From Mountain Khakis

10 Things to do on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, or U.P. as it is referred to by the locals, is one of the best kept secrets in travel across the entire United States. Not only is it an outstanding wilderness playground for the active, outdoor crowd, it can also offer a quiet, tranquil escape for those who just want to relax as well. The region is home to quiet towns, populated with friendly, accommodating people, numerous cultural and historic landmarks, and a seemingly endless supply of scenic vistas. It is a diverse, and wonderful environment that should be on every traveler’s “must do” list.

Hike the Porkies
The Porcupine Mountains, colloquially referred to as the “Porkies,” is a dream destination for hikers and backpackers. Sprawled out over nearly 60,000 square acres of one of Michigan’s most popular state parks, the Porcupine Mountains offer miles of hiking trail, modern and primitive camping sites, and wonderful views at nearly every turn. Numerous lakes, waterfalls and rivers make for a dramatic backdrop to an already awe-inspiring landscape, although nothing can top the amazing Lake of the Clouds in terms of pure beauty. The park is home to an array of wildlife as well, with moose, deer, wolves, black bears, and, of course,  porcupines, calling the park home.

Tour a Copper Mine
Although the U.P. makes up 29% of the land mass of Michigan, only about 3% of the state’s population actually lives there. That hasn’t always been the case however, as a copper boom back in the 1840’s brought thousands of people to the area to seek their fortune working in the mines. Those heady days are long past however, but the remnants of that period can still be seen in various places across the region. Visitors can tour several of the old copper mines, and get a taste of what it was like to work in them. The Quincy Mine, near the city of Hancock, offers a great tour that will educate visitors about the business of owning and operating a mine, while the Adventure Mine in Greenland allows intrepid travelers to explore the very depths of the mines themselves.

Have Breakfast with a Bear
Black bears are plentiful in the U.P., and it is not uncommon to spot one in the wild. But, they can also be elusive and shy around humans. Nature lovers who want to have a safe encounter with a bear should head on over to the Konteka Black Bear Resort in White Pine. The resort is home to a popular restaurant, which not only serves an excellent country breakfast, but allows visitors to watch bears feed just outside the window. The restaurant abuts a nearby forest, and each morning bears appear on the scene in search of food. They quietly go about getting their fill, while customers in the restaurant do the same. It is a charming way to start the day.

Visit Isle Royale National Park
Located in the northwest corner of Lake Superior, Isle Royale is a national park that is remote, rugged, and utterly captivating. The park is only accessible by float plane or ferry, which departs daily from several locations in the U.P. As a result, very few people actually visit the place, although it is a wonderful destination for hiking, backpacking, kayaking, and snorkeling. A 40-mile long trail runs end-to-end across the park, and visitors can spend 4 or 5 days walking its length. Along the way, they’ll find solitude, untouched wilderness, and even the occasional moose or wolf. As one of the least-visited national parks in the U.S., it is an experience that is unmatched.

Go Mountain Biking
The International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) has given the mountain biking trails on the Upper Peninsula a Silver Rating, which means they rank amongst the top five mountain biking destinations in the entire world. Whether you’re a beginner who is just picking up the sport, or a wily veteran looking for some challenging trails to ride, you’ll find what you want on the U.P. The trails cut through scenic wilderness, providing a sense of seclusion along the way, with routes offering leisurely rides through shaded forests and idyllic meadows, or adrenaline-inducing downhill routes that will test your skill, stamina, and courage.

Eat a Pastie
The Pastie is a local delicacy that will appease even the hardiest of appetites. Traditionally, a pastie is a large, flakey pastry filled with pork, potatoes, carrots, and a variety of other vegetable that makes for a savory meal that is popular with both locals and visitors alike. Roy’s Pasties, located in the town of Houghton, has raised the pastie to an art form, adding new flavors and ingredients. The bakery offers a breakfast version filled with eggs, sausage, and cheese, as well as a pizza pastie packed with pepperoni, mozzarella, cheddar, and a host of other ingredients. There is even a turkey cranberry pastie for those who want Thanksgiving dinner any time of the year. If you visit Roy’s, be sure to bring a healthy appetite. Eating a whole pastie is not for the faint of heart, and requires some serious dedication.

Take in a Sunset Over Copper Harbor
After a busy day exploring the U.P., it’s nice to slow things down a bit and enjoy a bit of tranquility. One of the best ways to relax, is to watch a sunset over Lake Superior from the tiny town of Copper Harbor. The massive lake provides an unmatched location for watching the sun setting slowly in the west, with nothing but the occasional ship on the horizon to obstruct the views. The evening sky lights up with various hues of reds and pinks, providing a fitting ending to a busy day. Sunset cruises also include a tour of the Copper Harbor lighthouse, a building that has stood watch over the harbor for more than 170 years. There are few things as relaxing in life as watching the sun go down over a peaceful body of water.

 

Kayak Lake Superior
The U.P. offers paddlers a number of unique experiences, ranging from quiet river paddles through remote regions, to wild whitewater excursions immediately following the spring thaw. But for one of the best paddling experiences on the U.P., head to Lake Superior for sea kayaking at its finest. The long, stable sea kayaks make a great boat for paddling the typically calm lake waters, even for beginners. The lake’s unique shoreline provides some intriguing places to explore as well, with everything from isolated beaches and uninhabited islands, to towering rock cliffs, and the occasional cave, available to the waterborne adventurer.

Drop by the Jampot for Tasty Goodies
Hiking, paddling, and mountain biking on the U.P. can help work up a fierce appetite, but thankfully there are plenty of good places to help refill your belly. Take for example, the Jampot, a unique little store located along scenic Michigan highway 26. The store is run by a group of Benedictine monks, whose monastery is located just down the road. These quiet, humble men make some of the best jams, jellies, and other treats that you’ll find just about anywhere. If you’re feeling particularly hunger, nab one of their giant cinnamon rolls. Large enough to feed an army, just one of these delicacies will keep you going all day. Other tasty options include fruit cakes, cookies, brownies, and trail mix, plus a fantastic gingerbread pancake mix that you can take home with you. No visit to the U.P. is complete without first dropping by the Jampot. You won’t regret it.

Just Relax!
Many of the items on this list are designed to keep travelers busy throughout their stay on the Upper Peninsula, and while there is plenty to see and do there, it is also important to just stop and enjoy the peaceful quiet that pervades the area as well. Whether you’re sitting on a dock on Lake Superior, standing around a campfire at your lodge, or strolling quietly through the forest, the U.P. is a wonderful place to escape the trapping of modern life. You’ll struggle to get cell service throughout much of the region, and Internet can be spotty as well. But that is a good thing. The U.P. is a place to unplug, unwind, and just relax. Keep that in mind when you go there, and your visit will be even more rewarding.

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