Then again, anyone who lays eyes on this place can’t fail to feel something celestial is at work. From Tahquamenon Falls and the Porcupine Mountains to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and autumn colors reflecting golden and fiery scarlet off 1,700 miles of Great Lakes coastline – Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is an overlooked gem, and all the more special for it.
And luckily, the biting midges and other flying nuisances really only appear in May and June.
How could anyone not want to see a place called Lake of the Clouds? Or Ernest Hemingway’s Two Hearted River? Or my favorite, Kitch-iti-Kipi, Michigan’s largest natural spring. Surrounded by forest, the turquoise waters are placid but for the bubbles percolating from the limestone far below the surface. Visitors can glide across on a self-operated raft as fish dart beneath the viewing windows.
The Upper Peninsula isn’t for everyone, of course. Anyone with a fear of nature or an intolerance for outdoor activities would be advised to stay away.
For everyone else, there are enticements aplenty. Rocky shores, cascading sand dunes or the remote tranquility of Isle Royale National Park. Canoeing, kayaking or the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum (where you’ll learn there’s more to the song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” than just its catchy tune). Ghost towns, copper mines, logging museums and historic forts. Cross-country, downhill, ski jumping, snowshoeing or the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame in Ishpeming.
Then there is the wildlife: bears, elk, moose, wolves, bobcats, coyotes, bald eagles, otters and wild turkeys, for a start. Anyone with a penchant for wild travel need look no further; the U.P. isn’t the most obvious choice, but it won’t disappoint.I can’t actually remember my first trip to the U.P., but I have fond childhood memories of bike rides along the Grand Marais shoreline rewarded by rainbow-colored Superman ice cream, bedding down in a tent cushioned by pine needles and campfire dinners of Dinty Moore beef stew straight from the can. It would be a stretch to attach the term “fond” to the latter bit of that sepia-tinted memory, and I’m sure my mother would balk at the assertion that we ever ate any such thing. (Sorry Mom, but those kinds of memories just aren’t possible to manufacture).
Later, as a teenager working at a summer camp on the Lower Peninsula’s equally enchanting Walloon Lake, I made the northern exodus at weekends, seeking a more legitimate wilderness than could be found near the popular resort areas around Little Traverse Bay. It wasn’t just for the excuse to cruise over the stomach-churning sway of the Mighty Mac suspension bridge – 5 miles of rumbling steel arching high, high above the whitecaps of the Straits of Mackinac – as a newly minted driver. Or the appeal of thousands of acres of unpatrolled forest where the over-21 drinking law wasn’t strictly enforced. Although those reasons certainly played a part.
The U.P. can still feel like it’s stuck in a time warp, but that’s part of its charm. Roadside general stores have survived economic downturns and the strip mall-ization of more populated areas. Snowmobiles are as common as white-tailed deer and only 311,000 people inhabit its 16,000 square miles.
Visitors will need to plan the time to make it “over the bridge.” Even when flying into one of the small local airports, the U.P. can take a solid day on the road to drive from end-to-end.
But the drive is sure to be worth it. And once you’ve visited the shipwreck museum, you’ll have the tune to “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” stuck in your head for at least a week.