Looking for a weekend getaway with the kids coupled with a little down time for things like hiking, biking, fishing, canoeing and exploring beautiful and serene scenery? Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has lots of places to explore with plenty to offer for everyone, whether you’re considering a day trip or a longer excursion.
Stretching from the eastern end of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore to the St. Marys River, and from Lake Superior south to Lake Michigan, the Lake Superior State Forest occupies one of the most inaccessible and lightly traveled swaths of land in Michigan.
Far more rivers than roads twist through the forest—clear, spring-fed waters including the Fox, Two-Hearted and Tahquamenon rivers. Their waters are prized by anglers, who know that the extra effort required to reach their banks will be rewarded.
Part of the state forest serves as a buffer zone for Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, offering additional protection for the park’s ecosystems. At Kingston Lake Campground, south of Pictured Rocks’ Twelvemile Beach, a lovely hiking trail winds through cool pines and sunny blueberry patches, then crosses the boundary into the national lakeshore and spills out onto the Lake Superior shore. Return to your campsite along Kingston Lake and cast for bass, or slip a canoe into its wandering bays.
The Grand Sable Dunes, at the east end of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, is a great day-use destination for families. Near the Grand Sable Visitor Center, a half-mile trail from the Sable Falls parking lot winds into the dunes, where marram grass waves in the lake breeze, shifting colors. The trail offers a sweeping view of Lake Superior and the enormous mountains of sand, which stretch five miles into the distance.
A trail to Sable Falls begins at the same parking lot. The half-mile walk is essentially a series of steps that follows Sable Creek as it tumbles through a narrow canyon and out onto a Lake Superior beach. Bring a blanket; kids will want to linger here, splashing in the creek and digging in the sand.
Just south of the dunes, Grand Sable Lake glitters in the afternoon sun. Its sandy shores and often-warm waters make it an inviting spot for a swim or picnic. Picnic areas and a boat ramp are on the northeast side of the lake.
Although it’s just a 15-minute ferry ride from Munising, you’ll feel wonderfully isolated among the woods and wildlife of Grand Island. As the largest island along Lake Superior’s Michigan shore, Grand Island lives up to its name in more than just size. Burnt-red sandstone cliffs line its western shore, rising nearly 200 feet from the lake. Swift-flowing inland streams, secluded beaches, remote lakes and some intriguing historic sites make it a great place to camp and explore. Most of the island is a public recreation area operated by the Hiawatha National Forest. Passenger ferries to the island run Memorial Day through mid-October.
About 50 miles of old logging roads crisscross the island, offering lots of options for hikers and mountain bikers. (Cars are not allowed on the island, except by special permit.) It’s a two-mile trip from the ferry dock to Murray Bay, with an appealing picnic area and sand beach nestled in a grove of pines. Don’t miss the historic cemetery, where you can examine the gravestones of shipwreck victims and some of the island’s early settlers.
The island’s most interesting trails trace the eastern and western shores. The eastern shore climbs high above the lake, offering views of Trout Bay, and Pictured Rocks across Lake Superior, which glimmers far below. The western shore provides fine sand strands that line this side, like Mather Beach, where gnarled limbs of driftwood scatter along the soft shoreline.
Another option for exploring the island is the two- to three-hour van tours of the island offered by ALTRAN Bus Service. The narrated tour makes several stops throughout the southern part of the island, including Echo Lake and the Trout Bay Overlook. For more information, visit the Grand Island Visitor Center.