6 Must-See Sights on a Northern Michigan Road Trip
This past July, I planned a road trip in Northern Michigan. I wanted to show my partner Matthijs, who is Dutch, the true beauty of the mitten state. Over the years, he has heard me say how much I miss Michigan summers, but as we normally travel back to the States for the winter holidays, he didn’t fully understand my longing. From the clear sparkling shores and majestic free-flowing waterfalls to winding roads and the never-ending forests of trees, we truly experienced Pure Michigan. Below are six sights you cannot miss:
Mackinac Island holds a special place in my heart, as I have many memories there as a young girl, whether horseback riding through the forests or sitting along the shoreline eating a piece of fresh fudge. The island itself is situated in Lake Huron between the Upper and Lower Peninsula of Michigan. To get there, you need to travel by ferry, parking your car either in St. Ignace or Mackinaw City. We parked our car with Star Line ferries. They have free overnight parking, plus the ferry itself creates a graceful rooster tail as it speeds to the island.
Biking is one of the best ways to explore. Bicycle Barn has great rental prices and is owned by an islander, but visitors are also welcome to bring their own bikes on the ferry. The level path tracing the outside of the island is 8 miles (12.9 kilometers), but you can enjoy plenty of stops along the way, for instance at the majestic Arch Rock. Catch a fabulous view of the iconic Mackinac Bridge, which connects the two Michigan peninsulas, as you bike around the island.
Additionally, cars are not allowed on the island, so horses and carriages are the only other “obstacles” you need to look out for. There are also numerous hiking trails. From the tranquil forests and quiet open flower-covered meadows, discover various settings, stopping at landmarks such as Sugarloaf Rock and Soldier’s Garden.
If you need a recommendation for a place to stay, check out Cloghaun. The Bed and Breakfast is quaint and the owners are super friendly.
Tip: You cannot leave Mackinac Island without trying the fudge!
Castle Rock, situated just outside of St. Ignace, is one of those tourist attractions you cannot miss, especially if this road trip is your one and only visit to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The entrance is only $1. At the base of the stairs, American folk hero Paul Bunyan and his trusty companion Babe the Blue Ox await. Climb the steps to the look-out point and appreciate the breathtaking view over green forests and the sparkling water. Visitors are 195 feet (59 meters) above water level, providing a terrific vantage point.
Whitefish Point is where the infamous freighter the Edmund Fitzgerald disappeared in 1975. The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum commemorates the many ships and lives lost in the treacherous waters, bringing history to life through films, artifacts and buildings through which visitors can walk. Located on Lake Superior, Whitefish Point also offers a nice walk along the shoreline. For those young at heart, skip stones into the crystalline waters. If you’re lucky, you may even see a freighter.
Tahquamenon Falls State Park is home to Tahquamenon Falls. The Upper Falls, with a drop of over 50 feet and a width of approximately 200 feet, is one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi River according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The hike from the Lower Falls to the Upper Falls is just over 5 miles (8 kilometers) one way or 10 miles (16 kilometers) round trip. The trail snakes along the water, rising and falling with the land, and boasts stunning nature.
There is a shuttle that runs between the two parking lots, but if you have two cars, leave one in the Upper Falls parking lot. For those who prefer a shorter, less strenuous activity, there are paths and viewing platforms at both the Upper and Lower Falls, still enabling you to take in the beauty, power and grace of the water. For lunch, the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery is a great establishment to replenish energy levels.
Pictured Rocks, a National Lakeshore that spans 40 miles (64 kilometers) along Lake Superior, is impressive. The natural sandstone cliffs radiate magnificent colors. A part of the formations are visible from land, for instance Miners Castle, but the best way to experience Pictured Rocks is from the water.
Departing in the summer months from the city dock in Munising, Pictured Rocks Cruises offers multiple excursions, but the most spectacular is the Sunset Cruise. As the sun sets over the water, the light reflects on the rocks, highlighting nature’s wonders. Be sure to book in advance, as tickets can sell out. Bring a jacket, too, for it gets cold on the water in the evening.
The National Park and the surrounding region also offers hiking and camping, with lakes, beaches, waterfalls and forests in the area. Strap on your hiking shoes and get ready to explore. Miners Falls is a good warm-up. Head back towards town and visit Munising Falls. Both hikes are easy. For more adventurous hikers, check out Tannery Falls and Memorial Falls, one of which you can walk behind. Although the trails are short, they are strenuous and narrow, so make sure you are wearing good shoes.
Sugarloaf Mountain just outside of Marquette has easily one of the best views in the Upper Peninsula. The hike is short yet strenuous but 100 percent worth it. Once you reach the top, you are rewarded with a 360-degree view that will take your breath away: the deep blue sparkling colors of Lake Superior in front and the lush green tree line behind you.
Tip: Don’t miss out on Northern Michigan’s local specialties, such as whitefish, trout and perch or an Upper Peninsula staple: pasties. Pasties are similar to calzones, but filled with meat and potatoes instead.
Top photo credit: David Marvin