A visit to the Upper Peninsula

We are excited to share this guest blog piece from travel writer Kath Usitalo.  We hope you enjoy!

One of the great things about having a second home in the Upper Peninsula is that we have a no-reservations-required, four-season retreat from suburban Detroit with woods and water, solitude and sauna. Recently I broke from our retreat and spent some time wandering the central section of the UP, armed with maps and tips from the visitor center in Manistique.

First stop: The Mustard Seed, an airy gallery and shop in a rehabbed JCPenney store, the open mezzanine a showcase for local artists. Then across the street to the year-old Cedar Street Café in a setting of exposed brick walls hung with works by local artists.

I used the new Upper Peninsula Art Map to locate the home/studio of Leonard Fieber and his Beaver Chew Furniture—really, it’s prettier than it sounds. Len, in his canoe, locates beavers and the aspen sticks that they’ve stripped of the bark; he carts home the wood, dries it, and builds beautiful, creamy-white furnishings and decorative items.

At Len’s suggestion of a scenic route I followed two-lane M-94 north to Jack Pine Lodge, an old timey log cabin roadhouse. The restaurant/bar is about 70-years old and all wood—think heavily lacquered, thick tables complete with tree trunk and roots for legs. Refreshed after an iced tea, I made a mental note to return for homemade pizza.

I succeeded in finding Camel Rider’s Resort, a real hideaway at the end of a trail off County Road 440 that, years ago, my husband, T.J., and I tried to find. This time I persisted—kept driving when I thought I was lost—and was rewarded with a dinner of Lake Superior trout caught that day.

Another joy of hitting the road without a timetable or real agenda: the freedom to stop and take pictures of a mirror image in a still lake, or poke around a shop like Wolf Hollow Antiques where I chatted with owner Lovetta Rourke, an artist whose talent shows in the way she displays the quality goods she’s collected.

Referencing the Art Map, I stopped in at the Village Artisans Gallery in downtown Garden to browse the works of about 60 area artists (who knew there was so much talent nearby?) and at the studio of Marsha LaTulip to see her nature-inspired pottery and tile.

Curious about “Honest UP Wine” I stopped at the fledgling Threefold Vine Winery, built by beef and crop farmers

Andrew and Janice Green (and their five kids). Really enjoyed visiting with Janice and sampling the new-to-me fruit wines and honey wines (Andy is a beekeeper, too). Settled on a bottle of Autumn Joy.

My last stop on the Garden Peninsula: Fayette Historic State Park, a 19th-century industrial town site on Lake Michigan’s Big Bay de Noc. I confess, as much as I love its stark beauty, Fayette is not someplace I like to tour alone. It always feels like a ghost town to me, and next time I’ll enjoy it in the company of someone I can see.

Kath Usitalo is a life-long Michiganian who has written about the Great Lakes State for a number of newspapers, magazines and Web sites. She and her husband T.J. Kozak and two kids are bi-peninsular, with their home in the Detroit area and Lake Michigan getaway in the UP, about an hour west of the Mackinac Bridge.

You can leave comments and question below for Kath, or contact her via Twitter (@MITravelIdeas) or on Facebook.