Lake Superior looking fairly cheerful on a sunny day.

UP Guide for Redbeard and Connie

Here are some suggestions for hitting a few highlights (and a few off-the-beaten-path features) of Michigan’s upper peninsula. If I were leading you and had unlimited time, here is what we’d do. 

  1. Arrive in Sault Ste Marie
    • Tour the locks (if you’re into engineering stuff). If you’re lucky, a freighter will be arriving upbound (north) or downbound (south) and you can watch it go through the locks.
  2. If you like the idea of an island with no motorized vehicles (only bicycles and horses) and a 17th century fort that was a chess piece in the early US/Britain wars, go down to St. Ignace and take a ferry to Mackinac Island. If you go, plan on spending a full day there. Take I75 down from Sault Ste Marie to get to St. Ignace. 
    • The main street near the dock is very touristy, but if you get out of town it’s quite charming.
    • Mary’s Bistro, The Pink Pony, and The Village Inn are all good dining establishments. The Mary’s Bistro Annex has the biggest collection of on-tap beers on the island.
    • The carriage tour is worth doing. It hits the highlights and can be educational. 
    • Visit the fort. Not only is it very well preserved, it has a interesting history, passing back and forth between US and British control over the years in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The fort ticket includes visits to some of the houses on Market Street, including a working blacksmith shop. They may even let you heat up some metal and beat it into something useful.
    • Bonus: A few ferries each day make a detour to loop under the Mackinaw Bridge. Check the ferry schedules for times of bridge trips (https://www.mackinacferry.com/summer-schedules/?dockId=10&scheduleId=1#edit-divy)
  3. Visit Whitefish bay. First, because it’s on the way to your next stop. Second, because it is the legendary safe harbor for downbound freighters crossing tempestuous Lake Superior. If you visited Mackinac Island, go north on I75 a bit to M123 and take that north all the way to Lake Superior and the wide-spot-in-the-road that is Paradise. If you skipped Mackinac Island, take I75 south out of Sault Ste Marie and take M28 west to M123 north to Paradise.
  4. If you like shipping, head north out of Paradise on Whitefish Point Road until it ends at the Whitefish Point Light Station. The point offers some nice views, an old lighthouse, and a shipwreck museum that includes the salvaged bell from the legendary “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”. The museum costs money, but its not a bad diversion if you like shipwrecks and such. When you’re done, turn around and make you way back to Paradise.
  5. Visit Tahquemanon Falls. From Paradise, take M123 inland until you see signs for Tahquemanon Falls State Park. 
    • From this direction, you’ll reach the lower falls first and the upper falls second. Both require a short walk on paved paths to get to the falls.
    • The lower falls are more of a wide cascade than a falls. There nice but feel free to skip them if you want to save time.
    • The upper falls are not to be missed.
  6. Do a quick visit at Muskallonge Lake State Park. From the falls, continue west on M123 until you reach County Highway 407. Hang a right and follow it until you reach the tiny community of Deer Park and the Mulkallonge Lake State Park shortly thereafter. Park on the shoulder just across from the park entrance sign (if you go in, they’ll want you to pay). Just west of the sign is a path north which goes about 100 yards into the woods and down some stairs to the shore of Lake Superior. From this shoreline, you should be able to look as far as the eye can see in either direction and see no development along the beach. Just a reminder that even the continental US contains a few relatively undisturbed regions. 
  7. Visit Grand Marais. From Muskallonge Lake State Park, continue west. This road turns to gravel for about 10-15 miles but it will save you almost two hours if you can stand it. It’s fairly well traveled and should be passible even in wet conditions (but be careful). Grand Marais is an old logging village built around one of the only natural harbors along this part of the upper peninsula. It’s isolated and quaint. 
  8. Take County Road 58 to Munising. From Grand Marais, this road will run west along the inland side of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. It’s paved and a pleasant drive to Munising but you won’t see much of the Pictured Rocks from here. Here’s what’s along this road:
    • Sable Falls is a lengthy cascade of a creek down a lush green canyon until it emerges among tall sand dunes at the lakeshore. A fair amount of stairs, but good exercise.
    • The log slide is where logging companies used to slide entire tree trunks down the tall sand dune to ships waiting in the lake below.
    • The Au Sable Point Lighthouse is a nice spot but the interpretive tours of it won’t start until July 1st. You can’t drive all the way out there; there’s a 1.5 mile hike on a level two-track to get there. You can read more about it here: http://www.exploringthenorth.com/ausable/ausable.html 
    • Just before you get to Munising, there’s a feature that can’t be missed: Miner’s Castle. This is one part of the Pictured Rocks that you can appreciate from both the shore and the water. Look for Miner’s Castle Road, which will only go to the right (north) off of County Road 58. Take it almost until it ends (you want the view, not the beach), park, and walk over to check out this postcard-worthy rock formation.
    • When you’re done gazing upon Miner’s Castle, head back to County Road 58. Hang a right to continue west but don’t go far. At the next intersection is the Bear Trap Inn (http://beartrapinn.org/Beartrap/Our_Home.html). It’s one of the better out-of-town (Munising) eateries in the area and their parking lot tends to contains a good mix of autos and alternative vehicles (bikes and four-runners in the summer, snowmobiles in the winter). This is a good place to try a traditional staple food of the upper peninsula: the pasty.
  9. Take a Pictured Rocks Cruise (https://www.picturedrocks.com). Take County Road 58 into Munising and the cruise office is at the marina in downtown Munising. A typical cruise takes about 2.5 hours and costs a chunk (~$40/head) but it’s the best way to appreciate the Pictured Rocks.
  10. Visit Marquette. Take M28 west out of Munising and then US41 north into downtown Marquette. 
    • Ore docks. If you venture to shoreline to the north side of downtown, you’ll see the last working ore docks in Marquette, where a high rail trestle carries ore cars to the tall ore dock that would gravity-load the big freighters. 
    • Presque Isle Park. If you visited the ore docks, continue along the same road to Presque Isle park, which has a nice little scenic loop that you can ride around and get nice views of Lake Superior.
  11. Visit L’Anse. Take US41 north out of Marquette (it really leaves town to the west) and take it to the small community of L’Anse. L’Anse, in my opinion, has one redeeming feature. Just as you start the final downhill roll towards town and the lake, look for the Hilltop Restaurant and Bakery on your right. Stop here and get a cinnamon roll. Only order one; and don’t bother ordering anything else because one roll will fill up both of you. 
  12. Visit Houghton. Continue north on US41 until you reach Houghton, the home of Michigan Technological University, my alma mater. (IMPORTANT NOTE: Houghton just experienced some major catastrophic flooding and there are several roads out. This will limit your options for getting around, but it should still be plenty safe to visit. I’ve noticed that Google Maps has the road closures clearly indicated in the area.) Here are a few highlights:
    • As you enter the town and pass through the MTU campus, the long brick dormitory on the left is Wadsworth Hall, the largest non-military barrack in the US. 
    • In downtown Houghton, watch for the Douglas Houghton House restaurant on the left side of the street. That place has been a fine bar and eatery forever. Back when the local copper barons ruled the day, it was the place to be and be seen.
    • Along the waterfront of Houghton, you may see a pale-yellow and blue ship called the Ranger III. This is the ship you’d take to visit Isle Royal National Park.
    • Lift Bridge. US41 crosses a lift bridge to get across Portage Lake. It doesn’t move often anymore but it is still fully functional. It’s two decks can carry cars on either level. The lower level also has rails embedded in the decking for railroad cars to cross (no longer used).
    • A good breakfast place in Houghton is the Suomi Restaurant/Bakery.
    • A good place for dinner/beer is the Library Bar. It’s not as quaint after the post-fire rebuild, but it has good views of Portage Lake.
  13. When you get to Houghton, ask if MI203 out of Hancock to McLains State Park is open yet (it was closed when I wrote this). If it’s open, use this road to go north to Calumet. If not, stay on US41.
  14. When you get to Calumet, the main drag you want to find is 6th Street. Go down this street and look for Shute’s Bar on the east side of the street. Back during the copper boom, the Calumet Theature (two doors down from Shute’s) was the main source of culture on the Keweenaw Peninsula. Shute’s was the main place that theatre goers visited before shows, during intermissions, and so on. I think you’ll appreciate the restored wooden bar with the tiffany cover (https://www.yelp.com/biz_photos/shutes-calumet?select=UBWZPRF8thwd8wvL_w3pFA).
  15. Continue north on US41 to Copper Harbor. Near the end, the road gets a bit narrow and the trees create a tunnel. 
  16. Turn right at Copper Harbor and follow US41 to the northern terminus of this storied GOTL, just to say you’ve been there. It literally ends in a loop in the woods. The little dirt road that continues off into the bush eventually ends up at a old NASA rocket launching station at High Rock Bay, where they did test launches as a part of the early space program (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keweenaw_Rocket_Range).  
  17. Return to Copper Harbor and take M26 south.
  18. Just barely outside of Copper Harbor, hang a left on Brockway Mountain Drive. Lots of good views of Copper Harbor, Lake Fanny Hope, Fort Wilkins, Lake Superior etc. Take the drive all the way to the west back to M26.
  19. Continue south on M26 until it loops back to US41.
  20. US41 back to Calumet.
  21. Take M26 Down to Lake Linden. If the southern portion of M26 near Hancock is still closed you’ll have to skip this part and just take US41 back to Houghton. If it’s open, you can take M26 back to Houghton instead. 
    • Watch for old mine facility (stamp mills) ruins.
    • Watch for old dredge wreck sinking in the lake near the shoreline.
  22. Once you’re back to Houghton, take M26 south out of Houghton.
  23. If you crave more Lake Superior shoreline, take M38 out to Ontonogan. Then take M64 west to Silver City and on to Bergland.
  24. Take M28 west.
  25. Pick up US2 in Wakefield.
  26. Follow US2 to Ashland, WI.
  27. If you crave even more Lake Superior shoreline, take WI13 west out of Ashland, which curves north to the Apostle Island area and then loops west to re-join US2 east of Duluth/Superior.

i don’t know what you’re schedule is, so I didn’t try to break this up by day or suggest accommodations. You should have no problem finding rooms in the larger towns (St. Ignace, Munising, Marquette, Houghton) but the smaller towns will have limited lodgings (Paradise, Grand Marais, Calumet, Copper Harbor). You can make pretty good time on Michigan highways; you’re plenty safe doing 10mph over the limit. The upper peninsula turns into an episode of Wild Kingdom after dark, so you should probably plan to end your days before dark. 

One last note: It is June in the upper peninsula, so black flies can be a nuisance in the less populated areas. Before you leave Sault Ste Marie, make sure you have a fresh can of a good bug spray; something that explicitly says it contains DEET. You won’t need it to just ride around but if you elect to take some of the longer walks I suggested, you’ll want it available.

If you have specific questions or need judgement calls between features to plan your trip, let me know or call me at 734-846-2339.