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Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

For some reason…likely just unfamiliarity with the scenic riches that lie beyond…most tour groups visiting Michigan seem to make it as far north as Mackinac Island before turning around and heading back south. Although some tours continue for an extra hour to Sault Ste. Marie to see the Soo Locks and perhaps venture into Canada for a trip on the Agawa Canyon Railroad, that’s about the extent of many current trips made to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I’d like to suggest that group coordinators seriously consider planning an extended U.P. holiday for a wealth of splendid sightseeing opportunities.

Throughout the summer and glorious fall foliage season, groups will discover an exceptionally varied range of attractions, plus affordable lodging and dining without having to deal with many crowds. So drive or fly to Detroit, see the sights of the resurgent “Motor City” and Bavarian Frankenmuth, then continue north for a truly enjoyable scenic excursion. If you’d like to make it a “circle” tour, the following itinerary has been laid out so you’ll return to the “Straits” after exploring all of the places I’ve included.

1.) Michigan’s graceful Mackinac Bridge offers unmatched views of the Straits of Mackinac (always pronounced Mackinaw). Still resplendent 56 years after it opened to traffic in 1957, this five-mile-long engineering landmark remains one of the longest suspension bridges in the world.

2.) The delights of charming, Victorian Mackinac Island are well-known to group coordinators nationwide. Where else can one tour by horse and carriage, bicycle or on foot without the presence of motorized vehicles, enjoy the lunch buffet at the magnificent Grand Hotel and take home souvenirs of delicious fudge for friends and relatives? Groups with a healthier budget can elect to stay at one of Mackinac Island’s historic hotels, while all groups will be pleased with a day trip to the island, coupled with fine motor inn accommodations overlooking the “Straits” from St. Ignace.

3.) Sault Ste. Marie is home to the renowned Soo Locks, the largest and busiest locking system in the world. Take a Soo Locks Boat Tour and you’ll travel through one of the four American locks, be raised 21 feet to the level of Lake Superior and return via the sole Canadian lock. With luck you’ll lock through with one of the giant Great Lakes bulk carriers or an international freighter, but if not you can return to view the entire locking procedure from observation platforms adjacent to the MacArthur Lock in lovely Soo Locks Park.

4.) Beginning with the schooner Invincible in 1816, and continuing on in more recent times to the Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975, the waters of Lake Superior off Whitefish Point have proven to be dangerous territory for mariners whenever violent storms arise. North of Paradise, a visit to the excellent Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum and historic U.S. Lifesaving Service/Coast Guard Station, site of the lake’s first lighthouse, erected in 1849, will reveal the complete story in detail.

5.) Two rushing waterfalls are the star attractions of splendid Tahquamenon Falls State Park, between Paradise and Newberry. The larger, more dramatic Upper Falls, 50 feet high and over 200 feet wide, are the country’s second highest east of the Mississippi River. The 50,000 gallons-per-second cascades of the two distinct Lower Falls are separated by a wooded island.

6.) One of the highlights of your visit will surely be the three-hour cruise on Lake Superior from Munising to nearby Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The area is a veritable wonderland of towering bluffs, brilliantly colored cliffs, sea caves and cascading waterfalls. When you return to your local Munising “home” for a night or two, you’ll also want to take a forest walk to see at least one of the area’s other spectacular waterfalls. Munising Falls will prove the best chose if looking for an easy hike, while Miner’s Falls appeals to the more adventurous.

7.) Jutting into Lake Superior, the beautiful Keweenaw Peninsula is Michigan’s Copper Country and the home of Keweenaw National Historical Park.  The park’s headquarters and visitor center are located to the north in historic Calumet, center of the area’s once teeming mining industry. Here, you can also enjoy a visit to the still-active Calumet Theatre, where Sarah Bernhardt and John Philip Sousa once performed. A second major park site includes the old Quincy Mine and Hoist, just north of Hancock.

8.) Most likely, a full-day, round-trip excursion from Houghton or Hancock will feature sites 7 through 10, and most certainly will include a stop at Fort Wilkins Historic State Park, on sky-blue Lake Fanny Hooe. Here you’ll find a complete, meticulously restored U.S. Army frontier outpost, built in 1844 to keep the peace in the Copper Country, as well as the 1866, Victorian-era Copper Harbor Lighthouse.

9.) Just west of Fort Wilkins is the highly photogenic village of Copper Harbor, largely a collection of homes, smaller motels and tourist facilities, as well as the well-sheltered port for Isle Royale Queen IV, offering summer ferry service to Isle Royale National Park out in Lake Superior, as well as a smaller boat which provides narrated cruises to the historic lighthouse noted above.

10.) The splendid Lake Superior Shore Drive from Copper Harbor to Eagle River takes the visitor past picture-perfect views of the rocky Lake Superior shoreline, lighthouses, waterfalls, roadside parks and the quaint villages of Eagle Harbor and Eagle River. Paralleling the shore from above for 9.5 miles is the equally, if not even more scenic Brockway Mountain Drive, although the road itself was in poor repair during my most recent visit in early June.

11.) It’s an easy stroll through the woods to observation overlooks high above Lake of the Clouds in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. In addition to the blue expanse of the lake 300 feet below, visitors here appreciate panoramic views of the sheer rocky cliffs, the Carp River Valley and Porcupine Range, all particularly glorious with the annual arrival of autumn colors.

12.) The three splendid Waterfalls of the Presque Isle River (Nawadaha, Manido and Manabezho), as well as the picturesque Lake Superior shoreline nearby, are not to be missed. Motor inns south of the park can be found in both Wakefield and Ironwood, but if you are continuing on to Fayette, accommodations in the Iron River/Crystal Falls area may be more convenient.

13.) On the remote Garden Peninsula, along Lake Michigan’s Big Bay de Noc, can be found fascinating Fayette Historic State Park. Once a bustling “company” town which produced charcoal pig iron between 1867 and 1891, this serene, well-preserved museum village shelters 20 historic buildings. These include the impressive furnace complex itself, the town hall, homes, a hotel, offices, machine shop and more, in a lovely natural setting surrounded by forests, water and dolomite bluffs.

14.) Finally, Kitch-iti-kipi Big Spring in Palms Book State Park northwest of Manistique, offers travelers the delightful opportunity to peer into the depths of this beautiful turquoise spring from a covered, self-operated observation raft. More than 10,000 gallons a minute issue at a constant temperature of 45º F through the spring’s underlying limestone aquifer.