15 Best Things to Do in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

Upper Peninsula of Michigan
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The Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Upper Michigan, or UP to locals, is one of two major landmasses that make up the state of Michigan.

UP is the northern part of the state and is the more elevated of the two, making it one of the best places to explore the beauty of the Great Lakes Superior, Huron, and Michigan.

The peninsula’s first inhabitants were Algonquian-speaking Native American tribes before French explorers claimed the area and later ceded it to the British Empire.

It eventually became part of the newly established United States in the late 18th century and a major mining and timbering region with its dense forests and iron and copper deposits.

The boom brought in immigrants, especially French Canadians, Finnish, and Swedish, which is the reason behind the peninsula’s rich cultural history.

Today, the Upper Peninsula is composed of 15 counties and maintains its largely rural feel with endless forests, miles of coastlines, and rich flora and fauna.

Here are the best things to do in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan:

Fish in the Blue Waters of Lake of the Clouds

Scenic view of Lake of the Clouds
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Lake of the Clouds is located within the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park on Ontonagon County’s Headquarters Road.

Situated between the ridges of the Porcupine Mountains, the lake is surrounded by lush forests that turn into a combination of reds, yellows, and oranges in the fall.

The centerpiece, though, is the lake's blue waters, popular among kayakers and anglers.

It’s a catch-and-release only, so there are no boat rentals, but you may carry light watercraft on a ¾-mile hike to the launch site.

Foggy Landscape of Lake of the Clouds
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Try shore fishing or use waders to catch smallmouth bass or lake trout.

Take the easy 0.2-mile universal access trail leading to the overlook that’ll give you stunning views of the lake and Porcupine Mountains.

Pack your boating and fishing gears and check out the blue waters of Lake of the Clouds.

Ride the Underground Train at Iron Mountain Iron Mine

Entrance to the Iron Mountain Iron Mine
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Iron Mountain Iron Mine is one of the Upper Peninsula’s biggest iron mines, having produced 21,625,000 tons of iron ore throughout its 68 years in operation from 1870 to 1945.

Located on Highway 2 in Vulcan, the mine spans 400 feet below the earth’s surface, with its drifts and tunnels measuring 2,600 feet long.

People at the Iron Mountain Iron Mine
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Ride the underground train that’ll take you on a 45-minute tour of the mine, with skilled guides giving demos and explaining different mining tools and techniques used back in the day.

The two buildings on the property house a museum where you can find miners’ equipment and machinery and a gift shop where you’ll see a large collection of rocks from all over the world and get free artesian well water.

Learn about the region’s mining history at Iron Mountain Iron Mine.

Miner sculpture at Iron Mountain Iron Mine
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Go Birdwatching at the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory

Nature view at Whitefish Point Bird Observatory
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Located on Whitefish Point Road in Chippewa County’s Paradise township is the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory.

Its location at the tip of the peninsula makes it a natural migration corridor for thousands of birds during spring and fall.

The American Bird Conservancy has declared it a Globally Important Bird Area, hosting rare breeding birds and around 340 more bird species.

Spot golden eagles, great gray owls, red-necked grebes, peregrine falcons, and more during migration season.

Whitefish Point’s dunes and sand-cobble beaches attract the federally endangered piping plover, returning to the area in 2009 for the first time in 20 years.

Help in the observatory’s efforts to study owl migration through the Adopt an Owl program, where you’ll get a 5 x 7 color photograph of your selected species and an adoption certificate for a fee.

There’s no better place to go birdwatching in this side of the country than at the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory.

Taste Louisiana-Style Cooking at Lagniappe Cajun Creole Eatery

Located on Marquette’s Jackson Cut Aly is Lagniappe Cajun Creole Eatery, known to serve Louisiana-style food and cocktails.

The restaurant was opened in 2006 by Chef Don Durley, a Marquette native with decades of experience in food service.

They serve authentic Louisiana recipes made from scratch and in-house!

Try their Shrimp Creole served in a thick tomato-based sauce or the Louisiana-favorite Atchafalaya Jambalaya.

Also, a crowd-pleaser is the grit cakes you wouldn’t want to miss.

Lagniappe Cajun Creole Eatery promises to bring the heat with their Cajun Creole recipes.

Hear the Singing Sands of Bete Grise

Scenic view of Bete Grise
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Located off US 41 in the Grant Township of Keweenaw County is the Bete Grise nature preserve famous for its singing sands.

The 1,500-acre preserve is a diverse wetlands-type with 2 miles of shoreline that stretches along Lake Superior.

According to an urban legend, a Native American woman lost her lover to Lake Superior and spent the rest of her life crying on the Bete Grise beach, and up until today, she still cries for him with the help of visitors that play with the sands.

Studies have shown that the singing sands phenomenon occurs when sand particles are spherical in shape and uniform in size.

When the grains rub against each other, the friction creates what’s described as “singing,” squeaking, or barking.

The preserve’s name translates to “Gray Beast” in French, believed to be due to a sighting of a strange gray creature in the area, while another legend tells it’s when the Native Americans burned blueberry bogs that a smoke resembled a gray beast.

Hear the sands sing at Bete Grise nature preserve.

Go Island Hopping at Mackinac, Drummond, Les Cheneaux, and Many More

Lighthouse at Mackinac Island
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The peninsula is home to many beautiful islands, some inhabited, some not.

Go island hopping and visit Mackinac Island, famous for its Victorian homes-turned-inns and car-free streets where horse-drawn carriages are king.

Most of it’s covered by trails, woods, and ancient rock formations that have stood the test of time.

The town of Mackinac Island
Alexey Stiop / Shutterstock.com

Rent a bike—from single-speed to tandem—and tour around the outer rim of the island on an 8.2-mile ride that’ll take about 60 to 90 minutes.

The lesser-traveled Drummond Island has one of the country's largest closed-loop trail systems for ATV/ORV.

Sunset over Drummond Island
Corvair Owner, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In Lake Superior, Grand Island has backcountry camping opportunities waiting for you, with 19 individual campsites and two group campsites.

Les Cheneaux is a group of 36 islands along the shorelines of Lake Huron: its name coming from French origins translating to “the Channels,” noting the many channels between the islands.

Spend the day island hopping on some of the Upper Peninsula’s islands.

The waters of Les Cheneaux
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Explore the Virgin Forests of the Porcupine Mountains

People at Porcupine Mountains
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The Porcupine Mountains are a group of small mountains spanning 60,000 acres in the Ontonagon and Gogebic counties.

Nicknamed Porkies, the mountains were named by the Ojibwa tribe due to their supposed crouching porcupine shape.

The state park is home to one of the largest old-growth northern hardwood forests in North America, covering 35,000 acres.

With more than 90 miles of hiking trails, you’ll never run out of adventures to try, boasting stunning waterfalls and miles of rivers and streams.

Aerial view of a boardwalk at Porcupine Mountains
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The park’s virgin forests have rare tree species like yellow birch, eastern hemlock, and sugar hemlock.

It’s home to moose, gray wolves, coyotes, red foxes, black bears, and porcupines, as well as endangered and special concern species like small blue-eyed mary, Hooker's fairy-bells, and bald eagle.

Explore the flora and fauna of the Porcupine Mountains.

A river at Porcupine Mountains
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Feast on Applewood-Smoked Prime Rib at Stonehouse Restaurant & Lounge

Stonehouse Restaurant & Lounge is a bar and grill on Ludington Street in the port city of Escanaba.

The smoke-free restaurant specializes in steaks and seafood as well as American classics.

Try their applewood-smoked prime-rib steak that’s been slow-roasted and seasoned with a homemade spice rub.

If you fancy some seafood for dinner, get the Great Lakes Platter with broiled whitefish, walleye, and beer-battered perch.

Have dinner at Stonehouse Restaurant & Lounge and enjoy a big slab of premium quality steak.

Charter a Ride to the Isle Royal Lighthouse

A lighthouse at Isle Royal National Park
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The Isle Royal National Park is composed of Isle Royal, the 400 small islands, and the surrounding waters of Lake Superior, covering 894 square miles of land and 685 square miles of water.

Isle Royal is the 4th-largest lake island in the world, spanning 45 miles long and 9 miles wide, with a land area of 206.73 square miles.

The park was established in 1940 and became part of the National Wilderness Preservation System in 1976.

In 1980, it was declared a UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve, then added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2019.

People riding a boat to Isle Royal National Park
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Aside from its diverse flora and fauna, Isle Royal is also part of the rich history of the region’s copper mining industry.

When the second copper mining boom began in 1873, there was a need for a second lighthouse to guide ships into the isle’s rocky harbors.

A 61-foot double-walled octagonal tower was built on the island of Menagerie at the entrance of Siskiwit Bay.

Today, you can reach the lighthouse via private boats to marvel at the all-sandstone structure that once had a huge part in the island’s economic development.

People admiring Isle Royal National Park from a boat
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Visit the Living Museum Fayette Historic State Park

Abandoned buildings at Fayette Historic State Park
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Located in Delta County’s Garden village, the Fayette Historic State Park is a living museum that showcases the peninsula’s iron mining origins.

Fayette was once an industrial community that produced charcoal pig iron from 1867 to 1891.

Today, the park features the Historic Townsite, a reconstructed town showcasing the iron-smelting operations in the area during the late 19th century.

There’s also the Snail Shell Harbor which has transient slips with 30/50AMP electrical pedestals for overnight or day-use boating.

Daytime view of Fayette Historic State Park
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You can scuba dive in the harbor during certain times of the day, but a fee and a permit are required.

Campsites, picnic shelters, and a grilling area are accessible to visitors, as well as 5 miles of hiking trails that go through a hardwood forest.

See a unique mix of nature and history at the Fayette Historic State Park.

Snail shell harbor at Fayette Historic State Park
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Try Dogsledding at Nature's Kennel Iditarod Sled Dog Racing & Adventures

Founded by Ed and Tasha Stielstra, Nature's Kennel Iditarod Sled Dog Racing & Adventures is a dogsledding destination in the McMillan Township of Luce County.

Drive your sled or ride with an experienced guide.

They offer guided overnight trips where you can learn to drive a sled and spend the night at Musher’s Village.

The tour also includes learning the basics of mushing, how to drive a dog team, and taking care of the sled dogs.

Mushers and dogs spend the night in the village sleeping in a yurt or a cabin.

Try dog sledding at Nature's Kennel Iditarod Sled Dog Racing & Adventures and experience the life of a musher.

See the Soo Locks at St. Marys’ River

Rainbow over Soo Locks
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The Soo Locks are a set of parallel locks that allow ships to travel between Lake Superior and the lower Great Lakes.

Located in the city of Sault Ste. Marie, in the Chippewa Country, the locks allow freighters over 1,000 feet long to pass through the St. Marys River from Duluth, Minnesota, into the Atlantic Ocean.

It’s estimated that around 7,000 vessels use the locks every year, carrying 86 million tons of cargo.

A ship leaving Soo Locks
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See how these ships are lifted and lowered from the observation platform alongside the MacArthur Lock.

The viewing deck is enclosed with glass to protect visitors from inclement weather.

See the engineering wonder that’s the Soo Locks.

Soo Locks boat tours at Soo Locks
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See St. Anthony’s Rock at St. Ignace

Located in downtown St. Ignace is a limestone breccia sea stack formation known as St. Anthony’s Rock.

The Mackinac breccia that forms the rock was formed 350 million years ago when roofs of caves collapsed and were stacked on one another.

Calcium carbonate in groundwater cemented the stacks of fragmented rocks and turned into much harder formations compared to surrounding limestone.

Waves eroded the adjacent stone formations and exposed St. Anthony’s Rock by 2,000 B.C.

The formation is believed to have served as a lookout for Native Americans, but it was in 1679 when Franciscan priest Father Louis Hennepin named it after Saint Anthony of Padua.

Marvel at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore’s Sandstone Formations

Lover's leap rock at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
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Located in Munising City in Alger County, the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a protected area along the shores of Lake Superior.

The park got its name from the 15 miles of colorful sandstone formations that go as high up as 200 feet above the lake.

Cliffs at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
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The formation is composed of the Munising Group, white to light grey Cambrian period sandstone dating to 500 million years ago, the Precambrian mottled red Jacobsville Formation, and the hard sandstone Ordovician Period Au Train Formation.

Streaks of red, yellow, brown, and pink can be seen on the surface of the cliffs caused by groundwater evaporating from the rocks.

Admire the ancient sandstone formations at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Waterfall at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
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Raft across the Crystal-Clear Waters of Kitchi-ti-kipi

The waters of Kitchi-ti-kipi
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Located in the Thompson Township of Schoolcraft County, Kitchi-ti-kipi is the largest natural freshwater spring in Michigan, measuring 200 feet wide and 40 feet deep.

Its name means “big cold spring” in the Ojibwe language.

About 10,000 gallons of water come out from the fissures on the spring’s floor, the temperature at a constant 45 degrees.

Its crystal-clear water is home to lake trout, brown trout, and brook trout.

Fishing, swimming, and boating are prohibited, but you can ride the self-operated raft and try feeding the fish in the middle of the spring.

Drive off and see the beautiful waters of Kitchi-ti-kipi.

Final Thoughts

With miles and miles of forests and bodies of water, the Upper Peninsula has so much in store for you.

Its location near three of the Great Lakes makes it a biodiversity hotspot that every nature-lover dreams to visit.

The unique terrain formed by the forces of nature gives you scenic views, while the region’s past as a mining hotbed gives you a glimpse of its colorful history.

Discover the best things to do in the Upper Peninsula and fall in love with it.

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