This past July we were lucky to be able to spend a week just outside of Munising in Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula. As a lifelong resident of the Mitten state and a fan of all that it has to offer- the lakes, the beaches, the wilderness, and the city life (if that’s what you crave!)- I was embarrassed to say I had never really spent time exploring the beauty and adventure that our UP has to offer. It seemed too remote and desolate for me, I was worried a lack of things to do would lead to boredom for our 4 and 6 year old daughters (and we all know what boredom leads to!) AND I was worried it would be a let down to our typical summer vacation to a beautiful private island on the coast of South Carolina. I was wrong. SO wrong. The tranquility, the slow pace, being emerged in and surrounded by nothing but nature was exactly what this little family of mine needed. Follow along our Upper Peninsula adventures as we crammed in the most we could in just 6 days.
Upper Peninsula Adventures Day 1:
Mackinaw Bridge- As we ventured north, our girls were SO excited to cross the majestic Mackinaw Bridge (the 3rd longest suspension bridge in the US!) for their first time. Their squeals and giggles filled the car as they peered over the edge of the window into the merging waters of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron and asked “what’s that lake? Is that Mackinaw Island? “Look at the ferries!” and of course “Are we there yet!?”
Manley’s Smoked Fish– After crossing the bridge it was time for lunch, we stopped just on the other side in St. Ignace for some famous Manley’s Smoked Fish. There was a great variety of fish to choose from, along with other items like sleeves of Ritz crackers, jerky and my must have, cheese curds. Manley’s can’t be missed, just look for the little smoke house covered in Packers green and yellow…your nose will lead you there!
Tahquamenon Falls -After filling our bellies up (and grabbing some extra smoked fish for the road!) we drove about an hour and 20 minutes to Tahquamenon Falls. Just a short walk to the falls on an easily accessible paved trail led us to one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi. There were was plenty of room on multiple platforms to view the upper falls from, which is almost 200 feet across and has a drop of almost 50 feet. There was a great visitors center, an awesome brewery and gift shop at the entrance to the park that is definitely worth checking out!
Oswald’s Bear Ranch-Just a 20 minute drive from Tahquamenon Falls led us to our last stop before arriving at our cabin on Sixteen Mile Lake just south of Munising. Oswald’s Bear Ranch is the largest bear ranch in the United States. We arrived only 20 minutes before close at 4:00 pm, so be sure to check the hours beforehand if you plan on going. Even with only 20 minutes, we still had ample time to hop in line for a picture of ourselves feeding a bear cub and check out a few other adult bears feeding. Find out more at www.oswaldsbearranch.com.
Upper Peninsula Adventures Day 2:
Pictured Rocks Cruise– For us, the waters looked the calmest for the week our first full day there, so we opted to grab tickets online the night before for the Pictured Rocks Cruise. We were unsure for quite awhile if we wanted to just view the National Lakeshore from the trails, or go ahead and purchase tickets to view the Pictured Rocks and Bridal Falls from a two and a half hour round trip cruise. And we are SO glad we opted for the cruise! I am not exaggerating in any way in saying that you feel like you are in a totally different country, far away from the shores of Michigan. The turquoise waters, the multicolored sandstone that makes up the massive cliffs and jut out in every direction- you won’t be able to take your eyes off the amazing landscape that surrounds you. worth.every.penny.
The Duck Pond Eatery– Two and a half hours on the water made us hungry! We drove to Christmas, just outside of Munising to eat at the Duck Pond Eatery (their fish tacos were delish!) They also have Chubby Mary’s on the menu here- a Bloody Mary with a smoked chub in it- of course we bought my dad one for him and my mom’s anniversary (they deserve lots more than that for putting up with us on their anniversary!).
Horseshoe Falls– Horseshoe Falls was unbelievably close to downtown Munising. There was a fee to enter ($12 for a car of up to 4 people), which you pay in the gift shop, but with all of the little added bonuses you encounter along the way, it was totally worth it. They have a fun Gnome scavenger hunt for the kids which kept my girls busy and engaged, there was an area to feed HUGE rainbow trout (bring your quarters!) and we had the whole place to ourselves. The quite, short walk to the falls was quaint and serene. Definitely a must do.
Munising Falls- Located near the hospital, it was just a short hike up an 800 foot paved trail to the fall with a 50 foot drop- quick and easy to reach!
Wagner Falls- A nice boardwalk through the woods leads you to Wagner Fall’s picturesque scenery. A nice, easy walk for a great, up close view of the fall.
Alger Falls- Alger Falls is a small, 15 foot roadside fall right before you get to Munising- don’t blink or you’ll miss it as you’re driving by! Not as easy to explore (trust me, I tried!) but definitely worth stopping to view and snap a picture of.
Upper Peninsula Adventures Day 3:
Miners Falls- From the parking lot, the hike along a gravel trail to Miner’s Falls was 1.2 miles round-trip (I’m not going to lie, it felt much longer!). Although it was a bit of a hike to get to the falls, the views once there were absolutely stunning. This was my favorite waterfall we visited while in the UP (although each time we went to a new one-13 in all- I quickly changed my mind and said that one was now my favorite- they truly are all so unique and different!). One of my favorite parts was was climbing down the steep, jagged slope under the viewing platform to stand right below the falls. It was a workout to get down there (and even more so to get back up!) but entirely worth it to get that close to something so amazingly beautiful.
Miners Castle and Miners Beach- We packed a picnic (we never left the cabin without plenty of snacks, water and bug spray in the car first!) to eat at Miners Castle and Miners Beach which was less than a 5 minute drive from Miners Falls. This was also our first taste of Lake Superior- and it was COLD! We had fun looking for unique rocks as we ventured up and down the beach before heading back to the car. Miners Castle offered a couple of different, easily accessible look out points for some great views of Lake Superior and the Pictured Rocks.
Muldoon’s Pasties– A “yooper” tradition! Pasties are meat pies, usually made with chicken or beef, that contain vegetables such as potatoes, onions, rutabaga and carrots- and are often topped with gravy or ketchup. We love us some pasties around our house so of course we had to stop and get one! We were not disappointed! They were very busy when we stopped but the service was fast- we got a few to eat outside the store on their picnic tables and we also got a few frozen to eat for dinner one night back at the cabin.
Upper Peninsula Adventures Day 4:
Memorial and Tannery/Olson Falls- These waterfalls (there are two) were the hardest for us to find- because they were in the least likely location- right next to a subdivision on a city street! We almost gave up looking for them (the entrance to the trail was right in front of our eyes the whole time!) but thank goodness we didn’t- breathtaking views and an amazing hike! This was definitely one of the longer and more involved hikes of the trip-it was a workout- but nothing that my four and six year old daughters (and almost 70 year old dad!) couldn’t handle. Both trails were well marked, and Tannery Falls was one that you could easily explore by going under and behind the fall- be prepared to get wet!
Johnny Dogs– The long hike had our tummies rumbling and we found just the place. Johnny Dogs is a great little eclectic hot dog joint in downtown Munising that you can’t miss. They have soups, sandwiches, burgers and at least fifty different kinds of hot dogs! I tried one that had sauerkraut, a pickle and spicy brown mustard on it- to die for.
Scotts Falls- This was one of the smaller falls we saw, but is right on the roadside so an easy stop. Scotts Falls has a drop of about 10 feet and was very easily accessible- just a few feet from your car to the falls! Worth stopping at if you’re in the area.
Au Train Falls– This was another one of my favorites, it had a very different look to it than the rest of the falls, with the cascading rocks that almost create a natural stairway for you to explore. We had a lot of fun walking up and down this fall and were even successful in catching and releasing a few small brook trout!
Upper Peninsula Adventures Day 5:
Laughing Whitefish Falls- This was a bit of a drive for us from our cabin but we are so glad we made the drive- about a 20 minute hike downhill leads you to the tallest waterfall in the Upper Peninsula with a cascade of 100 feet. There are LOTS of stairs to climb down to get to the base of the fall, and the climb back up is even more difficult- but if you can make it it is SO worth it! I’m going to say it again, this was another one of my favorite falls. We could have stayed here all day and played in the limestone gorge at the base of the falls.
Swimming at the mouth of the Au Train River- On our way back to the cabin we stopped at what looked like a busy, popular swimming destination. It happened to be the mouth of the AuTrain river and it was the perfect swimming spot for kids! The river was very clear and shallow (and warm!) we easily spent a few hours here and the girls were having a blast.
Upper Peninsula Adventures Day 6:
Kitch-iti-kipi (“Big Spring”)- Located just outside of Manistique at Palms Book State Park, you will find Michigan’s largest spring. There is a glass bottom observation raft that is on a cable, which allows you to venture out into the spring for great views into the crystal clear water where you will spot such things as “sand clouds”, giant trout, ancient tree trunks and the bubbling springs.
Clyde’s Drive In- Manistique– We had wanted to stop at the Clyde’s on our way into the UP just as we crossed the bridge (supposedly it’s bad luck if you don’t stop?!), but the line was wrapped around the building- so we were excited to find out that there was also one in Manistique! They had the best burgers and shakes we have ever had-my hubby even ventured out and ordered a buffalo burger. The company at Clyde’s was just as good as the food- the people at Clyde’s made you feel like you were family- we were even lucky to sit next to Mudcat, a famous local who kept us entertained with his stories (we still use the Mudcat pen he gifted us everyday!)
One of my biggest fears prior to visiting the Upper Peninsula was that there wouldn’t be enough to do to keep my girls occupied- but it was quite the opposite problem we ended up having! There was TOO much to do! We left with a couple things on our list that we just weren’t able to get to. By the end of each night, from both the long hikes and the copious amounts of fresh air- my girls were out COLD (so were we!). If you are an adventure seeking, nature loving family like us- you have to put Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on your bucket list.
Are you looking for the perfect travel companion for your kid’s adventures in Michigan? Be sure to check out the new children’s book Benson’s Adventures in Michigan! Throughout Benson’s Adventures in Michigan, Benson travels to Michigan landmarks and vacation destinations that are ranked among the top places to visit in the world. Benson stops in 10 Michigan cities and in each city he stops in, he spends time in 2 locations. My girls were so excited to make so many connections to cities we’ve visited throughout this book, and start a list of more Michigan cities and landmarks that we want to explore! Check out more from Benson at www.bensonsadventures.com.
Where is one of your favorite adventures in the Mitten state? Tell us all about it in the comments- we’re always looking for new adventures!
~Mama in the Mitten