When you cross the bridge between lower Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, you feel yourself slipping back in time. But not in the backwards, mothball sense. More like you are in the passenger’s seat of Lewis and Clark’s expedition, seeing America the way it was supposed to be seen: a rugged, untamed landscape that is as beautiful as it is unforgiving.
Our first stop on our northward journey was Tahquamenon Falls, the second largest waterfall east of the Mississippi. Any other comparison to Niagara, though, is unfair and misleading—nestled in a rocky, piney gorge, these falls are almost hidden and, standing in their mist, you feel like you are in on an incredible secret (a starkly different experience than the neon lights of Niagara Falls). Then, there’s the color: the water in this area carries natural tannins from the soil, so it’s almost the color of medium roast coffee and, cresting the falls, looks like liquid gold.
Our visit to the UP was off to a great start.
Next up was Pictured Rocks, one of the more well known landscapes in the UP, but only accessible by boat or a nine-mile hike. The dense woods of towering hemlocks eventually give way to a shocking, rocky coastline, with pine trees spilling over the cliff edges. You cross over a quiet beach and then climb the cliffs, each view more dramatic than the next. We waved to the occasional tour boat that passed by, but mostly we were alone on this stunning landscape.
The next day, recovering from sore legs, we drove up the Keweenaw Peninsula to Copper Harbor, expecting an easy, uneventful day of sightseeing. But, once again, the Yoopers exceeded expectations. In the late 19th century, the western portion of the UP was rich in pure copper, producing the majority of our country’s supply and attracting interesting and resourceful people to this remote corner of the world. Although the copper mines are now exhausted, the region embraces it’s vibrant history and many old mines are open for tours (for those who aren’t traveling with a mining expert in the driver’s seat). We spent a full day enjoying the pebble beaches, poking around copper art studios and mining museums, and sampling meat pasties (the local delicacy, sort of a meat pie in hot pocket form).
Finally, on our drive across the Upper Peninsula, we stopped to hike the Porcupine Mountains. The trail was one of the must striking we’ve climbed, serpentining along the edge of a river gorge with nonstop, scenic views of the bright blue waters below. Having grown up in the land of man-made lakes, it was odd to see bodies of water free of human dams, motorboats, or vacation homes. Pure Michigan, at it’s finest.
In the week we spent in the UP, I was surprised time and time again. I was struck by the people—their laid-back
style was an affront to my East Coast mentality, and they didn’t seem the least bit concerned about the blustery July weather (meanwhile, I’ve already worn all the clothing I packed for winter). I was shocked by how much I loved the towns we passed through—bustling cafés, art studios, and boutiques, poised dramatically on the water’s edge. And, most of all, I was taken by the natural beauty of this place—once a hotbed for lumber and mining, it also boasts some of our nation’s oldest forests, teaming with wildlife and dotted with hidden rivers and beaches.
We left feeling inspired and excited: the UP was different than anything we’d seen before and encompassed the spirit of this adventure, getting off the beaten path, communing with nature, and experiencing a different way of life. As we crossed over into Wisconsin dairy country, it was bittersweet to watch the hardwood forests disappear in the rearview mirror.
We’ll be back Yoopers—maybe to check out those 30 feet of snow you enjoy each winter. I just need to pack more clothing next time.