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Upper Peninsula, U.P. activities, Pictured Rocks, camping in the upper peninsula, weekend in the U.P.

An Alleged Yooper Explains How to Spend 72 Amazing Hours in the Upper Peninsula

Today we are delighted to bring you a really fun post from a really talented person. Brittany Zeller-Holland used to work for us as a designer before going on to bigger and better things as an entrepreneur (check out her bio below for her impressive creative resume). Heather and I are planning a camping trip with our girls to the Upper Peninsula this summer and so we reached out to Brittany, who hails from the U.P., for some tips. Her tips turned into this post. We can’t wait to check out Brittany’s recommendations, and if you’ve been thinking about visiting the U.P., hopefully you get some helpful insights, too. Last thing: Brittany created the U.P. watercolor painting you see above specifically for this post. Amazing, huh?! You can purchase a print on Etsy – pre-order an 8×10 print here and 11×14 here.

Crossing the Mackinac Bridge from the Lower Peninsula still feels like going home to me. I consider the small towns, woods and quiet stretches of Lake Superior beaches of the Upper Peninsula the ideal place to have grown up. Though it’s been over a decade since I lived there and it’s contested whether I can call myself a Yooper (I lived on Mackinac Island for the first year of my life and was born in the hospital in Petoskey); I always roll the car windows down on the Mighty Mac and take a deep breath, remembering how those surroundings made me who I am.

When you spend your childhood in the Upper Peninsula you learn to endure long car rides, as many times visiting family or flight travel anywhere required a 4-6 hour drive to a major airport. There is an appreciation for getting new clothes, but also a frugality that comes from bi-annual school shopping and holiday trips to the closest mall 3+ hours a way. You take drivers’ training in blizzards without a second thought and wish there was a license classification for those of us that are allowed out when it snows in Lower Michigan. Most importantly, you learn that each season has adventures to look forward to, which make every frost-bitten finger and throbbing black fly bite worth it!

When I send people to the U.P. that have never been there a few tips that I always offer up include:

1. Find a stretch of secluded beach and enjoy the absolute quiet peace away from highways and populous areas, test your cold-water tolerance, watch the sunset, and sit in awe as the Milky Way materializes on clear nights.

2. Enjoy the simple meals that might not be labeled as organic or natural, but trust me – people grow their own food up there, and preserve it – they farm livestock, hunt, fish and forage and know how to butcher their meat and cook it the best ways.
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3. Take in the long stretches of road between places – you may have never been on a road where you were the only car for 30 miles surrounded by towering pines. Appreciate it! (And make sure you always keep your gas tank ½ full!)

4. It’s an astoundingly historic place. From the Native American fishing tribes dating back to 3000 B.C. to the significance of the Soo Locks to nearly every major industry in our country because of the mass amounts of steel and iron ore that are transported via freighter through it each day of the shipping season.

My Tips for 72 hours in the Eastern Upper Peninsula

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Cross the Mackinac Bridge and head straight up I-75 until the absolute last exit before you get to Canada – this is Sault Ste. Marie, one of the oldest cities in the U.S., having been an established trading center in the early 17th century.

Visit the Soo Locks Visitor Center (Open from 9:00 AM – 9:00 PM starting May 12). Check to see if a freighter is coming or going through the locks while you’re visiting – it’s fascinating to watch these gigantic vessels being raised or lowered within the locks. (Kids love it too!)

Have a delicious meal at The Wicked Sister or Karl’s Cuisine and then indulge in ice cream and fudge on Portage Ave for dessert.
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Set out in the early morning for a big day of lighthouses and waterfalls!

Start your day at the Point Iroquois Lighthouse where you can climb to the top of the tower, skip rocks along the beach or if you’re there in late July – September, look along the edges of the paths for an abundance of low-bush wild blueberries.

Next check out the Tahquamenon Falls. Visit the Lower Falls first (it’s necessary to drive between the two), and take a dip or a row around the river. Take in the more impressive Upper Falls and then have a beer at the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery!

Lifeandwhim-tahquamenon-fallsFor lunch, hit up one of the little places in Paradise for a home-style meal, maybe a pasty, and make sure to try some blueberry pie and buy some jam as a souvenir!

After lunch, cue up a Gordon Lightfoot sing-along in the car and head to Whitefish Point to check out the Shipwreck Museum. Artifacts of the Edmund Fitzgerald and the impeccable restoration of this historic landmark are the best parts!

End in a campsite or cabin near Pictured Rocks.

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Start the day with a hike, kayak or cruise of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Beyond seeing the beautiful rock ledges from the water, other recommendations include hiking to the Au Sable Lighthouse, Munising Falls, the Log Slide, and Miners Falls.

Please, please, please leave time to visit one of my family’s favorite places: Grand Marais. It’s a town just to the east of Pictured Rocks with a large shallow harbor that stands out in the U.P. Its quintessential charm stretches beyond the shape of its shoreline to the shops and history.

Check out the vintage West Bay Diner for breakfast, which is owned by author Ellen Airgood, who wrote a young adult book that I loved titled Prairie Evers. Stop by the Lake Superior Brewing Company – a favorite of visitors – for post-hike pub fare.

Extra Secret Spots

If you’re camping, one of my favorite campgrounds can be found between Brimley and Paradise – Bay View Campground. It’s rustic, but the shoreline campsites are worth the trips to the outhouse! With less than 20 sites, it’s a hidden gem, especially if you can get a lakeside site.

For another stretch of secluded shoreline, there is a tiny parking lot off of W. Lakeshore Drive across from the Pendills Creek National Fish Hatchery 2 miles past Bay View Campground that has a very short trail along the creek to the waterfront where the stream weaves in and out of the beach creating fun spots to wade and wander. I spent a lot of hours there as a kid, playing in the pools and streams.

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If you have more time to spare, consider exploring the towns of Cedarville, Detour and taking the ferry to Drummond Island. The Les Cheneaux Islands along the south eastern shoreline of the Upper Peninsula are a really intriguing area that I am just starting to explore more.

Even more time? Marquette, the Keweenaw Peninsula, Isle Royale and the Porcupine Mountains in the west offer so much more to explore! I hope to spend some time in those areas this summer and would love to hear any recommendations for the best destinations from fellow outdoor-lovers.

As the illustrator and self-proclaimed Pattern Practitioner behind Two if by Sea Studios, Brittany Zeller-Holland has been creating for corporate and individual clients worldwide for over a decade. She has a penchant for watercolor, gouache and hand lettering, filling her sketchbook and Instagram feed with her latest notions. In her free time she relishes travel to remote destinations like Patagonia and Mongolia with her husband Dylan, volunteering with various organizations in SE Michigan, reading, and listening to podcasts. 

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  • Trevis

    As a local yocal (term used by the few of us born and raised here)…You can’t forget to visit Oswald’s Bear Farm. Provides a true taste of the Upper.

  • Mike Holland

    Great article. Well done Britt. I’m actually heading north across the bridge this weekend for a short spell. –Uncle Mike, Traverse City

  • Jen

    Big spring is my favorite place to visit along with lake in the clouds and I love lake Gogebic for camping or from seeing the view from the top of the old Olympic ski jump.mso much to see

  • Brittany

    As a fellow Brittany, I did just the opposite of you. Born and raised in the mitten and moved to Yooperland about 2 years ago to purchase a lodge with my husband. We are located all the way in the far west though…Ironwood. My husband and I always traveled the east side before we bought our lodge and were quite surprised at the beauty in the West!! We are located in Northern Ironwood (outside of town) and are about an hour and 15 min from the Porcupines (like you said, not far from a Yooper’s perspective!) You mention you want to travel the West this summer and have lots of ideas for places you should visit (and a place for you to stay) if your interested 🙂 Feel free to check us out and message for ideas!

    • Brittany

      Thank you so much for the offered insight! You and your family are living our dream and I’d love to hear about how it all came to be. I’ll definitely be in touch.

  • Alice Markey

    Your article was fantastic! How hard it must have been to condense all that you probably wanted to say. It certainly was for me when I shared it with my friends with a 3 paragraph comment.

    I did learn from you about some sites I have not seen and would like to visit. Also, the campground you mentioned would appeal to my sons. They like the quiet rustic campgrounds and camp often.

    My visit to Whitefish Point was when I took a trip with 3 of my best girlfriends from grade school. We were in Mackinac City and I urged them to go over the bridge and take a drive to Whitefish Point and Tahquamenon Falls. They loved it.

    I’ve been vacationing in AuTrain, which is just west of Munising for over 40 years with my family. Living in a suburb of Metro Detroit…it’s like I died and went to heaven when I see the Mighty Mac in the distance as we travel to the UP.

    Great article! You need to write more! You sure got me all excited about going back to AuTrain this summer. Thank you.

    • Heather Harrington

      Thanks Alice. Glad you liked it!

  • Ralph vertin

    I really would like to get back up TT the UP. Haven’t been since ’56. my dad and his family are from the Calumet/L’anse(sp ?).
    I’m going to try for this summer, if the wife can handle to drive/distance.
    Hope to see you all.