The Upper Peninsula has so many places to see and things to do that the options for day trips are pretty much endless. But here are a few ideas for day trips no matter what part of the U.P. you happen to call home.
The weather is finally nice in the Upper Peninsula. The kids are getting out of school, their intent to immediately put dress codes, textbooks and teachers' dirty looks in the rearview mirror as quickly as possible. Grass is being mowed. Grills are being lit.
It's that time of year--the few weeks Yoopers get to make a claim to an actual season that doesn't come with a healthy dose of snow. If you're anything like me, you're probably asking yourself where you can go and what you can do to celebrate this strange event called "summer." And if you're even more like me, then you're wondering how to keep your expenses down while you're doing it.
The concept of day tripping is nothing new. Be it the ol' Sunday drives many of us used to get dragged on by our folks in our younger years or the Beatles' "Day Tripper"--a song that has absolutely nothing to do with going on little out-of-town trips--we've all heard of the experience.
Basically, it's a trip that you can get to, enjoy, and get home from in the same day. Genius, right?
As I sat down to start coming up with some ideas for fun little day trips across the Upper Peninsula, it hit me that what would constitute a day trip to one Yooper would not necessarily be a day trip for another Yooper. If you're in Iron Mountain, a trip to Mackinac Island isn't as feasible as a day trip as it would be for someone from Marquette or someone who called Cedarville home. And if you're from the east end of our pleasant peninsula, making a run to Green Bay isn't a there-and-back quick trip like it would be for someone from Stephenson or Perkins.
And being that I'm a believer in equal opportunities, I've decided to split my day trip suggestions into three sections: One for those who reside in the west end of the Upper Peninsula, one for those who reside in the central and one for those in the eastern U.P.
East Coast YoopersThose Yoopers who call the eastern end of the peninsula home have the easiest access to that other Michigan peninsula, as well as the easiest access to our always-friendly neighbors to the north. I figure Mackinac Island and a trip to Canada are pretty much no-brainers for those of you who live there, so I've decided to exclude those in this section. Instead, I'm going to send you south for one trip, and west for two other suggestions.
Fossil hunting in the lower peninsula: In the dark lands below the Mighty Mac, there are two places I am aware of where you can find fossils of the creatures that once inhabited the ocean that existed here before pasties came onto the scene. Of course, most of us are aware of the beautiful Petoskey Stone, which is actually a fossil. These can be found along the beaches of Petoskey and even toward Traverse City and below. The best time to go looking for our state stone is in the morning before most beach goers have started to hit the sand. Look along the shore where the water has been depositing new rocks throughout the night.
Another place to look for fossils is Rogers City on the other side of the mitten. There exists an actual fossil park
with some pretty easy-to-find fossils. It's a fun trip to take with children interested in fossils just for the ease of access and obtaining fossils.
There are other places across Michigan
to get fossils, too, if you're willing to do some hunting.
Speaking of rocks, an easy trip to make that many Yoopers just don't think of often is Pictured Rocks. We live right on one of the most beautiful lakeshores in the country, but it's easy to overlook those things we hear about often and are right in our own back yards. For us Yoopers, there is a day every year that allows us to enjoy the boat tours of Pictured Rocks absolutely free and this year it is June 13
. Due to the overwhelming response to this event last year, a second day, June 14, has been added this year to get as many Yoopers as possible out to see Pictured Rocks. .
If the thought of hauling around on day trips makes you thirsty, then you might want to consider making a bit of a trip out of quenching your thirst. As you're probably aware, the craft brew scene in Michigan is booming and we're one of the states that gets highlighted on a regular basis for leading the way in the beer renaissance.
Here in the U.P., we have quite a few craft breweries
ranging from Sault Ste. Marie to Tahquamenon Falls to Marquette to Houghton and more. You can plan an entire day's drive on hitting up some of these great little breweries and getting to taste some top-notch suds. Just remember to be responsible and make your plans with a designated driver.
Mid-Peninsula YoopersSandwiched firmly between Lake Superior and Lake Michigan, those in the central Upper Peninsula have the luxury of being able to travel just about anywhere from the eastern tip to the western border to enjoy a nice day trip.
Being surrounded by lakes has its advantages. Lots of gorgeous shoreline. Lots of great fishing. Oh, yeah, and shipwrecks (lucky for us, not for the ships and the crews, obviously). We're fortunate to have a great way to enjoy these amazing sites without having to be a certified diver, too. The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum
has some amazing exhibits to check out, including in-depth information on likely the most infamous wreck on Lake Superior, the Edmund Fitzgerald.
If just seeing exhibits isn't enough for you, a trip to Munising will give you a chance to enjoy a glass-bottom shipwreck tour
. It's really the best view you're going to get of a shipwreck without getting wet.
If staying out of the water is right up your alley and you'd rather simply drive over the lapping lakes on your way to other destinations, then, of course, you can always check out the bridges.
Closest to home is the Portage Lake Lift Bridge that connects Houghton and Hancock, or you can head down to St. Ignace and see the wonderful view that is the Mackinac Bridge. For those who prefer Canadian flair, there is the International Bridge that connects Sault Ste. Marie to, uh, the other Sault Ste. Marie. Remember to bring your passport if you're going to check out the latter and want to cross.
Whenever I'm planning a trip, I have to admit my stomach gets a lot of say in where I'm going. Does it have good places to eat? Is there something I've never had that I want to try? Is there a "best of" joint in the area? A foodie-driven day trip idea might be an adventure to find an awesome burger.
From the central U.P., you can head just about any direction and find a tasty hamburger to truly enjoy. To the east, you've got both Clyde's (in St. Ignace or Sault Ste. Marie) and West Pier (Sault Ste. Marie) while the north has the Michigan House (Calumet). Head west to snag a big ol' juicy burger from Jozwiak's Bar and Grill (Menominee). If you cross into Wisconsin, grab a charcoal-grilled burger from Mickey Lu's BBQ (Marinette). There are plenty of other great places to grab burgers, too, that often get overlooked, like Marley's (Manistique) where they boil their burger (not a misprint) or the Ford River Pub (Ford River) that has $1 burgers every Wednesday.
Western YoopersThe beauty of living in the west end of the Upper Peninsula is the truly gorgeous solitude and nature that is available even in the most populous of places. They are also the closest to professional sports teams and Division I colleges!
If you live in the western Upper Peninsula, odds are you're not only a big fan of nature, but you don't mind not being surrounded by people at all times, too. So why not plan a day trip to someplace even more secluded? Isle Royale
is about as secluded as it gets. Nature abounds. And moose! Plus you get to take a boat trip to get there. It's basically all the great things about the Upper Peninsula wrapped into an island. If you do plan on going, consider paying your park user fees in advance online to avoid any lines and congestion when you arrive.
Of course, when you live your life in the usual quietness of the Upper Peninsula all the time, you might just want to be around people now and then. From the west end of the U.P., you are lucky enough to be within day trip distance of actual cities and--cha-ching!--shopping.
Both Chicago and the Mall of America are just over five hours away from most areas in the western U.P., and if you don't feel like getting up really early in order to get to your destination, Green Bay is less than two hours away. Go catch a concert, do some shopping and grab a bite to eat at one of the many popular places we just don't have here in the Upper Peninsula.
And, finally, since I can't seem to get my mind off of food and drinks, I'm going to suggest you consider making a trek to find a Yooper favorite: the pasty. Sure, the west end of the Upper Peninsula has its fair share of pasty shops, but there are so many more throughout the U.P. to try.
We, as Yoopers, seem to find our favorite right in the area we live and get defensive about where the best pasty comes from. If you're in the west, you've probably had Colonel K's in Menominee or Dobbers in Iron Mountain (Escanaba, too!) or Joe's in Ironwood. But what about Lawry's in Ishpeming or Marquette? Jean Kays in Marquette? Muldoon's in Munising? Roy's in Houghton? For those heading even farther east, there's the popular Lehto's in St. Ignace and Hiawatha's in Naubinway, among many, many others. Truth is, you could spend several road trips finding the best pasty the U.P. has to offer--but, really, is that a bad idea? I don't think so.
No matter what part of the Upper Peninsula you call home, there's always a day trip that's going to be worth your time, keep your interest and, hopefully, satisfy your tastebuds.
Let us know some of the places you'd recommend your fellow Yoopers stop and see by leaving a comment below. We'd love to hear about places we need to stop and see (and taste!).
Sam Eggleston is the managing editor of Upper Peninsula Second Wave. He was born and raised in the U.P. and has spent many, many, many day trips trying his best to see as many of the great things this wonderful peninsula has to offer as he can. He can be reached via email.