Michigan is definitely unique; not just because the land is in the shape of a mitten, but also because it’s made up of two separate peninsulas, joined by the longest suspension bridge in the Western Hemisphere: the Mackinac Bridge. Michigan is surrounded by four of five massive freshwater lakes created by ancient glaciers. Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and Lake Erie border Michigan, with Lake Ontario not too far away. The Great Lakes nurture fantastic scenery, such as old forests, sand dunes, the North Country Trail, Petoskey Stones and Agates, and hidden waterfalls. For this reason, there’s an outdoor activity for every season in Michigan!
The Upper Peninsula (U.P.) of Michigan is special because it’s full of untamed forests and 199 of Michigan’s 200 waterfalls (there’s just one in the Lower Peninsula (L.P.)). The wild nature of the U.P. can make it a little intimidating for less experienced hikers and campers, but if you take a chance, buy a state park pass and step out of your comfort zone, you will find the reward is great.
There’s a number of places in the U.P. that are a must-visit! Below are just a few of my personal favorites:
Tahquamenan Falls State Park
This place was the first hiking and camping trip that I ever experienced in the U.P. The upper falls are often a popular snapshot on U.P. postcards, but the lower falls in the summer feature great swimming and hiking opportunities. If you’re visiting in the winter, the icy falls are a breathtaking sight! There’s also a brewery called the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery & Pub at the head of the trail for a great local beer after a day full of nature.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is 40 miles of scenic hiking and driving. There are unbelievable geological formations that will leave you wondering if you’re still in Michigan. Miners Castle, one of the best-known features of Pictured Rocks, is a beautiful yet extremely delicate feature. Back in April 2006, the National Park Service reported that a large part of the rock broke off and fell into Lake Superior. If you plan a trip to the Pictured Rocks, remember that these ancient formations are extremely unstable. Follow the signs and never leave the designated trail.
Also, if you’re feeling hungry after hiking and you’re in the mood for a pasty, stop by Muldoon’s Pasties and Gifts in Munising for a U.P. delicacy.
Seney National Wildlife Refuge
Ever heard of a Trumpeter Swan? If you’re only familiar with the orange-beaked Mute Swan, then you don’t know how loud a swan can truly be. Once endangered, trumpeter swans are larger than Mute Swans, with black beaks. They sound just like trumpets, which granted them their name. I’ve also seen and heard loons, bald eagles, various songbirds, and osprey in the refuge. If you’re having trouble planning a trip to Seney, many Trumpeter Swans can also be seen up close at the W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary in Battle Creek, Michigan (as well as other cool birds!).
Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
The Porcupine Mountains, or the Porkies, are located in the western U.P. on the coast of Lake Superior. They’re small compared to other mountain ranges in the United States, but certainly impressive for the Great Lakes state. Designated as a wilderness area, there are excellent backcountry camping sites with awesome views of the lake from tall peaks. The park also features the Lake of the Clouds, the lake occurring at the highest elevation in Michigan. In rain or shine, spring or fall, the view of this lake is breathtaking.
High Rock Bay: Copper Harbor
High Rock Bay in Copper Harbor is one of my favorite spots in the U.P., but I’ve learned that it’s also one of the most difficult places to get to. At the very tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, this backcountry spot is the northernmost part of the U.P. I’ve been able to see Manitou Island on clear days and even the northern lights! The spot my friends and I camped is past 7 miles of rough dirt road, severely altered by recent flooding. If you plan to visit here (which you definitely should) do your research! Try reading about other campers’ experiences on sites like Tripadvisor. You won’t make it without a car that can handle off-road driving on uneven terrain. If you don’t have the right car but still want to go, you can also park near the beginning of the road and backpack it. Once at the end of the road, you’ll find the unforgivingly icy Lake Superior shore, agates and gemstones covering the beach, and an unbelievable sunrise. I’ve never experienced anything so beautiful and remote in my home state.
All in all, the U.P. is magical. It’s amazing to me that you can drive 12+ hours and still be in Michigan. The forests, wildlife, sunrises, sunsets and lakeshore views are like no other place in the United States. If you haven’t had a chance to visit the U.P., it’s not too late! My first visit was just a couple years ago and will continue to go whenever I can. If you’re new to camping and hiking, take it from me that there’s a decent learning curve, but the experiences are more than worthwhile.
Lauren Utykanski enjoys blueberry green tea, the farmer’s market, and traveling. They told her Olympic dog walking doesn’t exist yet, so instead, she decided to study Professional Writing with a minor in Museum Studies. Keep up with her on Instagram at @laurenuty.