In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (called the U.P. by locals), you’ll find some of the most beautiful beaches, scenic views, and forest areas I’ve ever seen. On our trip we took a boat tour through the Soo Locks and around the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, visited a few different lighthouses, and relaxed on some of the beaches along the way.
If you’re traveling up through Michigan, like we were, you have to cross the Mackinaw Bridge to get into the Upper Peninsula. Before you do, stop and see the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse and walk out onto the beach to get some of the best views of the bridge.
Once across the bridge, we moved on to Sault St. Marie, where we were staying for a couple of nights so that we could take a boat tour through the famous Soo Locks.
We came here specifically to see the locks, but were pleasantly surprised by the town as well. There are four really pretty churches right in the downtown area.
The Chippewa County Courthouse, built in 1877, is another must see. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 – 319 Court St, Sault Ste. Marie, MI.
While we were exploring the first day, we found the Soo Locks Park – at 329 W Portage Ave.
They have an observation tower in the park that allows you to watch the ships going in and out of the locks. We got lucky and there was a large freighter coming through as we were climbing the stairs to the top.
You can take your chances like we did, or you can call (906) 202-1333 to find out when ships will be passing through the locks so that you’ll be sure to see one.
A quick note, just to let you know ahead of time: It can take a while to move the bigger ships into the lock, get them situated, and begin to move them out. So be prepared to spend at least an hour or so if you want to watch the process from start to finish.
But…If you have the time and ability, the absolute best way to experience the Soo Locks is by taking a cruise with the Famous Soo Locks Boat Tours – 515 E Portage Ave.
Not only do you get a closer view of the locks, you actually get to go through them twice (once going up the river and once going down).
You get to feel the water moving up or down, and see all of the details that go into moving vessels through these fascinating structures. Plus, you’ll learn all about the history of the locks and the surrounding area – including several beautiful bridges, the Canadian shoreline, and the Edison Sault Power Plant that is right near the locks.
I have an entire blog post about the Soo Locks if you’re interested in reading more about them, and about what to expect from going through the locks. I also nerd out a little over the International Railroad Bridge towards the end. =)
The next day we headed deeper into the U.P., to Munising, to see the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
I’ve seen pictures of this place before and I can honestly say, pictures will likely never do it justice. The colors and shades change depending on the time of day, the direction of the sun, and the reflections from the water itself.
The colors are created by different elements mixing with the water runoff. “As groundwater seeps out of cracks in the rock, several elements and minerals are transported within the groundwater and are deposited as colorful stains.” It’s the same thing that happens when people have too much iron in their tap water and they get a rusty colored stain in their sink. But much prettier. =)
“Red and orange stains are caused by iron, blue and green by copper, brown and black by manganese, and white by limonite.” (quotes from usgs .gov)
To really see the full beauty of this area, you have to get out onto the water. You can take a kayak, or rent a boat, but I think the best way to see everything is by taking a tour with Pictured Rock Cruises – 100 City Park Dr, Munising, MI. You don’t have to paddle, and you don’t have to drive yourself, so you can spend the whole time oohing and aahing over the colorful lakeshore. And taking a million and one pictures and videos like we did. Ha!
(If you’d like to see three of the videos I took, hop over to my YouTube.)
My favorite part of the lakeshore was Chapel Rock.
There’s a tree growing on top of the rock. To get the nutrients it needs to survive and grow, the tree’s roots are stretching back over to the land behind it.
Taking a boat tour like this is also the only real way to see the Grand Island East Channel Lighthouse.
I have an entire blog post about the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore if you’re interested in seeing more, including a tip about the best place to sit on the boat tour.
Here are a few fun facts that we learned about Lake Superior on our tour:
1. It’s the world’s largest freshwater lake by area.
2. It’s as big as the entire state of Maine.
3. It’s 1333 feet at its deepest point.
4. It’s generally extremely clear…so much so that you can see 40-50 feet below you.
5. In the storm season in October-November, the waves can reach up to 25-30 feet high. On a lake.
6. If you poured all of the other Great Lakes into one, you would still need three more Lake Eries to match the volume of Lake Superior.
During the rest of our time in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula we explored some of the beaches, lighthouses, and waterfalls that were close to where we were taking boat tours.
It has always fascinated me that, even if they are within a mile or so of each other, the beaches in Michigan seem to be different. Some of them will have fine sand, some of them coarse sand, and a lot of them will have gorgeously colored rocks.
Pendell’s Beach, in Whitefish Bay, was really pretty despite the fact that the morning was still very overcast.
While driving around that same area, we found the beautiful Point Iroquois Light Station. The beach here was filled with some of the most gorgeously colored rocks I’ve ever seen.
On our way to Munising, we stopped by two small, but really pretty waterfalls that were right off the side of the road.
And saw the Munising Front Range Lighthouse – 503 W Munising Ave., which (if I’m not completely misremembering what we heard on the Pictured Rocks Cruise) replaced the Grand Island East Channel Lighthouse when it was decommissioned in 1913.
There are three restaurants that I would highly recommend that you try if you’re in one of these two areas.
The first was Muldoons Pasties – 1246 M-28, Munising, MI.
Muldoon’s is a locally owned restaurant that sells traditional pasties. According to their website, the pasty was originally created as a filling, but easy to transport meal to send with workers into the mines.
They have a couple of different kinds, that are all homemade each day right there at the restaurant. The beef was my favorite overall. Be forewarned…they are larger than I realized…so you may want to get a few different kinds and plan to share them. Or, if you have the ability to take them home, I think they would reheat perfectly. (This coming from someone who is not a huge fan of leftovers. =))
The second place was The Cooking Carberry’s Wood Fired Pizza – 209 Maple St, Munising, MI.
The pizza they make at Carberry’s is delicious and they have a lot of unique flavor combinations for you to try. We actually ended up getting three different pizzas and they were all so good!
At this point I’d love to find another term for places like this, rather than calling it a hole in the wall, but for now, it fits. And it’s another hole in the wall that is worth seeking out.
The third place is The Wicked Sister – 716 Ashmun St, Sault Ste. Marie, MI.
The food is delicious and the staff was extremely friendly when we were there. And while you’re trying to decide what to get, be sure to read the different descriptions on the menu. They are quite funny. Like the Construction Dip that I got (that was delicious!) – “The Wicked Sister’s nod to the 2015’s Ashmun St. Construction Project (which is still ongoing). Our dip is creamy, cheesy, garlicky, bacon-y & gooey. Served with house cooked chips & soft pretzel bites (which I usually don’t like, but these were excellent). Unlike road construction, you’ll actually be sad when this dip is gone!” =)
If you have visited Michigan’s Upper Penisula…what do you think I need to see and do the next time I’m up there? Find me on Instagram – @thenovelturtle – and let me know. If you go to any of the places we did, I’d love to see your pictures and hear about your experience.