Rugged and isolated, with hardwood forests blanketing 90% of its land, the Upper Peninsula (UP) is a Midwest highlight. Only 45 miles of interstate highway slice through the trees, punctuated by a handful of cities, of which Marquette is the largest. Between the small towns lie miles of undeveloped shoreline on Lakes Huron, Michigan and Superior; scenic two-lane roads; and pasties, the local meat-and-vegetable pot pies brought over by Cornish miners 150 years ago.
You'll find it's a different world up north. Residents of the UP, aka 'Yoopers,' consider themselves distinct from the rest of the state – they've even threatened to secede in the past.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Upper Peninsula.
Stroll for 1.5 easy miles (one way) along a shore dotted with shipwreck skeletons to reach the 1874 lighthouse. In summer, ranger-guided tours ($3; 11am to 4:30pm Wednesday through Sunday mid-June through September) let you climb 100 stairs to the top of the fog buster for great views. But even if the lighthouse isn't open, the grounds and lakefront hike to reach them are well worth the trip.
Rugged Grand Island floats a half-mile offshore from Munising and is part of Hiawatha National Forest. Visitors can day trip over to hike and mountain bike, or spend the night in one of the rustic campsites. Bike rentals (per day $20 to $30) and a three-hour bus tour (adult/child $25/10) are available on-island, but otherwise amenities are limited. Hop aboard the Grand Island Ferry to get there.
Sault Ste Marie is best known for its locks that raise and lower 1000ft-long freighters between the different lake levels. The downtown visitor center features displays, videos and observation decks from which you can watch the boats leap 21ft from Lake Superior to Lake Huron. To get there, take exit 394 off I-75 and go left.
The lake, in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, is the area's most photographed sight. After stopping at the visitor center to pay the park entrance fee, continue to the end of Hwy 107 and climb 300ft via a short path for the stunning view of the shimmering water. Lengthier trails depart from the parking lot.
Lovely Tahquamenon Falls flow with tea-colored waters tinted by upstream hemlock leaves. The Upper Falls, 200ft across with a 50ft drop, wow onlookers – including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who mentioned them in his Song of Hiawatha. The Lower Falls (about 5 miles northeast) are a series of small cascades that swirl around an island; many visitors rent a rowboat and paddle out to it.
Miners Castle is one of the lakeshore’s most iconic rock formations. A short trail leads from the parking lot to an upper platform with great views against a backdrop of Lake Superior and Grand Island. A steeper trail with stairs takes you down to a second, closer viewing deck that’s adjacent to the rock. Follow up with the mile-long (one way) trek through the forest to sandy, secluded Miners Beach.
A relatively easy, 1.2-mile (one way) walk through woods rewards with views of the 60ft-high cascade. The trail winds by two viewing platforms: one at the top of the falls, and then another as you loop around to a lower area. Feeling energetic? The trail continues for 1.8 miles to Chapel Rock and Chapel Beach. If the rock looks familiar, it might be because it’s pictured on Michigan’s 2018 'America the Beautiful' quarter.
Beyond the town of Paradise is this fascinating museum, where the intriguing displays include items trawled up from sunken ships. Dozens of vessels – including the Edmund Fitzgerald that Gordon Lightfoot crooned about – have sunk in the area's congested sea lanes and storm-tossed weather, earning it such nicknames as the 'Shipwreck Coast' and 'Graveyard of the Great Lakes.' The grounds also include a lighthouse President Lincoln commissioned (admission $5) and a bird observatory that 300 species fly by.
Behold Big Gus, the world's largest chainsaw. And Big Ernie, the world's largest rifle. Kitsch runs rampant at Da Yoopers Tourist Trap and Museum, 15 miles west of Marquette on Hwy 28/41, past Ishpeming. Browse the store for only-in-the-UP gifts such as a polyester moose tie or beer-can wind chimes.