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Author recommends best places to visit in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

A recently updated travel guide outlines some of the best drives, waterfalls and getaways in the UP

Michigan's Upper Peninsula and Lake Michigan seen from the Mackinac Bridge
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Lake Michigan is seen from the Mackinac Bridge in Mackinaw City, Mich. Carlos Osorio/AP Photo

Author and lifelong Detroit area resident Paul Vachon considers Michigan’s Upper Peninsula “America’s northern paradise,” containing dozens of hiking trails, waterfalls and getaways for travelers to find. 

But how should potential travelers plan their trip to what locals call “the world above the bridge”?

Vachon’s travel guide to the U.P. was recently released in its sixth edition. Vachon told WPR’s  “The Morning Show” there’s always something new to discover when revising it.

“Certain physical attractions obviously don’t change,” Vachon said. “But places like hotels and restaurants and museums and things have a high turnover rate… there’s always some interesting things coming up here or there.”

Vachon told “The Morning Show” what getaways he recommends Wisconsin travelers check out.

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The following was edited for clarity and brevity.

Kate Archer Kent: Your book is divided into chapters, partially based on different regions of the Upper Peninsula. Which region would you recommend that we visit in the spring?

Paul Vachon: The area closest to Wisconsin is the area of the Upper Peninsula we refer to as the Superior Upland. There’s a chapter devoted to that in the book. It basically stretches from the area of Menominee — which is right across from Marinette in Wisconsin — and then it kind of arcs upwards towards the town of Ironwood. 

It goes pretty much to where Silver City is, which includes the Porcupine Mountains. It includes a number of other wilderness areas and so forth. If I had to cite one highlight of that region — and there’s a lot of nice things — but one that I would single out mostly is the Porcupine Mountains. Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is the largest state park in the entire state of Michigan. It’s pretty rustic and it’s a great place.

Lake of the Clouds
Lake of the Clouds rests in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Jim Liestman (CC-BY-NC-ND)

KAK: Isle Royale National Park is one of the least visited properties in the national park system. What is there to see in this secluded park? What would you recommend?

PV: There’s two kinds of tourists that can go to Isle Royale. One is for people that are probably not as adventurous from an outdoors perspective. They can go just for a day trip. You can spend a day there and then get the ferry on the way back in the evening. 

The other mode of visiting would be for the more dedicated hiker. There is a series of trails that go from one end to the other. There are several inland lakes in it, which offer great fishing. And there’s also some wildlife, too — there’s a fairly robust moose population. The federal government right now is gradually restoring the wolf population, which just about died out over the years. 

At the far northern tip is a place called Rock Harbor. If you want to stay there and you’re not a camper, it’s the only place you can stay. The park operates a lodge there. It is very expensive, I hate to say. But then at the other end of the park is a place called Windigo. And that is basically a trailhead for hikers to set out. There’s a general store there and a few other amenities, but for the most part the island is pure, raw nature.

There’s an interesting loophole, too: if you are fishing on one of those inland lakes, you do not need a Michigan fishing license. However, if you fish in Lake Superior, you do.

KAK: I thought it was a really great idea that, when traveling to Mackinac Island, you recommend staying overnight in Mackinaw City and then taking a day trip to the island. Can you talk a little bit about that approach of being able to see Mackinac Island on a budget? 

PV: The reason I suggest that is because the accommodations on the mainland are considerably more affordable than on the island. I mean, on the island, they start expensive and it can get extremely expensive, especially the Grand Hotel. 

But just about everything you’d want to do on the island, you can do during the day when you get there. And Shepler’s Ferry runs from Mackinaw City — and from St. Ignace on the Upper Peninsula side — quite frequently. You can get there early in the morning at 8:00 a.m. and you could stay there till 9:00 p.m. and get the last ferry back. 

But there’s wonderful things to do. There’s certainly shopping and, you know, more touristy things. But there’s a bike ride you can take. There’s a state of Michigan highway  — and even though there’s no cars there, it’s actually an official State of Michigan highway — that runs the perimeter of the island. It’s about 8 miles around and you can ride that. I’ve done it myself and it’s a blast. It really is.