I love the U.P. I might go as far as to say that it’s my favorite place in America. Since moving to Minnesota, I started taking the northern route over Lake Michigan to drive back home to my parents’ house in the heart of the Lower Peninsula. It’s given me a ton of opportunities to explore the U.P. and there are so many incredible destinations that I felt that I should bring them all together in one U.P. Bucket List. Here are my top 10 things places to go in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula:
Sault Ste Marie is located on the St Marys River which connects Lake Superior to Lake Huron. According to the US Army Corp of Engineers website: People have been coming to Sault Sainte Marie since the 1850s to watch boats passing through the locks. By the 1880s a public park ran alongside the canal and lock with strolling paths, a fountain and places to sit and watch the boats passing.
The Soo Locks are a man-made lock system built to lower and raise giant freighters over rapids that would otherwise make it impassible. It is the busiest lock system in the entire world with seven to ten thousand ships passing through each year. You can see Canada just across the river.
It’s fascinating to see these vessels up close and you could spend hours watching them come in and out. There are quite a few places to observe the boats so just pick the one that works for you and enjoy the show!
The Porcupine Mountains, or Porkies, are located within a 60-000 acre state park in the far northwest corner of the Upper Peninsula along the coast of Lake Superior. It’s popular for hikers and backcountry campers because it is one of the largest old-growth forests and wilderness areas in the Midwest.
Top attractions within park include:
Lake of the Clouds: Lake of the Clouds (pictured above) sits in the valley between two ridges. The overlook provides an amazing view of the lake but if you want to take it a little further you can hike the Big Carp River Trail or the Escarpment Trail to access the lake or for more views from up on the ridge.
Summit Peak: At 1,958 feet tall, Summit Peak is the highest point in the park and it’s only a half mile, mostly boardwalk trail to the viewing tower.
Presque Isle River: On the western edge of the park, you can access Presque Isle River. The waterfall trail is only about 2-miles out and back and you’ll be rewarded with THREE sizable waterfalls.
Marquette is the largest and one of the coolest cities in the U.P. There is no shortage of outdoor activities to partake in (hiking, skiing, mountain biking, fishing, boating, golfing, etc.) but you also have access to amazing breweries, museums and lighthouses.
If you stick around downtown, the Marquette Harbor Lighthouse (pictured above) and Presque Island are two iconic Lake Superior spots to get out and walk around.
Marquette is also a college town and home to Northern Michigan University, so there are also a lot of great local breweries. Ore Dock Brewing Co. was my personal fav.
If you’re looking from some cool hikes Sugarloaf Mountain, Hogback Mountain and Dead River Falls are all within a 15-minute drive of downtown.
I have a detailed post about all about Marquette that you can check out here!
Kitch-iti-kipi is Michigan’s largest freshwater spring. It’s located just north of Manistique and a short detour off of Highway 2 within Palms Book State Park.
According to UpTravel.com “Here more than 10,000 gallons of vibrant, aqua-colored water erupt each minute from the fissures in the limestone base 40-feet below. The water maintains a constant 45 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, never freezing during the cold Michigan winters. Looking into the water’s depths, you’ll find ancient tree trunks, fat trout, lime-encrusted branches and clouds of sand.”
It’s definitely worth visiting in any season!
5. Pictured Rocks
This was an obvious one to include. It’s one of Michigan’s most visited spots and each year the numbers of visitors continues to climb. Located along the southern shore of Lake Superior, Pictured Rocks is known for it’s incredible multi-colored sandstone cliffs, waterfalls, sand dunes and beaches. It’s a popular place for kayaking, hiking, camping and sight-seeing.
I think Pictured Rocks is a must-see at least once, but with a 134% increase in visitors in the last 10 years, it can get over crowded. I recommend visiting in the off-season. Also, most of the trails and beaches are not dog-friendly. If you’re looking for a similar experience without the crowds and with your four-legged friend, I would highly recommend Apostle Island National Lakeshore located on Wisconsin’s stretch of Lake Superior coastline. I have an entire post about that here.
Copper Harbor is located at the very top of the Keweenaw Peninsula. There are a few restaurants and shops but it’s mostly made up of resorts and vacation rentals.
Take a walk in Hunter’s Point Park which is out on the peninsula that cradles the harbor and you’ll get to see the beautiful red pebbles that are rounded and smooth from washing up against the shore. From the photos, you’d think that Copper Harbor was named for these rocks but it actually gets its name because of the copper they used to ship out of the harbor.
You can’t miss Brockway Mountain Scenic Drive. There is a great overlook to see all of Copper Harbor spread out before you and at the very top of the mountain you get a full panoramic view of Lake Superior and the surrounding area. It was so much more mountainous than what you typical imagine when you think of Michigan geography.
7. Keweenaw Peninsula
In additional to Copper Harbor, I have to include the Keweenaw Peninsula in general because there is so much to do and see outside of Copper Harbor. I’ll quickly rattle off a few highlights and you can read my Copper Harbor & Keweenaw Peninsula post for more details.
Houghton is a beautiful city and the 5th largest in the U.P. It is known as the “Gateway to the Keweenaw” because it is home to the Portage Lift Bridge and the only spot to drive across Portage Lake and continue up the peninsula.
Just down the road from Copper Harbor is Eagle Harbor, another super cute village and home to The Jampot, a Catholic Monastary that sells jams and baked goods.
One of my favorite hikes ever is the Montreal Falls trail. Located on the southern coast of the peninsula, you have to drive along a private road to reach the trailhead. You reach the lower falls first and can walk right up to them as the water runs into Lake Superior but hike a little further up the river and you can reach the Upper Falls that are much taller.
Also, the Keweenaw Peninsula is how you can reach Isle Royale National Park by ferry or boat. Isle Royale is Michigan’s only national park and home to wolves and moose.
There are so many other points of interest on the Keweenaw Peninsula; Mount Bohemia, Keweenaw Dark Sky Park, Great Sand Bay, Coppertown USA Mining Museum, the list goes on. Long story not-short, you shouldn’t skip the Keweenaw Peninsula on your U.P. trip.
The Tahquamenon Falls are not only the the biggest falls in Michigan, they are the 3rd largest east of the Mississippi. They are famous for their copper color caused by the tannin leached from cedar swamps that drain into the river.
This is also one of the most popular and iconic locations in Michigan so visiting in the off season or on a weekday during peak season will help you avoid the crowds.
I also have an entire post on the Falls and where to camp, eat, hike and how to get around. Click here to check it out.
Mackinac Island is located in Lake Huron, between Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas. There are so many great things about this island; the state park, trails, rock formations, Fort Mackinac and other historic sites are just a few but what makes it truly unique is that there are no cars or chain hotels on the island!
Mackinac Island is a popular tourist destination in the summer months. Families pile onto the ferry boats that leave out of St. Ignace and Mackinac City to ride in horse-drawn carriages and visit fudge shops which is why locals refer to tourists as “Fudgies”.
I highly recommend visiting in the winter months. There is a lot less open and what is open has limited hours but you’ll basically have the entire island to yourself!
10. Mackinac Bridge
Finally on my list of Top 10 Places in the U.P. we have the Mackinac Bridge. As the suspension bridge that connects the Upper and Lower peninsulas and the longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere, it deserves its own spot on the list. It’s a sight to behold and even more thrilling to drive across and should be a stop on any trip to the U.P.