Do you dream of venturing into a lush wilderness part of a land lost in time? If so, then it’s time to escape a little and check out the Upper Peninsula of Michigan! The instant I crossed the Mackinac Island bridge I felt like I was an early century explorer. Many of these remote areas reminded me of my Alaskan trip from last year and I loved every minute of that trip. Not long into the drive, “moose crossing” signs appeared! Just the thought of possibly seeing a moose on the road caused an instant adrenaline rush for me. The scenic drive had lakes, rivers, wildlife, and creeks surrounding the roads. This particular summer day had lazy fog skirting the tops of the rivers due to the temperature change between the cool water and warm air. It was a beautiful sight to see!
This trip included so many beautiful and unique things to do in the UP, so narrowing down to my top 5 was not an easy task. The Michigan UP has over 16k square miles so I would definitely recommend a minimum of 7-10 days to see these magnificent places and do the highlighted activities mentioned.
#1 True North Outpost Adventures
The True North Outpost Adventures in Norway, Michigan, is at the top of my list because of their package experiences that can include white water rafting, stand up paddling, biking, rock climbing, kayaking and camping. From the moment I arrived until the minute I left, I was surrounded by a group of owners and guides that truly cared about making my journey memorable and fun. Their enthusiasm for adventure and the great outdoors was infectious! The Outpost offers unique experiences and second-to-none customer service.
My adventure filled day started at the Outpost’s rock wall gym for a fun workout! The group also helped me set up camp near their outpost while telling me folk stories about the forest.
Gypsy Mama Bear Tip: Be sure to bring plenty of bug spray and sun screen.
Gypsy mama bear tip: If you are lucky enough to meet Nate, one of the owners, be sure to have him tell you some of his wonderful folktales.
Fun Children’s Forest folklore/campfire story: Children’s Forest was named from a folklore tale. Many many years ago young children were disappearing when they ventured into the forest so the locals cut all the trees down to keep their children safe. However, years later, the trees grew back and the children started missing again. The locals then tried to burn all the trees down to keep the children from missing. Despite all their efforts, this one lone creepy tree in the Children’s Forest could not be cut nor burned down and it still exists today with some green limbs sprouting from the top. Stories like this may sound far-fetched but when you are camping in a tent at night, deep into the woods, the image of this creepy tree may linger in your thoughts and dreams…
Over the years, I have done several whitewater rafting trips in the U.S. I especially liked this one because the trip is planned where you are able to experience the class 4 rapids and you also get to go over the waterfall twice. The adrenaline of going over the waterfall again was not diminished, but the fear from the first time was far less because now I had the confidence of having just done it. I was able to “just breathe” and let the river and guide be in control. I could kick back, let the adrenaline flow, and enjoy every minute of the fun journey….
Returning to the outpost after the whitewater rafting adventure was a pleasurable experience as well. There’s plenty of changing stalls, snacks available to refuel, and cute antiques upstairs for purchase. The remodeled historic building was impressive and I loved the décor. I changed out of my wet clothes, had a snack, and prepared for my next adventure with the Outpost guide to go stand up paddling!
The Outpost has different stand up paddling trips for you to choose from. If I had more time, I would have chosen to kayak as well. I chose a short distance trip and a beginner’s board because I didn’t have a lot of experience and wanted to learn how to paddle better and improve my balance. The guide was very experienced and made it very easy for me. She was even using a yoga paddle board and offered for me to try it as well. So many options to do here so plan for a lot of fun and experiences!
Another option the Outpost offers is bicycle rentals and over 10 miles of mountain biking trails to explore. The trails are close to the adventure center for easy access. I had my own bike so if you are a mountain biker make sure you add the biking trails to your timeline while you are there. Even if your main reason for going to the Outpost is whitewater rafting, the trails, pine trees, gorges, and views are a great side-adventure to add to your itinerary.
#2 Grand Island Biking Adventure in
Hiawatha National Forest
Number 2 on my list is Grand Island in Hiawatha National Forest. This area is located off the north shore of the breathtaking Lake Superior in Michigan’s UP. The ferry service required is located in Munising, Michigan. This wilderness island has a few historic homes that are over 100 years old and maintained by summer residents. The Forest service purchased Grand Island in 1990 and the island is only accessible by boat. Other than the few summer residents there, the island is mainly used for camping and mountain biking. Only 10,000 visitors explore Grand Island each year so it’s the perfect UP wilderness destination for nature lovers!
This unique adventure was like nothing I had ever experienced and is a must do for any nature loving mountain biker, hiker, and/or backpacker. The Grand Island Ferry Service in Munising will drop you and your bike (rentals available) on an island that is truly deep wilderness. The roads and trails are gravel/dirt so be prepared for a workout! The island is 22 miles around and the Ferry Service will give you a map of the island. I would recommend starting by going up the west side of the island to the waterfall beach overlook destination first.
The overlook is by far the most scenic and you will want to hit the top highlights while you have the most energy. If you are biking, park your bike and take the short hike to Lake Superior. This overlook has a stunning waterfall view flowing into Lake Superior. Excellent photography opportunities here, so take your cell phone or camera.
Gypsy mama bear tip: Buy the hat with the mosquito netting at the Grand Island Ferry Camp store.. Take plenty of bug spray.. Riding fast with bug spray applied was still not enough to scare off these mini pterodactyl vultures! The inexpensive mosquito hat plus the mosquito spray was very much needed!
There are many challenging trails with mud and tree roots on Grand Island if you want to wander and venture off the easier gravel road paths. I did this often and sometimes would take short cuts to destinations that I wanted to see so I could explore harder trails and deeper woods, but be cautious. Some of these shortcuts include difficult biking trails with deep rugged, potholes filled with water and mud. The island recently had a hard rain so some of the trails were more mud than sand. A few times, I had to push my bike through 6-8 inches of muck and mud. The short cuts may not be worth taking after a hard rain.
Overall, this was a very unique secluded undeveloped island that was a great fun way to explore the UP wilderness! I did not have to make reservations because it was not busy the day I was there. I would recommend calling 906-387-2600 for overnight backpacking, camping, rustic cabins and ferry schedules.
#3 Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
If you are a waterfall lover this is a place you will not want to miss! Coming in at number 3 is the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore! There are so many beautiful waterfalls and wonderful hikes in the Munising area. Narrowing down which ones to see was tough to do because there were so many! Many of the waterfalls can be viewed by short walks/hikes so I was lucky to see several in 1 or 2 days. I also wanted to take a longer trail hike inside the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore so I chose a few trails to experience a variety of natural rock formations and sceneries.
My first beautiful hikes were to Lake Superior, Beaver Lake, & Little Beaver CG. The trail included many unique mossy rock formations, streams, Beaver Lake and a stunning ending trail view of Lake Superior.
Gypsy Mama Bear tip: We had an extremely hard rain storm the day of the hike so the trails were very muddy so wear waterproof hiking boots to keep your feet dry. Keep cell phone handy, there are a lot of photo opportunities all along the trails.
My next stop was to Miners Falls. This was a beautiful full flowing waterfall that was only a .6 mile hike. Nearby is also the Miners Castle Overlook! This is a must see beautiful rock formation that looks like a castle and the cliff rises 75 ft above the beautiful waters of Lake Superior.
I also enjoyed Munising Falls and Wagner Falls. So many beautiful hiking and biking areas all in these natural wanderlust areas with dozens of photo opportunities. I use the All-Trails app for distances, photos, and current trail conditions/reviews from recent hikers.
Gypsy mama bear tips for the spontaneous traveler: There are not a lot of hotels in this area. I often will rent a SUV or Jeep, buy a twin blow up bed and sleeping bag to put in the back in case I don’t have time to book a hotel or campground with advance reservations. I actually had to car camp a couple nights during this trip because of the no vacancies. It’s always brilliant to have backup plans.
#4 Charming Town of Manistique
Do you love shopping? This charming city wins #4 as a must see and do while in the UP. It’s easy to see why it landed in the top 5 because the city is adorned with quaint boutique shops such as Camp & Coastal and the Mustard Seed. Both shops had friendly shop owners that enjoyed chatting about the town, boutiques, and other sights to see in the area.
I also enjoyed stopping at the Mackinaw Trail Winery & Brewery Manistique on the Harbor and the Cedar Street Café for the best Skinny Coconut & Vanilla Iced cappuccino! Hands down this city wins the most friendliest Michigan citizens award! I spent a wonderfully memorable day sipping local wine, shopping the unique boutiques with new local friends, dining at the local cafes, and taking an evening sunset stroll along Lake Michigan.
I highly recommend staying in Manistique city but also visiting the Palms Book State Park and the Kitch-iti-kipi natural springs while in this area. Palms Book State Park is a 388 acre nature preserve of beautiful scenery!
The Kitch-iti-kipi is a natural spring within the nature preserve that is filled with beautiful crystal clear blue-green water. The nice park has a movable boat dock on a cable that allows the guests to be pulled back and forth to see the many trout swimming in the beautiful water underneath the dock.
#5 Tahquamenon Falls;Best UP Brewery
There’s not many places where you can hike in a state park as well as have lunch in a brew pub! Tahquamenon Falls State park boasts 50,000 acres and stretches over 13 miles. The Upper Falls that are located in the park are the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi.
The lower falls are not as majestic as the upper but they are still worth viewing. The walking trails are well maintained and easy to walk. There are many hikes you can do as well as camping, canoeing and picnicking. If you decide to skip the picnic basket, definitely have lunch or dinner at the Tahquamenon Falls Brew Pub. The bison burger with sweet potato fries were delicious and my favorite meal during this entire UP trip! The flight tasters available were also a fabulous way to sample their unique craft beers on tap! My favorite was hard to choose, they were all spectacular!
There’s something for everyone in the UP of Michigan! Whether you enjoy waterfalls, arches, beautiful rock formations, lighthouses, shopping, camping, wildlife, mountain biking, or white water rafting, there’s an adventure waiting for you here! There’s so much to do here, if you can’t see it all, take a journal and keep track of the places you want to return to see that you missed.
The heart of a man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. Proverbs 16:9
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