5 Things You Can’t Miss On a Pictured Rocks Road Trip

The untouched natural beauty of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is unlike anywhere else in the world, especially near Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. This stretch of coast from Munising to Paradise is worth a visit for some of the most unbelievably beautiful adventures in the state. This is a great place for a family summer vacation, with a cool to moderate climate and unlimited things to discover. Come along as Jennifer from The Awesome Mitten shares five things that make this gorgeous area Pure Michigan.

The Upper Peninsula seems like it was made for adventures with incredible experiences available in both the summer and winter months. It’s easy to fall in love with the beauty of this area. With eighty four percent of the Upper Peninsula covered by forests and 917 miles of shoreline along the deepest of the Great Lakes – Lake Superior – this is the perfect place to get away from it all and have an unforgettable vacation. Don’t miss these unique experiences during your next trip to the Upper Peninsula.

Photo Courtesy of Jennifer Polasek

1. The Food

Brown Fisheries Fish House

With fresh fish caught within hours of hitting your plate, Brown Fisheries Fish House boasts the tastiest fish near Paradise. Served with either two or three pieces of fish, their ultimate meal is the Lake Superior Whitefish Baskets. It is the most delicious, flaky, perfectly flavorful fish you could imagine and all for an affordable price. This family owned and run business is very low key, so we’re letting you in on the secret of this amazing hidden gem.

Bear Trap Inn

When in the Upper Peninsula you must get a pasty, and you better know how to pronounce it! If you’re looking for a pasty near Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, look no further than Bear Trap Inn. Served by some of the friendliest folks, their food is hot, tasty and filling. The unique interior is unforgettable as well, with rooms filled with taxidermy animals exclusive to the area and a bar with hundreds of numbered mugs for all of the locals.

2. Lighthouses on Every Route

Whitefish Point Lighthouse

Jutting out into Lakes Superior, Whitefish Point Lighthouse is the oldest operating light on this Great Lake. All vessels entering and leaving this treacherous shoreline of Lake Superior must pass this light. This light looks out to the “Graveyard of the Great Lakes” where more shipwrecks have occurred than any other area of the lake so it’s full of remarkable and mysterious history.

Photo Courtesy of Jennifer Polasek

Au Sable Light Station

This active lighthouse along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is in the middle of astonishingly beautiful shoreline. Just west of Grand Marais, it is right around the corner from Log Slide lookout and in the opposite direction Twelve Mile Beach. The 1-1/2 mile walk along the historic U.S. coast guard road is worth the trek. With scenic overlooks of Lake Superior and areas that lead out onto Twelve Mile Beach, the beauty only increases the closer you get to Au Sable Light Station. With over 180 degree views, this landmark is a place not to be forgotten.

3. Small Town Adventures


The name Munising comes from the Ojibwe word for “island at.” This is the gateway to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore since it is the largest and closest city to the area. This city boasts small town charm and great local businesses that are exclusive to the city. You can even see the stars from this city, whether it’s on billboards advertising Kid Rock’s “Born Free” music video that was filmed in the area of the Northern Lights.

Log Slide Lookout

Located about seven miles west of Grand Marais is Log Slide lookout. This incredible place is breathtaking, with views of where loggers used to slide logs down this steep slope and into Lake Superior, where they were then hauled away and turned into products. This is also a good place to glimpse the Au Sable Light Station.

Oswald’s Bear Ranch

With 29 bears, Oswald’s Bear Ranch is the largest Bear Ranch in the entire United States. Just north of Newberry, one man, Dean Oswald, created this preserve for abandoned and orphaned bear cubs from Michigan and other states. This unique experience allows you to see these incredible animals up close and personal while giving a loving home to these bears who weren’t able to live a healthy and normal life until they came to Oswald’s. As a proud associate member of the Zoological Association of America, Oswald’s Bear Ranch is an exciting place for visitors to take part in giving these bears a sanctuary for a better life.

Photo Courtesy of Jennifer Polasek

4. Waterfalls All Around

Munising Falls

The majority of waterfalls in this area are the result of water running over a shelf or cliffs of hard limey sandstone called the Munising Formation. This formation extends from Tahquamenon Falls to Laughing Whitefish Falls. There are quite literally waterfalls all around you when you enter this area, especially near Munising which even has its own waterfall named after the city.  Located within the city limits of Munising, a short paved trail leads you up the cool sandstone canyon along Munising Creek to two viewing platforms at the base of the falls.

Miners Falls

Just a short hike off of Miners Castle Road is the impressively powerful Miners Falls. The gravel path is a beautiful stroll through the northwoods wilderness that ends with two incredible overlooks of the falls. Make sure to bring bug spray, because you won’t want to miss this astounding waterfall.

Tahquamenon Falls

Well known for its sheer size, the Tahquamenon Falls State Park is one of the most popular attractions in the Upper Peninsula. With 46,179 acres, it is the second largest state park in Michigan. Tahquamenon Falls’ Upper Falls has a magnificent 50 foot drop, while the Lower Falls include cascades and rapids. Bordering along Lake Superior, the majority of this state park is located in Whitefish Township.

Photo Courtesy of Jennifer Polasek

5. Not Your Average Tour of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Stretching for about 15 miles along Lake Superior, these incredibly bold and colorful cliffs range from 50 to 200 feet and jut out directly from the lake. There are numerous ways to see these beautiful cliffs including Miners Castle which provides a wonderful vista of Pictured Rocks. However, the best way to experience these cliffs is by water. There’s a variety of different tours to choose from, but the only vessel that will allow you to get within arm’s reach from these massive cliffs is by kayak.

One of the most popular companies is Uncle Ducky’s Paddling Michigan tours. They feature a variety of unique experiences, but the most incredible Pictured Rocks tour is probably their six hour Sunset Paddle. With the sun at a lower angle, the cliff walls are illuminated in beautiful hues of orange and reddish copper. Gliding along the crystal clear waters and feeling the waves crash into the astonishing cliffs that rise up to 200 feet above you is a humbling experience that is breathtaking and mind boggling full of natural beauty. The journey features many landmarks including Miners Castle, Bridalveil Falls, Caves of the Bloody Chiefs, Mosquito river, and circling beneath the iconic Lovers Leap Arch. Whether you’re a novice or expert kayaker this adventure is built for every skillset.

Photo Courtesy of Jennifer Polasek

The beauty of this region is almost indescribable; you just have to go live the adventure for yourself. These were the most unforgettable places I experienced along my last road trip in the Upper Peninsula that I’d recommend over and over again. It’s incredible to live in such a diverse state that offers unlimited adventures. And Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is unlike any other part of Michigan because of the unique experiences that await around every curve.

What’s your favorite landmark near Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore?

AM1Jennifer Polasek is currently a student at Grand Valley State University earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Writing. Jennifer splits her time working as a public relation and marketing intern for The Awesome Mitten and Opera Grand Rapids. She’s an avid adventurer and loves exploring the hidden gems within Michigan! She currently resides in Grand Rapids, but loves escaping to Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula during the summertime. She loves promoting Michigan because of its endless adventures and diversity. Follow her Mitten adventures on Twitter and Instagram

1,000+ Miles in Pure Michigan

After a summer road trip in 2012, guest bloggers Benjamin Bator and Matt Ferrel were inspired to organize a 1,000+ mile road trip across Michigan to explore the lesser-known beauty of their home state. Here, they describe their unforgettable Pure Michigan road trip and how it came to be.

Things always seem to fall into place on northbound M-22. It was day one of the second annual Mille Mitten road rally, the convoy was full off a lunch in Ludington and hell-bent on getting to the first of countless scenic lookouts. The weather played along for what seemed like the first time that summer and the traffic was surprisingly light for a Friday afternoon – This is what the summer road trip should feel like.

To backtrack, the Mille Mitten is a 1,000+ mile road rally around Michigan. My friend and co-pilot Matt Ferrel took a road trip in May of 2012 that inspired us to spend the summer getting to know our home state. Despite the prevalence of Pure Michigan ads, we neglected to investigate the serious amount of scenery until our mid-twenties, and we knew that we weren’t alone. Hearing whispers about this “up north” place, curious out-of-town friends began asking if they could head in this vague direction. Enough was enough, so we decided to tackle the problem with a road trip of equal parts ambition and necessity, aimed at connecting people with the state of Michigan by way of the automobile. The Mille Mitten was born.

For the 2013 Mille, we hosted 30 friends, old and new, on a route with enough variables to ensure both sights and surprises throughout the state. Chevrolet supplied eleven beautiful vehicles for us to drive, Opportunity Detroit and Roadtrippers kept us fed and happy for the duration of our trip, and some extremely generous individuals opened their homes, yards, and businesses to us along the way.

On August 23, we set off from Detroit toward the weekend’s first checkpoint, Saugatuck’s Ship N Shore Boatel. A summer vacation town and artist colony, Saugatuck is also home to nearly 1,000 year-round residents. The Ship ‘N’ Shore Boatel is uniquely accessible via water and car, not to mention extremely close to Uncommon Roasters, who make some serious cold-brew coffee.

Friday’s 250-mile trip called for a trek up the west coast through Glen Arbor, Pyramid Point, Leland, and Northport before settling down in Traverse City for the evening. Pushing up that glorious stretch of road called M-22, we noticed people unpacking their cars after their Friday drive upstate, faces full of relief to finally be out of the car. We had another hundred miles and change to drive that day and couldn’t be happier. To stretch our legs, we planned a few stops on the way, but opted to maximize the view from the road ahead.

First up: Arcadia Bluffs Scenic Turnoff. The view from the top of the stairs is worth it every time and it’s near impossible to take a bad picture. You not only get a great view of the shoreline to the south, but a unique vantage point of M-22 as well. Oh, and it’s right off the road, not a separate day trip to get there.

We skipped the Sleeping Bear Dunes since we didn’t have it in us to hike up said dunes just to face another mile or two of hiking before we saw the water, so we opted for Pyramid Point. With a 0.6 mile hike from car to view, this is the way to live. If you want to go swimming, that’s another story as the beach is hundreds of feet below and a 45-degree grade of soft sand is your only way back up. We held out for kinder beaches.

Back on the beaten path, Old Ache (re-opening in May 2014), a summer pop-up shop in Leland, welcomed us with gifts and is seriously one of the hidden gems of the area. Leland is an old fishing settlement that holds some serious charm and culinary street cred. Sandwiched between Lake Leelanau and Lake Michigan, it’s in a surreal microclimate that tricks you into thinking the French countryside had a lovechild with Lake Como and settled down on the peninsula.

A short drive later, we arrived at dinner in Northport, greeted by a one-of-one Buick “Special” wagon that was the predecessor to the Roadmaster and a spread of food acquired on the road and prepared by Chef Andy Hollyday. With a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan as our backdrop, it’s safe to say that while the pictures turned out great, the memories are even better.

Day one culminated at The Little Fleet in Traverse City and in a makeshift bar set up beachside in a parking lot, lovingly named “Stranger Magnet” because of its obvious powers.

For day two, we embarked on a 258-mile trip that would briefly take us into the Upper Peninsula. After a scattered morning trip to Harbor Springs (never miss a Gurney’s Harbor Bottle Shop sandwich opportunity), a 1994 Viper led us through the Tunnel of Trees as it passed its 10,000th mile. Hazard lights on, we snaked our way to Sturgeon Bay Beach and then spent a few hours on the beach that had our out-of-state participants wondering why anyone bothers going to Malibu. A pass of the Mackinac Bridge from both sides of the divide allowed us to take in the first interstate highway of the day as we were already late to the crawfish boil that waited for us at the evening’s final stop in Lewiston.

Time has the ability to distill memories to their very best version. With that said, the rest of the weekend goes something like this: night swimming in Lake Michigan, the serendipitous Tawas City taco stand at an unplanned beach detour, the seemingly untouched and jaw-dropping stretch of F-32 through Huron National Forest, experiencing “Golden Hour” and light I-75 traffic twice, the dance party back in Detroit (and out of every sunroof), waking up to the pristine fairway forest of Garland on Sunday, the pre-Mackinac pasty pit stop, the endless search for one lost key (check jacket pockets), and one jerry can of gas to make it to the finish line. It’s all made for run-on sentences.

It’s been a few months since that last checkpoint but the entire Mille Mitten is never far from our minds. We took in every sunset, gawked at every side-of-the-road barn, and never stopped moving. As we get into the heart of Fall, you might not spend as much time at the beaches, but the roads are as good as ever. With trees begging for a photo op around every corner, there’s a brand new crop of checkpoints (Cider Mills! Pumpkins! Corn mazes!) just waiting there for you. We’re here to tell you that it’s never too late to take some back roads and get lost in Michigan. Just remember- windows down, heat up.

See you on the road.

Disclaimer: Chevrolet, Opportunity Detroit, and Roadtrippers liked the Mille so much that they gave us real money to do it. If you’re interested in joining amazing this list for 2014, get in touch at: millemitten.com/contact.

Have you taken an unforgettable Pure Michigan road trip? Tell us about it below!

Benjamin Bator and Matt Ferrel are the co-drivers of the Mille Mitten. Ben turned down law school to read text messages for a living and create experiences like the Mille Mitten. Matt works for Google and co-created the channel ThatNewRave.com.