Michiganders are a proud lot. And rightfully so. They invite out-of-staters to look past industrial Detroit to their peaceful vibrant communities where some of the most welcoming people in America hang their beanies. They want visitors to come and hang out and, if you’ve never done so, you should consider answering their hospitable call.
The citizens of the Wolverine State want people to know about their 64,980 inland lakes and ponds and how they are bounded by four of the five Great Lakes in addition to Lake Saint Claire. The abundance of water makes Michigan the leading state in the country in terms of freshwater recreational boating.
Michigan is divided by a five-mile channel called the Straits of Mackinac into what is known as the lower and the upper peninsulas. The lower peninsula is more of a manufacturing and industrial hub and includes the entire Detroit area. By comparison, the upper peninsula is sparsely populated. Since vacations are intended to de-frazzle one’s rapidly melting mind, let’s have a peek around Michigan’s spirit-rejuvenating upper half.
The Birds, Bees, and Fish
Did you say nature? How much can you handle? Michigans upper peninsula is an outdoor adventurer’s playground. Water, land, hills, valleys, which do you prefer?
Let’s begin our journey at Pictured Rock National Shoreline, a 42-mile stretch of Lake Superiors luscious shoreline. The parks 15-miles of towering sandstone cliffs are an awe-striking array of various earth tones ranging from pure white to the deepest brown, while its 12-miles of pristine beaches offer tucked away spots for the ultimate in privacy. Gigantic sand dunes have claimed squatters rights on another 5-miles, and the rest of the park is consumed by waterfalls, lighthouses, streams, and plenty of hiking trails leading through dense forests.
Pictured Rock National Shoreline is a great area for backcountry camping. Other popular activities include boating, fishing, hunting, bicycling, kayaking, swimming, and diving. If whitewater rafting rings anyone’s bell, considered by many to be the most challenging rapids in Michigan, and perhaps the entire Midwest, can be found in the Presque Isle River. It’s also said to be the most scenic area in the state with an overabundance of wildlife and hungry fish eagerly awaiting angler’s hooks. The waterfalls are spectacular to behold, especially if you’re lucky enough to catch them after a hard rain.
If a little hiking is in your ‘soles’, Sugarloaf Mountain is where the best scenic overlooks of the upper peninsula coastline can be found. The path to the 470-feet summit over Lake Superior consists of 3,200-feet of dirt and stairs with picturesque views of nature along the way.
The list of areas to get your nature on is extensive, to say the least.
The Old & the New
Museum addicts and lovers of the artist’s hand will find more than their fill of places to keep them busy. The upper peninsula has a rich past and because of the slower more peaceful lifestyle, the entire area attracts artists of all types.
The A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum, both nationally and internationally acclaimed, rings the bell as a must-see. The museum features over 50,000 mineral specimen’s from the Great Lakes area and around the world all polished up in their natural dazzling colors. Da Yooper’s Tourist Trap & Rock Shop is not to be missed. Even though everything in the place is for sale, one could easily spend an hour or two just looking around without any pressure to buy. The place is full of Yooper made crafts and it’s loads of fun. The Upper Penisula Children’s Museum is great for the entire family with fascinating interactive exhibits. Even parents have been known to learn a thing or two.
Lakenenland Sculpture Park features a strange collection of art sculpted from scrap iron as well as other objects collectively known as “Junkyard Art”. The detail on some of the pieces is amazing and you can view it all from the comfort of your car as you drive through. East Ludington Gallery is an exhibit of all types of art from local artists. Anything from watercolors to embroideries to sculptures is on display. The artist community is strong in the upper peninsula.
The Erickson Center for the Arts is a beehive of family-friendly activity including not only local art displays but outdoor music events also. They bring in the best performers the upper peninsula has to offer so if you plan on visiting make certain to check their schedule ahead of time. Of course, these outside concerts are limited to the summertime.
Drinking and Dining
Nobody in the upper peninsula goes hungry. Family owned restaurants featuring the freshest of food, including the peninsulas specialty of planked whitefish and morel mushrooms, warmly welcome visitors to the area. After dinner, a desert of the upper peninsulas world famous fudge is highly recommended.
The cuisine in the area is largely influenced by Finnish, Cornish, Swedish, German, French Canadian, and Italian immigrants who settled in the area for the mining and logging industries. Because of the upper peninsulas ruggedness, meals were designed to “stick to your ribs” and these hardy servings are what can still be expected today.
There are at least a dozen specialty brew pubs spread throughout the peninsula mixing up their own styles of beer, each pub claiming to be better than the others. Of course, there’s only one way to find out which one is best. Bottoms up!
If wine is more to anyone’s liking, there are more than a dozen wineries just waiting for guests to come out and sample their pride and joy vino. Wines are made from cold climate grapes and other fruit so they are said to have a distinct flavor all unto themselves.
The next time you’re hunting for somewhere to spend your valuable vacation days, forget about the heat and humidity in the southern states and point yourself northward instead. Michigans upper peninsula is a place like no other and the only thing missing is you.