Few places compare to the rugged wilds of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. While there are plenty of go-to destinations that you can visit during a day trip, one of the best ways to experience this remote corner of the Midwest is by taking a leisure road trip on the Tahquamenon Scenic Byway.
Known to locals as M-123, it’s the perfect route to take because it winds through the heart of the Eastern Upper Peninsula for 63 miles. It offers natural beauty, scenic views, history, and a lot more. Below are a few of the best stops to make while enjoying your trip along this picturesque stretch of road.
You will drive through thick green forest and small towns and alongside the Tahquamenon River and Whitefish Bay with Lake Superior right there for the taking.
Overview of the Tahquamenon Scenic Byway
Depending on which direction you’re coming from, the scenic portion of M-123 begins in Newberry and ends in Eckerman, both at M-28.
This unusually U-shaped, 63-mile highway takes you through thick green forests, small towns, and alongside the Tahquamenon River and Whitefish Bay with Lake Superior right there for the taking.
Luce County Historical Museum
When you begin your M-123 road trip in Newberry, you’ll find that the first point of interest is the Luce County Historical Museum. This small downtown museum is open seasonally, usually from late June until Labor Day.
It provides information about the history of Luce County and the chance to experience what life was like in the early 20th century in this Upper Peninsula town. The museum is housed in a Queen Anne structure that was built in 1894 and once served as the county jail and sheriff’s residence.
Hamilton Lake Natural Area
After enjoying a dose of history and culture, head south on the Tahquamenon Scenic Byway toward the Hamilton Lake Natural Area. This remote natural area is perfect for anyone who wants to get away from it all while simultaneously experiencing the untouched beauty of the Upper Peninsula.
The glistening Hamilton Lake is surrounded by flowers and wildlife, so don’t forget to stop by the scenic overlook to take a picture with the water in the background. It’s one of the best photo spots of the road trip.
Tahquamenon Logging Museum
Less than a 5-minute drive north of downtown Newberry, you’ll discover the Tahquamenon Logging Museum. This historic attraction gives you a glimpse into what life was like for the lumberjacks who drove the Michigan logging industry forward and showcases the region’s natural beauty.
At the logging museum, you’ll find both original buildings and logging equipment, as well as various educational exhibits that include photographs and memorabilia of the golden age of logging.
Don’t forget to grab a true lumberjack breakfast while you’re there. You can order your meal at the Authentic Cookshack, where all of the food is prepared on a wood stove.
The next part of the Tahquamenon Scenic Byway is a favorite stretch of road to get out alongside and capture the woods, nature, and remoteness on either side.
Muskallonge Lake State Park
On an about 30-minute detour via County Rd 407, you’ll arrive at the Muskallonge Lake State Park. This 217-acre park is considered to be a natural wonderland and is a favorite among those who enjoy hiking along the lakeshore.
It’s situated between Muskallonge Lake and the mighty Lake Superior. While it’s now enjoyed by visitors from near and far, it once was an Indian encampment that became a lumber town.
Two Hearted River
After running through the eastern stretches of the Upper Peninsula for 23 miles, the Two Hearted River flows right into Lake Superior. The best way to experience this graceful river is to hike the North Country Trail, which crosses over the river near where it meets the Great Lakes.
One fun fact that many people don’t realize is that Two Hearted Ale, the famously delicious and refreshing IPA from Bell’s Brewery, was named after this magnificent river.
North Country Trail
Technically, the North Country Trail ends at the Tahquamenon Scenic Highway, but you could start your adventure at this point. In this region, the North Country Trail begins near the Two Hearted River mouth, and it’s a rustic foot trail that winds through the forests of the Upper Peninsula.
The trail isn’t recommended for beginners because it’s long, running down to the Straits of Mackinac. There are only a few commercial businesses along the way. This adventure is best saved until you’re confident enough to trek through remote wooded areas without assistance.
Upper and Lower Tahquamenon Falls
Perhaps the most iconic attraction on the Tahquamenon Scenic Byway is the cascading Tahquamenon Falls. Spanning more than 200 feet across and with drops of more than 50 feet, the Upper Falls is one of the largest in the region.
Head down the 94-step staircase to watch up close the copper-colored water fall into the Tahquamenon River before it continues on its path through the unadulterated natural landscape.
While the Upper Falls offers the most dramatic experience — and is typically the most photographed between the two — it’s still worth your while to head downstream to the magical Lower Falls. It consists of five smaller waterfalls, all of which surround an island.
The scene is like something straight out of a fairy tale, and it’s highly recommended that you make time for both sets of falls when you’re on your road trip through the Upper Peninsula. Parking is available at each waterfall, and a 4-mile hiking trail runs between them.
Grab a brew and some eats at the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery afterward and then some souvenirs from the expansive gift shop in Camp 33.
Whitefish Point Bird Observatory
As you pass through Paradise, follow the signage off M-123 up to Whitefish Point.
Bird watchers from around the world know that one of the best places to spot birds during natural migratory patterns is at the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory in Paradise. This unique attraction is a natural migration corridor.
During the spring and fall, thousands of birds fly past this point each day, much to the delight of those who like to see birds of all species in flight. More than 340 species have been recorded flying in the area, so it’s a wonderful place to catch a glimpse of rare and lesser-known birds.
Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum
To uncover the mysteries that lie in the depths of Lake Superior, stop by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point in Paradise. This museum is dedicated to the maritime history of Michigan and to understanding the shipwrecks that have occurred in the Great Lakes.
Known as the Shipwreck Coast, there are more than 200 shipwrecks in the vicinity surrounding Whitefish Point. Within the museum, you can view the bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald and learn more about the most famous shipwreck that occurred in the Great Lakes.
Whitefish Point Light Station
On the same campus as the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, you’ll find the Whitefish Point Light Station.
Given the unique location of Whitefish Point and the critical need for ships to pass through the waters of the Great Lakes for trade, Congress called for the establishment of the Whitefish Point Light Station in 1849. It was in service until 1923 when it merged with the U.S. Coast Guard.
Today, visitors can explore the preserved light station for a nominal fee and learn more about the pivotal role that it played in helping ships navigate the rough waters of Lake Superior.
Walk out onto the rocky beach from the sandy trail nearby. Look straight, out and you might catch a freighter or two in the distance. Look up because this is a popular spot for birds to be on the move. Look down, and you’ll be among colorful driftwood scattered across the shoreline. Be advised that this is a popular spot, so you might have to park a ways away during peak times.
Crisp Point Lighthouse
If you’re embarking on a summer road trip on M-123, you must include time to venture north to Crisp Point Lighthouse too. Known as one of the most isolated and remote lighthouses in the Upper Peninsula, it was actually inaccessible until 1999, when a road was built to connect M-123 to the light tower.
Upon arrival, this majestic lighthouse will seem a tad lonely and forgotten. But when you see how it’s lovingly cared for by a local historical society, you know that it’s in good hands.
Tahquamenon Rivermouth Unit
After so much exploring and learning, you may want to simply spend some time on the waters of Whitefish Bay. If that’s the case, you’ll definitely want to stop at the Tahquamenon Rivermouth Unit. It’s one of the most peaceful and relaxing spots on the road trip.
This is a boating access point, and from here, you can access not only Whitefish Bay but also the Tahquamenon River. If you don’t want to take a boat onto the water, you can sit on a bench along the shore and watch as the other boats go by.
Whitefish Bay Picnic Area
Heading south, you’ll come across the Whitefish Bay Picnic Area — a roadside rest area. Here, you’ll get that first taste of Whitefish Bay and the biggest Great Lake — Lake Superior.
Stare at the vast, blue bay in front of you, let your dogs run through the water, or get your own feet wet. You will find picnic opportunities aplenty, as well as benches and rustic bathrooms.
As you reflect on your adventures throughout Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, schedule a leisurely afternoon at Eckerman Pond. This sparkling pond is home to many species of fish, making it the perfect place to cast a line.
Even if you do not intend to spend your afternoon fishing in the crystal blue waters, it’s an idyllic picnic spot. Pack a sandwich and a few other tasty treats in the morning, and soak up the views as you chat over a leisurely meal and take a break from the road.
Watch for the very small brown sign pointing you toward Eckerman Pond. Turning off the road will present a narrow dirt path for a couple of thousand feet, at which time the pond and true Upper Peninsula nature will present themselves. As you walk onto the bridge, you’ll hear the rushing East Branch of the Tahquamenon River beneath you. The old-school water faucet on site also catches the eye.
Curley Lewis Memorial Highway
Heading east from the Tahquamenon Scenic Byway, driving the Curley Lewis Memorial Highway is almost like taking a vacation from your vacation. It’s another scenic roadway that you must drive if you want to experience the incredible Lake Superior shoreline.
With a few slight curves and hills, the highway is known as a gentle stretch of road that will take you to various points of interest, including the Point Iroquois Lighthouse and the Mission Hill Overlook.
Point Iroquois Lighthouse
In the final stretch of your M-123 road trip, you have the opportunity to stop at Point Iroquois Lighthouse. This stately tower was first built in 1855, and for more than 107 years, it allowed the fishermen and shippers on the water to navigate their way safely around the rocky shores.
Today, it’s a historical destination that has been lovingly restored. Travelers to the area are invited to learn more about the role that this lighthouse played and to climb to the top of the tower to enjoy the panoramic views.
Find More to Explore Along the Tahquamenon Scenic Byway in the Upper Peninsula
If you really want to dig into all that the Tahquamenon Scenic Byway offers, plan a whole getaway around it. There are several Tahquamenon Falls lodging and campground options to choose from. On top of that, there are a lot of other things to do in the Upper Peninsula.