From Michigan's largest state park to the largest freshwater lake in the world, the Western Upper Penninsula of Michigan offers natural beauty and endless outdoor activities. Here are our top 5 favorite things to see and do in Michigan's Western UP.
1. Hike in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
Michigan's largest state park offers some of the Midwest's most stunning views and unique hiking trails. From day hikes to 40+ mile backcountry loops, the Porkies offer a variety of experiences on diverse types of trails, including wetlands (be prepared for mud!) and solid rock outcrops. Half of this 60,000-acre wilderness contains old-growth forest and also features river gorges, waterfalls, 25 miles of Lake Superior shoreline, abandoned mines, black bears, wolves, bald eagles, river otters, and more. The must-see natural attractions of the Porkies are Lake of the Clouds and the Presque Isle River area. If you have enough time for a multi-day backcountry trip, then our preferred method for reaching the Lake of the Clouds Scenic Area is on foot via the Big Carp River Trail. If a day hike fits your itinerary a bit better, then we recommend the 8.2-mile out and back Escarpment Trail. Of course, you could just take the easy way up and simply drive to it, as most do. The Presque Isle Scenic Area can also be reached by car and offers easy access and leisurely hikes to three of the park's most impressive waterfalls, the Manabezho, Manido, and Nawadaha.
For more information about hiking the Big Carp River Trail and Lake Superior Trail specifically, don't miss our Backpacking Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park post which covers a 34.5-mile loop trip we enjoyed in 2020.
2. Tour the Keweenaw Peninsula
From kayaking in Houghton to the historic mines near Calumet and Lake Superior shoreline of Copper Harbor, there are too many great things to see and do in the Keweenaw to narrow it down to just one. We recommend taking 1-2 days and simply going for a drive to soak them all in. On your way through Houghton, enjoy a pizza at The Library, a favorite among Michigan Tech University students, and get a window seat to watch boats come through the Portage Canal. If you're visiting in summer or early fall, get an even closer look at the Canal by renting a paddleboard or kayak from Portage Paddle Sports. Fans of Keweenaw Brewing Company will also need to enjoy a brew at the KBC's Houghton Tap Room while in town.
Head north up 41 and out of town to the Keweenaw National Historical Park in Calumet to learn about Copper Country's rich mining history. The town is worth driving through to admire the historic red stone buildings and other remnants of the area's mining heyday of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Next, you'll want to keep heading north to Phoenix and turn onto 26 which will provide you with a scenic 21-mile route along Lake Superior from Eagle River to Copper Harbor. Nature sanctuaries and preserves dot the route and offer opportunities for enjoyable hikes and views of the largest freshwater lake in the world. Our favorite stops along the way include the Eagle Harbor Lighthouse, Brockway Mountain Lookout, and the Mary Macdonald Preserve at Horsehoe Harbor just outside Copper Harbor.
Visiting the Keweenaw in winter? Mount Bohemia ski resort on the northeast side of the Peninsula features the best backcountry skiing and the 2nd highest vertical drop of any ski resort in the Midwest. With an average snowfall of 273 inches, it also holds the honor of having the most snow of any Midwest resort, all of which is natural and ungroomed. 90% of the trails are black, double black, or triple black diamond runs, so beginners will want to hang back and sip cocoa in the North Pole Bar & Restaurant.
We hope to visit Isle Royale National Park in the future, which can be reached by ferry from Houghton, Copper Harbor, or Grand Portage in Minnesota. It may one day replace one of our Western UP Top 5 Things to Do, until then, it remains on the bucket list!
3. Take a Stroll and Enjoy a Brew in Marquette, MI
Each time we stroll through Marquette, MI we find something new to see and do. The County Courthouse, Peter White Public Library, historic Lower Harbor Ore Dock, and campus of Northern Michigan University are just a few of the sights to explore, in addition to the numerous shops and parks. For walkers and bikers, don't miss the City Multi-Use Path which features 17 miles of paved trails in and around Marquette. We enjoy the downtown section of the path which begins near E Washington St and N Lakeshore Blvd and includes a great view of the Lower Harbor Ore Dock, passes through the harbor's parks and by the Marquette Maritime Museum, the Marquette Harbor Lighthouse, and the sandy beaches at Shiras Park where you can dip your toes in Lake Superior. You can also run or bike the path all the way out to Presque Isle Park.
For food and beverages in Marquette, we recommend the historic Vierling Restaurant & Marquette Harbor Brewery for its tasty sandwiches and blueberry wheat beer. The Ore Dock Brewing Co. is another favorite and their unique growlers make great souvenirs.
4. Explore Fayette Historic State Park & Harbor
We've visited Fayette Historic State Park & Harbor in winter and can only imagine how amazing the view and harbor would look in summer. This impressive park features a historic townsite, 5 miles of hiking and cross-country ski trails, a beach, boat launch, and picturesque limestone cliffs that surround its harbor. The company town of Fayette was established from 1867-1891 to support a highly productive iron-smelting operation. 20 historic buildings remain and include exhibits and displays showcasing the day-to-day life of the local workers and their families.
Fayette is located on the UP's Garden Peninsula which extends into Lake Michigan. You may hear locals call this area the banana belt as it can be significantly warmer than other parts of the UP due to lake-effect winds. While driving along the Peninsula you'll pass numerous modern windmills. The locals aren't too happy about their presence and we've been told by at least one Yooper that us Lower Peninsula trolls are taking their electricity, but the economic impact has benefitted the region. It will take you about 20 minutes by car to reach Fayette Historic State Park from US-2 and it's absolutely worth the trip if you are traveling near Escanaba or Manistique.
5. View the Falls and Gorge at Canyon Falls Roadside Park
Canyon Falls Roadside Park is stunning in summer or winter and we wager the best roadside park you'll ever find for its easy access to a beautiful natural wonder. The Sturgeon River runs through this small park which also features a picnic area, restrooms, an information board, and access to the North Country Trail. It's an easy 1-mile hike back to Canyon Falls where you'll walk beneath cedars and encounter a gorge of rock cliffs cut by the river. Stop for 20 minutes to stretch your legs or stay a bit longer and enjoy a picnic overlooking the falls. It's a magical place you won't want to miss if you are traveling to the Keweenaw or in the Baraga area.
Keep heading northwest on 41 to reach L'Anse and be sure to stop at Hilltop Family Restaurant for the largest and most delicious cinnamon bun in the UP!