There is no other feeling quite like crossing the Mighty Mac on your way to explore Michigan's Upper Peninsula. It truly seems like another world and is a destination that keeps me coming back again and again. To celebrate our anniversary, we planned an epic summer road trip through the central and eastern regions of the UP. Keep reading to discover all the stops we made along the way, our picks for must do activities, and a few unique lodging options you'll want to book ASAP.
Disclaimer: This trip was sponsored by UP Travel. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.
Day 1 - Kitch-iti-kipi and munising
We hit the road bright and early to begin the drive north. Our first stop of the trip had been on my Michigan bucket list for years and I was so excited we were finally able to visit. Kitch-iti-kipi or the “Big Spring” is located a few miles outside Manistique at Palm Brooks State Park. It is the largest natural, freshwater spring in Michigan at 40 feet deep and 200 feet across. The water temperature is a constant 45 degrees so it rarely freezes in the winter and the teal water is crystal clear. The park is accessible year round and you will need a Michigan Recreation Pass to enter. It can get very busy on the weekends so I recommend visiting on a week day or during off hours for the best experience. We went on a Wednesday afternoon and were able to walk right on the crank-propelled raft. Once on the raft, someone from your group will need to turn the big wheel that will take you across the spring and back. From the viewing panel in the center you'll see large trout, tree branches, and sand bubbling up from the bottom. If you're visiting around lunch time, pack a picnic to enjoy within the park or stop by Big Springs Tavern located right outside the entrance to enjoy delicious burgers and the best garlic Parmesan fries.
We hopped back in the car and drove an hour north to Munising, home to the famous Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Last summer we spent more time exploring this area and completed the iconic Chapel Loop Trail. We were only planning to spend one night here but still had a lot of adventures in store. First up was a Glass Bottom Shipwreck Boat Tour. The two-hour trip allows you to visit two different shipwreck sites in Lake Superior - one of which predates the Civil War and is still fully intact just a few feet below the surface. You'll hear more about the history of both wrecks as you get an up close view from the glass bottom viewing deck. The tour also takes you near rock cliffs and through caves. You’ll also see a historic lighthouse, Grand Island and Munising Bay.
For our first night in the UP we checked into our glamping accommodations at Paddler's Village. They offer a number of different lodging options including yurts, tipis, safari tents and sleeping cabins. You do need to bring you own bedding but our safari tent was equipped with bunk beds and a futon (can sleep 4), electricity, refrigerator, table, and a fire pit. The village has three sets of bathrooms, two with showers. You can also enjoy direct beach access to Lake Superior and walk next door for local drinks and a great meal at the Duck Pond Eatery & Beer Garden.
Day 2 - Kayaking Pictured Rocks and Grand sable
One of the best ways to experience Pictured Rocks, is up close on the water. You can either book a boat tour or, if you're feeling a bit more adventurous, kayak with Paddling Michigan. They offer anywhere from 2- to 8-hour tours depending on how long you want to be on the water. We opted for the two-hour morning delight which was the perfect length for us. Keep in mind, kayaking on Lake Superior is much harder than it looks depending on the size of the waves so be sure to choose a tour that matches your ability. Also if you tend to get motion sick easily, I would suggest taking medicine before your tour. After parking at Paddling Michigan, you'll take a bus ride to the beach. Here you'll receive all the gear you need and a quick introduction to the tandem kayaks before hitting the water. Our guide was amazing and the tour was a lot of fun with breathtaking views.
After our tour, we drove east toward Grand Marais. If you're following H-58 along the coast, the first stop you'll come across is Au Sable Light Station. Unlike many Michigan lighthouses, this one will require a 1.7 mile hike from the trailhead to access. If you do want to hike, there is parking available at the campground with an overflow lot a short walk away. There is also a small beach here with a river that flows into Lake Superior if you just want to make quick stop to stretch your legs. Continuing the drive, next you'll come to Log Slide Overlook which sits 175 feet above Lake Superior atop the Grand Sable Dunes. It is named for a wooden chute that early logging companies used to slide logs 300 feet down the sand dune to Lake Superior. Admire the breathtaking views (you can see Au Sable Light Stain in the distance) or climb down the dunes at your own risk.
The last stop we made on our way to Grand Marias was Sable Falls which can be accessed via a short walk from the parking lot. The falls cascade 75 feet over sandstone formations. The best viewing can be found at the bottom of the staircase (don't let the signs about 168 steps scare you away). You can also follow the trail past the falls to a rock beach where it flows into Lake Superior. On this same trail you can also take a short path through the forest which will lead to another great overlook of the Grand Sable Dunes which was much less crowded than Log Slide.
We ended our second day in the UP in Grand Marias wandering around the shops in the adorable town of Grand Marias and enjoying a delicious dinner paired with a blueberry wheat at Lake Superior Brewing Company. After dinner we drove to Newberry to stay the night before our next full day of exploring.
Day 3 - Newberry, Tahqhamenon Falls, Whitefish point
Day 3 of our roadtrip began with a stop at Oswald's Bear Ranch which is located a few miles north of Newberry on the way to Tahquamenon Falls. The ranch is committed to the welfare of abused and neglected bears and rescues them from various harmful circumstances. They currently have 40 bears living at the ranch ranging from cubs, to yearlings, and adults. The bears have lots of room to roam in natural habitats and you're able to follow the walking paths around the fenced in wooded habitats. Parking is available on site for $25/car (cash only). Be sure to purchase a bag of apples at the gate so you can feed the bears a snack. The best photo op is in the female habitat near the main building.
Our next stop was rather unplanned but we picked up a brochure in our hotel and decided to check it out. MI DOG opened a few months ago and is owned by Laura Neese who has completed four 1,000-mile sled dog races. The facility serves as a place for the dogs to relax and socialize during the summer months when they aren’t training. You’ll get to meet and cuddle the Alaskan Husky puppies, learn more about the sport, and meet Laura and her team to hear all about her stories out on the trails.
We made it to Tahquamenon Falls State Park around lunch time and the Upper Falls parking lot was already pretty full. You'll need a Michigan Recreation Passport to enter here as well. The Upper Falls is Michigan’s largest waterfall, about 200 feet across with a nearly 50-foot drop into the Tahquamenon River. Each second you spend at the viewing platform, more than 50,000 gallons of water are flowing right before your eyes. The trail to the falls is paved and very easily accessible. There are a few different viewing platforms so make sure you stop at them all for a different perspective. Tahquamenon Falls Brewery & Pub is a great place to grab lunch and enjoy micro-brewed beers, burgers, fish, and pasties. There is also a gift shop, food trucks, and and ice cream shop on site.
Hike or drive downriver four miles to discover the five smaller, tranquil waterfalls that cascade around a small island, creating the Lower Falls. Follow the trail and cross the foot bridge to get your feet wet while playing in the falls. Depending on how adventurous you're feeling you can wade in the shallow sections by the shore or swim under the falls.
Our last stop of the day was the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, located at Michigan’s Whitefish Point Light-Station. The museum has several different exhibits which tell the story of Lake Superior shipwrecks as well as a variety of historic structures including a light tower, lookout tower, fog signal building, lightkeeper’s quarters, crew quarters and surfboat house.
Day 4 - Sault Ste. marie and St. Ignace
We drove from Paradise to Sault Ste. Marie and stayed the evening at Kewadin Casino where we enjoyed dinner at the DreamCatcher's restaurant and tested our luck at the casino. The next morning we started the day with breakfast at Oh Crepe and Coffee in downtown Sault Ste. Marie. We both agreed this was one of our favorite breakfasts from the entire trip and they offer both sweet and savory options. From here, walk across the street and explore the Soo Locks. You can watch the giant freighters pass through the locks as they travel from Lake Huron to Lake Superior from the free observation deck. Be sure to check the schedule online so you can catch the boats at the right time. If you'd like to experience this engineering wonder for yourself, book a boat tour and pass through the locks alongside the freighters.
Enjoy the many shops that line the streets downtown and then for lunch head to the rooftop patio at Karl's Cuisine which overlooks the Soo Locks. Here you can enjoy beer, wine and hard cider from Superior Coast Brewing paired with a giant soft pretzel. Get a wine slushee to go and head next door to play a round at Lockside Mini Golf.
For our last night in the UP, we drove to St. Ignace to stay at the most adorable bell tent at Tiki RV Park (available to book on AirBnb). This glamping site was the perfect way to end our time up north. The campsite was quiet with full bathrooms on site and provided all the supplies need to build a fire. We drove into town to visit the shops and walked to the harbor to see Wawatam Lighthouse. For dinner we enjoyed BC Pizza on their patio where you where you can watch the ferries going to Mackinac Island. The next morning we stopped by Java Joe's Cafe which came highly recommended and definitely lived up to it's reputation. You must try their famous specialty pancakes. With full bellies we hit the road to head back across the bridge until next time!
I love creating detailed travel guides to ensure you get the most out of your time. On this blog I'll be sharing some of my past trips in hopes that it helps you plan your next adventure. Pack your suitcase you never know where I'll be heading next!
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