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10-Day Roadtrip: Michigan’s Glorious Upper Peninsula

Beautiful MI fall colors in MIchigan's Upper Peninsula
View along HWY 26, near Copper Mountain

Growing up in Lower Michigan, I’d heard about the Upper Peninsula’s legendary natural beauty, especially in Fall when the forests, which make up 84% of the region, are a kaleidoscope of color.

Still, as far as I was concerned, it was my backyard, and who wants to explore their own backyard?

Oh the stupidity of youth. 

So it’s ironic that in late September, on the eve of selling my childhood home after my mother’s passing, Michigan’s U.P. would mark my first solo road trip.  

The estate sale company I’d hired needed to prepare the house, and I couldn’t be there. Since I’d have to pay for a hotel anyway, why not up north?

As it so happens, my travel window coincided with peak leaf-peeping (Last week in September through the second week in October) season. Local experts I spoke to told me the fall foliage wasn’t just beautiful, it was considered some of the most spectacular in the country. That did it.

I grabbed my camera gear, and off I went.

Why Consider The Upper Peninsula of Michigan

For nature lovers, the Upper Peninsula is a veritable playground. In warm weather, there’s hiking, boating, kayaking, climbing, all the activities that come with thousands of miles of wilderness.

In winter, there’s snowshoeing, downhill, and cross-country skiing and the U.P.s 2500 miles of snowmobiling trails making it one of the sport’s most popular destinations.

Other draws are miles of freshwater shoreline, stunning waterfalls, and a slew of historical sites worth exploring including (my favorite) abandoned mines, buildings, and turn of the century ghost towns.

View from the Brockway Mountain Overlook one of teh best places for Mi Fall colors
View from one of the Brockway Mountain Drive lookouts

Road Trip Route Overview

I put together a 10-day tasting-menu itinerary, spending one to three days in each location in a loose counterclockwise circumnavigation of the peninsula. 

My idea was to photograph and enjoy the fall colors in a variety of different settings, as well as take in some of the more touristy sights thrown in for good measure. And though it rained nearly every day, I still had a good time.

You can follow my trip as is, or slice and dice it to focus on your specific interests! 


Bloomfield Hills to Petoskey (1 night) --> Trout Lake (2-night) --> Munising (1 night) --> Calumet (3 nights) --> Silver City ( 1 night ) --> Escanaba ( 1 night ) —> St. Ignace (1 night) --> Home


Petoskey (Day 1)

The small town of Petoskey––named after the Ottawa Indian Chief Pe-to-se-ga––was my first stop. Granted it isn’t quite the Upper Peninsula, but if you’re coming from southern Michigan, the lakeside resort community is a perfect spot for a first stop.

From my home 50 miles outside of Detroit, the drive north is a visually boring four to five hours along I-75. (Thank goodness I had some good podcasts to listen to.) At the four-hour mark, I was antsy to get out of the car and start the fun part of the trip. Plus, I’d been there before with family and it was a known quantity.

A Little History

Petoskey’s sits on the shore of Lake Michigan’s Little Traverse Bay, and in the late nineteenth century, it was a logging mecca and a summer getaway for the wealthy.

Today, lumber no longer feeds the city, but it’s still a beloved vacation spot and it doesn’t take much to imagine the town as a backdrop for a Hallmark special. Bay View, a neighborhood lined with more than 400 beautiful Victorian homes, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Gaslight District has been the city’s shopping center for over a century. You’ll find independent specialty boutiques, locally-sourced, foodie-favorite cafés and restaurants, and galleries featuring the works of local craftsmen and artisans.

City Park Grill

I arrived in town around 2 pm after a late start and went straight to City Park Grill on the ground floor of one of the city’s oldest buildings (circa 1875).

When the restaurant was first built, it was McCarthy Hall, a billiard hall slash gentlemen’s club, an early 20th-century man-cave serving “intoxicating beverages” and fine cigars. In the 20s, it was known as The Annex, where a young Ernest Hemingway who summered at nearby Walloon Lake with his family, was often seen imbibing on the second barstool from the left at the massive 32-foot long mahogany bar that still stands today, under the original ornate tin ceiling.

A basket of fish & chips on the bar at City Park Grill in Petoskey
My yummy fish & chips at the City Park Grill in Petoskey

Between social distancing and the odd time of day, I had much of the place to myself. Starving, I hunkered down at the bar and devoured the Shorts Beer Batter Fish & Chips, expertly prepared with a light, extra-crispy crust, paired with a thirst-quenching ice-cold beer.

Here’s the menu if you’d like to peruse it yourself.

Kilwins Chocolate Factory

After lunch, my plans to explore fall foliage in the area were thwarted by an angry, wet sky. Honestly, I wasn’t that disappointed. The rain gave me the perfect excuse to visit Kilwins Chocolate Factory.

Kilwin’s makes the best fudge anywhere and I felt it was my duty to buy a half-pound slice of sea salt caramel fudge––you know, supporting local businesses and all that.

Kilwin's Factory in Petoskey MI
Inside Kilwin’s Factory in Petoskey MI

Entering Michigan’s Wonka wonderland I was met with the warm, sweet smell of fresh off-the-griddle waffle cones.

Kilwin’s “original recipe” ice-cream is right up there with Haagen Daz, but the delectable ice-cream and fudge are only a few of the hundreds of homemade candies and confections they make and sell. Be forewarned, you’ll gain 10lbs just walking in the door.

Where I Stayed

On my first night, I knew I’d have to leave very early the next morning, therefore I didn’t want to spend a lot on a hotel I’d barely spend time in. I chose the Best Western in Harbor Springs, a 10-minute drive north of Petoskey. Nothing fancy but a nice, clean, comfortable, place to overnight.


Trout Lake (Day 2 – 3)

Researching my trip, I picked out a few “must-see” spots it made sense, logistically, to visit at the beginning of my trip: Tahquamenon Falls, Fiborn Quarry, Whitefish Point Lighthouse, and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum.

Homebase: Birch Lodge & Motel

I booked the next two days at the Birch Lodge & Motel on the shore of Trout Lake.

The lodge is on the National Registry of Historic Places and within an hour’s (or less) drive from every place I wanted to see. I’m a fan of boutique hotels, and from its website, the lodge’s 20-acre grounds on the water looked like a fall foliage destination of its own.

A Brief History of Birch Lodge

In 1911, Edgar D. Ford and his wife, Cornelia built the lodge as a retreat for tuberculosis patients, naming it the Birch Lodge Hospital and Summer Resort Sanitarium.

In the early ’20s, new ownership focused on it becoming a “first-class” resort. By the ’60s, the proprietors added an eight-room mid-century design, brick motel next door––an eclectic addition to say the least.

By the mid-2000s, the property fell into disrepair. Yet, over the last three years, the lodge and motel’s current owners (two couples––one with a history in hospitality, the other architects with expertise in historic renovation) have lovingly restored the buildings and property.

M-28 highway in MIchigan with trees covered in beautiful fall foliage at their peak. A very special road trip
On my way to Soo Junction to make my cruise, M-28 had some of the prettiest fall colors in Michigan

Though the design and decor are historically inspired, the inn offers the modern amenities you’d expect from luxury accommodations, including complimentary wi-fi, high-end linens, private bathrooms, complimentary snacks, an honor bar, and mini-fridge, plus cozy terrycloth robes and slippers.

Tahquamenon Falls

Tahquamenon Falls in Paradise, Mi is the most popular of the area’s sights. Two falls four miles apart along the river of the same name, lure thousands of visitors from far and wide. The upper falls are the largest east of the Mississippi. At 200 feet across and a 50-foot drop, the falls spill 50 thousand gallons of water per second.

Upper Tahquamenon Falls surrounded by the Upper peninsula's fall colors. A very popular attraction on a road trip.
Upper Tahquamenon Falls | Photo: Eric Hackney

The lower falls, spectacular in its own right, is comprised of five cascading falls.

The most common access is through the Tahquamenon Falls State Park. Visitors park then walk 10 to 15-minutes on a forest trail leading to a large viewing platform. I chose to try something different.

Trolley Ride and Riverboat Tour

I read about an all-day (6.5 hours) Tahquamenon Falls Trolley Ride and Riverboat Tour that sounded fun. Visitors ride the longest 24″ gauge railroad five and a half miles through the countryside, followed by a two-hour cruise on the two-deck ferry Hiawatha to the falls, with an hour and fifteen minutes to take in the sights. Then back the same way.

On the Trolley on the way to the Tahquamenon Falls River
On the Trolley on the way to the Tahquamenon River

The green seven-car trolley with yellow accents was all kitsch. Think an adult-sized kiddie train.

Slowly, and I do mean slowly, we chugged through the forest. An hour later, we reached the Tahquamenon River where our boat the Hiawatha waited to ferry us to the falls.

There was an enclosed first deck with a grill and snack bar offering a reprieve from the elements. The second-floor seats were open-air but covered. Seating outdoors was available on the sides, bow, and stern.

The autumn colors were beautiful during our 2-hour journey. The captain, over a loudspeaker, was our interpreter. Along the way, he pointed out birds, provided local color and history, and spoke about the area’s known wildlife.

Upper falls and people standing on the viewing platform reached through the Tahquamenon State Park
Upper falls view from the trolley / cruise viewing platform

Once at the falls, we hiked a good 15-20 minutes along a dirt trail through the woods before the upper falls were visible. Two separate viewing platforms offered the opportunity to see the falls from the top as well as from below.

In my opinion, the trip was too long. I didn’t mind going to the falls, as everything was new. But having to retrace our steps at such a slow speed to get back to the car park, was too much.

Pricing

Adults – $49

Children (4-15) – $27

Seniors (62+) – $45

Under 4 – Free

Note: If Covid is still impacting our travel decisions next year, you may want to pass on the trolley and cruise. While the company’s website stated that it was reducing the number of people to promote social distancing, they didn’t. We were packed into the trolley but because people wore masks and the train was not enclosed, I let it go.

On the Hiawatha, I stayed outside. However, there were multiple families inside seated in the enclosed grill area who were not wearing masks and the staff didn’t enforce it. That was disappointing.

One of the Fiborn quarry crusher tunnels on the left with the railroad storage house on the right
One of two crusher railroad tunnels is on the left with the railroad storage house on the right

Fiborn Quarry

I love abandoned places. I love the history, the mystery, and being face to face with a different era. Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has dozens of old mines, ghost towns, and barns.

Back in the day (the day being the late 19th early 20th centuries) the U.P. rocked with logging and mining interests that drew immigrant workers from around the world.

Cities quickly grew during the peak years but were quickly deserted when profits plummeted and mines closed.

The Fiborn Quarry (now part of the Fiborn Karst Preserve) was known for its unusually pure limestone which was mined, crushed, and shipped for use in steelmaking from 1905 until 1936.

At its height, the quarry was its own town in the middle of nowhere. It boasted a company store, boarding house, 15 family homes, a post office, and a school built for the small and isolated community.

Only eight or so miles from the Birch Lodge & Motel, I arrived at the quarry in the early morning not sure what I’d find. A sign and a gate forbade any vehicles from entering. The only way to explore was by foot.

Peeking out from under a wide gravel path, I could see remnants of old railroad ties. I later learned railroad cars transported large limestone rocks from the quarry to a massive crusher. All that is left is the crusher’s foundation made up of two tunnels where the trains were loaded and unloaded.

Next to the crusher foundation are ruins of the powerhouse, which looked to have been carved out of the limestone. Only bits of the interior walls still stand.

Farther in and to the left, the old railroad car storage building still stands and is the most intact of all of the structures.

In addition to the archeological remains, two trails within the preserve: The Barbara Ann Patrie Memorial Trail and the Dr. Rane L. Curl Sinkhole Trail lead to sinkholes and caves but like the ruins, don’t expect any facilities here. You venture at your own peril. It’s not a place you want to take children.

Note: Be sure to wear heavy-soled shoes; there’s a lot of debris on the ground.

Whitefish Point & Lighthouse

At the tip of a candy kiss-shaped peninsula at the northernmost point of the Upper Peninsula’s northeast, sits the Whitefish Point Light Station where Lake Superior and Whitefish Bay converge. Built in 1861, it’s the oldest lighthouse on Lake Superior and arguably the most critical. Coming or going, all ships must pass this way.

Closeup of stones and the shore of Whitefish Point during a storm

The waters here are so treacherous its nickname is The Graveyard of the Great Lakes, and over the years many men lost their lives.

Cue Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

On November 10, 1975, the 26,000-ton steamer Edmund Fitzgerald and her entire crew of 29 men sank under mysterious circumstances. Though the ship was taking on water, the captain radioed “We are holding our own.” Minutes later the steamer disappeared from radar. All were lost.

To this day, no one knows exactly why she sunk.

Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum

Fittingly, Whitefish Point is where you’ll find the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, where the 200 lb bell (raised and restored) from the Edmund Fitzgerald is on display. 

The museum is made up of multiple buildings, including the lighthouse. However, due to the pandemic, only the main structure and the old lighthouse keeper’s home were open. I spent a good hour and a half looking at all the artifacts, reading about all the sunken ships, watching videos, and listening to audio clips.

The lighthouse keeper’s home has been completely restored and set up with elaborate dioramas in each room illustrating how it may have looked a century ago.

Visitors walk along the shore at Whitefish Point, in the upper Peninsula
The beach at Whitefish Point.

Afterward, I followed a narrow path to the beach in the pelting rain which seemed appropriate. The wind blew and I could see whitecaps far into the distance. Washed up logs, limbs, tree stumps, and thousands of round stones worn down by the elements––were telltale signs of the power of Mother Nature in this region. 

Whitefish Point Bird Observatory

Birder Alert!

I couldn’t work it into my schedule, but I’ve heard great things about the Bird Observatory not far from the lighthouse. Its position at the tip of the peninsula makes it a prime spot for over 340 species of migratory birds, many of them rare.

Where to Eat in Trout Lake

Other than coffee and muffins in the morning, Covid put the kibosh on in-house dining at Birch Lodge until 2021 when a restaurant will open.

For snacks, drinks, and ready-made sandwiches, the nearby country store is your best option if you’re looking to grab supplies for a busy day of exploration.

The front facade of Trout Lake Tavern
Trout Lake Tavern

In the evening, three restaurants in Trout Lake serve the small community: The Buckhorn, Trout Lake Tavern and Grill, and McGowan’s Restaurant, and Motel, all of which are within short walking distance of each other and the country store. From Birch Lodge, they are all less than a five-minute drive, clustered around the town’s single intersection.

Trout Lake Tavern & Grill

My first night, Trout Lake Tavern was the only place open. It was 6:30 pm, and I was told it would close early if there weren’t enough patrons, so I should get there ASAP.

Occupying the ground floor of an old frontier-style building, the tavern is a classic small-town dive (I say that with love) with an obligatory pink neon sign, threadbare red carpeting, a ball-worn pool table, and spotty fluorescent lighting.

The night I was there, Tom, the owner, ran the show: he was the bartender, waiter, and cook. I sat at the bar, which I typically prefer when I’m traveling alone––it’s easier to strike up a conversation than sitting at a table. But that night, I chose it because it was easier to socially distance myself there.

I ordered a cheeseburger and while I wasn’t expecting much, I was pleasantly surprised by one of the best hamburgers I’ve had in a very long time. The fries.. not so much.

Buckhorn

On my second night, Buckhorn was the only restaurant open. It’s an upscale dive with a much longer bar and less war-torn than the tavern.

At the back of the room flanking the entrance to the kitchen stood an old jukebox on one side and a vintage Pacman video game on the other. I saw the two relics and knew I’d like the place.

Eye candy was everywhere. Tacked on the walls were signed dollar bills from past patrons, “Youper” t-shirts (translation: the nickname native Upper Peninsula folks call themselves), and a myriad of signs with humorous wise-cracks, giving me plenty to look at. Baseball played on a large LCD.

I ordered a grilled cheese and onion rings. The sandwich was spot on but I really loved the onion rings. Crispy, flavorful, and not oily. Yum.

Steve, our bartender, sporting salt and pepper hair, a baseball cap, and a goatee, was a very jovial guy who kept the vibe light behind the counter.

Paula, the owner, a twig of a woman with reddish hair and black horn-rimmed glasses kept me company, at a distance, while I ate. I’m told that during non-Covid snowmobiling season, this place is rocking.


Munising (Day 4)

My fourth day was a bit of a bust. The weather went from drizzly to downright nasty. Yet oddly in such a wilderness, storms have their own beauty.

I planned to take my time driving from Trout Lake to Munising by way of Grand Marais, where I took H-58 scenic drive along the coast straight into town.

I had tickets for a sunset cruise to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, a coastline of multi-color cliffs, pinnacles, and sandstone formations.

The water churning near Hurricane River Campgrounds, one of the Upper Peninsula's State Parks
The point where the Hurricane River and Lake Superior meet

Along the way, I stopped at the Hurricane River Campground thinking I would walk to the Au Sable lighthouse along a beach trail three miles roundtrip.

I dressed up in a waterproof jacket, pants, and shoes and had my camera wrapped in plastic but when I reached the campgrounds I learned the lighthouse was closed for the season. Ugh!

I decided not to waste my hermetically sealed ensemble. The campground was at the convergence of the Hurricane River and Lake Superior which made for some dramatic photos.

The water churning near Hurricane River Campgrounds, one of the Upper Peninsula's State Parks
A view of the opposite direction from the photo above on Lake Superior

Pictured Rocks

Later, when I neared Munising, I received a text. The sunset cruise, not surprisingly, was canceled. Waves nearing 6 feet made it unsafe. I was truly disappointed.

Not wanting to have such an important attraction absent from this post. Friends and fellow bloggers Anne and Mike Howard of Honeytrek, authors of the Comfortably Wild glamping book, visited the park two weeks before me and were able to enjoy the sunset cruise in its full splendor two weeks before my visit.

Here’s what they had to say:

Mike and Anne Howard of Honeytrek
Mike and Anne Howard of Honeytrek

“With rolling dunes, stunning beach coves, and sheer cliffs, backed by hardwood forest, Pictured Rocks offers the best of Michigan. Hiking the 10-mile Chapel-Mosquito Loop felt like a treasure hunt; we’d be walking through the thick woods, then spur trails would open up to jaw-dropping vistas—be it an arch, a sea stack, or cove surrounded by turquoise Lake Superior. You’d think an all-day hike would be enough park time, but we wanted more and hopped aboard Pictured Rocks Cruises for sunset. Sailing along the base of these 200-foot-high cliffs and seeing the formations at eye-level gave us a whole new appreciation. The textured striations in greens, reds, and purples on the sandstone reminded us of a Jackson Pollack and the grand arches a work of the Romans. Then Bridalveil falls came gushing into Lake Superior and we thought, a day in the park just doesn’t get better than this.”

~Mike and Anne Howard

The Roam Inn and Tracey’s Restaurant

With my day an overall rainy bust, I was glad to check-in to my hotel, get warmed up (the rain brought some chilly winds), and have a good meal.

I checked into the Roam Inn, a small nine-room, nine-suite motel in downtown Munising with a view of Munising Bay and a few blocks west of Pictured Rocks Cruises.

The Roam is comfortable, clean, and centrally located but what makes it stand out is its in-house restaurant Tracey’s with a New York-chic vibe that belies its everyday location.

Tracey's restaurant menu at the Roam Inn in Munising, Mi

The restaurant is small yet airy and finished in pale wood. I took a seat at the small bar (no others near me) and ordered two of my favorite foods: Roasted Brussel sprouts and creamy fettuccine Alfredo. The Brussel sprouts were tossed with Rock River maple syrup, melted gruyere, and pistachios. It was A-mazing, and I’m a connoisseur. The Fettucine with cherry tomatoes and garlic pecorino was good but the appetizer was spectacular.

(I was an invited guest at the Roam Inn and Tracey’s Restaurant.)

Keweenaw Peninsula (Day 5-7)

Next stop was the Keweenaw (pronounced Key-win-naw)–––a peninsula on the peninsula. Keweenaw is the skinny northwestern finger of land jutting from the U.P.’s northwest corner. Considered one of the prettiest regions, it’s a mix of mountain views, coastal waters, and tree-lined scenic drives.

As with other areas in the U.P., jobs in mining and logging in the Keweenaw lured immigrants from Finland, Cornwall, and other European countries. In the years that followed, both industries collapsed, and many of the towns were abandoned. Today, less than 2200 full-time inhabitants live in the Keweenaw.

Laurium Manor Inn in Laurium Michigan Upper Peninsula
The front facade of Laurium Manor Inn, once known as the Hoatson House

(Top) Exterior of the Laurium Manor Inn. (Bottom photos) Views of my room number four the “Delaware.”

Laurium Manor

Homebase for my three nights stay was the Laurium Manor Inn in Calumet county, strategically located in the heart of the Keweenaw Peninsula.

Like the Birch Lodge, Laurium Manor Inn (originally the opulent home of the Thomas H. and Cornelia Hoatson wealthy copper Barrons) has a rich history, both literally and figuratively.

Front hall of Laurium Manor Inn
Front hall of Laurium Manor Inn

Built in 1908, the 13,000 square foot Edwardian Mansion is the largest of its kind in the western peninsula. In 1994, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Hoatson’s spared no expense on their four-floor, 45-room residence spending $50,000 (that’s more than $1.5 million today) with furnishings costing an additional $35,000. The family remained in the home until 1949.

The parlor / music room at the Laurium Manor Inn
The parlor / music room

Over the years, it changed hands and was a little worse for wear, but In 1989, Julie & Dave Sprenger, two engineers who loved to buy and flip properties. They fell in love with Hoatson House, restoring it then turning it into a 12-guest room inn.

When I stepped into the manor’s vestibule, a feeling of Victorian gravitas enveloped me. Moody and mysterious, the long front hall stretched before me. On a cold dark day, the only illumination came from a few lights and chandeliers.

Moldings were intricately carved, as were some of the ceilings. Other rooms were vaulted and hand-stenciled. Paintings and old photographs with elaborate old frames hung above period furniture, some authentic, others reproductions. In short, Laurium Manor resembled a set plucked from Citizen Kane.

9×14 foot stained glass window on stairway landing of Laurium Manor Inn
9×14 foot original stained glass window on the grand staircase landing
View from the mezzanine in the Laurium Manor Inn
Opposite view from the mezzanine

Climbing two flights of the manor’s carved oak grand triple staircase (there’s no elevator), I settled in room number four, the “Delaware.” In the Hoatson era, this is where the couples’ two son’s Chester & James Ramsey slept; their vintage photographs hung next to each bed.

In non-Covid times, Laurium Manor serves a full hot, sit-down breakfast with Ginger pancakes or cheesy herb eggs, for example. During the Pandemic, a paper bag breakfast is packed with either a homemade muffin or egg puffed pastry, a boiled egg, yogurt, and fresh fruit.

(I was an invited guest of Laurium Manor Inn. The sentiment is my own)


Eagle Harbor Lighthouse

My first morning in the Keweenaw, I left early to catch the sunrise on the cliffs where the 150-year-old Eagle Harber Lighthouse stands.

The drive is about 35 minutes north along a tree-lined U.S. 41. At Phoenix, I turned left onto Michigan Hwy 26 which runs along the Lake Superior Shore and is a Fall foliage windfall. Throughout my stay, I used this route when going north, as it’s one of the prettiest drives of the trip.

The four museums ( The Lighthouse, Maritime Museum, a Keweenaw History Museum, and a Commercial Fishing Museum) around The Eagle Harbor Lighthouse were closed for the season, but that didn’t stop me from taking some photos.

Eagle Harbor LIghthouse in Keweenaw County, Michigan
Eagle Harbor Lighthouse

Stormy skies to the west of the lighthouse and sunshine to the east meant I was gifted with beautiful ambient light to go with a dark dramatic background.

Perched atop storybook jagged black cliffs the red-roofed lighthouse gleamed in the sun, while the waves beneath churned and frothed against the rocks.

A slender ridge jutting into the lake to the right of the lighthouse was a perfect vantage point to photograph the spectacle though the wind nearly blew me into the water.


Copper Harbor

The next stop was Copper Harbor at the very tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, a tiny, old-fashion coastal town at the foot of Brockway Mountain. The kind with an Old Country Store, a single main road through town, and no traffic signals except a single flashing red where Michigan Hwy 26 and U.S. 41 meet.

View of the town of Copper Harbor from the Brockway Mountain lookout
View Copper Harbor from the Brockway Mountain lookout

The shops are independently owned (no chain stores) and sell handmade wares from local artisans, including weavers, potters, photographers, quilters, and such.

FYI – Thimbleberry Jam is a “thing” here. The berry is tart and delicious and only grows around Copper Harbor. Since it is very difficult to harvest. Supplies are limited.

For travelers, Copper Harbor is a favorite of outdoor enthusiasts who take full advantage of the 37-mile singletrack Copper Harbor Trail System. The trails are optimized for mountain biking but also welcome hikers, birdwatchers, snowshoers, and cross-country skiers. Sea Kayakers also flock there to paddle along the Lake Superior shoreline.

Rental equipment and shuttles, as well as chalet, house, and cottage rentals, The Keweenaw Adventure Company is the outfitter you want to check out.

Jamsen’s Fish Market & Bakery

Jamsen's Fish Market and Bakery in Copper Harbor, MI
Jamsen’s Fish Market and Bakery

For a quick snack in a great location with free outdoor WiFi, try Jamsen Fishmarket & Bakery on the waterfront. The fish market indoors was closed due to the pandemic, but an order window on the side of the lakeside blue building kept the bakery in full swing. (Note: Long socially distant lines are not unusual.) If it’s a nice day, picnic tables near the water await.

Goodies include homemade donuts, muffins, scones, turnovers, and “Big Cookies. Flavors change regularly but I can highly recommend the pear-ginger scones and the blueberry muffins.

Places I Heard Great Things About

For fine dining, Julie Sprenger from Laurium Manor raved about the Harbor Hause Restaurant serving local fish and seafood, steaks, and other hearty delectables. Unfortunately, with the pandemic and social distancing considerations, I couldn’t finagle a reservation.

However, I took the opportunity to peek inside. The dining room was bright and beautiful, featuring a wall of windows overlooking Lake Superior. It’s definitely on my list for my next visit.

For military history lovers, one mile east of town on U.S. 41 in Fort Wilkin’s Historic State Park, where you’ll find camping facilities (advanced reservations required) and the restored 1844 military outpost with costumed interpreters (closed during Covid) to give you a sense of what it was like to live there in the late nineteenth century.

Brockway Mountain Drive

Brockway Mountain Drive is one of the best places to see Michigan Fall colors
Brockway Mountain Drive

Brockway Mountain Drive is a scenic route that parallels Hwy 26 but winds through the mountains as the name suggests, and it’s worth driving if you’re game for some of Michigan’s glorious Fall colors.

The rain was a bonus on this day because, for much of its narrow length, the black tar road reflected the colors of the trees.

At one point, I jumped out of the car in my rain gear, running into the middle of the road to take pictures, then scrambled back to avoid being hit. I went back and forth at least 10 times.

View from an overlook on Brockway Mountain Drive is one of the best places to see Michigan Fall colors

Heading north on HWY 26 from Eagle Harbor, you can pick up Brockway Mountain Drive on your right, just after you pass. I chose to wait and drive it back after my time in Copper Harbor, effectively making an ellipse. If you want to do the same, pick up Brockway Mountain Road off of Hwy 26 a little less than a quarter-mile before you hit town. There’s a large sign on the right you can’t miss.

From there you’ll go up a steep windy road but pretty quickly you’ll come upon a spacious bi-level lookout on your left (see photo above at the beginning of the Copper Harbor Section). There’s a small parking lot, but people also park along the road if it’s clear. From here you have a panoramic view of the town, Lake Superior, and miles of Michigan’s fall colors.

(Please note: there are no traffic lights and few side roads of the southern 3/4 of Brockway Mountain Road. Once you’re on, it may take a few miles before you can turn around. The shoulder is also non-existent except in a few places so be on the lookout.)

The Jam Pot

The outside of the Jampot in Keweenaw
The famous Jampot owned and operated by Byzantine monks

If you’re interested in holy jam, jellies, preserves, flavored butter, confections, or yummy fresh-baked goods, leave some time in your schedule for The JamPot.

You’ll find the tiny store on a curve between Phoenix and Eagle Harbor on Highway 26 on the right-hand side. It’s owned and operated by Byzantine monks, and is open seasonally from May through mid-October; Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

It is a VERY POPULAR shop. Expect a line.

Inside, you’ll find classic flavors such as Wild blueberry and cherry jams along with more exotic tastes like thimbleberry, apricot raspberry, choke-cherry, and Apple Pincherry jelly. I bought several jars of jam and brought them home for friends.


Quincy Mine

I couldn’t to copper country and not visit a historical mine. A half-hour south of Laurium Manor off U.S. 41 is the historic Quincy Mine, which operated primarily between 1846 and 1945. 

Initially, I thought the interpretation and tour might be boring, but I was wrong. It was fascinating. 

I don’t know the acreage of the property, but it’s big. You can walk around the exteriors of several buildings in different levels of deterioration for free, which was right up my alley. I spent close to two hours having fun photographing all the structures. 

Quincy Mine guide inside the drift mine leading a tour
During our tour, our guide walked backward as he explained how the mine worked.

For a guided tour, I opted for the comprehensive option that included exploring a real mine. (Depending on Covid some tours or buildings may not be open.) 

The first stop was inside the Nordberg Steam Hoist building, where the world’s largest steam-powered hoist engine sits in all its glory. Completed in 1920, this hoist made it possible for the Quincy Mining Company to extend its No. 2 Shaft 92 levels underground, at a 55-degree incline distance of nearly two miles. 

The building is fully restored and in its heyday was one of the first large reinforced concrete buildings built. Nearly five stories high, it has no interior supporting columns.

The tour went through the evolution of technology used in extracting copper and moving hundreds of men in and out of the ground.

In particular, the Man Engine, an escalator-ish contraption powered by the hoist, was particularly interesting. It shuttled the men up and down faster than they could make it climbing ladders stretching for two miles. A lot less rigorous too.

Outside mine shaft #2 at the Quincy Mine during upper peninsula's fall colors
Outside mine shaft #2

Our tour also included a visit to an authentic drift mine (a drift mine means it runs horizontally. A shaft mine is vertical). It was a test mine back in the day and didn’t produce a lot of copper. Today, it is used for educational purposes for mining students at Michigan Tech and historical tours.

The drift entrance and tunnels are wide enough now to drive a car in, but in the beginning, the openings were significantly smaller (think double the size of a manhole) and workers had to crouch to enter.  

The men worked solely by the light of two candles. However, the workers were responsible for supplying the candles, so many men worked by one candle to save money. 

Our guide turned off the string lights that illuminated the drift and lit one candle. It was frightening, I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. It must have been horrible working in that environment for years on end. 

Ticket and Tour Prices

Full Guided Tour 

Ages 6 – 12 — $20.00

Ages 13 – 54 –$40.00

Ages 55+ –$40.00 

Outside Guided Tour Only

Ages 6 – 12 — $20.00

Ages 13 – 54 –$40.00

Ages 55+ –$40.00

Where to Eat in Calumet

Carmelitas was a godsend. By the end of a long day, I was so tired, and the restaurant was a convenient five-minute drive. Sitting down to a margarita, chips, and salsa, and a spicy enchilada was just what the doctor ordered.

I had to eat inside, but the room’s size made it easy to sit more than six-feet apart from anyone else, and all the staff wore masks.


Silver City (Porcupine Mtns) (Day 8-9)

The Lake of the Clouds from the Porcupine Mountains Overlook at Sunset
The Lake of the Clouds from the Porcupine Mountains Overlook at Sunset

Lake of the Clouds

Heading Southwest from Keweenaw to Silver City near the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park (or “Porkies”), I had one thing on my mind: Lake of the Clouds. An oblong body of water cradled by a ring of mountains carpeted by thousands of trees.

The prime spot for photos is an overlook that’s a straight shot down M-107 and maybe a 10-minute drive if that from where I stayed. Just take 107 until you arrive at the state park entrance. Once through, it’s another couple hundred yards to the parking lot.

Silhouettes of photographers standing on an escarpment facing west at sunset
Other enthusiastic photographers shooting Lake of the Clouds at sunset

There’s a wooden pathway leading to a rocky escarpment with a safety railing. Though, few people stayed behind it. Including me. The wide rock ledge was very large and easy to navigate. I had plenty of room to photograph the lake below.

I arrived before sunset, as did 50 or 60 other people. Thankfully, there was plenty of room for social distancing and everyone I saw wore masks. Sunset over the Lake of the Clouds is a nightly ritual for locals and visitors alike.

As the sun descended, I moved my tripod to different locations on the escarpment. Surprisingly, the colors hadn’t peaked yet. Apparently, trees turn from the center of the peninsula, which becomes colder first, then fans out to the shoreline.

Colorful fall trees with a river running through it - view is aerial
The view at sunrise at Lake of the Clouds

Considering rain had been following me throughout my journey, I was thrilled mother nature saw fit to give me a gorgeous sky reflecting off the water.

The next morning, I woke up early to capture the sunrise, which delivered a completely different visual experience. At that hour, the sun lighting up the forest foliage is the scene.

Where to Stay /Eat in Ontonagon

I stayed at the Americinn by Wyndham in Silver City, as I mentioned, a hop, skip, and a jump, from the porkies. And while I didn’t take advantage of all the outdoor activities available, this is a great area for summer and winter adventures.

The motel was perfectly acceptable. A clean room, comfortable bed, in-house restaurant (though it was closed because of the pandemic), and reasonably priced.

So, where to eat? In truth, I don’t have a great answer here. The only place open was called the Konteka Motel Restaurant Lounge and Bowling Alley. The lounge was open, and there were some people without masks, which made me uncomfortable. Thankfully, the room was huge allowing me to sit far from them. Since it was the only place open, it was fine. However, I wouldn’t be inclined to recommend it. When the Americinn restaurant opens again, I’m told that’s the best choice.


Drive to Escanaba (Day 9)

After watching the sunrise over Cloud Lake, I began heading east. Along the way, I had a few stops to make.

Bond Falls

Bond Falls, Ontonagon, MI
Bond Falls

Bond Falls is in southern Ontonagon, about an hour from Silver City. A jumble of fractured rock transforms the Ontonagon River into dozens of beautiful cascades. A large boardwalk provides six different vantage points. A roadside parking lot and a sprinkle of picnic tables, made me wish I’d brought my lunch.

The Serendipity of a Dilapidated Barn

Between Bond Falls and Escanaba, I came across an old decrepit barn on the verge of collapse. Of course, I had to stop and photograph it. That’s the great thing about road trips, especially when you’re solo. You can stop and dally anywhere you want for as long as you want.

Where to Stay / Eat in Escanaba

Nearing the end of my road trip touring Upper Michigan’s Fall colors, I decided to treat myself to a fancy dinner. A friend recommended the StoneHouse Restaurant & Lounge, a five-minute drive from the Comfort Inn & Suites where I was an invited guest. I had a delicious strip steak and a glass of wine. That said, the restaurant was too crowded for me so I ate quickly and went to the hotel where I crashed.


Last Day: Drive to St. Ignace (Day 10)

On my last day in the U.P., my final stop was the Fayette Historic State Park before making the long drive to St. Ignace for the night.

Fayette Historic State Park (Day 10)

A view to the "White House" where the iron mine's superintendent lived in Fayette. Pluse beautiful upper peninsula, michigan fall colors
A view to the “White House” where the iron mine’s superintendent lived

Walk down the path from the visitor’s center toward the over 20 historic buildings that mark the once-thriving iron-smelting community of Fayette, and you’re stepping back in time to one of the most successful industrial towns of the late 1800s.

It’s hard to imagine that in 1867, Fayette Brown, the Jackson Iron Company’s general manager in Cleveland, Ohio, could have chosen a better location for his namesake community than at the base of the hooked-shape peninsula in the southern U.P.

With Lake Michigan’s Big Bay de Noc on one side of Fayette, the iron had transport, while Snail Shell Harbor protected ships in port from the Lake’s turbulent waters. (Looking closely, you can see decayed pilings from the original pier under the water.) Limestone from the harbor’s cliffs was used to purify the iron and miles of cedar trees surrounding Fayette fueled the furnaces.

Outside the Shelton House Hotel in Fayette
Outside the Shelton House Hotel

Many of the buildings are restored, some have furnished dioramas behind glass to represent the style of the time, whereas others were empty but I could explore.

A grand, two-story white Victorian house perched on a hill overlooking Fayette welcomed six superintendents and their families throughout the town’s history.

The Shelton House Hotel was known for its “Brussels carpets, marble top tables, and silverware.”

About the dining room, a guest once wrote, ‘” The table is abundantly supplied with the best this section of the planet affords,” according to one of the informational plaques.”‘

Old pilings underwater in Snail Shell harbor at Fayette State Park
Ancient pilings in Snail Shell Harbor from the old docks of yore.

In Fayette, different neighborhoods were separated by a central business district. The more educated tradesman and supervisors lived in small but lovely homes, while the everyday workers occupied huts spread out along the waterline.

I recommend giving yourself at least an hour and a half to walk through all the buildings––two hours if you like to read all the interpretive signage. Guided tours are offered from mid-June through August, but you can walk around any time.

What If You’re Not Into Fayette History?

You don’t have to be a history nut to enjoy Fayette Historic State Park. On its 711 acres, a beach, harbor slips, a boat launch, picnic tables, five miles of hiking/cross-country skiing trails (views from the limestone cliffs are are spectacular), make it a worthy destination without the look back in time.

I was surprised to learn that during certain times of the day, and with the proper permit, visitors are allowed to scuba dive to explore the harbor’s artifacts. But, Don’t’ touch!

The visitor center off the parking lot contains a gift shop that sells snacks and ice cream.

Admission

Free with a Michigan State Parks Recreation Passport (see below).


Where I stayed in St. Ignace

The drive from Fayette to St. Ignace is long ( 3-4 hrs), and I took it at a leisurely pace. That night, I stayed at the Bavarian Hause Lakefront Inn of which I was an invited guest. It was pleasant and clean and had a balcony facing the water.

In the morning, it was a couple of miles to the Mackinac Bridge, and a straight shot south down I-75.

My Michigan road trip had come to an end!


Things You Should Know About Road Tripping in the UP

Road Trip Help

Look here for The Best Road Trip Packing List For A Grand Adventure. Or if you haven’t been on a road trip before try this A Beginner’s Guide to Planning an Extraordinary Road Trip.)

How to Get To Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

If you have any plans for lower michigan, the main airport is Detroit Metro. From there it will take 5-6 hours to reach the Mackinac Bridge, straigtht up I-75

Covid precautions

Before making plans, please contact attractions and accommodations ahead of time to see verify whether they are open or have altered their online schedule.

The staff at every store, museum, restaurant, etc. wore masks. That said at least 30% of patrons/visitors in the U.P did not wear masks.

Be Prepared

Don’t count on AAA or nearby garages to help you out, they are few and far between. Make sure you have a spare tire and an emergency kit, including bottled water.

A friend suggested I never let my gas tank dip below half-full. It was a good idea.

Internet and Cell Service

Do NOT count on the internet or cell service. Even within hotels, it can be sketchy. When driving in-between locations it’s downright non-existent.

How to Access State Parks

For all of Michigan’s State Parks, tourists are REQUIRED to have a “Recreation Passport” if they are entering with a motor vehicle. For the state’s residents, the fees are included in vehicle registration. For non-residents, you can pay $34.00 for a year-long pass or $9.00 per day.

Money

Always have cash on hand. Not every place takes credit cards, and you’ll need it to cross the Mackinac Bridge.

Crazy Driver Alert

Once you hit the Upper Peninsula, you’ll be on two-lane roads. Don’t let that fool you, locals with big trucks drive it like they are on the autobahn, rain or shine. I just veered toward the shoulder and they raced by.

Crazy Deer Alert

Do deer run out in the middle of the road. Yes. I almost hit a deer in the dead of night. Don’t count on lights illuminating back roads, and even some main roads.

Finding Your Way

It’s very easy to find your way between locations. The truth only a few main roads connect cities. Just make sure to download Google maps or have a paper version on hand because it’s unlikely you’ll your phone will have service.


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6 thoughts on “10-Day Roadtrip: Michigan’s Glorious Upper Peninsula

  1. John Guzowski says:

    As a Yooper gone bad (left the area after graduating college), I enjoyed your post as it made me aware of some things that I didn’t know about the U.P. On a similar note, some things that I don’t often see mentioned about travel in the U.P. are the Sylvania Forest Visitors Center in Watersmeet (and Sylvania itself), the Iron County Historical Museum in Caspian, the George Young Resort in Iron River/Crystal Falls, Pine Mountain Ski Resort in Iron Mountain (there’s also an underground Iron Mine tour and Cornish Pump here, too), and the state run Iron Mining Museum near Ishpeming/Negaunee/Marquette.
    Travel during the time of Covid is difficult but queriticin zinc, tonic water, and Xlear nasal spray make it more bearable. If you’re extra paranoid just tell your doctor you’re worried about malaria while traveling the U.P. -;) and ask for a Z-pac.

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      Hi John!

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. I have noted the other destinations you mentioned for a future trip. I appreciate the recommendations, as do my readers, I’m sure. Have a great day!

  2. lilisar says:

    Hi, Susan, your post is a great pleasure as always, but the more so because of the travel restrictions and the dreary winter weather here in southern Germany. I just can’t wait to be able to travel again – my wanderlust being reduced to reading, watching videos and studying books… Your lively descriptions take me on the road for at least half an hour of wonder! Then again, I guess this last year was especially difficult for you as a professional traveller, plus the loss of your Mom, so I really hope times will get better soon! All the best,
    Susanne

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it. It means a lot that you let me know.

      I’m just like you, hoping to travel sooner than later.

      And, thank you, for your kind words.

      • Stephen Dixon says:

        I enjoyed your post, and photos. Visitors can take another tour without repeating where you have been. The city of Marquette with its beautiful Presque Isle Park and a tourist park with a stand of red lines. The Dead River Falls, Sugar Loaf Mountain, Mount Marquette, Westmore Landing to Little Presque Isle hike along the Lake Superior Shore. All within ten miles of each other. Visit the court room where the court scenes of Anatomy of a Murder and many other location scenes were filmed. Just a sample of one town.
        My wife and I have had a summer place in Deerton for 35 years and still haven’t been to all the beautiful spots within an hour’s drive.
        By the way you can pick thimble berries in many spots around Marquette.
        Pick up a copy of You Wouldn’t Like it Here.

      • Susan Portnoy says:

        Thank you so much, Stephen, for your recommendations. It’s true, there are many places to explore I didn’t get to on my trip. Just leaves an opportunity for a return visit. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post and photos!

I would love to hear from you! What did you think of the post?