6 Stops for a One Tank Road Trip in Eastern Upper Peninsula
Explore the state's oldest cities and loop past island chains and waterfalls, on this memorable one-tank journey through nature and time.
1. St. Ignace
Just to the north of the Mackinac Bridge, is the gateway to Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Founded in 1671,it is also the second oldest settlement, and its waterfront has been a draw for its beauty for those three centuries, plus. Immerse yourself in the rich history at the Museum of Ojibwa Culture. There, a traditional longhouse shares the same waterfront park as the grave of explorer Father Jacques Marquette and interactive fun brings daily surprises. The Fort de Buade Museum and Gift Shop brings history to life through paintings and authentic trade items. There is plenty of lighthearted fun, too, whether that's a pond hockey game on the ice or live music and weekly fireworks at the marina, from which it's an easy stroll to great shopping and fresh whitefish.
Follow I-75 north to I-34, and head east to the crossroad towns of Hessel and Cedarville, the launching points for trips to and around the Les Cheneaux Islands. The Nature Conservancy named the region one of the “Last Great Places” in the Western Hemisphere for the pristine ecosystem great for birding, hiking, biking and sea kayak trips. Woods and Water Ecotours, founded and still run by a former conservancy staffer, makes access easy on guided trips by paddle or snowshoes (depending on season). Future top chefs feed you at the Les Cheneaux Culinary School Restaurant and get on the water by paddle or motor for a view of colorful boat houses and the wooden boats still ubiquitous on these waters. Then follow 129 north to Sault Ste. Marie to explore Michigan's first permanent settlement, an impressive 350 years old in 2018.
The Soo Locks are the community's biggest draw for the way the engineering marvel let's ocean-going freighters negotiate the 21 foot drop between Lake Huron and Lake Superior. Head to the visitor center to see which freighters will be arriving when, or catch the Soo Locks Boat Tours & Dinner Crusises to feel the water power as you “lock through” and power of nature as you pass soaring eagles, loons and cormorants.
Explore the River of History Museum for a trip through the history of Native Americans and fur traders along the St. Mary’s River, then head aboard a freighter-turned-museum to see The Valley Camp's poignant exhibit of battered lifeboats from the Edmund Fitzgerald. Your proximity to Canada and its twin city of Sault Ste. Marie is evident in dishes like the indulgent poutine featured at The Antlers also notable for a décor featuring heads of deer, antelope, bears, big cats, fish and more.
From Sault Ste. Marie, take M-28 to the intersection of M-123 to take the scenic byway loop and begin the Tahquamenon Byway. The byway begins at the Eckerman Corner and heads north to Paradise, Michigan's wild blueberry capitol and the gateway to Whitefish Point
A short jaunt further north leads to the Shipwreck Museum & Whitefish Point Light Station where artifacts tell the poignant story of the majesty and danger of the Great Lakes and the ships they have swallowed, including the freighter Edmund Fitzgerald. You can stay overnight in the handsomely restored Whitefish Point Light Station, a former Coast Guard lifesaving station on a point that attracts raptors and songbirds by the thousands. Here, you're near the Mouth of The Two Hearted River, which houses a campground and nearby canoe liveries and lets you cast in a line and recall the Hemingway classic. Then, follow the loop east to powerful Tahquamenon Falls State Park. Some 35 miles of hiking trails meander around two sets of connected falls. They're tinted the color of root beer because of the tannins and even stunning in winter when partially frozen; on February evenings, rangers light trails with candles to illuminate them for skiing or snowshoeing.
Continue on the loop, which heads southwest through the village of Newberry, where a stop at Oswald's Bear Ranch lets you view bears in a wild environment and support the rescue efforts. The lumberjack breakfasts are just one draw to the Tahquamenon Logging Museum. The U.P.'s biggest dog sledding operation, Nature's Kennel Iditarod Sled Dog Racing & Adventures based here, and a winter stop is a must for the chance to drive a team overnight with a midway stay in a yurt.