Almost everyone I know has been to Michigan at some point in their life, but I know very few people who have been to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula!
The Upper Peninsula is the northern of the two major peninsulas that make up the U.S. state of Michigan. It may also be referred to as the UP or Upper Michigan. The peninsula is bounded on the north by Lake Superior, on the east by the St. Marys River, on the southeast by Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, and on the southwest by Wisconsin.
The Upper Peninsula contains 29% of the land area of Michigan but just 3% of its total population. Residents are frequently called Yoopers (derived from “U.P.-ers”) and have a strong regional identity. Large numbers of French Canadian, Finnish, Swedish, Cornish, and Italian immigrants came to the Upper Peninsula, especially the Keweenaw Peninsula, to work in the area’s mines and lumber industry. The peninsula includes the only counties in the United States where a plurality of residents claim Finnish ancestry.source
Getting to the Upper Peninsula, or the UP, is, of course, the biggest obstacle to actually visiting. It is approximately four hours driving distance from Ann Arbor, MI to Allenville, MI, one of the first towns after you cross the Mackinac Bridge and enter the Peninsula.
Note that pedestrians are not permitted on the bridge, except during the Labor Day walk when the governor leads walkers in walking the five miles across the bridge. If you happen to be driving through during Labor Day weekend, schedule some extra time to allot for the delays or join the walk yourself!
Our visit to the Upper Peninsula took place in the late summer and we rented a small cottage along the Anna River, just a few miles south of Munising, which sits on the southern shore of Lake Superior. The cabin itself, the Anna River Cottage, appears to no longer be available for rent, but I encourage you to look around as a quick glance at VRBO and Someway suggests there are a number of options at very reasonable rates.
The stream behind the house, the Anna River, is a perfect stream for young anglers – there is a nice flow, but it’s not too deep or fast.
During our visit, we took a quick drive to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, which remains one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited and was less than two miles from our cabin.
With over 100 miles of trails, the Lakeshore is stunning, however, it’s not place I would recommend with young children unless you’ve done extensive prior research on the trails as many are located on cliffs. Although, we visited in the late summer when the weather was still quite pleasant, it does get cold up in the UP very quickly and we could see traces of one of the major wintering activities as we drove through the Lakeshore: snowmobiling! Indeed, snowmobiling in Upper Michigan is quite popular and we saw numerous places where you could rent equipment and/or arrange for guided trips. Although our boys are still young, I would definitely consider returning to the UP in the winter when they are older so we can snowmobile.
In addition to the Lakeshore, we also enjoyed driving through the various scenic areas where often found ourselves in the midst of birch forests.
The trees are tall and thin with white bark and grow very close together in a dense forest. Being so far north, the landscape was definitely different from anything we had ever seen in the southern/western United States.
Finally, the thing we enjoyed most about traveling to the UP was that it was so quiet and peaceful. Unlike the other trips we have taken “out west” — Yellowstone, Yosemite, even Denali — there is literally no traffic in the UP and very few tourist attractions, if any, once you get past the Mackinac Bridge. We never ate dinner out one time during our four night stay, rather, we just stopped by the local grocery and picked up a few items and either prepared a simple meal at home or over the fire pit. We did manage to work in a sampling of the “pasty,” which is like a calzone/meat pie.
There are different fillings you can choose, but we loved the simple meat and potato option. These also made excellent items to pack with us and take on our hike – the perfect portable meal.
Although Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is remote and difficult to visit, if you find yourself with the time and opportunity to do so, I definitely would! I’ve always wondered about that slice of Michigan hanging around up north all by itself. The added bonus, of course, is that if you’re interested in hiking and camping, you can get a lot of that done in the UP without spending a lot of time negotiating tourist traps or other drivers in traffic.