Much of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is an untouched wilderness, making it a playground for outdoor enthusiasts who love to surround themselves with natural beauty. However, scattered throughout are many exciting things to do in the Upper Peninsula.
Given that this northern paradise is located in the farthest reaches of the American Midwest, many may assume that it’s strictly a summertime destination. However, there are incredible things to see and unforgettable memories to make in the Upper Peninsula throughout the entire year.
This guide will take you through the best things to do in the Upper Peninsula in the spring, summer, fall, and winter, making this a destination that all types of travelers can enjoy.
Refreshing Springtime Things to Do in the Upper Peninsula
Technically speaking, spring begins in March in the Upper Peninsula, but most visitors find that wintertime activities are still in full swing during the early weeks of the season.
By late April or early May, spring arrives in earnest in the Upper Peninsula, promising yet another opportunity to experience life springing anew in this northern wonderland.
Spring is likely the least popular time of year to visit the Upper Peninsula, so it’s one of the best times to come if you are hoping to avoid crowds and enjoy unique activities that are only available during this fleeting season.
Search the Skies at Whitefish Point Bird Observatory
Just north of the aptly-named community of Paradise is the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory. It’s a dedicated space for bird-watchers to search for their favorite northern bird species.
If you didn’t know it was here, though, it might be easy to miss. The observatory itself consists of a small wooden shanty and plenty of space for bird-watchers to use their gear to search the skies. There’s a gift shop that’s open seasonally too.
Whitefish Point is surrounded on both sides by water, making it a natural migration corridor for birds that are flying north for the summer or south for the winter. More than 340 species of birds have been spotted here, and spring is one of the best times to catch some of the most magnificent birds in flight.
Keep in mind, however, that spring at Whitefish Point often means winter-like weather conditions. So if you plan to spend a significant amount of time birding, you’ll want to dress for the weather. Prepare for chilly temperatures, high winds, and possible precipitation.
Hike to Miners Falls in Munising
Miners Falls is one of the most famous waterfalls inside the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and one of the secrets that only locals realize is that spring is actually the best time to see these cascading falls.
Most tourists save their trips to Pictured Rocks for the summer months, when it’s easier to reach Munising and when they may be able to take a boat ride along the shores of the rocks. If you visit during the spring, though, you’ll be rewarded with views of lush, full waterfalls with few other tourists.
The trail that leads to Miners Fall is just more than 1 mile long, making it challenging enough for experienced adventurers yet welcoming enough for those who don’t have a ton of hiking experience.
Go Stargazing in the Upper Peninsula
In the Lower Peninsula, there are six dark sky preserves in state parks and two internationally designated dark sky preserves that allow you to experience the uninterrupted beauty of the night sky.
However, the Lower Peninsula has a lot more development — and therefore more significant light pollution — than its more rustic counterpart, the Upper Peninsula. As a result, there is only one designated dark sky park in the Upper Peninsula, yet, there are endless miles of pristine night sky.
In the spring, when the sun is still setting relatively early in the evening and the weather is beginning to turn, many people spend hours gazing up into the sky to see the constellations, planets, and meteors for themselves. Some of the best places to go stargazing in the Upper Peninsula include:
Each night, you’ll find something new to discover. If you’re lucky and happen to be stargazing during April, you may even catch a display of the Northern Lights.
Visit Palms Book State Park & Raft Across Michigan’s Largest Spring
A must-visit spot near Manistique is Palms Book State Park, a lesser-known Upper Peninsula attraction that’s easily missed on itineraries filled with the most obvious sights to see. This state park may be small, but it has a big claim to fame — it’s home to Kitch-iti-kipi, which means “Big Spring.
Kitch-iti-kipi is a freshwater spring that stretches for more than 200 feet and boasts depths as low as 40 feet. More than 10,000 gallons of water gush through the spring every minute, and because of the ongoing nature of the flow, the water is always a consistently refreshing 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
The best way to experience this spring is to enjoy a self-guided raft ride on top of the spring, which is particularly beautiful during April and May.
Taste the Sweetest Maple Syrup Michigan Has to Offer
Those who like to enjoy the local products that are made by people who live in the places they’re visiting won’t want to miss the opportunity to taste the sweet, indulgent flavors of Upper Peninsula maple syrup.
The trees are tapped each year during sugar snows — the late winter and early spring snows that make the syrup drain from the trees.
There are many places in the Upper Peninsula where you can see the taps for yourself and take home the best souvenir the Upper Peninsula has to offer — a jar of fresh, natural Michigan maple syrup.
Alongside Michigan Maple Weekends, here are a few places in the Upper Peninsula where you can experience tree tapping in the spring:
- Danielson’s Sugarbush in Nisula (Don’t forget to call ahead to schedule a tour)
- Jasper’s Sugar Bush in Carney
- Michigan Maple Farms in Rudyard
See the Lilacs in Bloom as You Tour Peninsula Point Lighthouse
Located on the western side of the Upper Peninsula, Peninsula Point Lighthouse overlooks the Little Bay de Noc and Big Bay de Noc. The lighthouse itself is situated at the tip of this tiny peninsula and is located inside the Hiawatha National Forest.
It’s open to the public throughout the year, and guests are welcome to climb the 40 steps that lead to the top of the tower to enjoy panoramic views of the water. However, spring is the best time to come to Peninsula Point because the lilacs are in bloom and birds are migrating over the area.
Hunt for the Elusive Morel Mushrooms That Pop Up Each Spring
If you’re the kind of traveler who likes to be in on a secret, morel mushroom hunting is the perfect Upper Peninsula springtime activity for you.
The elusive — and delicious — morels famously grow throughout the state in May. But in the Upper Peninsula, you may start finding these in-demand fungi around the middle of April and through early June.
The thing about morel hunting, however, is that there’s no set spot to go look. They may literally pop up anywhere, but you’re most likely to find them in forested areas near decaying trees.
You’ll know it’s morel season when daily high temperatures reach the middle-60s while evening temperatures dip back down into the 40s. More sunshine means that the soil will be warmer, which increases the likelihood of finding morels in the Upper Peninsula.
You may be on your own with this activity. Most morel hunters know that their bounty is valuable, so they aren’t likely to share their favorite hunting spaces. This adds to the thrill of the hunt and makes it all the more rewarding when you do find that first coveted mushroom.
Things to Do in the Upper Peninsula During the Summer
Summer ushers in a wave of tourists each year, with more and more people looking to experience the unparalleled peace and natural beauty that this unique region has to offer.
Whether you prefer to spend your time on the shores or in the water, or hiking along rugged trails, you’ll find that the Upper Peninsula is an outdoor playground that’s suitable for people of all ages, interests, and skill levels.
Uncover the Stories Below Lake Superior at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum
The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum can be found on Whitefish Point on the coast of the Eastern Upper Peninsula in Paradise. The museum overlooks one of the most treacherous areas of Lake Superior, which is often referred to as the Graveyard of the Great Lakes.
This seasonal attraction opens in early May each year and closes for the season at the end of October. Over the last several years, it has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in Michigan, bringing in an average of 75,000 visitors every summer and fall.
In addition to exploring artifacts that have been recovered from local shipwrecks and learning more about the tragic stories of the waters that surround the museum, you can see the oldest operating lighthouse on Lake Superior and explore the historic buildings that are on the campus.
Spend a Day — or a Few More — on Mackinac Island
Located on the Straits of Mackinac between the Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula, Mackinac Island is one of the most incredible places to visit in all of Michigan. This tiny island is known for its Victorian charm and its most prominent, antiquated rule — no motor vehicles are allowed.
On Mackinac Island, you’ll hear horses clapping around the streets as the full-time residents conduct their business and tourists explore the sights. You’ll also see plenty of bicycles because cycling is a favorite way to get around the island. Some of the top things to do on Mackinac Island include:
- Stay at the luxurious Grand Hotel and enjoy a formal, five-course meal in its historic dining room.
- Bike the 8-mile road around the island.
- Hike to Arch Rock.
- Dine at the Pink Pony.
- Shop on Market Street.
- Purchase homemade fudge from one of the famous fudge shops on the island.
Explore the Rustic Beauty of Drummond Island
Mackinac Island is the most well-known island off the coast of the Upper Peninsula, but it’s not the only island to discover. For a more rustic experience, consider taking a trip to Drummond Island, which is known as the Gem of the Huron. Some of the top things to do on Drummond Island include:
- Kayaking around the island on the Heritage Water Trail
- Off-roading on more than 100 miles of ATV trails
- Bird-watching on the North Huron Birding Trail
Head Into the Earth on an Underground Mine Tour
Copper mining was the industry that fueled the Upper Peninsula for much of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, you can take an underground mine tour to learn more about what the miners endured each day.
Many of the mines are located on the Keweenaw Peninsula, with two of the most famous mines that you can visit being the Quincy Mine in Hancock and the Delaware Mine in Delaware.
Book a Karst Cave Tour in Trout Lake
Karst Cave is located on the Fiborn Quarry, an Upper Peninsula ghost town that many people don’t even realize exists. Exploring this undeveloped cave is an experience unlike any other.
But, it’s not recommended that you try this excursion on your own. The safest way to go into the cave is to book a tour through the Fiborn Karst Preserve, which maintains the quarry.
Check the Soo Locks Off Your Upper Peninsula Bucket List
Located in Sault Ste Marie, the Soo Locks are one of the most iconic attractions in the Upper Peninsula. Each year, more than 500,000 people come to see this modern engineering marvel for themselves.
In fact, most would consider any trip to the Upper Peninsula incomplete without a visit to the Soo Locks. Some things that you should do when you visit the Soo Locks include:
- Watch the freighters passing through the locks on the observation platform.
- Visit the 1899 U.S. Weather Bureau Building to learn more about life on the Great Lakes.
- Take a Soo Locks boat tour to pass through the locks yourself.
Visit the Top Attractions in St. Ignace
St. Ignace is the first town you’ll visit when you drive over the Mackinac Bridge and arrive in the Upper Peninsula. It may be the first stop on your itinerary, but you won’t want to pass through before you visit some of the top attractions in this city. The best things to do in St. Ignace include:
- Climbing to Castle Rock
- Visiting Wawatam Light
Stop to See the Animals at GarLyn Zoo
In Naubinway, you’ll find the charming GarLyn Zoo, a family-run Michigan zoo that’s famous for being the largest live animal exhibit on the Eastern Upper Peninsula.
When you’re visiting the GarLyn Zoo, some of the animals that you may see include badgers, cougars, river otters, porcupines, reindeer, Siberian tigers, and African lions. This seasonal attraction is open from late April until late August but has limited hours during September and October.
Meet a Majestic Black Bear at Oswald’s Bear Ranch
Oswald’s Bear Ranch has long been considered one of the best family-friendly attractions in the Upper Peninsula. During the summer, you can come to the ranch and see North American black bears in their natural habitat.
The ranch consists of two large habitats and two smaller habitats, allowing bears to be placed in a habitat that’s best for their personality and size.
No visit to the bear ranch would be complete without a photo with the bear cubs, though. You get to interact with the tiny black bear cubs and get your picture taken to share the experience with friends and family members.
Cycle Along the Iron Ore Heritage Trail
If you’re searching for a summer activity in the Upper Peninsula that will spark your imagination, take you on a tour through history, and give you a chance to stay active, then the Iron Ore Heritage Trail near Marquette is the best opportunity for you.
The Iron Ore Heritage Trail spans more than 47 miles through the Marquette Iron Range. While it’s a year-round, multi-use trail, it’s best traversed throughout the summer months when you can explore the trail on a bicycle, on foot, or on a recreational vehicle.
The trail cuts through local downtown areas, offers an interpretive glance into the mining industry in Michigan, and winds along the shore of Lake Superior.
Cruise Past the Most Famous Upper Peninsula Lighthouses
The Upper Peninsula is home to more than 40 lighthouses, many of which are located along the shorelines of the Great Lakes. However, some of the most infamous towers are located in the middle of the lakes themselves, meaning that the only way to experience them is on the water.
Fortunately, there are Great Lakes lighthouse cruises offered by Shepler’s Mackinac Island ferry, so you can take a tour of these hard-to-reach towers.
Go Off the Beaten Path to Discover Crisp Point Lighthouse
The Crisp Point Lighthouse is in Paradise, which is a well-known tourist town in the Upper Peninsula thanks to the presence of Whitefish Point and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. However, it’s still a bit of a hidden gem in this popular vacation destination.
For many years, this lighthouse wasn’t accessible to anyone, and now, it’s a solitary structure that has stood the test of time against the rough waters of Lake Superior. Visiting Crisp Point Lighthouse is no easy feat, but it’s a worthwhile effort.
To get there, you must take a gravel road through Lake Superior State Forest. You’ll know that you’ve reached the lighthouse when it comes into view. Once there, you can stop at the visitor center, learn more about the history of the light and enjoy your time in this quiet, peaceful corner of the Upper Peninsula.
Take a Ferry to Isle Royale National Park
For a true Upper Peninsula adventure, take a ferry to Isle Royale National Park — a destination that’s famous for being the least-visited national park in the country. Isle Royale is an untouched, rugged terrain that’s best for those who enjoy hiking trails, rustic camping experiences, and wildlife viewing.
Isle Royale can only be reached during the brief summer season from a dock in Copper Harbor. The ferry trip takes about 3.5 hours to complete, so you may want to stay overnight on Isle Royale to make the most of your time there.
Fall in Love With Autumn Things to Do in the Upper Peninsula
While the rest of Michigan waits patiently for the colors to turn, leaf peeping in the Upper Peninsula begins in earnest in the middle of September.
The northern reaches of the Upper Peninsula begin to show the first signs of fall colors in early September, while most of the peninsula is covered in shades of gold, crimson, and orange by early October.
During these weeks of wonder, you’ll find that the most famous natural attractions in the Upper Peninsula look more incredible than ever. Plus, there are a few activities that can only be experienced during this enchanting time of year.
Welcome Fall by Walking Across the Mighty Mac
Fall is ushered into the Upper Peninsula when a wave of people take advantage of the opportunity to make the annual trek across the Mackinac Bridge.
Affectionately known by locals as the Mighty Mac, the bridge is an architectural wonder that’s typically traversed by motor vehicles. Every September, the bridge is closed to vehicular traffic and thousands of people participate in the Mackinac Bridge Labor Day Walk across this 5-mile-long bridge.
Witness Autumn Arrive at Pictured Rocks
The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is beautiful at any time of the year, but one of the most popular times to visit this Upper Peninsula attraction is during the fall when the colorful leaves perfectly accent the sandy hues of the rocks.
There’s always an influx of visitors each fall, so you may want to plan ahead if you’re interested in taking a Pictured Rocks boat cruise or kayak tour.
Go Apple Picking in the Upper Peninsula
Apple picking isn’t as common in the Upper Peninsula as it is throughout Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. But, there are still places where you can pluck a ripe, juicy apple from a tree and enjoy a crunchy treat in a fall-like setting.
Sunny G Orchard is a popular u-pick apple spot in the Upper Peninsula. Located on the western edge of the Upper Peninsula near the Michigan-Wisconsin border, this apple orchard offers 10 varieties of apples as well as tractor rides, treats, and spectacular views.
Hike Through Presque Isle Park
Situated in the northern reaches of the Upper Peninsula near Marquette, Presque Isle Park lights up each fall with a cacophony of colors. Hiking and biking are popular activities in this wildly beautiful park, as is cliff jumping from Black Rocks.
However, one of the best spots to visit within the park boundaries during the fall is the Eastside Outlooks. Here, you will see colorful leaves juxtaposed against jagged rocks and the rough Lake Superior surf.
Tour Fort Wilkins Historic State Park
At Fort Wilkins Historic State Park, you can enjoy looking into history against a backdrop of some of the most magnificent fall colors that Michigan has to offer. Located in Copper Harbor, Fort Wilkins Historic State Park offers camping and is open until mid-October each year.
Photograph the Tahquamenon Falls With Colorful Leaves Around the Rushing Waters
The Tahquamenon Falls are some of the largest waterfalls in the Midwest, making them a breathtaking sight no matter the time of year. However, many consider fall to be the best time to view the falls and capture them in photographs.
The Upper Falls — arguably the more famous of the two sets of falls — is particularly gorgeous as the leaves that wrap around transform into shades of orange and gold. The Lower Falls, too, is stunning during the autumn months.
Sip Your Way Through the Best Upper Peninsula Wineries
Fall is the perfect time to sip a glass of wine against the backdrop of the Upper Peninsula trees. There’s nothing more relaxing than enjoying a flight of wine with a beautiful view, and these are some of the best Upper Peninsula wineries to visit:
- Northern Sun Winery in Bark River
- Threefold Vine Winery in Stephenson
- Mackinaw Trail Winery in Manistique
Search for Colorful Rocks Along the Upper Peninsula Shoreline
The rocky beaches in the Upper Peninsula are filled with colorful stones and rocks, making for the perfect opportunity to go treasure hunting. Since you aren’t likely to be swimming in the lakes at this time of year, fall is the best time to go rock hunting.
If you’re wondering about the types of rocks you’ve found, head to the Gitche Gumee Agate and History Museum in Grand Marais.
Experience a Winter Wonderland of Things to Do in the Upper Peninsula
Winter is the longest season in the Upper Peninsula, arriving early and staying late into the spring months the following year.
Fortunately, the people of this northern destination are well-accustomed to life underneath a blanket of snow, and there are endless ways to enjoy the Upper Peninsula throughout the long, cold winter.
The key to making the most out of this picturesque winter wonderland is to come prepared with the gear you need and to keep an open mind as you try out new activities.
Explore an Ice Cave
While the splendor of fall will be long gone by the time winter arrives in earnest, this dark and cold season ushers in its own beauty in the form of ice caves. Ice caves are natural wonders that are spectacular to see in person. Visitors are most familiar with the Eben and Grand Island ice caves.
The Eben ice caves are located just outside of Munising in Alber County on the shores of Silver Creek, and hikers can journey to the ice caves from the Eben Ice Caves Trailhead.
Snowmobile Your Way Through the Heart of the Upper Peninsula
One of the most popular winter activities in the Upper Peninsula is snowmobiling — in fact, it’s considered to be the best snowmobiling destination in the country.
The Upper Peninsula boasts more than 3,000 miles of groomed snowmobile trails, each offering different views and terrains while connecting people to various communities.
Ring in the New Year on Mackinac Island
Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry Service will run a boat to the island if the lake isn’t frozen. Otherwise, you can get to the island via plane. On a typical New Year’s Eve, one or two downtown restaurants will be open, serving a special, festive menu. Also, a handful of hotels will be accepting guests.
The highlight of the night is the Great Turtle Drop, for which a 70-pound, fiberglass turtle covered in lights is dropped much like the ball in Times Square to ring in the new year.
Try Out Dog Sledding
Dog sledding may sound like an activity that would be included on an Alaskan itinerary, but it’s an experience you can enjoy yourself when you go to the Upper Peninsula in the winter.
Nature’s Kennel Sled Dog Adventures in McMillan will take you on a dog-sledding experience that will make you feel as if you completed the Iditarod.
Go Cross-Country Skiing Through the Porcupine Mountains
The Porcupine Mountains Ski Area is located on the northern shores of Lake Superior, near Ontonagon. This is one of the best places to enjoy cross-country skiing in the Upper Peninsula, as there are more than 25 miles of groomed trails.
Along the way, you may see the shores of Lake Superior, frozen waterfalls, and snow-topped trees, making you feel as if you’re gliding through a true winter wonderland.
Bundle Up to Brave the Dark & See the Northern Lights
If you’re in the Porcupine Mountains area in Ontonagon County, you’re in the perfect spot to see the northern lights. During the winter, you’ll have the best chance of seeing the northern lights during November.
Remember not to look overhead — you’ll want to be glancing toward the horizon to see this colorful display of lights. The shores of Lake Superior are one of the best places to watch the show.
Enjoy a Day of Ice Fishing
Fishing is a beloved Michigan pastime, but it doesn’t have to be exclusive to summer. In fact, ice fishing is one of the most enjoyable wintertime activities in the Upper Peninsula. Some of the best places to go include:
- Bays around Drummond Island
- Bays around Sault Ste. Marie
- Keweenaw Bay
- Portage Lake in Houghton
- Munising Bay
- Big and Little Bay de Nocs
Warm Up With a Craft Beer at an Upper Peninsula Brewery
It’s easy to spend an entire day out in the elements in the Upper Peninsula, largely because there are so many outdoor activities to experience during the winter months.
These adventures can leave you feeling chilled to the bone, though, and one of the best ways to warm up is to visit one of the Upper Peninsula breweries. The craft beer scene is growing, and local breweries are located near most of the largest communities in the Upper Peninsula.
Plan an Itinerary of Things to Do in the Upper Peninsula for Every Season
The Upper Peninsula has a culture and atmosphere all its own, making it an entirely different destination from its partner below Mackinac Bridge. For those who want to combine rustic experiences with adventurous excursions, the Upper Peninsula is one of the best places to visit.
Discover the endless things to do in the Upper Peninsula by planning your visit today. No matter when you visit, you’re sure to find that this place is magical and captivating in its own right, regardless of what you choose to do during your time here.
Explore More: 11 Best Small Towns in Upper Peninsula Michigan