Why Every Outdoor Enthusiast Should Visit Michigan’s UP

Michigan is one of the Midwest’s most popular vacation destinations, largely due to its abundance of picturesque beaches along the Great Lakes. But those who travel further north to the Upper Peninsula will find something different. It’s a wilder environment, with far fewer crowds. You’ll discover rugged landscapes with waterfalls, thick forests, and stunning vistas.

In other words, the UP is a part of Michigan that’s far different from the big cities and coastal retreats found in the lower peninsula. For any outdoor enthusiast, it’s a welcome retreat that offers a true getaway and a chance to explore a unique part of the world—one that everyone should experience at least once in their lives.

Of course, with any adventure into the outdoors, you need to be prepared. Wanderlust Outfitters(Opens in a new window) in St. Joseph, MI, and Backcountry North(Opens in a new window) in Traverse City, both offer everything you need to get started on any adventure. Whether planning a camping trip or looking for just the right hiking boots, you’ll find what you need. Both are official Osprey Pro Shops(Opens in a new window), which means that they carry any backpack or bag you could need for everything from day hikes to adventure travel.

Ready to start exploring? Here are five suggestions to get you started on an unforgettable visit to the UP.

See the Waterfalls

A landscape view of a waterfall on the right, leading to a river surrounded by trees on either side(Opens in a new window) The second-largest falls east of the Mississippi River. Photo by Josh Webb

Did you know that Michigan has more than 300 waterfalls? Most of them are in the UP, and the most impressive are found at Tahquamenon Falls State Park(Opens in a new window) in Paradise, MI. The Upper Falls on the Tahquamenon River are the second largest in the country east of the Mississippi River (the largest is Niagara), measuring 50 feet tall and 200 feet wide. Visit in the spring when more than 50,000 gallons of water can drop each second.

The Lower Tahquamenon Falls—four miles downstream from the upper falls—aren’t as strong, but the series of five smaller falls cascading around an island is just as beautiful and well worth the hike. You can even rent a rowboat to get a better view of the lower falls from the water. Another thing you’ll notice is the unique amber color of the Tahquamenon River, which comes from tannins leached from spruce, cedar, and hemlock trees that dominate the area.

Take advantage of multiple campgrounds and lodges in the 50,000-acre park, but it will never feel crowded. Hikers will enjoy the 35 miles of trails in the park, including a 16-mile section of the North Country Trail(Opens in a new window), which, when completed, will stretch all the way from North Dakota to Vermont.

Visit America’s Least Visited National Park

A landscape view of a body of water to the left, with a forested bank to the right(Opens in a new window) The rugged shoreline of America’s least-visited national park. Photo by Tony Webster

‘No one goes there’ isn’t usually a strong endorsement, but that’s not the case with Isle Royale National Park(Opens in a new window). Located in Lake Superior and closer to Canada than the U.S., Isle Royale gets only about 25,000 visitors a year. That’s because it requires a bit of work to get there, starting with a ferry from the UP or, for the more adventurous, a seaplane. Those who make it to the island are treated to a truly wild landscape. Choose from 36 wilderness campgrounds on the island, many of which are only accessible by either trail or canoe or kayak. Moose and wolves are among the creatures who make their home here, and you’ll probably see more of them than people. If you enjoy backcountry paddling and camping, this is one of the best places to do it.

If you’re not up for heading into the backcountry, there are two developed parts of the island. Windigo, on the southwest side, features a camp store, some rustic cabins and a boat dock for ferries arriving from Minnesota. Rock Harbor, located on the south side, has a bit more with a restaurant and a lodge.

Experience a Lake in the Clouds

A landscape view of a lake from above, surrounded by a forest(Opens in a new window) Golden hour at Lake in the Clouds. Photo by Dave Hoefler

If you really want to get away from it all, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park(Opens in a new window) in Ontonagon is the state’s largest state park at 60,000 acres. There you’ll find 35,000 acres of old-growth forest, more than 90 miles of hiking trails, and some spectacular vistas that offer incredible views of Lake Superior. A hike to see the Lake in the Clouds is a must-do. The mile-long lake is surrounded by wilderness—visible from a viewing platform far above it. You’ll find several remarkable waterfalls in this region as well, especially in the spring. Those who enjoy camping will find lots of options here, including developed campgrounds, rustic cabins, yurts, and backcountry camping in the wilderness.

Take to the Water

A sheer cliff face in the background, with a kayaker on teal blue water in the foreground(Opens in a new window) Kayaking in the Caribbean-blue waters of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Photo by Craig Washington

Boaters and hikers alike won’t want to miss a trip to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore(Opens in a new window) in Munising, Mich. The country’s first national lakeshore is a treasure trove for kayakers, who can explore the sandstone cliffs, caves, and other rock formations that make this a one-of-a-kind destination. On land, you’ll find almost 100 miles of hiking trails, beautiful beaches, and majestic vistas overlooking the lake. In the spring, you’re treated to a wildflower display that’s one of the best in the Midwest, and fall colors are incredible here. Apart from Lake Superior, the area is also home to inland lakes and trout streams popular for fishing.

Ride Off-Road

A forest full of fall colors, with a lake in the background in the distance Getting off the beaten path in Copper Harbor is a must. Photo by Jonnelle Yankovich

The UP is one of the country’s top spots for mountain biking, and you’ll find some of the best riding on the Copper Harbor Trails(Opens in a new window), located on the Keweenaw Peninsula. This is about as far north as you can go in Michigan, and the fun trails feature something for every level of riding. The trail system is ranked as an International Mountain Bike Association Silver Level Ride Center, one of only 10 in the world. Riding the miles and miles of singletrack with incredible views of Lake Superior is one of the best ways to see this part of the country.

Of course, these are only a sample of what’s available in Michigan’s UP. Hiking, camping, fishing, biking, paddling, and boating opportunities abound in every direction, just waiting to be discovered. So take a trip across the Mackinac Bridge to see for yourself why there’s nothing quite like the UP for outdoor adventure.

Written by Jeff Banowetz for Matcha in partnership with Osprey Packs.

Featured image provided by Mike Setchall(Opens in a new window)