Today’s Mini Moon feature comes from one of our favorite photographers on the east coast, Kate Headley…
I thought I would share my favorite place in the entire world: the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It’s the section of Michigan north of ‘the mitten’ that is surrounded by Lake Superior, Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, with Canada to the north. I was born there, lived there until I was about ten and have vacationed there for every holiday and summer since on my grandparent’s farm. I never tire of the charm and idyllic vibe of this part of Michigan that some people don’t even know exists. Splashing in Lake Huron, riding bicycles down dirt roads, wandering trails in the woods, picking lilacs, looking for sea glass on Lake Superior, climbing lighthouses, watching fireworks on hay bales, eating fresh fish…I love what an escape it is from the pace of the city. I put together some travel ideas for those who are truly looking for an affordable, hidden gem with gorgeous natural beauty. If you love outdoor activities like hiking and biking, you will love it. If you like taking photos of charming scenery like I do, you will also love it. I would bring a blanket and books for impromptu relaxing beach stops. Get ready to go on vacation to a place without traffic or tourists—you’re really getting off the beaten path!
WHERE TO FLY + GETTING AROUND
There are a few small airports in the Upper Peninsula, such as Marquette/Sawyer and Chippewa County International; or you could fly into Traverse City, Pellston, Lansing or Detroit and rent a car. The least expensive tickets will be into Detroit, which is a five hour drive from the U.P., so plan for that drive or fly in closer. // This is a very remote part of the country and a reliable car is best.
WHAT TO SEE
I sectioned this into two regions—the Eastern UP and Marquette/central region, which you could do back-to-back, or choose one. I recommend going in the summer months. Bring jeans and a jacket for chilly evenings. It’s very casual so no need to ever dress up.
Mackinac Bridge & endpoints: Rivaling the Golden Gate Bridge, the Mackinac Bridge is quite beautiful and either side has a little town full of sights and shops. Visit Fort Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City, a beautifully done museum, and then eat at Clydes Hamburger Stand on the other side of the bridge in St. Ignace—absolute must! It’s an old fashioned drive up hamburger stand, it’s really yummy.
Mackinac Island: This is a very charming and historic island in Lake Huron that does not allow cars. You will take a ferry from St. Ignace or Mackinaw City and can spend the day riding bikes around the island (just eight miles), visit an old fort (very well done), tour the Grand Hotel (decorated by Dorthoy Draper’s protege Carleton Varney) and eat the famous fudge made on the island. The ‘cottages’ as they are called are actually giant, gingerbread Victorian summer houses in a sorbet of colors; it’s fun to stroll the streets and pick out a favorite. Just walk around and get lost — it’s a small island and going off the beaten path has always yielded some fun adventures for me. Splurge by staying on the island (The Grand Hotel , Island House, Mission Point are all gorgeous places) or stay back on the mainland. The island is probably going to be the most crowded place you encounter in the Upper Peninsula.
Eastern Upper Peninsula: If you really want to go off the beaten path, go east of the Straits of Mackinac on 134 to a little region called Hessel, Cedarville and Detour. (This is near where my grandparent’s farm is. The best thing here are the beaches, which you will usually have all to yourself.) In Hessel, I would grab a sandwich at the Hessel Grocery (where boaters stop in to stock up) and rent a kayak or boat to get out on the water. Keep going east on 134 to Detour Village, the beaches along that drive are so beautiful and free for anyone to pull their car over and swim in. A lot of people have summer homes here, so the little towns have small restaurants, bars, ice cream shops, local museums, book stores or things to wander. There are cabins and small hotels in the region.
Marquette, the Dunes and the Pictured Rocks
Marquette is a city about a four hour drive from the Mackinac Bridge, through Hemingway’s “Land of the Hiawatha.” Despite the distance, I love visiting it for a relaxing weekend—it’s very laid back and just has a great vibe. The city has a university and is right on Lake Superior—the beaches are amazing! (It’s very cold swimming I admit, but you really shouldn’t swim after you’ve been drinking in the sand.) Hiking, biking, camping are really popular. There are some fantastic lighthouses you can climb and it has a big history in the mining industry. Check out the artist’s studios and roadside stands of local farmers. The last time I went with my sister, we saw a wild moose.
The downtown of Marquette is really charming. Start at Baby Cakes for a morning coffee and muffin. Grab a lunch for a picnic at the Marquette CoOp and eat dinner at The Vierling. Check out Trip Advisor for the newest places and this website for more ideas. I usually stay at the Holiday Inn, Birchmont or we camp (on the beach or at a campsite.)
An hour or so to the east of Marquette, along the shore, are some crazy rock formations and giant sand dunes that are national parks. Have you ever heard the Gordon Lightfoot song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”? This is where the song originates. You can take a boat or kayak tour of the Pictured Rocks out of Munising. If you want to see how in shape you really are, go down and climb up a massive dune called the Log Slide off Lake Superior in a town called Grand Marais. (Seriously, this is for the extreme adventurers or from my memory of it, for four rambunctious kids who needed to burn off energy.) You can also check out dunes from the lighthouses in this area, which are more my speed today.
Whether you’re looking for quiet getaway on a road less traveled or something adventurous and physical, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is a special place that everyone falls in love with after a summer visit!