While we were building the 2021 #MIAwesomeList (the ULTIMATE Michigan summer bucket list) for Awesome Mitten this spring, my own Michigan bucket list was growing daily. And when our family of seven decided to spend four days and three nights in the Upper Peninsula while returning home from a visit to Wisconsin, I knew we had to try and experience as many of the amazing summer things to do in the Upper Peninsula as possible, while still experiencing the rest and relaxation that is iconic to the UP.
So we plotted our route, made a list of ALL.THE.THINGS that we wanted to see, do, and experience (thanks to the Upper Peninsula Travel group on Facebook for all the suggestions!), and then we made the difficult decision of which ones were MUST visit destinations and which ones we’d have to save for another trip.
In the end, we made stops in four different towns, and had different Upper Peninsula summer experiences in each…
After having done much of the research for the best things to do in Menominee County this summer article, I knew that seeing the North Pier Lighthouse would be something my kids would really enjoy. AND, it was the perfect place to grab dinner while driving between Green Bay and Escanaba along the beautiful Lake Michigan lakeshore.
Lighthouse Ann Arbor Park & Menominee North Pier Lighthouse
If you don’t know that there’s a park and lighthouse in Menominee, you’ll miss it. The signs to Lighthouse Ann Arbor Park are minimal and it’s off-the-beaten path. Thankfully, our GPS found the park and led us to it.
Unfortunately, it was VERY windy when we crossed the Menominee River into Michigan, and the waves were crashing over the pier, so this is as close as we dared to get to the lighthouse.
Pirates Cove Menominee
Dinner, on the other hand, was anything but disappointing. Using the #MIAwesomeList recommendations for the best places to eat in Menominee, we chose to try Pirates Cove – directly across from the marina in Menominee.
Everything we ordered was incredible, and my husband and I are still drooling over the pizza we shared!
After dinner in Menominee, we continued to our final destination for the day in Escanaba. We had reserved a family room (with three double beds!!) at the Sunset Lodge on US-2 in Wells.
Sunset Lodge Escanaba
This budget-friendly roadside motel is in the process of being updated and remodeled, and it was the perfect place for us to crash for the night. The staff were incredibly helpful and accommodating, and our stay even included discount coupons for breakfast at The Family Inn diner next door.
The Family Inn Restaurant
So when we got up in the morning, we repacked our vehicle and went across the parking lot to The Family Inn for breakfast. We were both surprised and delighted by the yummy food and large portions.
The kids could have easily shared each of the kids’ breakfast meals that were ordered, and I definitely did not finish everything on my plate (but wished I could have).
From breakfast, we ventured east on US-2, making a turn south when we reached the Garden Peninsula. Fayette Historic State Park was our destination for the morning having seen it on the #MIAwesomeList.
Fayette Historic State Park
My kids love all things historical and interactive, and Fayette’s Ghost Town was no different. We followed them from building to building as they ran ahead to explore the remnants and restored historical sites.
We even made it down to the water’s edge in Shell Harbor to skip rocks on Lake Michigan before getting back in the car to head to our next #MIAwesomeList destination.
Once we left the Garden Peninsula, we made the quick trip north of US-2 to “The Big Spring” at Palms Book State Park.
Quick note: having a Michigan State Parks pass on your license plate is SOOO helpful – it gets you in “free” to all of the state parks across Michigan! We get one every year when we renew our registration.
Unfortunately, we arrived at Kitch-iti-kipi at the same time as a bunch of other people, and the line for the raft was almost to the parking lot. Instead of waiting for an hour or more, we decided to take advantage of bathroom facilities, grab some photos from the overlook, and stretch our legs on the swings.
We’ll be back when it’s less busy to enjoy the raft experience!
By the time we left Kitch-iti-kipi, we were all hangry, and the only thing on our mind was finding food. We decided to forgo the GPS (since our cell signal was non-existent) and used the road signs to find our way to downtown Manistique.
The first parking spot we found was directly in front of Wheaty’s Pub, so we decided to venture inside. My kids are VERY glad that we did, as they are still talking about the hot pretzels they ordered for lunch.
We tried a variety of items from the menu including the sampler platter, hot pretzels, and a bacon chicken club sandwich. Maybe it was how hungry we were, but we all thoroughly enjoyed our meals and would go back to Wheaty’s Pub in a heartbeat.
Fun fact: my kids are learning that when we travel, we explore “like locals,” avoiding the fast food and chain restaurant options, looking for the best local restaurants in town. My 8yo quipped that he wanted to eat at a fast-food chain as we drove into Manistique, and my 12yo was quick to respond with “NO! Let’s eat local!”
Once we’d managed to fill our bellies, we were ready to head to our ultimate Upper Peninsula destination in the Les Cheneaux Islands town of Cedarville. This is where we spent the bulk of our time in the UP this summer – simply relaxing and enjoying the beauty of the Upper Peninsula along Lake Huron’s northern shores.
Cedar Bay Camp & Retreat Center
If you have the opportunity to stay at Cedar Bay for a retreat or family camp, do it. There is something special about this hidden gem just east of Cedarville, MI. Even my kids noticed the slower pace and opportunity for exploring and enjoying the natural beauty of the Upper Peninsula here.
Once we arrived at Cedar Bay, we switched gears – no more “agenda” for the remainder of our time in the UP. We skipped rocks, took family hikes, “swam” in Lake Huron (it was cold), skipped more rocks, played card games in our cabin on Lake Huron, and skipped even more rocks.
By the end of our time in the Upper Peninsula this summer, our kids were master rock skippers, and we all had sore arms from skipping all.the.rocks!
Les Cheneaux Coffee Roasters
Having discovered Les Cheneaux Coffee Roasters on our last trip to the Les Cheneaux Islands this spring, my husband and I needed to include it in our Upper Peninsula road trip itinerary. We stopped on Sunday morning before we headed back home to grab some caffeine for the road.
It was the perfect way to end our summer trip to the Upper Peninsula!
More to Explore in the UP this Summer
As I said before, we barely scratched the surface of all of the great summer things to do in the U.P., saving many of our “want to do” adventures for our next trip north. Be sure to check out the full #MIAwesomeList to find summer UP things to do near where you’re staying and playing!