Upper Peninsula Michigan vacation has always been on our bucket list and after viewing so many beautiful pictures of it, we decided it was time for us to go. We took 2 weeks and drive with our camper attached from New York to experience the land of the waterfalls and boy we weren’t disappointed.
After a long ride on Route 80, we started to head north and finally stopped for the night in a campground just north of Ann Arbor. Wow, we made it to Michigan but to get to the Upper Peninsula was still going to be a ride but now it was time to start enjoying our vacation.
For you guys who travel with an RV know that almost 600 miles in one day are exhausting, as we were on the road for almost 14 hours when we reached Lake Chemung Outdoor Resort in Howell, MI. It was a private campground I found on the AllStays App. They rent out some of their sites. It was more of a permanent campground but was fine for a night and the best thing was the site was long enough so we didn’t have to unhook our truck.
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Bronners Christmas Store
We traveled Interstate 75 north all through Michigan. On our way to the Upper Peninsula, we stopped to Bronners Christmas Store which is off exit 136 in Frankenmuth MI. It claims to be the biggest Christmas store in the world. Well, it is pretty big, and you can spend hours looking at all the Christmas decorations they have. I’ve never seen so many different ornaments in my life. You name it they had it. Of course, I brought stuff there. We tried not to be there long, especially since my husband hates shopping, but I have to omit he was good however we needed to get back on the road.
Boy Michigan is a tall state, after leaving Bronners we traveled for hours with nothing around us, before making it to the Mackinac Bridge, known as the Mighty Mac. It’s a large bridge expanding 5 miles with Lake Huron on one side and Lake Michigan on the other.
Living on Long Island I’m used to bridges, it’s the only way we get out of NY and it’s an everyday thing for us, but I wasn’t crazy going over the Mackinac Bridge. The left lane is a weird surface (metal grate) and is feels weary to drive on (the right lane was closed so we had no choice). I’m happy I wasn’t driving. You can feel the wind so drive slowly.
Matter of fact I read that if you are uncomfortable about driving the bridge, they will drive your vehicle for you. However, my husband was ok driving over the bridge but after all, he drives fire trucks for a living so pretty much nothing bothers him.
Hiawatha National Forest
Since we were headed west, we were rewarded with driving along Route 2 which hugs the Lake Michigan shoreline. Wow, you can’t get any better than that! We decided to stop for the night and found the best campground we had for the week in the Hiawatha National Forest. We found a site in the Brevoort Lake Recreation Area Campground. What a home run, a site on the beautiful lake long enough that we didn’t need to unhook for $10 (we have the National Park Senior pass) but if we didn’t it would have been $20 (no hookup but that’s ok with us).
The Hiawatha National Forest consists of nearly 900,000 acres of land in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with 100 miles of shoreline of Lake Superior, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. The area is divided into two sections, the east side and the west side. Between them, they have six wilderness districts, 20 campgrounds, and 5 national wild and scenic rivers.
Another driving day, we decided to go to the western UP first then we would have the shortest ride home. Now as much as Michigan is tall it’s Upper Peninsula is wide. At 326 miles, it seemed like we were driving forever and on a two-lane highway with a 75-mile an hour speed limit. Yes, just crazy!
Some facts on the Upper Peninsula
There are so many things to do in the Upper Peninsula that you can really spend weeks there exploring. Eighty-four percent of it is covered in forest, making it an outdoor enthusiast’s heaven. Many people flock here every year to enjoy outdoor recreation at its best. With over 200 waterfalls, 4,300 inland lakes, 12,000 miles of river and streams and border 3 of the great lakes, the Upper Peninsula is a nature lover’s paradise.
We finally arrived at our first scheduled campground around 5 and were able to spend a relaxing night in front of the fire. With the driving behind us, it was time to relax and enjoy our vacation!
We stayed at Union Bay Big Bear Campground for 3 nights while exploring the western side of the Upper Peninsula. The campground is privately owned and was a small, wooded quiet campground with friendly and pleasant owners. It’s located right across the road from Lake Superior within a mile from the entrance of the Porcupine Wilderness Area.
Upper Peninsula Map
To see a larger version of this map, click here.
There are over 200 waterfalls in the Upper Peninsula and most are easy to get to, either roadside or short hikes. One more beautiful than the next, be sure to stop at as many as you can during your stay.
Of all the falls Bond Falls and the Upper Tahquamenon Falls were our favorites. Here is a map of the 100 most famous ones showing their locations broken down by county.
Upper Peninsula Attractions
The Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
The largest of the Michigan State Parks with 60,000 acres and over 90 miles of hiking trails, it’s a remote paradise that is home to over 600 bears. Located in the western Upper Peninsula right across from Lake Superior.
Visiting the Porcupine Wilderness Area was the focus of our trip to the western section of the Upper Peninsula. Our first stop was the visitors center which has numerous displays of the park wildlife and plant life. We learned about the old-growth forest(35,000 acres) that makes up most of the park and were able to speak with rangers about hiking and the main attractions of the area (Lake of the Cloud, Summit Peak Scenic Area, and Presque Isle River Area. We were also able to get a good map.
Lake of the Cloud
There is a short hike to get to this beautiful area after a 7-mile ride from the visitor’s parks center. The Lake of the Cloud is a beautiful lake surrounded by forest and is the most visited and photographed area of the Porcupine Mountains. It has stunning views even on a cloudy day, like the day that we went.
The trail to the viewing area is a boardwalk and is wheelchair accessible. There are several hiking opportunities in this area including hiking .75 mile to the lake itself. The lake is also available for fishing and carry-in boats are allowed.
Summit Peak Scenic Area
Hike .9 mile roundtrip on the Summit Peak Scenic Trail and climb the tower for the beautiful views of the mountains. The highest Peak at 1986’ in the Upper Peninsula. I was surprised to see a wooded tower when we arrived as I’m used to seeing mostly metal towers.
Presque Isle River Area
There is about an hour ride west through the park to the Presque Isle River Scenic area. You are also in the central time zone. Take a nice easy hike (2.3-mile loop) to the waterfalls in the area. This includes the largest called Manabezho Falls as well as Manido Falls and, Nawadaha Falls. Walk over the expansion bridge and tip your toes into Lake Superior. Feel the bridge move as your walking.
Eat Dinner While Watching the Bears
We heard about this place, Konteka Restaurant, where you can watch bears during your meal. We saw 5 bears while we were there. Yes, the restaurant does feed the bears corn combined with leftovers but it was a great experience seeing the bears come out of the wild.
Also, there are not many restaurants in the area and the food was very good. They also have a bowling alley and gift store on the premises.
Quincy Mine Tour
There are signs all around the Upper Peninsula that it was once a place where copper mining was its main focus. During the 1800s people came here to work at high paying jobs in the mines. The government even build a military base (Fort Wilkins in Copper Harbor) to protect the copper industry from crime.
We decided to take a copper tour to learn the history and what the Upper Peninsula was all about. There are several tours that you can take in the area. We took the Quincy Mine Tour since it was one of the biggest mines.
We took a cog tram down to the entrance to the mine and then a ” train” into the tunnel of the mine. But this was not the way the miners got down into the mine. They sat on “steps” that were attached to a shaft that brought 30 of them down at one time.
Today they have lights down in the mine for the tours, however, the miners only had candles to see. Early mining equipment was a chisel and hammer to retrieve the copper from the rocks. In later years, they used drills which were faster but put a lot of miners out of work since they needed fewer workers with the new equipment. The miners got paid by the amount of copper they retrieved.
We found the mine tour fascinating and were glad we decided to go. Make sure you bring a jacket with you as it’s around 40 degrees in the mine year-round. The tour supplied hard hats and there were also “mining” heavy jackets you could use.
Don’t forget to try a Pasty
When visiting the Upper Peninsula, be sure to try a Pasty. It’s meat, potatoes, and onion wrapped in a crust. This was the food the miners took to work as it was filling for their long working days.
Fort Wilkins Historic State Park
A Michigan state park located in Copper Harbor, there is a restored army military base that was established in the 1940s to help control the copper mining industry with shipping and crime since the area became popular with fortune seekers. Today, it’s very interesting walking around the fort and seeing all the buildings filled with how it was in the 1800s.
Fort Wilkins also has a big campground located on Lake Fanny Hooe and has biking trails throughout the park. We camped here for 3 nights and it was a very nice campground with water and electric hookup.
Brockway Mountain in Copper Harbor
Drive the almost 9 miles ridge of Brockway Mountain which is 1320′ and on a clear day, you can see Isle Royale National Park 50 miles away. There are beautiful scenic overlooks throughout your ride with views of Copper Harbor and Lake Superior.
Isle Royale National Park
You can take a ferry to Isle Royale National Park from two locations in the Upper Peninsula, Copper Harbor and Houghton. It’s one of the least visited national parks probably because it’s not easy to get to. However, being in the Upper Peninsula, we couldn’t be so close without going.
It’s a hiker’s paradise and more beautiful than I ever imagined. You can read all about our adventure to Isle Royale National Park here.
Picture Rock National Lakeshore
The power of Lake Superior has formed the Picture Rock National Lakeshore. From sandstone cliffs to beaches to hiking trail and canoeing, the Picture Rock area has something for everyone. The best way to see the rock formations is by water.
Picture Rock Cruises is a concessioner of the National Parks Service and operates cruises that are 2 .5 to 3 hours long and travel 40 miles along the most stunning shoreline of the Great Lakes. There are numerous waterfalls and rock formations along your journey.
We started this tour on a beautiful sunny day however Lake Superior has a mind of its own and after about ½ hour the weather changed and got so rough we had to return to shore. How disappointing because it was one of the highlights of our trip but what we saw was absolutely stunning.
We also went to the National Lakeshore Visitors Center where we took a short hike to Stable Falls. There are many waterfalls in this area so be sure to visit some too.
Kitch-iti-kipi is the largest freshwater spring location about six miles northwest of Manistique, MI in Palms Book State Park. During the season, there is a raft that takes you across the spring.
You can see 40-45 feet to the bottom of the water where there are “bubbles” from the heat of the water. You can also see hundreds of very large trout who make their home in the spring. This is a must-see when your in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It only takes about an hour depending on the line to get onto the raft.
Tahquamenon Falls State Park
Tahquamenon Falls State Park has over 45,000 acres of pristine wilderness following the Tahquamenon River known for its waterfalls and 22 miles of hiking trails. The park also has two campgrounds and restaurants.
With a 50′ drop, 200′ wide and rushing water flowing at over 50,000 gallons per second, the Upper Falls is the main attraction of the park. It’s one of the biggest waterfalls east of the Mississippi only second to Niagara Falls.
Four miles north of the Upper Falls is a series of five smaller waterfalls known as lower falls. The park rents rowboats where you can row to an island to explore the lower falls and has several places for swimming. You can also hike to views of the falls.
By the Upper Falls is the Tahquamenon Brewery, the only one in any of Michigan’s State Parks. The restaurant offers a fine selection of beer brewed right there in the park as well as fine dining in a rustic atmosphere. We enjoyed our dinner there and my husband enjoyed the beer.
Tahquamenon Falls Riverboat Tour
This 6.5-hour tour begins in Soo Junction where you get a trolley/train and take a 35-minute ride through wilderness forest to the Tahquamenon River where you get on a riverboat for a 2-hour ride to the upper falls. Once in the park, you hike a 1/2 mile to view the falls.
This excursion was y favorite day of sightseeing in the Upper Peninsula. It was enjoyable on the river with stunning scenery. We saw a bear, two bald eagles and many other types of birds. I would definitely recommend this tour, the staff was friendly and very accommodating.
Go back in time to when there were no cars and experience Mackinac Island be either foot, bicycle or horse and carriage. Most of the island is part of the Mackinac Island State Park and the main attraction is the fort.
There is the main street where you get off the ferries consisting of hotels, restaurants, bicycle rental shops, souvenir shops and of course fudge stores which the island is famous for.
There is an 8-mile trail uses mostly by bicycle that goes around the island on the shore of Lake Huron. This route provides stunning views of the blue waters of the Straits of Mackinac. For more information see my post about our day trip to the island.
More Places to Visit in the Upper Peninsula Michigan that we didn’t get to
We didn’t go to any of the 10 casinos that are in the Upper Peninsula. It just isn’t our thing, but if you enjoy gambling the Upper Peninsula won’t disappoint.
Great Lakes Ship Museum
Located in Whitefish Point, this museum houses the bell from the famous Edmund Fitzgerald and has rare tapes between the captain and the Coast Guard before the ship went down in Lake Superior in 1975. The museum also has displays about other shipwrecks in Lake Superior.
Glass Bottom Shipwreck Tours
Take the Glass Bottom ShipwreckTour in Munising and discover the shipwrecks of Lake Superior. You will be able to see 2 shipwrecks as well as a lighthouse and rock formations along the lakeshore.
Seney National Wildlife Refuge
Take the 7-mile drive, hike, bike or paddle through the refuge and discover some of the 250 species of wildlife. It’s known for sightings of bald eagles, sandhill cranes, osprey, trumpeter swans, and common loons.
Soo Locks Boat Tour
A top attraction in the state of Michigan, the Soo Locks Boat Tour in Sault Ste Marie through the largest waterway traffic system. You get to see all of the US Locks (4) as well as the St. Mary’s Rapids, the Historic Canadian Lock, and the hydro-electric plants.
Ottawa National Forest
Ottawa National Forest is just under one million areas with 500 lakes, 300 miles of river, 196 miles of hiking trails and spans from the southern shores of Lake Superior to the Wisconsin border. With cross country skiing in the winter to over 2000 miles of trailers for off-highway vehicles, the forest is a recreation paradise.
Oswald’s Bear Ranch
The largest bear ranch in the United States, Oswald’s has 29 bears in 4 habitats where the bears roam free and visitors get a chance to see bears in a barrier-free view. It’s a great family destination.
What we recommend you bring with you
I would recommend bear stray as there is bear all over the Upper Peninsula. We were lucky enough not see any while hiking but we did see 6 during our stay
Warm clothes are truly recommended as even the summer month nights are chilly. We were there in the last week of August and the first week in September and nighttime temperatures were in the 30s and 40s and most day temperatures were only in the 50s. Although we did bring lots of sweatshirts with us on many occasions we were cold.
What we regret
Not staying long enough in Isle Royale National Park as one night just wasn’t enough.
Only staying in Cooper Head to go to the national park. Although we got to take a scenic drive up Brockway Mountain, we never had a chance to go hiking there. And there was beautiful Lake Fanny Hooe at Fort Wilkins Campground that we never got a chance to enjoy.
Not staying in one of the Tahquamenon State Park campgrounds. It was such a beautiful location, we would have liked staying right in the park and experience more hiking.
Not seeing one of my favorite animals, moose, when in the Upper Peninsula but after all they are wild!
We truly enjoyed our Upper Peninsula Michigan vacation. We spent 2 weeks there but could have definitely stayed longer. Without a doubt, one of the nicest vacations we have been on and if my bucket list wasn’t so long, we would definitely return.
For you RVers, our total trip with driving was 17 days, 3369 miles and 5 campgrounds. There is nothing like a road trip!
Happy Travels, Kathy xoxo
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