The Upper Peninsula (known throughout Michigan and in surrounding areas as "the U.P.", or sometimes "the Yoop") is a region of Michigan. It is not connected (except by a bridge) to the rest of the state, but is connected at its southwestern end to Wisconsin. Therefore, in general the Upper Peninsula is located much closer to Ontario, Canada and the neighboring state of Wisconsin than to the Lower Peninsula, separated by a small channel connecting Lakes Michigan and Huron. This gives the region a distinct style and heritage of its own. As a result, it shares much more in common with its neighbors in Wisconsin and Canada than to the Lower Peninsula of Michigan.
Cities and towns
- Copper Harbor — departure point for ships to Isle Royale National Park.
- Houghton-Hancock — twin cities on the Keweenaw Peninsula, home to Michigan Tech University.
- Iron Mountain
- Menominee — opposite Marinette, Wisconsin on the Menominee River
- Paradise and Whitefish Bay — Lighthouses, ships' graveyard, bird watching.
- Sault Ste Marie ("the Soo") — Ship canal locks on St. Mary's River on the Canadian border.
- Isle Royale National Park
- Keweenaw Peninsula — the part of the Upper Peninsula jutting out into Lake Superior, with spectacular autumn colours and a superb downhill ski resort on the east side of the peninsula.
- Les Cheneaux Islands
- Mackinac Island
- Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
- Tahquamenon Falls State Park
Sharing no land mass in common with Michigan's Lower Peninsula, the Upper Peninsula is, sadly, too-often left off in published maps in newspapers or magazines, or treated as a part of Wisconsin. The U.P. is, however, a real treasure to visit with much to offer to any nature lover! Plentiful sandy public beaches, breathtaking recreational and fishing lakes, and vast state and national parks and forests make the region an ideal location for a vacation in any season. If you enjoy the outdoors, this natural jewel is a place for you.
The UP is mostly rural; its largest city, Marquette, tips the scales at just under 20,000 people. The population is primarily of Finnish or Swedish decent, and also includes populations of Menominee, Ojibwa Chippewa descent. You will also encounter many people with Italian or French names; the U.P. was first explored by the French, who built the first trading posts at Sault-Ste. Marie and St. Ignace in the 1600s, and named many of the earliest towns. The U.P. was dominated by the fur trade until the 1800s, at which time most towns were formed as mining or logging operations. While mining of copper, iron ore, and other minerals has dropped off since the mid-1900s, the lumber industry is still going strong. A good example of the heritage of the area is preserved at Fayette Historic State Park south on 183 from US-2.
"Say ya to da UP, eh?" This is the UP's answer to the state tourism office's slogan "Say Yes to Michigan!"
Yoopers (inhabitants of Upper Michigan) have an accent with a Canada-meets-the-Midwest flavor. "Ya" and "eh" are the most well-known of the colloquial slang. You'll hear "Eh" (ay) appended to statements, as a rhetorical stand-in for "Isn't It?", in a manner very similar to that of Canadians in Northwestern Ontario and elsewhere. In Finnish, the expression of "ey" means "no" in much the same sense as the English appendage "isn't it?" or the general-purpose French "n'est-ce pas?" Don't exaggerate the ay sound when saying "Eh" yourself, or you'll be tagged instantly as a visitor.
In the middle and western U.P., the accent is a blend of Scandinavian (particularly Finnish), French, and Canadian influences. You'll hear more substitution of 'd' for 't' and 'th'. Also, some Yoopers tend to drop their prepositions; the Finnish language doesn't use them. So, to ask if we are going to Green Bay, Wisconsin, for example, it is rendered in the vernacular as "We go Green Bay, eh?" This speech pattern is becoming less frequent, as speaking Finnish at home becomes less and less common.
Many of the town names have a wonderfully Native American lilt to them, such as Escanaba (ES kuh NAH bah), Ishpeming (ISH peh ming), or Ontonagon (ON tuh NAH gun). You'll also see many French place names: Marquette, (mar KET), Epofuette, Au Train, L'Anse (l'AHNS), Sault Ste. Marie, (soo saynt muhREE) or Manistique (man ihs TEEK).
By car, the most scenic route from the Lower Peninsula would be US 31 along the coast of Lake Michigan over the Mackinac (pronounced mack-in-aw) Bridge. From there, US 2 will take you from St. Ignace to Escanaba, along the northern coast of Lake Michigan. Or, take M 28 via M 123 at St. Ignace; US 117 and M 77 are north-south routes connecting US 2 with M 28. M 28 will take you to Munising and Marquette, where it joins with US 41.
Access from Wisconsin is most common through US 45 (central), US 141 (central-eastern), US 41 (far eastern) or US 2 (western). US 41 and US 2 are probably the most scenic choices.
Cyclists also enjoy touring through the U.P., utilizing the main roads above as well as many less-traveled county roads. In winter, many of the old rail beds are travelled by snow-mobilers.
You need your own vehicle (car, SUV, camper, bicycle, motorcyle), unless you are sailing.
If you intend to drive on the backwoods AAA roads and abundant dirt roads, 4-wheel drive off-road vehicles are recommended, especially in spring.
In winter, be prepared to drive on snow and ice. Snow tires and four-wheel drive would be helpful, as snowfall and drifting can get quite deep. Lake-effect snowfall is frequent along the shores of Lake Superior, and at times the flurries can be quite heavy. Watch the weather forecasts, and plan your trip accordingly. Driving at night during a snow storm can be dangerous, especially because of the distance between towns with gas stations that stay open late. Be prepared to pull over and wait out storms; keeping a warm blanket in the back seat for this purpose is a very good idea. On the bright side, motels are cheap, and some of them are busier than you would expect, thanks to the snowmobile crowd.
The pre-eminent scenic east-west route in the Upper Peninsula is US 2 along the northern shore of Lake Michigan. It follows the coastline very closely for miles and there are several areas in which you can pull off and park to access the beach directly, especially close to St. Ignace. M-28 also runs along the Lake Superior shore for long stretches, especially as you get close to Marquette, but contains the famous "Seney Stretch", a segment of two-lane highway west of Seney, without a curve, bump in the road, or turn-off for 25 miles. Watch for deer and the occasional moose in this area.
The Upper Peninsula is home to beautiful mountains. The Porcupine Mountains are the home of Lake in the Clouds. The Huron Mountains, ranging from Marquette County into Baraga County, features low yet rugged mountains, swamps, and lakes. IMPORTANT Note -- The Huron Mountain Club is private property and strictly off-limits to all but its members.
Rockhounds love the Lake Superior shoreline, and agate hunting is a popular pastime.
Michigan is said to have nearly 200 named waterfalls, all but one of which are located in the Upper Peninsula. However most of those falls are quite small. Many of them are better described as rapids. There are still a good number of interesting falls to visit across the UP. Tahquamenon Falls is the most impressive waterfall in the state. Miners Falls, Laughing Whitefish Falls, Bond Falls, Agate Falls, Gorge Falls, Potawatomi Falls and Superior Falls are also all not to be missed.
Large tracts of the Upper Peninsula are devoted to national and state forests, peaceful areas that contribute to the U.P.'s abundance of fresh air. An example of this would be M-28 through much of the central portion of the UP.
For camping/RV opportunities in the outdoors, M-28 leads to some extraordinary finds, as it passes through both Hiawatha National Forest and Ottawa National Forest. You'll be able to bicycle, picnic, and hike in these areas.
Heading further north, US 41 takes you through the Keweenaw (pronounced KEE we naw) Peninsula, up to Fort Wilkins Historic State Park. This route takes you through beautiful forests, along the lakeshore (via M-26) and offers sightings of many lighthouses and waterfalls. Sticking to the posted "circle tours" and following roads close to the lakes are probably your best bet for scenic road trips.
The Seney National Wildlife Refuge has a very large tract of wetlands, and is home to migrating birds, as well as moose, bear, and otter. Visitor activities include birdwatching, photography, and hiking.
Self-guided fall color tours are popular in September and October, especially in the mid- to western U.P.
For downhill skiing, some of the best places are in the Porcupine Mountains in the western U.P. Examples are Indianhead Mountain, in Wakefield, and Big Powderhorn Mountain Resort, in Bessemer. To the east, there's Marquette Mountain [dead link], in Marquette.
If you prefer the tranquility of cross-country skiing, there are many trails to accommodate you. Many of the major, i.e., more popular, trails are listed by Exploring the North, by county.
Snowmobiling is a popular activity during the winter months across much of the U.P., so much so that hotels and motels have popped up to accommodate the snowmobilers. See the "Trails" section above, as many trails are in active use year 'round, making use of old railbeds and defunct logging trails.
Visit the Huron Mountains. Ranging from western Marquette County through Baraga County, generally north of US-41, the Huron Mountain range features low yet rugged mountains. Climb Mount Arvon (elev. 1,980 ft.) or Mount Curwood (elev. 1,979 ft.) Climb Hogback (elev. 1,220 ft.). A hiker's delight. Bring your camera, too.
There's a wealth of information on the trails and paths available in the U.P. These are documented in many websites, such as Michigan Trails and Munising.com . Many of these trails are used year round, by hikers, mountain bikers, touring cyclists, snowshoers, cross-country skiers, and snowmobilers.
The U.P. is a popular place for Road Cycling and Mountain Biking. Take the same precautions in the U.P. as anywhere else, when cycling. Wear a helmet. Bring an extra innertube and a tire pump. Make sure your reflectors are clean and visible. Wear bright colors, attach a flag to your bike, make yourself visible. Give lumber trucks and other large vehicles a wide berth.
A number of public parks offer canoe and/or kayak rentals.
Visit the Porcupine Mountains (the 'Porkies'), home to camping/RV areas and a wide selection of trails for hiking and skiing. Rent a boat, and go paddling. Fish. Camp. Picnic. Hunt(in season, designated areas only, of course).
The U.P. is home to black bear and grey wolf. When camping, take the appropriate precautions with your food supply.
The Finns are to thank for introducing the sauna to the U.P. When booking a room or campsite, ask whether a sauna is available. If there is, you're in luck. Wrap yourself up in a towel (or wear a swimsuit), and camp on a sauna bench. If the sauna is old-style, your luck is even better because that means there are heated rocks in the sauna, and a bucket of water with a ladle nearby. Dip the ladle into the bucket, pour water onto the rocks, and enjoy the steam. It's great for achy muscles, or if you just want to unwind.
Have some extra cash? Tired of the outdoors? Go to a casino. Chances are there's one near you in the U.P. Casinos are owned and operated by local members of resident Native American tribes. Some of these casinos have expanded operations to include lodging and conference facilities. You'll find casinos in (or near) Bark River, Baraga, Brimley, Christmas, Hessel, Manistique, Marquette, St. Ignace, Sault Ste. Marie, Watersmeet, and other locations.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is responsible for wildlife management. The U.P. is Zone 1 in the Michigan DNRs' list of hunting/fishing zones. For most wildlife, Michigan has set hours of daylight hunting, which vary depending on the time of year. Hunting is species-specific, and is permitted only in designated counties, depending on the abundance and health of the hunted species.
Michigan offers hunting licenses for whitetail deer, mule deer, and elk, with separate seasons for bow and for firearms. When hunting deer, a separate license is required to hunt 'antlerless' deer. In bird season, hunters can hunt for migratory birds including wild turkey, ruffed grouse, woodcock, and partridge; waterfowl include black ducks, mallards, Canada geese, and others. Hunting seasons have been established for other wildlife, including black bear, rabbit and hare, opossum, and porcupine.
For information on dates, bag limits, and hunting license fees, see the DNR website.
Do not hunt on private property without the owner's permission. Property owners are territorial, and rightfully so. If you see signs like "No Hunting," or "No Trespassing", don't even bother to ask - hunt elsewhere. There are plenty of areas with public access.
Visitors can fish the big lakes (Superior, Michigan), the inland lakes, and many creeks and streams. Licensing, minimum length of caught fish, and fish limits are regulated by the Michigan DNR, which publishes a fishing guide.
Asian carp are a threat to the native species of Great Lakes fishes. Learn to identify Asian carp (as shown in the fish guide), and note that juvenile asian carp can easily be mistaken for minnows. If you have or catch an aisan carp of any size/age, DON'T release it. While asian carp have not yet been found in Lake Superior, anglers are asked to be vigilant.
Pasties are the most well-known food associated with the U.P. is the pasty (pronounced "pass-tee"). Brought to the area by Cornish miners, it was a hand-held "no dish" meal for miners who had no time to come above ground for lunch. The miners could heat their pasty back up on their shovels on top of their lanterns. The pasty's appeal crossed ethnic barriers and has been adopted as this region's specialty. Today's pasty consists of potatoes, diced or ground beef, onions, and rutabaga in a pastry crust.
Pasty shops are scattered rather sparsely across the U.P. All are mom-and-pop operations, such as Jean Kay's Pasties and Subs (at 1635 Presque Isle, Marquette), Lawry's Pasty Shop on US41 just west of Marquette, Roy's Pasties & Bakery, Pasty King Prime in Iron Mountain, and Muldoons Pasties & Gifts, Dobber's Pasties in Escanaba, to name a few. Buy the pasties fresh, or frozen to take home. Also look for pastys filled with chicken or vegetable-only mixtures, if that's more to your taste. Pasties are eaten either hot or cold, with ketchup or without; sometimes brown gravy is offered with hot pasties.
Fish is another UP specialty. Look for restaurants and shops that offer whitefish, fresh or smoked, as well as lake trout, walleye, steelhead, and other big-lake fish. The Vierling Restaurant and Brewery, in Marquette, offers fresh and smoked fish prepared a variety of ways. Sydney's Restaurant, and Buckhorn Resort, both in Munising, offer lake perch and other freshwater fish.
Remember to look for Friday night fish frys, offered in many towns around the U.P. Sometimes these pop up in places that don't usually have a lot of fish on the menu.
There aren't many places that serve traditional Finnish fare. One that does is Suomi Home Bakery & Restaurant, which serves breakfast and lunch in the Keweenaw Peninsula.
Yes, there is such a thing as fine dining in the U.P. Try Capers in the Landmark Inn, Marquette [dead link]. Or, Elizabeth's Chop House, also in Marquette, on Front St. just a couple of blocks down the hill from Capers. Other gems are out there; these will be added when they're found.
Brewpubs have popped up here and there in the U.P., owing to the surge in popularity of microbrew beers. The Michigan Brewers Guild [dead link] lists no fewer than 8 brewpubs in different locations scattered around the U.P. Among them... Soo Brewing Co.  in Sault Ste. Marie; Tahquamenon Falls Brewery and Pub (which also has a restaurant, featuring whitefish and other yummies) , Hereford & Hops in Escanaba, and the Library Restaurant and Brewpub in Houghton. Marquette has at least two brewpubs, the aforementioned Vierling Restaurant and Brewery, and Blackrocks Brewery.
With just a few local exceptions, the major roads in the U.P. are two-lane highways. Turn on your headlights during the day, and you will be more visible to oncoming traffic -- especially vehicles that are passing other vehicles.
Mix 18-wheelers, RVs, cars, and SUVs, and two-lane highways become crowded, especially along US-2, M-28, and US-41 (south of Marquette). Fortunately, the State of Michigan has invested in passing lanes, and posted signs to let drivers know how many such lanes exist between major stops along the highways. This is particularly true (and most needed) anong US-2.
Give logging trucks, salt trucks, and sand trucks a wide berth. These vehicles are big, fast, and have major blind spots.
When hiking, cycling, and camping, tell someone where you're going and when you plan to return, if you're heading out into the backwoods. Don't rely on your cell phone for contact, as cell coverage can be sketchy in the remote parts of the U.P. and varies by cell service provider.
The most dangerous situations you can encounter in the Upper Peninsula are often weather related. During the long winter season, major snow events and subzero temperatures are fairly common. Snowfall totals from large storms are often measured in feet, not inches, especially in the Western UP and along the Lake Superior shoreline. The counties do a good job of salting, sanding, and plowing on the main roads and highways, so give the plows and salt trucks plenty of room when you encounter them.
As for less-traveled roads: while the locals cope very well with the snow, it is NOT a good idea to attempt to travel if heavy snows are possible. Even with a four wheel drive vehicle, you may get stuck. Pack your car/SUV/truck for such an event if you do head out! Items to include: a cell phone, blankets, food and water, a snow shovel, flares, kitty litter and snowchains for your tires. Better yet, stay home and watch the Packers on T.V.
The U.P. has relatively little violent crime, but drunk driving and drunken snowmobiling are hazards, just as in the rest of the rural Upper Midwest. Be careful!