The Eastern UP
Visitors once lined up for hours for the 4-mile ferry crossing from Mackinaw City to the Upper Peninsula. Now they soar across the Mackinac Bridge, a marvel of engineering that turns 60 in 2017. A drive along the eastern UP’s ragged shoreline leads to island escapes and some of the Midwest’s oldest settlements.
Summer fun near the Mackinac Bridge
The cobalt blue waters of lakes Michigan and Huron mingle at the Straits of Mackinac, long a fertile fishing and trading center for native tribes. In St. Ignace, the Museum of Ojibwa Culture and Fort de Buade Museum share the traditions of the Ojibwa, along with the story of the French fur traders and missionaries who arrived in the 1600s. The Father Marquette National Memorial commemorates the famed missionary and explorer, and it has Instagram-worthy view of the straits and the Mackinac Bridge.
Sault Ste. Marie
Great Lakes freighters squeeze along the Soo Locks of St. Marys River, the only water connecting lakes Superior and Huron. They pass through downtown Sault Ste. Marie and past a public observation deck. Visitors aboard the Museum Ship Valley Camp, a 550-foot ore carrier docked nearby the locks, see the crews’ quarters, aquariums and more than 100 exhibits.
The Huron Shore
Following the Lake Huron shore, M-134 wanders east until the shore splinters off into the 36 islands of Les Cheneaux. Woods and Water Ecotours in Hessel leads paddling trips into these sheltered waters and the bays of Drummond Island at road’s end.
From the Soo, backroads curve along this Lake Superior bay and past the 1870 lighthouse at Point Iroquois. Near Paradise, hiking trails follow the tea-color Tahquamenon River, where it explodes in a curtain of amber, foam and mist at Tahquamenon Falls State Park. At the north end of the bay sits the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum on Whitefish Point, where plovers skitter in the sand and Superior stretches across the horizon
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Pictured Rocks takes its name from the dramatic mineral-streaked sandstone cliffs of green, yellow, blue and ocher, and it stretches 42 miles along the Superior shore. H-58 skirts the park on its south side, linking the gateway towns of Grand Marais and Munising. Short spurs lead to overlooks, campgrounds and trails.
The Coves, 20 miles west of Munising
Gulls screech and sailboat halyards clang in the protected pocket of Grand Marais, a sturdy harbor town serving as the park’s eastern gateway. The Grand Sable Visitor Center tucks against a 5-mile stretch of immense gravel banks and dunes. Lake Superior sits more than 200 feet below. The best view comes from the Log Slide Overlook, where loggers once slid fresh-cut timber down to waiting schooners. The North Country National Scenic Trail traces the shoreline 3 miles west to the 1874 Au Sable Light, open for tours in July and August. The trail continues along the lakeshore to Munising. It’s a popular four- or five-day route for backpackers.
From H-58 at Melstrand, Chapel Road leads to the trailhead for popular hikes, such as the 1.5-mile trek to Chapel Falls. The falls plummet 60 feet into a deep gorge and lake hidden among the birches. Other trails include a climb to the cliff-top perch of Grand Portal Point or the 1-mile walk to Mosquito Falls, where water stair-steps down rock ledges.
To fully experience the national lakeshore, visitors should see it from the water. Choose from multiple narrated tours from Munising. Explore shipwrecks aboard a glass-bottom boat; the national lakeshore makes the perfect backdrop. Cruise aboard a high-speed power boat as it sidles close to the multicolor cliffs and areas such as Miners Castle, where nature’s forces sculpted the sandstone into turrets and arches. (Afternoon trips offer the best light.) Kayak tours put things in perspective, with guides leading paddlers under overhangs, past waterfalls and along a 200-foot bluff that bows out like a giant band shell.
Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
Near the UP’s western border, some of the Midwest’s tallest mountains rise nearly 2,000 feet, showcasing a rolling horizon spiked with pines and said to resemble a porcupine. It doesn’t take that kind of imagination to envision the wild beauty here: a hiker’s paradise of old-growth forest, tumbling rivers and mountaintop views.
Lake of the Clouds
The park’s first “whoa” moment comes in about 10 minutes, the time it takes to drive from the visitors center to the Lake of the Clouds Overlook. Hundreds of feet below, a lake and a scribble of river slice through a forest that seems impossibly vast. As Michigan’s largest state park, the Porkies span 60,000 acres, a wilderness accessed by 90 miles of trails. The South Boundary Road links the auto-accessible campgrounds at either end, 26 miles apart.
Heart of the Park
From the Lake of the Clouds Overlook, the 4-mile Escarpment Trail skims along the high ridge, a rugged out-and-back day hike. Other hikes delve into the park’s roadless interior. The North Mirror Lake Trail descends to inland lakes fringed with centuries-old hemlocks. The Lake Superior Trail skirts secluded beaches, where deer and black bear prints may outnumber human ones. Along both routes, backpackers bunk down in rustic backcountry cabins accessible only on foot.
Near the lakefront Presque Isle Campground, the East and West River trails follow the turbulent Presque Isle River 1 mile upstream and back down its opposite bank as it churns through rock walls before pouring into Lake Superior. A suspension bridge completes the loop. City services are available in Wakefield, 18 miles south from the campground.
The Keweenaw Peninsula
The Keweenaw Copper Rush of the mid-1800s left behind a wealth of historic sites—massive mine hoists, grand homes, ghost towns—ripe for exploration. But the mining boom certainly didn’t tame this rugged and picturesque land that juts into Lake Superior.
A 17-ton slab of native copper gleams at the A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum on the campus of Michigan Tech. The promise of such riches drew thousands to these twin towns, which climb up the steep hillsides along the Portage Lake Ship Canal. Finnish bakeries and bilingual street signs hint at immigrant roots that run deep as copper veins. Old-timers mingle with mountain bikers and others at Houghton’s Keweenaw Brewing Company over a pint of Pick Axe Blonde Ale. In Hancock, the Quincy Mine hoist house towers above the treetops. Part of the Keweenaw National Historical Park, its tour takes visitors more than a mile deep into the mine.
The 19th-century industrial heart of the mining era and now the heart of the Keweenaw National Historical Park still shows off its wealth with elegant buildings of quarried red sandstone. The Calumet Visitor Center shows the way to more than 20 heritage sites, such as the extravagant Calumet Theatre, the Coppertown Mining Museum and the 10-room Laurium Manor Inn. North on US-41, nature has reclaimed the Cliff and Central mines, now crumbling ghost towns.
The southern approach via Eagle River makes a well-worth-it detour, hugging the dunes along Lake Superior’s Great Sand Bay, then scaling the steep backbone of Brockway Mountain. All roads end at Copper Harbor. The Keweenaw Adventure Company takes it from there, guiding kayakers along bony coves of volcanic rock, or mountain bikers onto a trail network with more dips and thrills than an amusement park ride. Hikers disappear into forests of white pine and along agate-strewn beaches, where there’s more than enough wild country to lure them back for another UP adventure.
For more information, see michigan.org.