18 Stops for a Scenic Road Trip in the Upper Peninsula
Winding its way from Menominee to the city lights of Gladstone, the Upper Peninsula's "Hidden Coast" is a shore-hugging scenic drive that takes you from the bays of Lake Michigan to the crossroads of the U.P. at Escanaba. There are more than 25 scenic overlooks along this drive, and you're definitely gonna want to pull over for some incredible vistas.
Start in the quaint lakeside town of Menominee. After strolling through the historic, waterfront downtown area with its many shops and attractions, take a break at the city's Great Lakes Memorial Marina. There's a beach at Menominee's Veteran's Memorial Park where you can dip your feet in the water. You can also find the County Heritage Museum nearby; it's housed in a beautiful old church and features fascinating exhibits on the Native American history of the Upper Peninsula. The main draw here, though, is the picture-perfect views of the lake and the boats!
2. Menominee North Pier Light Station – Menominee
Scenic lighthouses dot the shores of Lake Michigan, and the cool thing about these historic icons is that each has its own distinctive personality. The Menominee North Pier Lighthouse was built in 1927, was recently renovated in 2017, and still guides ships to safety today. You can walk out onto the pier and check out the red, white, and black octagonal structure, and even take guided tours most weekends in the summer months.
3. North Shore Golf Club – Menominee
The lovely scenery of Menominee also can be enjoyed with a round of golf at the North Shore Golf Club, located right alongside Lake Michigan. Each hole provides a new and totally serene view. If you're not up for a full round of golf, visit the driving range and work on your swing!
4. West Shore Fishing Museum – Menominee
Fishing and Lake Michigan go together like rods and reels. The West Shore Fishing Museum gets into the fascinating and little-known history of commercial fishing in Menominee. Located on the former site of the Bailey Commercial Fishery, the museum features restored buildings and in-depth exhibits. You even can see volunteers working as they fix up the old commercial fishing boats! It's open on weekend afternoons during the summer, so it's a great way to spend an hour or two.
The Upper Peninsula is also home to spots such as the Island Resort & Casino, which is a great stress-free spot to stay. It has multiple onsite restaurants, the casino, an RV park, the Sweetgrass Golf Club, a spa, and the hotel. Kids will love the pool, and adults will appreciate the craft beers on tap in the sports bar... it's a win-win!
Escanaba is the third-largest city on Michigan's Upper Peninsula... which means it's not too big and not too small, and is perfect for exploring! There are hundreds of miles of lakeshore to enjoy; Hiawatha National Forest, where you can reconnect with nature; and Portage Marsh, where you can spot wildlife from your boat and drop in a line to fish. The area also contains lighthouses that offer amazing views. Plus, the lake has excellent fishing, and breweries and wineries abound. And, whether you'd like to stay in a cozy B&B or you're looking for an exciting resort experience, there's a lodging option for you.
7. Cedar River
There's also the nearby city of Cedar River, just outside the Escanaba River State Forest. The Cedar River State Harbor offers expansive views of the lake, and, from the harbor, you can walk to local restaurants such as Hirsch's Cedar River Pub as well as a bait shop.
8. Ludington Park – Escanaba
Ludington Park is the crown jewel of Escanaba. Featuring a trail out to the natural park on Aronson Island, Sand Point Lighthouse, and the Delta County Historical Museum, the park has something for everyone!
9. Sand Point Lighthouse – Escanaba
Sand Point Lighthouse is picture perfect. The white-brick lighthouse, which has been shining its light since 1868, has a fascinating history as well. It's survived storms and fires, and the electric light still guides ships into the harbor to this day.
10. Blue Water Divers – Escanaba
Lake Michigan is known for being home to more than a few historic shipwrecks. Escanaba's Blue Water Divers is one of the best scuba supply and info shop in the area. They can help you gear up and figure out where to dive to see some sunken ships, if you're a trained diver in search of an underwater adventure!
11. Van Cleve Park – Gladstone
Of course, swimming in Lake Michigan is a popular Upper Peninsula activity, and Van Cleve Park is a great place to jump on in. There's plenty of sandy shore for relaxing, as well as a bathhouse, a playground, sand volleyball nets, and more. The water is nice and calm here, and the views of the lake seem to stretch on forever!
If you're looking to stretch your legs with a hike while you explore the Upper Peninsula's back roads, try the Peninsula Point Nature Trail. The three-mile round-trip hike is perfect for a quick stop, and takes you out to the Peninsula Point Lighthouse. The panoramic views of Lake Michigan from the end of the trail are unbeatable, and you can look for fossils and read the informative interpretive plaques along the way!
13. Hiking Trails
Other awesome hikes along the route include the Cedar River Pathway, which features several loops of varying lengths that wind through pine and hemlock forests, and the 20-mile-long Days River Pathway along the scenic Bays de Noc- Grand Island Trail in the Escanaba River State Forest. Plus, parts of the Lake Michigan Water Trail run alongside the Upper Peninsula. Put in at one of the many water access points, such as Aronson Island, Great Lakes Marina, or Bailey County Park, and paddle along the shore to get a totally different view of the Michigan coast.
There are even ghost towns to explore! Fayette was once a bustling town based around the iron smelting industry. At its peak in the late nineteenth century, it was home to nearly 500 workers and townspeople, and when the smelting business closed, it was, for a short time, a fishing and resort town. Today, it's Fayette Historic State Park, and it's home to nearly 20 restored buildings that you can explore, including cabins and the resort hotel. You can camp and hike here, too, and be sure to check out the museum for background information on the site!
Manistique is a small city that has plenty of charm. Wildlife refuges, historic sites, lighthouses, National Forests, lush springs, wineries, and comfy hotels can be found here by those willing to do a little exploring. Since it's on the shores of Lake Michigan in the lovely Upper Peninsula, you can bet that it's a great spot for a summer vacation, fall foliage, a spring getaway or even winter fun!
16. Manistique Boardwalk – Manistique
For some of the best views in all of Manistique, take a stroll down the Manistique Boardwalk. Offering views of the lake, with its old-school, bright red lighthouse and boats sailing around. Pro tip: It's also the best place to catch a sunset in the city!
17. Palms Book State Park – Manistique
Kitch-Iti-Kipi in Palms Book State Park is one of the most iconic natural wonders in Michigan. The natural spring features mesmerizingly clear blue water, which you can cross on a glass-bottom, rope-propelled ferry. You can watch the fish swimming around and see the water bubbling up from the bottom of the 45-foot-deep spring as you pull the ferry along!
The Seney National Wildlife Refuge has an interesting past: The land was logged, drained, and worked so harshly that it was considered useless because it couldn't sustain farms. Nature was allowed to reclaim the region, and it became a breeding ground for birds and other native animals. By the 1930s, it was set aside as a refuge. Hike or bike the trails, or simply cruise through on the 7-mile scenic drive.
Whether you're getting a great view from the end of a trail, floating across a spring on a boat, or even just driving along the coast, the endless beauty of the U.P is incredibly unforgettable.