5 Things That Can Only Be Found in Michigan's Upper Peninsula
Born and raised in the Upper Peninsula (Yooperland), it wan't until I was an adult that I truly appreciated the beauty and splendor of the natural world that surrounded me. Morel hunting, blueberry and thimbleberry picking, swimming in icy clear blue waters, and snowshoeing in virgin forests without a soul around were simply part of an everyday existence. They say you can't go home again but they are wrong. Join me on my journey back.
1. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
With 42 miles of pristine shoreline Pictures Rocks National Lakeshore is a great place to start your journey. Guided boat tours are available out of Munising, but do like the natives do and rent a pontoon boat. Pack a picnic lunch, pick a direction, and go.
With 15 miles miles of weathered sandstone cliffs and 12 miles of beach solitude, you will want to devote a day to your journey. Drop anchor and sun on the beach, explore cove formations along the shoreline or hike the more than 90 miles of natural trails.
With so may choices it can be hard to know where to start. If you want to hike try Miners Falls Trail, an easy hike that ends in a cascading waterfall, or Sand Point Marsh Trail, dotted with interpretive exhibits, old beach ridges and an active beaver colony.
The one thing you won't see here? People. No waiting in an endless line for a burger and coke or to use the ladies room, no loud "boombox" music to assault your ears, no loud drunken young adults disturbing the sense of serenity. Just you and nature in all of God's glory.
2. Tahquamenon Falls
I first visited the falls when I was about 10 and I have never forgotten it. It was the fall and the trees looked like flames burning crimson and gold. The warm autumn sun shone down through the trees, its dappled light striking our faces. Fallen leaves crunched beneath our shoes. The forest smelled of pine tar, old dropped needles and earth. The rushing of the waterfall could be heard from the walking path almost half a mile away.
200 feet across, the waters of the Tahquamenon River pass over the falls at a rate of 50,000 feet per second. The water is rust-colored, not from dirt, but from the Cedar, Spruce and Hemlock trees in the swamp drained by the river. An observation platform rests at the crest of the Upper Falls and a 4 mile hiking path follows the river down to the Lower Falls. A series of 5 falls, the Lower Falls can be viewed from the riverbank or from an island in the middle of the river.
The falls are part of Tahquamenon Falls State Park. Originally an old logging camp, the current visitor center is an exact replica of the camp from long ago. A restaurant, gift shop and rental rowboats are available at the visitor center. There are plenty of picnic tables and handicap accessible restrooms near the visitor center.
25 miles of hiking trails meander through the park. Birders should be on the lookout for bald eagles, Sandhill Cranes, Spruce and Sharptail Grouse, as well as other waterfowl and songbirds. it is not unusual to spot moose. If you're lucky you might even see a black bear.
Tahquamenon Falls is located in Paradise, Michigan. Appropriate, don't you think?
3. Mackinac Bridge
Opened to traffic on November 1, 1957 at a cost of $99,800,000, Mackinac Bridge is the 5th longest suspension bridge in the world. Connecting the Upper and Lower Peninsulas, there have been over 150,000,000 vehicle crossings since its opening.
All suspension bridges are designed to sway in response to changes in wind speed, temperature and weight. The Mackinac Bridge can slowly sway up to 35 feet at the middle pier and then slowly return as winds die. I have never personally felt the bridge sway, but I can say, when you're crossing during the middle of a blinding snowstorm, being swept over the side does cross your mind. I always drive the lane closest to the middle!
I think the nicest way to experience the bridge is to do the annual bridge walk. Held each Labor Day since 1959 and led by the Governor, between 40,000 and 60,000 people participate each year. It takes about two hours to cross the bridge and a shuttle returns you to your car. This is the only time during the year pedestrians are allowed on the bridge. The weather is usually sunny and it's a fun way to get some exercise. If you're visiting the UP at this time of year, it's a definite must do.
4. Kitchitikippi Springs
Called "Mirror of Heaven" by the early Chippewa Indians, Kitchitikippi Springs is an experience I'm not sure you can find anywhere else on earth. A pond 200 feet across and 40 feet deep, it is fed by 10,000 gallons per minute of water the seeps through fissures in the limestone bottom.
What makes this place so special? The water. It is emerald green and literally as clear as drinking water. Visitors board a glass-bottomed raft that crosses the pond though "people power". Visitors or the park ranger pull on a steel cable that is strung across the pond and you pull yourself across to the other side. Look straight down through the viewing windows and you will see straight to the the bottom that is inhabited by lake, brown and brook trout as well as yellow perch. Petrified tree trunks and branches lay on the bottom of the spring as they've done for who knows how many years.
Kitchitikippi Springs is part of Palms Book State Park just outside of Manistique, Michigan. Visit the springs and go "snorkeling" without getting wet!
Did You Know?
Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes, is also the largest freshwater lake in the world when measured by surface area. Not only that, it contains about 10% of the fresh water in the world. That’s right, THE WORLD.
5. Isle Royale
571,790 acres of untouched wilderness, Isle Royale is an island located in Lake Superior about 56 miles from the mainland. Accessible only by ferry or seaplane from May to September, Isle Royale is for the true outdoor enthusiast who appreciates its rugged, isolated beauty.
With no roads and no wheeled vehicles, visitors explore the island by walking its 170 miles of hiking trails or the waters surrounding the island by kayak or canoe. For those not interested in sleeping under the stars or in a yurt, Rock Harbor Lodge provides rooms that sleep four and has a gift shop, store, and a restaurant. Sightseeing excursions as well as fishing charters can be arranged through the lodge.
This is not a place for the faint of heart. Be forwarned, black flies and mosquitos will swarm deep woods visitors. Moose can infrequently be seen but the wolves shy away from humans. (Scientists believe the moose swam to the island in the early 1900's and the wolves walked across the frozen lake sometime between 1945 and 1950.)
Isle Royale is a singular experience that is not for everyone, but maybe you want to add it to your bucket list all the same.
Did You Know?
The backbone of Isle Royale, Greenstone Ridge, is thought to be part of the largest lava flow on earth.
Foods Not to Be Missed
- Thimbleberries grow wild all over the UP. Larger, tarter and with smaller seeds than raspberries they are becoming increasingly difficult to find. Made into a jam they are divine.
- Pasties, brought over by Cornish miners, are meat pies encased in a flaky crust. Traditionally eaten with ketchup and pickles.
- Cudighi, a type of sausage brought over by italian immigrants, is eaten with mushrooms, pizza sauce and cheese (think pizza sandwich) and they are delicious.
- Trenary toast, available only from the Trenary Bakery in Trenary, Michigan, is similar to biscotti but larger. The most popular flavor, cinnamon and sugar, is great dipped in coffee or hot chocolate.
Ready to pack your bags?
Does the UP seem like a place you'd like to visit?
While English is, of course, spoken everywhere, there are a few terms which you may want to know before you go.
go to the store
32 ounce bottle of beer
resident of lower michigan
If you're looking for untouched forests and stunning natural beauty, then the Upper Peninsula is the place for you.
Upper Peninsula of Michigan
Bonus 6. Eben Ice Caves
© 2015 Chantelle Porter