Your Upper Peninsula Michigan Travel Guide
Wild, wonderful and untamed natural beauty: it’s the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
One of the top travel destinations in the United States, Michigan’s U.P. is a place of extremes.
From the towering cliffs of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore to the thousands of acres of wilderness in Porcupine Mountains Wildness State Park; from the frozen ice caves on Grand Island to the tiny Les Cheneaux Islands in Lake Huron, the U.P. is a sprawling, unspoiled outdoor playground.
It’s hard to believe the U.P. stayed off the U.S. travel radar for so long, but the word is out. The rushing waterfalls, meandering streams, natural springs and virgin forests all have been discovered by eager visitors, and the verdict is in. They love the stunning natural beauty of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Read on to discover why you need to put Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on your vacation bucket list and start planning your U.P getaway now!
About Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
With almost 30 percent of Michigan’s landmass, yet only three percent of it’s poulation, pure Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is raw natural beauty.
It’s a northern playground filled with nationally significant wonders: national forests, national historic sites, historic parks, and a national lakeshore, too! The U.P. is home to black bears and other native wildlife; stunning fall colors, virgin white pine and a sky that lights up with the northern lights at night.
Whether you’re doing one of the Great Lakes circle tours (the U.P. borders Lake Michigan, Lake Superior and Lake Huron), there’s a lot to see and do in the Upper Peninsula, including exploring the area’s history.
We’re sharing some highlights and travel info so you can begin planning your trip to the truly amazing Upper Peninsula.
Abour the Upper Peninsula: Exciting History
Originally settled by native American’s, it’s hard not feel connected to nature and history when you visit the Upper Peninsula, the once the heart of the U.S. fur trade and mineral mining.
The rich history includes:
- French fur traders traveling up the St. Marys’ River as they headed to the Mississippi
- British military and European colonization
- A run on copper and iron ore mines that produced more wealth than the California Gold Rush
You can experience this history and learn even more in museums and parks throught our the UP: Fayette Historic State Park, Fort Wilkins Historic State Park and Keweenaw Historic National Park are just a few worth checking out.
Combine this history with a lush landscape teeming with lakes and an a wide array of wildlife and it’s hard not to become enchanted with the stunning land that is Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
You’ll also find three large universities and other colleges here, including Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan and Lake Superior State University. These educational institutions attract a young and diverse crowd, eager to explore natural beauty of the area.
Although the Upper Peninsuila has over 16,000 square miles that make up almost 30 percent of the state’s landmass, this peninsula only has three percent of Michigan’s population. And yet, the call to the rugged land is strong: travel of the U.P has more than doubled in recent years.
It’s easy to see why travel has increased here, because the Upper Peninsula is an amazing spot to explore. Think miles and miles of unspoiled land, from high mountain ranges to rugged and sandy shoreline – waiting for you to discover.
Exploring the Upper Peninsula
Rushing rivers tumbling down waterfalls of all sizes; proud and lonely lighthouses standing tall along a quiet shoreline and uniquely-shaped and colored rock formations rising high above azure-striped water: these are only some of the awesome features of upper Michigan.
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is special: it’s a place to both explored and savored, for natural beauty of the area is truly rare.
The terrain of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is as varied as the history: that’s why we’ve divided up our travel information into three sections:
- Eastern Upper Peninsula
- Central Upper Peninsula
- Western Upper Peninsula
Eastern Upper Peninsula
You’ll most likely enter the Upper Peninsula by crossing the iconic Mackinac Bridge, the five-mile suspension bridge spanning the width of the spot where Lake Huron and Lake Michigan meet. It’s also known as the Straits of Mackinac.
As you leave the lower peninsula, you’ll pass historic Fort Mackinac and Mackinac Island, home to some of the most beautiful hotels in Michigan: the Grand Hotel and Mission Point Resort.
Cross the bridge over the Straits heading north, and you’ll land in St. Ignace, the gateway to the Upper Peninsula.
From this point in the eastern part of the Upper Peninsula, you can explore dramatically different landscape.
Mackinac County’s biggest town, St. Ignace, is a much quieter than Mackinaw City, it’s twin across the bridge. But it’s also our favorite spot to catch a ferry to Mackinac (the ride is a few minutes shorter), because of the stunning waterfront parks. Bridgeview Park offers beautiful views of the Mackinac Bridge, benches, and an observation building, too. Don’t miss Lehto’s pasties, some of the best in the U.P.
Les Cheneaux Islands
To the east, you’ll find the Les Cheneaux islands. These 36 tiny, islands are scattered long 12 miles of the northern Lake Huron coastline. The Les Cheneaux Islands have long been a popular destination for boaters and kayakers, and the annual “Antique Wooded Boat Show” draws visitors from across the country and Canada.
A perfect balance of small-town charm and untouched natural scenery, the Les Cheneaux Islands of Michigan is an adventure to add to your summer trip plans.
PRO-TIP: It’s also a great spot for ice fishing in the winter months.
Drummond Island and DeTour Village
Known as the seventh-largest lake island in the world and the second-largest freshwater island in the United States, Drummond Island welcomes all those with a passionate love for the outdoors.
With wonderful, offered resorts, beautiful hiking, ATV trails, beaches, and even scuba diving for shipwrecks, Drummond Island checks off everything on the list for a special Michigan island retreat. Treat yourself to trendy resorts or go rogue and camp outdoors with the island’s many different offered places to stay to accommodate your perfect adventure needs.
A highlight of the eastern Upper Peninsula and Chippewa County are the Soo Locks, an amazing feat of modern engineering that enables ships to travel between Lake Superior and the lower Great Lakes by raising and lowering the water level. take a tour of the locks and watch from the observatory as the water rises and falls.
If you head north over the Mackinac Bridge, you’ll hit Sault Ste. Marie and the International Bridge to Canada.
If you head northwest over the bridge, you’ll find one of the most popular tourist destinations in the state, Tahquamenon Falls State Park. Tahquamenon Falls, the largest waterfall east of the Mississippi, is a set of two waterfalls surrounded by a forest of white pine, is one of Michigan’s most visited spots. In the autumn months, the rushing falls are backlit by brilliant display of fall foliage; it’s a perfect spot for a fall color tour.
This is a popular spot for snowmobiling in the winter, and you can also try a sled dog ride to the falls!
You can use our guide to the Eastern U.P. for more detailed information about must-see spots in the area.
PRO-TIP: If you’re looking for some quiet, sandy beach to spread out under the sun or splash on the shoreline, head west on M2 and follow the Lake Michigan shoreline.
Whitefish Point and the Great Lakes Shipweck Museum
One of the most popular historical sites in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Whitefish Point is an iconic must-see for any resident or visitor of the Great Lake State. Whitefish Point is home to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, a bird observatory, an underwater preserve and Michigan’s oldest still operating light station on Lake Superior.
It should be at the top of your Michigan travel bucket list.
Central Upper Peninsula
Like the rest of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, there’s simply so much to see in the central portion of the U.P. Delta County, Alger County, Luce County, Dickinson County, Menominee County, and Schoolcraft County are here.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Along the northern part of the area, you’ll find the overwhelmingly gorgeous Lake Superior coastline: the famed Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. This spectacular stretch of the Lake Superior is home to some of the state’s top must-see tourist attractions, from the dramatic waterfalls of Bridal Veil Falls and to the towering Grand Sable Dunes.
Grand Island National Recreation Area, just off the Pictured Rocks shoreline, is worth exploring in both the summer and winter months, when the harsh winds and water form amazing ice caves.
The city of Marquette, the largest city in the Upper Peninsula, is fun a year-round. Home to Northern Michigan University, you’ll find beautiful parks and beaches, which include Presque Isle and McCarty’s Cove, are fun to explore, too.
Do you cross country ski? Head for the Noquemanon Trail Network, a popular, non-motorized trail that runs through the Central U.P. Or try the 47-mile long Iron Heritage Trail, perfect for anyoen how like to bike, walk, run, hike, ORV, snowmobile, cross country ski, birdwatch,or simple wander.
Marquette County’s parks are filled with hiking and biking trails, and in the winter month, fat-tire biking is popular. Be sure to explore Marquette’s Black Rocks, a dramatic part of the coast. It’s popular with cliff jumpers who dive into the freezing Lake Superior here.
The Marquette Harbor and Ore Dock are picturesque spots close to downtown worth exploring, too.
Father south is another Michigan must-see: Kitch-Iti-Kipi, also known as the Big Spring. Located just north of Manistique along the northern Lake Michigan coastline, Kitch-Iti-Kipi is a 40-foot deep, emerald green spring.
The best part? You can travel across it on a hand-operated raft.
Another one of Michigan’s most-visited spots, it’s located in Palms Book State Park and is open year-round. You can find more information about things to do in the Central Upper Peninsula.
Eben Ice Caves
Just south of Au Train, you’ll find a winter Michigan must. The Eben Ice Caves are located in the Rock River Canyon Wilderness in the Hiawatha National Forest. They are a collection of spectacular, icy stalactites for dramatic caves for climbing and exploring.
Escanaba and Big Bay De Noc
Located on the western shore of Lake Michigan, it’s a picturesque town with some beautiful beaches. Escanaba is a highly underrated Michigan travel destination and whether you are visiting Escanaba in the summer or winter months, you’ll find something fun to do here. Explore the Lake Michigan beaches and lighthouses, too.
Don’t miss Fayette Historic State Park, a museum village revives a once bustling community that manufactured iron ore from 1867-1891. Costumed interpreters help to educate the public and provide a fun and immersive experience.
Western Upper Peninsula and the Keweenaw Peninsula
It doesn’t take long to get used to the sound of quiet when you visit the wide-open western portion of the Upper Peninsula. The Western U.P. includes Baraga County, Iron County, Keweenaw County, Ontonagon and Houghton counties are included here.
The Keweenaw Peninsula and Keweenaw National Historic Park celebrates the rich copper mining heritage of the Keweenaw County area. It’s located in the north part of the area, over the Portage lift bridge in Houghton County.
Surrounded on three sides by a wild Lake Superior, the Keweenaw Peninsula includes vastly different landscapes: wide, sandy beaches; rushing rivers and waterfalls hidden deep in lush forests and high cliffs overlooking the lake.
Additionally it’s the stepping-off point for travel to Isle Royale National Park, a 45-mile long island in Lake Superior that is 56 miles from the Michigan shoreline.
The true natural beauty of the Keweenaw last through all four seasons: in the fall, the vibrant colors light up the peninsula.
In the spring and summer, the surrounding fresh blue water sets off the green of the trees and in the winter, buried under inches of snow, it’s still easy to see the beauty of this gorgeous spot at the top of Michigan
Don’t miss the chance to tour the Quincy Mine in Hancock, and go back in time to the country’s copper boom.
At the tip of the Keweenaw is Copper Harbor MI, which offers breathtaking views and endless waterfront. It also has something for every type of nature lover, whether it’s hiking, canoeing, fishing, or camping. Don’t miss Brockaway Mountain Drive, one of the most scenic drives in Michigan in the fall. In the winter, you’ll want to visit Mount Bohemia for some extreme downhill skiing, with Michigan’s largest vertical drop.
Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park
Farther west along the shore of Lake Superior are the Porcupine Mountains. It’s dramatic country: the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is the largest state park in Michigan.
The 60,000 acres of pristine forests and streams feature mountains “soaring” to 2,000 feet, which is actually pretty high for Michigan. This is where you’ll find Lake of the Clouds, a beautiful blue lake surrounded by a thick forest of trees. It is spectacular in the autumn months.
Lake Gogebic, Copper Peak
Even farther west, you’ll find Lake Gogebic, the largest natural inland lake in the U.P. It’s a fisherman’s paradise and receives more than 300 inches of snow in the winter.
Copper Peak, in nearby Ironwood is home to the world’s largest artificial ski jump and is getting ready to open in the winter of 2024. This amazing ski jumping facility offers views of three states and a 2,500 square mile span from the tower.
See what we mean? It’s dramatic.
Iron Mountain and Iron River
Iron Mountain, in Dickinson County, was named a “Michigan Main Street” in 2008, is a fun spot to visit, too.
Nearby Iron River is home to Ski Brule, one of the most popular ski resorts in northern Michigan. The picturesque surroundings of this spot make it perfect destination.
In the summer and fall months too, when you can take in the spectacular fall colors.
Click HERE to explore the Western U.P.
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is known for its stunning natural beauty, which can be found in places like Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Drummond Island, Copper Harbor in the Keweenaw Peninsula, Lake of Clouds in Porcupine Mountains State Park, Tahquamenon Falls, and others. You’ll find dramatic shoreline, towering painted cliffs, pristine forests and more than 300 waterfalls.
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Saturday 30th of July 2022
I want to learn about the out of campground camping? Where is it legal and where it isn’t
My Michigan Beach Team
Friday 5th of August 2022
Hi Keith- Thanks so much for reaching out! YOu might want to check with the municipality of where it is that you're thinking of camping. They can provide you with details of local ordinances, etc. Good luck and happy camping!