 10 minutes, but the hike back up can take, easily, an hour or more.
Our favorite place to eat in Munising: The Falling Rock Cafe, which has a wonderful mostly-used, some new bookstore attached. I had to restrain myself from buying this bit of awesomeness, but seriously, I have way too many books as is.
10 Best Places to Visit in Upper Peninsula Michigan, Stop #7: Lakenenland
We did not know anything about Lakenenland Sculpture Park, en route from Munising to Marquette. But…how could we not go? Just a half hour drive from Munising, Lakenenland has a nice path to stroll on past dozens of goofy sculptures. A lot of them are jokey and political at the same time:
Some function like giant metal shadow boxes:
And of course, there are the ones just begging for interaction:
It’s a quick and delightful stop that’ll add a big old grin to your day.
10 Must-See Destinations in the Upper Peninsula Michigan, Stop #8: Marquette
Marquette was easily my favorite stop on the trip. Though we only passed through on our way to Lake Gogebic, I made a note that I wanted to get back and just stay here a few days. Situated right on Lake Superior, it’s home to Northern Michigan University, and it has a unique college-town-crossed-with-lake-vacation-town vibe.
There’s a biking trail on the lakeshore that we would have loved to have tackled. We really dug our Mexican meal at Sol Azteca—complete with lake view— but there are tons of other restaurants.
Marquette would be an outstanding base for exploring the UP. Less than an hour from Munising in one direction and the Porcupine Mountains in the other, lots of restaurant choices, even a high-quality art museum on the North Michigan campus.
10 Best Places to Visit in Upper Peninsula Michigan, Stop #9: AJ’s Walleye Lodge
South of Marquette, you’ll find Lake Gogebic—pronounced with hard G’s and an E like in “see”, and I can’t figure out quite which syllable you emphasize. We stayed at AJ’s Walleye Lodge. It’s a roadside motel, the rooms not unlike a Johnny Rose property, with a spectacular setting on Lake Gogebic.
AJ’s is a great base for the multitude of awesome hikes in the area. And we highly recommend the book Hiking: Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a Falcon Guide. We recommend you buy it locally at pretty much any bookstore once you’re up here rather than give more money to a certain corporate behemoth.
The Presque Ile Waterfalls Loop is an awesome out and back that covers about 2 1/2 miles and 3 amazing waterfalls….
The Union River Cascades Loop is just a mile and would be great with kids. There are a bunch of historical markers along the way that tell you perhaps a little too much about mining, unless you’re all over mining, in which case, you’ll be one happy hiker. Mostly, it’s just a wonderful quiet spot.
The absolute best, though, is the Bond Falls loop. We discovered it thanks to a picture on our wall at AJ’s. I told the person at the desk, I want to go to that picture, and she said, well, you’re in luck, because it’s about 20 minutes from here. Less than a 1 mile loop, nothing short of heaven.
10 Best Places to Visit in Upper Peninsula Michigan, Stop #10: Mackinac Island
People will either tell you that you absolutely HAVE to see Mackinac Island—or that you absolutely HAVE to avoid it.
Having gone once on a day trip and tending toward the “Avoid” camp, I can now, after having spent a night there, say that a stop is worth your time. Be forewarned that the main drag, and to a degree everywhere on the island, has a tourist trap feel. Yes, it’s uniquely beautiful and charming, with amazing mansions and superb landscaping.
And yes, there are a million fudge shops, T-shirt shops, horse-drawn carriages, and tourists who resemble, strikingly, the zombies in front of slot machines in any casino you care to name.
The trick is to jump on a bike and head away from the tourist drag. Yes, all the other bikers are tourists, but you will feel like you can breathe again. The coastline that you’ll bike along is predictably gorgeous, and if you’re up for a little hill climbing, you can get a nice workout and even farther from the hordes.
The real beauty of Mackinac is in the evening, once the last ferry goes. There doesn’t seem to be a workaround for how expensive hotels are, and there’s no AirBnB. So be prepared to shell out a few bucks. One night is plenty.
Alternatively, get to the island on the earliest possible ferry—in summer, that’s at 7:30. The last ferry, at 9 p.m., will be less crowded than the ones from 5-8. You may also, if you get there early enough, be ready to head back to where you parked your car—in Mackinac City on the lower peninsula, and in St. Ignace in the UP—after a full morning and early afternoon. Just go knowing what to expect—high prices, tons of tourists, and a Disney North ambience—and weigh in if that’s worth the unique beauty to be found once you get off the main drag. Trust us: Once in a lifetime will be plenty for most folks.
Thanks for reading!
Thanks for reading about this tour of the UP. This is, truly, just a smattering of what’s on offer in the UP, and you’re sure to find your own favorites. Take pictures, tag me on insta and twitter (@headroamer), #mustseeUP. And let me know what you love about this place in the comments. And for more updates on Michigan travel, as well as lots of posts on how to travel without leaving home, we’d be thrilled if you’d subscribe to the Head Roam newsletter. Feel free to share this post to your social networks as well.