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Upper Peninsula Bucket List: 25 Things to Do in the U.P.

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Dense forests, sparkling lakes, breathtaking waterfalls, and the chance to find a glimmer of copper or shiny agate – the Upper Peninsula is not somewhere most people will ever travel, but it’s a gem (in some cases literally) that’s well worth visiting if you find yourself in this part of the country.

I’ve been to the Upper Peninsula several times – my dad is from the U.P. and we visited several times when I was a kid. Before this past summer (2024), the last time I was there was in 2009 – but now that we live a lot closer (in Northeast Ohio), I have a feeling we’ll be going a lot more often!

Upper Peninsula Bucket List Hero

To that end, I decided to put together an Upper Peninsula bucket list. This is a list of things I know are fantastic having done them, and the things I want to do to get to know this area more. It reminds me some of growing up in Alaska, and also of the Pacific Northwest where Mr. V and I met… The U.P. is just a really special place to me, and I hope you’ll discover the same for you.

So whether you’re planning your first trip and looking for things to do in the Upper Peninsula or have been before and want inspiration to discover a new corner for yourself, read on. This lovely part of the country is waiting for more of us to come and explore!

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Best Things to Do in the U.P. (Map)

Before jumping into my list, I thought I’d start with a map. After all, the Upper Peninsula might not be huge – but it’s not so small that you can tackle it all in just one day. Having a map – and knowing where you’ll be basing yourself (or traveling around) – will make accomplishing those that sound interesting much easier.

Upper Peninsula Bucket List Map
Click to interact with the map.

Okay, now that you’re a bit more oriented, let’s dive into my list of the experiences and places I think should be on your Upper Peninsula bucket list!

  1. Drive Across Mackinac Bridge – If you’re visiting the U.P., you might be arriving from Michigan’s Lower Peninsula – and that means you’ll be crossing the Mackinac Bridge! This iconic bridge stretches 1.6 miles across the Straits of Mackinac and costs $4 each way to cross. If you want a more iconic experience, every Labor Day the bridge closes to vehicle traffic and you can cross it on foot!
  1. Visit Mackinac Island – Okay technically Mackinac Island isn’t specifically in the Upper Peninsula, but it sits in between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas and it’s definitely a bucket list destination. This car-free island is reached by ferry, hosts you in historic hotels, and is famous for its fudge. What more do you need?
  2. See Arch Rock – Okay, here’s one more (among many) of the things you can do on Mackinac Island: Arch Rock is a natural wonder on the island’s eastern shore. It’s a natural limestone formation that stands 146 above the waters of Lake Huron; it’s easy to reach along the main paths of the island so you don’t even need to hike for an epic view.
  3. Admire the View from Castle Rock – Speaking of epic views, once you’re back on the mainland and across the Mackinac Bridge into the Upper Peninsula, Castle Rock in St. Ignace will give you one too. This natural rock formation stands 195 feet high and looks out over Lake Huron toward Mackinac Island; it’s only $1 per person for admission and includes information about Native American (Ojibwa) culture as part of the experience. (More on that in #19!)
  1. Take a Soo Locks Boat Tour – Sault Ste. Marie sits – literally – on the U.S.-Canada border at the narrowest point between Lake Superior and Lake Huron. There you’ll find the Soo Locks, a series of ship locks that allow vessels to traverse the waterways safely between the two Great Lakes. The best way to learn about the locks is on a boat tour.
  2. Visit the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum – While it’s perhaps not the most cheery topic, shipping on the Great Lakes is fascinating. Part of what has allowed this part of the country (the Great Lakes region – both surrounding the U.P. and where I live in Cleveland) to grow is the ability ship resources across the huge distances here – but that has come at a cost. Located in Paradise, you can visit the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum to learn about the commitment and sacrifice that sailors have made on the lakes to help build the country.
  3. Hike Tahquamenon Falls State Park – There are lots of waterfalls in the Upper Peninsula – more on that below – but perhaps the most famous and most visited is Tahquamenon Falls State Park. The park’s namesake falls are 48 feet high but over 200 feet wide; this is perhaps not the dramatic drop you’re expecting, but is still beautiful and breathtaking. There are also 35 miles of trails in the park if you like hiking and other outdoor adventures.
  1. Cruise Painted Rocks National Lakeshore – The U.P. is home to several sites within the National Park Service system; one of the most popular is Painted Rocks National Lakeshore, which can be reached by boat tour from Munising. Pictured Rocks Cruises is the official NPS concessioner and they offer several cruise options, including one that shows Spray Falls (near Painted Rocks) and another that’s a sunset cruise. Speaking of waterfalls…
  2. Chase Waterfalls Near Munising – Munising is actually home to several waterfalls, too! Add Wagner Falls, Alger Falls, Miners Falls, and Tannery Falls to your list if you’ll have more time in Munising than just for your Painted Rocks cruise.
  3. Go Ice Caving/Climbing – Those waterfalls are certainly beautiful during the summer, but they also turn into a natural playground in the winter. (Actually, most of the U.P. is like that – it’s different but still great when the weather turns cold.) Anyway, some of the falls near Munising become either ice caves or ice curtains that you can explore during the winter. The most famous is The Curtains, is close to town, and you can also easily visit Eben Ice Caves in the area though it’s a little further away. If you’re not familiar with ice caving or ice climbing, be sure to consult with a guide before getting out so you’re safe in these potentially unstable formations.
  4. Visit Lakenenland Sculpture Park – While driving to the Houghton-Hancock area on our most recent trip, we passed Lakenenland Sculpture Park and were definitely intrigued. This private park was created by Tom Lakenen who is a sculptor and boilermaker; he uses junk and scrap iron to create his works, and over 100 of them are on display in the park.
  1. Tour Quincy Mine – When I was a kid and we visited my extended family in the Houghton-Hancock area, I was also a geology and mining nerd – so of course I’ve been to Quincy Mine. (Several times, actually!) Taking a tour of Quincy Mine allows you to descend down the hillside on a cog tram, and then travel some 1,000 feet into the shaft. Along the way, a guide teaches the mining history of the U.P. which is one of the main industries of the region.
  1. Visit Isle Royale National Park – Visiting Isle Royale is worth its own post, which I’m actually already working on, but for now, it should probably go without saying that Michigan’s only national park is obviously worth visiting. Add-on that it’s one of the most unique places – geographically, geologically, and historically – in the contiguous United States, and is home to wolves and moose and all kinds of species you can’t find anywhere else except Alaska!
  2. Explore Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park – While it isn’t a national park, a lot of Yoopers say that Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is worthy of the title. This 60,000-acre park is home to an old-growth, hardwood-hemlock grove, and has 90 miles of hiking trails. In particular, Lake of the Clouds is considered one of the most beautiful places in the Upper Peninsula, if not all of Michigan.
  3. Climb the Pine Mountain Ski Jump – While it gives me the willies to watch ski jumping, I can’t deny that it’s a wildly impressive sport. If you want to gain an even greater sense of the impressiveness of it, consider doing a summertime clime up the Pine Mountain Ski Jump – it’s 500 steps at a 39° angle. As you get to the top and turn around, you’ll get a sense of why that angle and distance means the ski jumpers are traveling around 60mph when they launch. Yipes!
  4. Attend the U.P. State Fair – While the Upper Peninsula isn’t its own state (though perhaps it should be), it does have its own State Fair! Taking place annually in Escanaba, the U.P. State Fair has rides, food, games, and all the fair classics.
  5. Gaze at Kitch-Iti-Kipi – Also called “The Big Spring,” Kitch-Iti-Kipi (“Mirror of Heaven” to the Ojibwe) is a beautiful freshwater spring – it’s really like a gem when you see photos, with its crystalline blue waters and verdant evergreen trees around the banks. It’s one of (all of) Michigan’s most popular sights, welcoming 60,000 visitors per year!
  1. Visit Benny the Beard Fisher – While most things on this Upper Peninsula bucket list are along the coast, Benny the Beard Fisher is right in the heart of the peninsula. Located at Northland Outfitters, this Thomas Dambo troll is a fun spot to stretch your legs – though I want to come back and stay a few days at some point too, as the whole property looks like lots of fun.
  2. Learn Native History – As you may have noticed at the top, the U.P. was the traditional lands of several Native American groups (the Menominee, Dakota, and Anishinaabe (Ojibwe/Chippewa)); today, it is home to five federally-recognized native groups. If you’re keen to learn more, there are several places you can learn more which are also locations of other experiences on this list: Delta County Historical Museum (Escanaba), Menominee Range Historical Museum (Iron Mountain), Museum of Ojibwa Culture (St. Ignace), and the Tower of History (Sault Ste. Marie)
  3. Explore a Few U.P. Lighthouses – The Upper Peninsula is home to over 40 lighthouses, so you’ve got lots to choose from if you want to admire them from the outside. A handful also allow you to enter and tour – some are also bed and breakfasts! U.P. Travel has a full guide here if you’ve always wanted to be a lighthouse keeper.
  1. Find an Agate – Upper Peninsula is a geologist’s dream; incredible forces shaped the peninsula and left behind some incredible evidence and artifacts. One of the most common rock souvenirs you can find are agates; these volcanic rocks can be found all over the U.P. Growing up, I used to visit the well-named Agate Beach, and recently found an agate there! There are lots of other great beaches around the U.P. where you can find agates too.
  2. Find Float Copper – Float copper is another geologic souvenir, but unlike agates, it’s much harder to find – and much more coveted when you do. Unlike agates that show evidence of the peninsula’s volcanic history, float copper comes from when the peninsula was covered in glaciers. I found this guide to trying to find float copper – forgive all the broken code, it appears to still be accurate content even if the site isn’t pretty.
  1. Try a Pasty – If there’s one food you have to try in the Upper Peninsula when visiting, everyone will tell you the same answer: the pasty. These delicious meat pies aren’t a local specialty per se, but they are widely available, including at my Great Aunt’s house when I was growing up. Inside the dough, you’ll find beef, potatoes, rutabagas, onions, and sometimes carrots; I always eat mine with ketchup.
  2. Spot a Moose – We actually spotted two moose at Isle Royale National Park, but you can find these huge animals across the U.P. In addition to Isle Royale, the Michigan DNR reports that there are areas with more population near Van Riper State Park near Marquette, and near Tahquamenon Falls and the Seney National Wildlife Refuge in the eastern part of the U.P.
  3. See the Northern Lights – As we’ve recently learned when the aurora was visible across much of the contiguous U.S. in 2024, you don’t need to visit the U.P. to see the northern lights – but in a normal year, your odds are much better for visiting this region if you want to try and see them. This is for two reasons: first because it’s further north with long winter nights, and second because it’s relatively rural, so light pollution is limited and your odds are better the darker skies you can find.

That’s quite enough to be getting on with, eh? I’m feeling inspired to start planning another trip already! Have any questions about these things to do in the Upper Peninsula? Let me know in the comments below!

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I was born on the East Coast and currently live in the Midwest – but my heart will always be out West. I lived for 15 years in Alaska, as well as four years each in California and Washington. I share travel resources and stories based on my personal experience and knowledge.

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