An Epic Michigan Upper Peninsula Road Trip: 12 Stops You Have to Make in 2024!

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Experience the breathtaking beauty and adventure while driving this unforgettable Michigan Upper Peninsula road trip route!

From spectacular waterfalls to dense forests and crystal-clear lakes, there’s something fun to discover around every corner.

We took a similar route around the UP on our fall road trip up north. We were so pleasantly surprised by the beautiful hiking and waterfall opportunities!

We’ve modified our route just a little bit because after doing the drive ourselves, we think this one gets you the best bang for your buck!

Upper Peninsula Road Trip Itinerary

Begin in Mackinaw City

We recommend beginning your trip in Mackinaw City, the perfect jumping-off point for exploring Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. However, if you’re coming from other areas through Minnesota or Wisconsin, you can hop on this route any point!

Before you head off into the UP, spend some time strolling along the waterfront in Mackinaw City, 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.

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.

A large boat travels under a bridge to enter the Soo Locks.

You’ll also want to check out the Soo Locks Visitor Center, where you can get an close-up view 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.

Whitefish Point

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 day 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 powerful Lake Superior waves crash against the shore on the beach.

The white buildings with a red roof house the Whitefish Point Light Station and Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum.

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. If you can snag a stay at this cabin, 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 is a great stop!

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!

Tucked away on the eastern side of 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. This is where you’ll find Michigan’s “Root Beer Falls”!

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.

Before traveling from Tahquamenon Falls to Pictured Rocks, make sure you see the Upper Falls, this 50-foot tall waterfall.
Upper Tahquamenon Falls

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. It was hard for us to choose a favorite stop along our UP road trip, but this was certainly up there on the list.

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 you to explore while you visit.

Beautiful beaches line Pictured Rocks and Chapel Beach is no different.

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. It was a little busy, but one of our favorite hikes in the UP.

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. We visited a little early in the morning, but only ran into one other group at the dunes.

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.

Enjoy these panoramic views from your balcony as we did at the Holiday Inn outside Munising.

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 home to Northern Michigan University, this vibrant little city is bustling with so much energy. Whether you’re looking for history and culture or even more outdoor adventures, you can find all these things around Marquette.

Enjoy a beautiful view from the black rocks at Presque Isle Park outside of Marquette while on a Michgan Upper Peninsula road trip.
Sunset from Presque Isle Park near 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 views. 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 both have a fun relaxed atmosphere and great varieties of craft brews to try.

Get a room at the Staybridge Suites in Marquette for the night. The rooms are large and suite-style, so you’ll have enough room to organize all of your luggage and gear for the next leg of adventures.

➡️ Click Here to Reserve a Room at the Staybridge Suites Marquette.

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 quaint downtown, which has 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.

view of Isle Royale National Park from sea plane
Our bird’s eye view of Isle Royale National Park from the seaplane

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 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.

Take a few days out from your Michigan Upper Peninsula road trip to explore Isle Royale National Park with all your supplies in a backpack.
backpacking Isle Royale National Park

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.

Taking a trip to Isle Royale National Park is certainly worth doing while on your Upper Peninsula road trip if you have the time.

We’d recommend at least staying overnight on Isle Royale, since most people take the long ferry ride. We loved our seaplane trip out to the island, though!

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.

Porcupine Mountains

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 offers some more of the best trails in the UP. 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!

A birds eye view in Porcupine Mountains State Park is one of the best along this Michigan Upper Peninsula road trip.

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 at least 2-3 days 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. There are lakes and rivers galore and miles of winding hiking trails exploring the area.

You may 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, MI.

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! It’s often passed by, but Crystal Falls is a great retreat.

Kitch-Iti-Kipi Springs

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 extremely 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 a road trip through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This natural wonder is one of the most beautiful and unique places to visit in the UP. This crystal clear turquoise blue water that remains a cool 45 degrees year-round is tucked away in a pine tree forest.

It’s hard to beat the breathtaking beauty of Kitch-Iti-Kipi Springs.

The raft at Kitch-iti-kipi follows a guide cable to take you to the center of the crystal clear waters.

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.

One of the most popular views on any Sleeping Bear Dunes Travel Guide
Stunning views can also be found at Sleeping Bear Dunes!

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 an 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. We’d recommend stopping for gas when you see a station, even if you have half a tank!

How long does it take to drive around the Upper Peninsula?

To complete the loop including each of the stops on this itinerary, at least 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 on both the cliffs and Lake Superior.

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 often filled with beef, potatoes, carrots, and other ingredients. Popular in areas with mining backgrounds, you 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 the Northern Lights.

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.

Lake Superior sunsets while on a Michigan Upper Peninsula road trip.

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, this route has been one of our favorite road trips to date. Stop and appreciate the beautiful Michigan sunsets along the way!

Pack your bags, take to these open country roads, and explore the Upper Peninsula on a road trip! In no time at all, you’ll find yourself completely immersed in all the northwoods adventure this area has to offer.