Driving Time: 11 hours, plus two ferry rides
Mileage: 622 miles
According to Uptravel.com, “Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is greater in size than the four states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island combined. It is larger than Belgium or Switzerland.” Abundant in beauty and natural resources, we are fortunate to call this part of the country “ours.”
But it’s a lot of ground to cover! Now, a lot of that landmass has been left wild, or reclaimed by the wild following the era of logging and mining. People who want to truly escape from urban or suburban lives will find refuge in the Upper Peninsula, where there truly an opportunity to reconnect and realign with nature.
There are seven “natural wonders” are in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This driving tour takes you to all seven, and we offer another nearby attractions that shouldn’t be missed while you’re in each of these areas.
Stop #1: Mackinac Island
This gem in Lake Huron used to be only known by Michiganders, but recent years have changed that. Cruise ships in the Great Lakes make it a popular destination along their routes, bringing thousands of more visitors during the summer and early fall months. To avoid crowds, try to visit the island during the weekday, early season, or close to the end of the season (late October). The island is unlike any place you’ve ever been. There are no vehicles save for an ambulance; transportation is by foot, wheel, or hoof. Hundreds of horses carry passengers around and across the island. Visit the Grand Hotel, which has the longest porch in the world, explore the gardens, hike up and over to Arch Rock, head up to the fort (cover your ears for the cannon fire), and sit with a cocktail on the lawn at Mission Point Resort. You can experience the island in a day, but it is worth staying overnight to simply bask in it – and wake up to the sound of horse clops.
Don’t miss… Taking a sunset cruise out of Mackinaw City. During the summer months, take a one-hour cruise and pass under the Mighty Mac, around Mackinac Island, and watch the sunset from the water. A guide points out important landmarks and regales guests with stories of history.
Stop #2: Tahquamenon Falls
These are the largest falls in Michigan, with upper and lower falls that are both stunning to view. A favorite for travelers and photographers, this natural wonder is 200 feet across and tumbles 50 feet at the Upper Falls. You can reach the Upper Falls by walking a flat pathway only one-third of a mile to some viewing areas. Then you can decide if you want to go down 94 steps to the Brink view (very close to the falls) or 116 steps downriver to the Gorge view. You can either hike to the Lower Falls (approximately 5 miles) or drive. The Lower Falls are viewable very close to the parking lot, although a closer view of the falls requires walking about half a mile. They aren’t as majestic as the Upper Falls, yet they fall an impressive 20 feet over several tiers of rocks, adding dynamic and beauty in its own way.
Don’t miss… On your way there, take a little detour east to see the Soo Locks (the St. Mary’s Falls Canal at Sault Ste. Marie is one of the Upper Peninsula’s man-made wonders) and continue along the coastline to Whitefish Point to see the lighthouse and museum. Of course, you can simply drive the more direct route of 80 miles through beautiful, wooded scenery on U.S. 123 from the Bridge.
Stop #3: Pictured Rocks Natural Lakeshore
Located along the shores of Lake Superior, Pictured Rocks is the most known for what gives it its name: the multicolored rock cliffs and formations along the coastline. Rising 50 to 200 feet high, these sandstone cliffs run 15 miles from Sand Point to Spray Falls. The colors are streaks of mineral stains, with a different mineral responsible for a different color. There are commercial boat tours as well as the opportunity to rent sea kayaks to see the formations up close for yourself. On land, Miners Castle and Miners Beach provide good views as well. Go swimming and have a picnic at Sand Point (don’t forget to look for agate stones) or choose to hike one of the trails found throughout the national lakeshore – and find a few waterfalls while you’re at it. Truly, spend at least two or three days exploring everything this magnificent lakeshore has to offer.
Don’t miss… The log slide overlook at Grand Sable Dunes. Located within the lakeshore, this spot really delivers the “wow” factor. And it’s only a quarter-mile hike through the woods.
Stop #4: Kitch-iti-Kipi
In Palms Book State Park in Manistique, you’ll find our next natural wonder — Kitch-iti-kipi (The Big Spring). This is the state’s largest freshwater spring, stretching 200 feet across, 40 feet deep, and remaining a constant 45 degree. There is a self-operated observation raft that you can take across the spring to gain various vantage points. But the best part is that this raft has a glass bottom section to be able to see the debris and aquatic life below in the crystal-clear water.
Don’t miss… Manistique East Breakwater Lighthouse is accessible via a boardwalk, and rock and concrete breakwater. People describe it as “secluded” and “with a great view.” Don’t miss out!
Stop #5: Porcupine Mountains and Lake of the Clouds
People visit Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is to see the Lake of the Clouds. Abundantly stunning in summer and fall, the Lake of the Clouds is a fully accessible overlook that can also be reached by hiking either Big Carp River Trail and the Escarpment Trail (visit the website for trail details). Anglers might want to try their luck fishing in the lake, as it’s well known for bass (catch and release only). From the overlook and trails, you can experience multiple views of the lake. And as for the rest of the state park, you can spend days tracking down waterfalls and soaking up the splendor of the virgin forest.
Don’t miss… Presque Isle River Waterfalls Loop Trail. Located on the western edge of the Porcupine Mountains, this gorgeous trail is a 2.3-mile loop that includes sections of boardwalk and stairs, as well as a suspension bridge and three main waterfalls along the Presque Isle River. The largest waterfall is Manabezho Falls (named after an Ojibway god), which drops 25 feet and the first of the falls you’ll encounter. You’ll also come across Manido Falls and Nawadaha Falls. The last one is considered the most scenic. Start and end at the Presque Isle Scenic Area.
Stop #6: Keweenaw Peninsula and Brockway Mountain Drive
The highest paved mountain road between the Rockies and the Alleghenies. It’s about 10 miles long, with multiple pull-offs. You’ll definitely give your vehicle a workout. RVs have gone up and down, but it would be better to use a tow vehicle or toad to avoid overworking your RV’s brakes. This drive is consistently ranked as one of the top scenic drives to take, especially in the fall. From the top you get 360-degree view of the Upper Peninsula, Lake Superior, nearby inland lakes, and Copper Harbor. The entire peninsula is seeped in history and natural beauty. You could easily spend an entire week simply exploring this portion of the Upper Peninsula, and a lot of people do.
Don’t miss… Horseshoe Harbor is one of the most visited nature conservancy sites in Michigan, but you would never know it. Drive down a rough road and then walk the trail to the beach. It’s the ideal destination to look for agates and Yooperlites, the perfect souvenir. Stay for sunset for an even glorious experience.
Stop #7: Isle Royal National Park
There are two ferries that depart from the Keweenaw Peninsula, both end up at Rock Harbor on the east side of the island. The Ranger III ferry is out of Houghton, at the base of the peninsula, and is a six-hour crossing, but it’s a bigger boat. The Isle Royale Queen IV ferry out of Copper Harbor, at the tip of the peninsula, is only a 3.5-hour voyage. This rugged island is a national park and situated in the middle of Lake Superior. It’s considered one of the best parks for hiking, camping, seeing wildlife, and seeing the Northern Lights. There’s also no light pollution, so a view of the night sky is immense and inspiring.
Don’t miss… Rock Harbor Lighthouse is a white brick and stone light listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s been deactivated for more than 100 years, but it’s a favorite spot to take in the stars and Northern Lights, if you choose to stay on the island for a night.