10 Stops for a One Tank Road Trip in Central Upper Peninsula

Grand Marias
Photo Courtesy of emilythompson.13

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Follow the Lake Superior shoreline past colorful cliffs and pristine beaches within and beyond a popular national park, then loop to an equally stunning route along Lake Michigan and back through a still-natural wildlife corridor.

1. Grand Marais

This scenic drive along Lake Superior starts at the charming town that serves as eastern entrance to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, which hugs the shoreline for more than 40 miles past pristine beaches and sandstone cliffs colored in stripes by seeping minerals. Don't hit the road until you've strolled beaches for colorful agates, taken a swim in the sheltered Grand Marais harbor and hiked along Chapel Falls to a particularly sheltered stretch of shoreline. Browse the Gitche Gumee Agate and History Museum for the diverse display of lumbering and commercial fishing items as well as agates from Lake Superior and rest of the world.

2. Munising 

The drive passes the park's 73,000 acres of shoreline and popular rock formations likely to capture imaginations as they did those who named them—Miner's Castle, Indian Head, Chapel Rock, Grand Portal, Petit Arch and more. Pictured Rocks Cruises are the most popular way to view the rocky shoreline shaped by thousands of years by wind and waves. The cliff art is featured during a glass-bottomed Shipwreck Tours but so is the tragic lake history on display beneath. Then, stay at the Roam Inn and enjoy dinner at its upscale restaurant. Find local art on display at Open Wings Pottery Studio and Falling Rock Cafe and Bookstore, a store that serves as restaurant, music venue and comfortable gathering place.

3. Au Train

Following M-28, you'll pass so many pristine beaches you'll have a hard time picking your roadside stop, but the H.J. Rathfoot Roadside Park, lets you also explore “Face in the Rock,” a carving along the shoreline created by a French voyageur as a tribute to “Powers of the Air,” a lone survival of a peaceful Chippewa band of Indians who once lived on nearby Grand Island.

4. Christmas 

Here, you can eat at Frosty's Restaurant and Bar inside the Kewadin Casinos-Christmas, amid candy cane pillars. After, mail holiday cards postmarked “Christmas” next to a giant cutout of Mrs. Claus. Nearby Lakenenland, is almost just as magical with its free gallery collection of whimsical sculptures made from scrap iron.

5. Marquette 

Home to Northern Michigan University, this increasingly cosmopolitan community is also noted for its outdoor recreation bounty. Museums celebrate the maritime and Native American legacies, and the iconic ore docks tell is mineral story. So does its downtown district, with its distinct red sandstone architecture, but it also mixes historic with urban chic with its shopping, dining and popular microbreweries. Try Donckers for a quaint soda fountain-style lunch, The Delft Bistro to watch a film as you eat in a classic restored movie theater with innovative cuisine; Elizabeth's Chophouse for date night elegance and great lake view. The Nestledown Inn Bed and Breakfast captures the Scandinavian heritage with its in-house sauna and Finnish specialties.

6. Gladstone 

Follow Highway 41 to travel through the northern hardwoods and conifers of the Hiawatha National Forest toward Escanaba, which offers so much more than moonlight. Head West on US 2 to walk the shorelines of Bays de Noc's three peninsulas which boast more freshwater coastline than any other county in the country. 

7. Escanaba  

Stroll the midway at the Upper Peninsula State Fair. Shop along the two-mile long historic downtown area. Sample a Yooper Bar at Sayklly's Confectionary and Gifts, the Upper Peninsula's largest confectionary. The true specialty, though, is anything Italian, especially what' s served at Crispignas Restaurant.

8. Gulliver 

Follow U.S. 2 for a stretch that hugs an all-sand shoreline toward Manistique, where you can gaze at the harbor while sipping wine or beer made on site at Manistique on the Harbor. Seul Choix Point Lighthouse offers tours and a haunted history hard to beat.

9. Manistique  

Kitch-iti-kipi Springs at Palms Book State Park is a year-round attraction for the way you can propel yourself across the strikingly green springs that stay as open water year-round and gaze at fish swimming 30 feet down.

10. Seney  

Follow M94 north to explore Seney National Wildlife Refuge, on the route back, through self-guided or ranger-guided tours of the some 95,212 acres of wilderness, swamps, islands, and lakes. Beautiful Trumpeter Swans, osprey, deer, loons, moose, deer, turtles, geese, fish, eagles, and more will welcome your visit.