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Upper Peninsula, Michigan

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Did You Know … ?

  • The Soo Locks comprise the world’s busiest lock system, averaging 10,000 vessels yearly.
  • Sault Ste. Marie is Michigan’s oldest city, dating from 1668.
  • Native people were mining copper on Keweenaw Peninsula 7,000 years ago, long before Europeans.
  • The Upper Peninsula accounts for about 30% of Michigan’s land but only 3% to 4% of the population.
  • Michigan is the only U.S. state to support lighthouse preservation with dollars.

Great Lakes and their lighthouses

The Upper Peninsula is the northern portion of Michigan, abutting the Canadian border. This land fragment connects to the state’s Lower Peninsula via the Mackinac Bridge; its land link is with Wisconsin to the west. Long shorelines face three Great Lakes: Lake Superior to the north, Lake Michigan to the southwest and Lake Huron to the southeast.

Large portions of the peninsula are wooded — and designated as national and state forests. Other lands are under the care of national agencies protecting natural features, wildlife and historic sites, while providing recreation. Further, the peninsula has 21 state parks. Add the mountains and inland lakes to this mix, and the sum is a package of characteristics meant for outdoor enthusiasts.

No one has to be a daredevil to play in the Upper Peninsula’s outdoors. Much activity is focused on water, whether cruising, fishing, kayaking, scuba diving or swimming. The woods and mountains are invitations to hikers and bikers, and the mountains — when blanketed in generous snowfalls — entice lovers of winter activities, including skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and even ice climbing and ice fishing.

There are other sides to the Upper Peninsula. The area is scenic; lighthouses dot the coastline, and the communities are small — the largest is Marquette with about 22,000.

A number of roads are scenic byways or choice drives for fall foliage touring. Interested visitors plan driving itineraries or take cruises focused on lighthouses. Devoted fans volunteer as lighthouse keepers or overnight at a lighthouse inn.

The Upper Peninsula, beginning in the mid-19th century, was the center of a copper mining boom. The benefits of boom times are obvious in some towns, places like Calumet, Copper Harbor and Houghton. Others are ghost towns, such as Mandan and Old Victoria. Options to tour defunct mines complement visits to these living and silent communities.

The shipping business still thrives. Sault Ste. Marie, on the St. Mary’s River at the eastern end of the Upper Peninsula, sees more than 90,000 passengers and 90 million tons of cargo passing through its locks yearly. Travelers on viewing decks watch traffic pass, or they float through the locks on a cruise.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Camp at the Tahquamenon Falls State Park and see the falls for which the park was named. Or, camp — and hike or bike — in the Grand Island National Recreation Area.
  • Tour the Adventure Copper Mine in an old miner’s village called Greenland; add a little zest by rappelling to the mine’s second level. Or, come to town in mid-July for the annual Miner’s Revenge Mountain Bike Race. Part of the racecourse is underground in the Adventure mine. Bring a light.
  • Try your ice climbing skills on the cliffs at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, but not the ones right over Lake Superior.
  • Scuba dive to inspect some of the wrecked ships found in the Great Lakes’ waters. Before or after, visit the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point. Volunteer to be a lighthouse keeper at one of Upper Peninsula’s more than 40 lighthouses.
  • Check out one of the several mountain biking trails in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. Or hike or camp in the park — and look for the black bears.
  • Really get away from it all in the Isle Royale National Park on an island in Lake Superior. Accessible only by boat or seaplane, it offers hiking, kayaking and opportunities to scout shipwrecks. The boat transfers (of several hours) start in Copper Harbor and Houghton.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Join a guided walk through the surface ruins of the Quincy Copper Mining Company, part of Keweenaw National Historical Park, or opt for a trip 360 feet below ground to the abandoned mine. Then dig for some copper yourself at Caledonia Mine in Ontonagon.
  • Bike, jog or ski (cross-country) the 9.3-mile Algonquin Pathway in Sault Ste. Marie. While in town, take a cruise that passes through the Soo Locks, which were built to allow ships to traverse the 21-foot drop between Lake Superior and the lakes Michigan and Huron.
  • Tour the 1866 Marquette Harbor Lighthouse or the equally old Copper Lighthouse at Copper Harbor. Climb 72 steps to the top of the 1870 Point Iroquois Lightstation and see the light keeper’s home. Then, sleep in a lighthouse. Choices include the Bay Point Lighthouse B&B and Sand Hills Lighthouse Inn.
  • Attend the UPtoberfest, the peninsula’s only beer/wine festival, held on Escanaba in October.
  • In the Upper Peninsula’s winter playground, go with your preferred winter sport, whether it is downhill skiing, ice fishing or snowshoeing.
  • Come to the Upper Peninsula for season-appropriate entertainment: Winter Carnival (Houghton); a snowmobile race (Sault Ste. Marie); dogsled races (Marquette), or cross-country races (Calumet).

Things to do for Authentics

  • Vacation at a cottage resort on Government Island in Les Cheneaux, an archipelago of 36 islands. Take a guided boat trip among the islands. Rent a boat at the marina and tool around on your own, too.
  • Go fishing at Seney National Wildlife Refuge. Or, join one of the refuge’s weekly 3.5-hour amateur photo tours to capture your best shots of the animals.
  • Plan an itinerary that lets you stroll through a number of the Upper Peninsula’s former boom towns from copper mining days. Calumet is home to the Coppertown USA Mining Museum.
  • Choose a scenic drive. In autumn, make that a foliage tour on the 10-mile Brockway Mountain Drive, along the Upper Peninsula’s western shore, facing Lake Superior. It is the highest paved road between the Rocky and Allegheny mountains. Capture the autumn colors and a bit of the lake on your camera.
  • See the rescued black bears at Oswald’s Bear Ranch in Newberry or learn about migratory birds at the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory.
  • At St. Ignace, take to the waters for fishing, a ferry to Mackinac Island and/or a lighthouse cruise. Go to the beach just west of town.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Upper Peninsula Travel and Recreation Association at www.uptravel.com