Experience the breathtaking beauty and sublime adventure while driving this unforgettable Michigan Upper Peninsula road trip route!
From spectacular waterfalls to lush forests and crystal-clear lakes, there’s something new to be discovered around every corner.
Get ready for a journey like no other as you explore some of the most stunning attractions in the state. Come along and let nature take your breath away!
Upper Peninsula Road Trip Itinerary
Begin in Mackinaw City
Begin your journey in Mackinaw City, the perfect jumping-off point for exploring Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Spend some time strolling along the waterfront, visiting historic sites such as Fort Michilimackinac, or catching a ride on the Star Line Ferry for stunning views of Mackinac Bridge and Mackinac Island.
If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of some of the area’s birds and other wildlife!
Mackinaw City is a great place to stay if you want to get an early start across the stunning Mackinac Bridge heading towards our first stop in the Upper Peninsula, Sault Ste. Marie, MI.
After spending some time in town, hop in your car and start your road trip through the UP!
Sault Ste. Marie
Sault Ste. Marie is a charming little city located in Michigan’s Eastern Upper Peninsula.
The drive from Mackinaw City is nearly 60 miles and usually takes about one hour.
As the oldest settlement in the state, Sault Ste. Marie is full of history and culture that will have you captivated from the moment you arrive. It’s also the second largest city in the UP, behind only Marquette.
Make sure to take some time to explore downtown and its unique shops, restaurants, and galleries.
You’ll also want to check out the Soo Locks Visitor Center, where you can get a close-up of the Soo Locks and St. Marys River. Learn about how the locks work to enable transport through the Great Lakes. If you time your visit right, you can see the locks fully functioning to help ships pass between Lake Superior and Lake Huron.
This is the closest that you’ll come to the Canadian border on this road trip, and you can cross the Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge (with your passport in hand, of course) to end up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Make sure when you’re setting up your navigation that you’re destination is the Michigan city and not the Canadian one!
Book a stay in this historic home in downtown Sault Ste. Marie, where you can walk to plenty of restaurants and shops!
Spend a day or two exploring the city, absorbing its history, and learning about trade across the Great Lakes region.
The next stop on our Upper Peninsula Road Trip in Michigan is Whitefish Point, about 75 miles or 1 hour and 15 minutes from Sault Ste. Marie.
With its breathtaking views of Lake Superior, it’s no wonder why this gorgeous spot has become a popular tourist destination in recent years.
Spend your days exploring the shipwrecks and lighthouses that dot the shoreline, take a leisurely hike through the surrounding woods, or just kick back and relax as you watch the waves crash against the shore on the beach.
The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum is a must-visit spot when you’re in Whitefish Point. There are multiple buildings to explore, with artifacts displayed from various shipwrecks. Lake Superior preserves these artifacts so well because the temperatures remain pretty cold throughout the year.
Stay in a gorgeous cabin with views of Lake Superior. You’ll have beach access directly from the cabin.
Click here to check the availability of the Lake Superior Cabin near Whitefish Point.
Whatever you choose to do here, one thing is certain – Whitefish Point will leave you breathless!
Tahquamenon Falls State Park
Tahquamenon Falls is our next road trip stop, and it’s one of Michigan’s most popular natural attractions. It’s only about 30 minutes from Whitefish point!
Nestled in the Upper Peninsula, Tahquamenon Falls State Park is home to two spectacular waterfalls – the Upper and Lower Falls – that are surrounded by a peaceful forest and rolling hills.
The Upper Falls is one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi River, with a single drop of around 50 feet and a width of 200 feet, dumping up to 50,000 gallons of water per second during the spring snowmelt.
Visitors can take in the breathtaking sight from an elevated boardwalk or choose to explore further by hiking along one of the trails in the area.
Stay the night in one of the campsites scattered throughout the park. There is a wide range of campsites with different amenities from basic rustic sites to ones with electric and water hookups for convenience.
You can’t take a road trip around the UP without stopping to explore Tahquamenon Falls for a day.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Next on our Michigan Upper Peninsula road trip route, we’re going to travel from Tahquamenon Falls to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Pictured Rocks is one of Michigan’s most beautiful and breathtaking sites, only 85 miles from Tahquamenon Falls State Park. You should be able to reach most areas in the national lakeshore in 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Spanning over 70,000 acres of land that backs up to the stunningly blue Lake Superior, Pictured Rocks offers a variety of activities for visitors.
Along the coast, you can find several trails to explore with views of cliffs, waterfalls, sand dunes, and forests. We’d recommend hiking the Chapel Loop if you’re up for it. It’s a longer hike, but you’ll see some of the best scenery along the way.
Grand Sable Dunes is a fun spot to explore on the opposite side of the lakeshore, where you’ll see giant heaping sand dunes instead of the rugged, colorful cliffs. It’s a great change of pace just a short distance away.
If you’re looking for a more relaxed experience, take a boat tour of Pictured Rocks and enjoy the sights from the water – you’ll see Lovers Leap, Indian Head, Miners Castle, Chapel Rock, and more! The cruise is leisurely, the tour guides tell some corny jokes, and the views are spectacular.
We enjoyed staying at the Holiday Inn Express just a couple of miles outside of the town of Munising. It is perched up high on a cliff with views of the bay below. You can enjoy the sunrise from your own little balcony while you sip your cup of morning coffee.
Check availability at the Holiday Inn Express with a Lake View, Munising.
Whether you’re looking for some outdoor fun or just want to appreciate nature’s beauty at its finest, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a stop you should not skip on your Upper Peninsula itinerary.
To get the most out of the lakeshore and have time to see more than one or two spots, we’d recommend at least 2-3 days in Pictured Rocks.
Marquette, Michigan is a charming iron-industry port and college town nestled on the shores of Lake Superior, about 45 minutes from Munising. You’ll only have to drive about 45 miles for this leg of the trip!
With its quaint downtown streets, breathtaking views of Lake Superior, and renowned Northern Michigan University, it’s no surprise that this vibrant city is so bustling with energy. Whether you’re looking for history and culture or outdoor adventures, you can find all these things around Marquette.
In the summertime, explore some of the many trails found in the area — from Presque Isle Park’s world-class mountain biking to Lake Superior’s rugged coastline — and take in the beautiful sights. You can really get your heart pumping by jumping off the black rock cliffs!
And if you thought that the waterfalls around Pictured Rocks were the only ones in the UP, you’ll be surprised by the beautiful sights around Marquette!
If you’d prefer to stay indoors and enjoy mouthwatering food, visit Lagniappes for delicious New Orleans cajun grub. I know, I know. Cajun creole in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan? It really is that good, though! After your meal, check out Blackrocks or Drifa Brewery — they offer a fun relaxed atmosphere and great varieties of craft brews to try.
Get a room at the Staybridge Suites in Marquette. The rooms are large and suite-style, so you’ll have enough room to organize all of your luggage and gear for the next adventures.
Click Here to Reserve a Room at the Staybridge Suites Marquette.
Marquette is a great spot to stop and recharge, getting ready for the next adventure leg.
The Keweenaw Peninsula: Houghton and Copper Harbor
The Keweenaw Peninsula is one of the most unique and beautiful places in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The towns of Houghton and Copper Harbor are two of the most popular destinations for a road trip through this region — and with good reason. The peninsula was booming with copper mines in the early 1900s.
This is one of the longer legs of the trip, taking about 3 hours to reach Copper Harbor on the northernmost part of the Keweenaw Peninsula.
Houghton is known for its stunning views of Lake Superior and its quaint downtown, which offers a variety of delightful shops and delicious restaurants. There’s also a vibrant nightlife scene, with live bands, bars, and breweries to explore.
Meanwhile, Copper Harbor is ideal for outdoor adventurers who love nature. Here you’ll find breathtaking hikes along the rugged coastline, kayaking trips among rocky islands, and mountain biking trails through lush forests.
Head up the Brockway Mountain Drive, and at the top, you’ll be treated to spectacular views of the many lakes and waterways below, as well as stunning foliage in the fall. Brockway Mountain is located just a few minutes west of Copper Harbor.
Take a Side Trip to Isle Royale National Park
While you can’t actually road trip to Isle Royale National Park because it is in the middle of Lake Superior, this island is the only National Park in Michigan. The only way to get there is to board a ferry or seaplane for a ride unless you can find a private boat transport.
The seaplanes depart from the seaplane dock in Houghton, or you can board a ferry in either town.
There are no cars on Isle Royale, so you’ll park your vehicle wherever you depart for the island.
Once you reach the island, some of the things to do in Isle Royale can include day hiking around Rock Harbor or setting out on a backpacking trip exploring Isle Royale. The length of this stop really depends on your interests.
The only indoor place to stay in the park is at the Rock Harbor Lodge. If you want to spend the night in the lodge, make sure you get your reservations far in advance. The rooms do book up early.
If you don’t make it out to the island, at least be sure to stop at the park visitor center in Houghton to learn a little bit more about the park as you’re passing through.
We’ve finally made it all the way west! Located in Michigan’s Western Upper Peninsula, Porcupine Mountains (aka the Porkies) is a breathtaking state park that’s home to some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the area and even the state.
The 75-mile drive from Houghton usually takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes, but it can vary based on what part of “the Porkies” you’re heading to.
From sweeping views to miles of trails for hiking and cross-country skiing, this park is sure to make your road trip unforgettable. Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is the largest state park in all of Michigan, not just the UP!
The highlight of a visit to “the Porkies” is undoubtedly Lake of the Clouds, which offers stunning panoramic views. Make sure you take time to explore this overlook and snap some photos!
If you enjoy the adventure to view Lake of the Clouds, there are over 90 miles of winding hiking trails to explore within the park, including some challenging treks through steep terrain and thick forests.
Book this adorable little cabin to spend the night near Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park!
No matter what type of outdoor experience you’re looking for, you’ll find it at the Porcupine Mountains. This is a must-visit stop on your Upper Peninsula road trip, and we’d recommend planning to visit for more than one day if you like to hike and camp.
Crystal Falls State Forest Area
Now, we’re going to head south, back towards Lake Michigan. Before reaching the lake, stop to explore the Crystal Falls State Forest. This area is about 130 miles from Porcupine Mountains State Park, so you’ll be driving for around 2 hours and 30 minutes.
Crystal Falls State Forest Area offers a unique opportunity to explore the untouched natural beauty in Michigan’s Western Upper Peninsula. From the lakes and rivers galore to miles of winding hiking trails, this area is sure to impress even the most experienced outdoor enthusiasts.
You may even find this area to be less touristy and disturbed than the likes of Pictured Rocks to the north.
This area is a sportsman’s delight with fishing access at every turn.
Even if you’re tired of all the hiking and outdoor adventure, spend a day or two at a private waterfront cabin near town. Many of the cabins around the area are secluded and have water access or at least water views.
Click here to book a waterfront cabin near Crystal Falls, Michigan.
So if you’re passing through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on your road trip, make sure to add Crystal Falls State Forest Area to your itinerary!
Nearing the end of the road trip itinerary, head about 125 miles east. Just north of the town of Manistique, tucked away in Palms Book State Park, is the mystical spring Kitch-iti-kipi.
The southernmost route, which takes you close to Lake Michigan in spots, typically takes about 2 hours and 15 minutes to drive.
Kitch-Iti-Kipi Springs is a must-see destination on any road trip through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This natural wonder is one of the most beautiful and unique places to visit in the UP. With crystal clear turquoise blue water that remains a cool 45 degrees year-round, it’s hard to beat the breathtaking beauty of Kitch-Iti-Kipi Springs.
This 40-foot-deep spring is an Instagrammer’s dream! The raft, powered by a large hand-turned wheel, travels a short distance across to the middle of the glassy surface and you’ll find fish and underwater trees just beneath the surface.
Visiting the spring is typically a quick stop, but there are picnic tables and restroom facilities available near the parking lot. This would be a great spot to explore and then stay for lunch.
If you have some extra time, head back south, where you can explore the large inland Indian Lake and Indian Lake State Park, right outside of the town of Manistique to the west.
After you are finished exploring Kitch-iti-kipi, spend the night in a small cabin with lake views in Manistique. It’s a great place to recharge for the last leg of your road trip.
Click here to book a cabin in Manistique for the night.
Return to St. Ignace
The drive to return to St. Ignace is absolutely stunning! At times, the road comes so close to Lake Michigan that it will feel like the waves are going to come up over your car!
The 85-mile drive between Manistique and St. Ignace typically takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes, but the drive isn’t as fun in windy conditions.
If you need a break while driving, stop at one of the small roadside stands and order a couple of pasties for lunch. These signature Upper Peninsula treats are savory pastries typically filled with meat, potatoes, and other veggies.
When you finally return to St. Ignace, spend the last couple of days of your epic Michigan Upper Peninsula road trip experience enjoying the views of the Mackinac Bridge or taking the ferry over to Mackinac Island for the day.
After you’re done stretching your legs in St. Ignace, you can head back across the Mackinac Bridge, returning to the southern half of Michigan.
What if You Don’t Want Your Michigan Road Trip to End?
If you have a lot of time to travel (like 3+ weeks) and don’t want your adventure to end, you can continue on through the mitten! There are 2 great route possibilities to take.
On the first road trip route, you can head down the western side along Lake Michigan. Make a stop in Traverse City before traveling over to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. With miles of shoreline, opportunities to enjoy the water, and hiking trails to explore, Sleeping Bear Dunes is a fitting add-on at the end of this itinerary. You could even continue along Lake Michigan all the way south to Grand Rapids.
On the second route, head straight down the middle of the mitten! Make a pit stop at Houghton Lake before ending your trip exploring the college towns of Lansing and Ann Arbor.
FAQs: Michigan Upper Peninsula Road Trip Planning
When it comes to planning a Michigan Upper Peninsula Road Trip, there are a few questions that come up over and over again. Here we provide the answers to common questions about planning a road trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Any special tips to keep in mind when planning a road trip through the UP?
The roads in the Upper Peninsula can be narrow and winding country roads, so it’s important to drive slowly and carefully. Also, be aware of the wildlife that may cross your path while driving. Finally, make sure you plan ahead for gas and food stops, as the UP is home to many remote areas.
You might go quite a distance between gas stations, and cell phone service is extremely spotty to nonexistent in some areas.
How long does it take to drive around the Upper Peninsula?
To complete the loop including each of the stops on this itinerary, 17 hours of driving is required. This doesn’t include any side excursions, food stops, or bathroom breaks.
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is big, and it takes a long time to drive around the whole area!
What is the best month to visit the Upper Peninsula of Michigan?
There is some debate about the best month to visit the Upper Peninsula. July and August are great for lake activities like boating and swimming.
September brings absolutely beautiful foliage and more manageable temperatures for hiking.
June is great for exploring waterfalls, but the water temperatures will likely be too cold to swim.
What is the prettiest part of the Upper Peninsula?
The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is filled with so many breathtaking landscapes, it’s hard to choose the “prettiest” place. With its mountainous terrain, numerous lakes and rivers, and thickly wooded forests, it’s no wonder why this region has become a popular tourist destination.
One especially stunning spot is the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, which has won awards for being the most beautiful state park in the US.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is also worth a visit for its surreal hues.
Isle Royale is stunning because it is so remote and undisturbed.
At any given point in your road trip, there are endless amounts of beauty that will be revealed —so just get lost in the wildness of Michigan’s U.P!
What food is Upper Peninsula known for?
The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is known for its fresh, delicious food.
One classic dish you’ll find throughout the region is pasties– a savory pastry filled with beef, potatoes, carrots, and other ingredients. Popular in areas with mining backgrounds, visitors can grab a pasty in almost any small town or convenience store around the Peninsula.
You’ll also want to try Whitefish! This Lake Superior delicacy was historically a staple fish among Native Americans in the Upper Midwest and is still widely cherished today. Whether it’s blackened or pan-fried, this yummy fish packs plenty of flavor, and you can’t get it any fresher!
Can you see the Northern Lights in the Upper Peninsula?
Yes, with the right conditions, you can see the Northern Lights from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan! The Upper Peninsula actually has some of the best spots in the Great Lakes region and even the lower 48 states for viewing these awesome nighttime shows of color.
Most nights during late autumn and winter bring clear skies and ideal weather for spotting auroras. The crystal-clear darkness also makes it easier to spot faint bands of lights that make up a full display of northern lights.
Check aurora forecasts before you go so you know what kind of chance you have to view the Northern Lights.
Visiting the Michigan Upper Peninsula on a road trip can be a truly unique and beautiful experience.
From hiking trails and scenery that offers unparalleled natural beauty, to towns with unique cultures and history, there’s enjoyment at every turn on this road trip. Stop and appreciate the beautiful Michigan sunsets along the way!
Pack your bags, take to the open roads, and explore the Upper Peninsula on a road trip! In no time at all, you’ll find yourself completely immersed in the northwoods adventure this area has to offer.