Upper Peninsula on Lonely Planet World’s 10 Best Destination List

Upper Peninsula is the only place in U.S. on the list of Lonely Planet world’s best value destinations! Among places like Australia, Belize, Morocco, Nepal and Venice! According to the LP, a trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is one of the best options in the world for tourists looking to travel on a budget.

I’m not surprised. When I first traveled to the UP, in the early 80’s, I was amazed by its rugged beauty, picturesque scenery, by its sleepy, out-of-the-tourist-lane, towns, by its ever-present nature.

Maybe it’s not a sleepy, out of tourist-lane, place anymore. It is still NOT on the list of the world’s most popular destinations… And maybe for this reason, it definitely is still reasonable.

In the U.S., Upper Peninsula has been known for its natural beauty and great outdoor recreation opportunities.

However, as LP says: “If you’re from outside the US, you may be reading this and wondering ‘Where?’. You may even be wondering that if you’re American but not a Midwesterner. Either way, get ready for a locally feted region with attractions to rival national treasures. Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is an area of stunning natural beauty and charming, Norman Rockwell-esque towns and villages. Because it’s a destination mainly for Midwesterners, prices are reasonable, crowds are comparatively few, and the feeling of the area is casual and relaxed. The region boasts historic lighthouses, hundreds of miles of beaches and lakeshore, some of the country’s oldest forests, and more than 300 waterfalls, ranging from the tiddly to the spectacular. Car-free Mackinac Island is a standout visitor draw: its 10-sq-km interior is replete with quaint shops and gorgeous views.”

This is what LP says about their choice regarding the selection of UP as one of the top 10 destinations in the world for their budget list.

One of the main reasons for not being international tourist attraction, in my opinion, is the relative difficulty of getting there. There are no major airports in the region, with Detroit at 300+ miles, and Chicago and Minneapolis at similar distances. While there are commercial flights to destinations in the UP, it adds about hour and half plus the layover time, and few hundred dollars in the price of your airfare.

The only other easy option is to rent a car and drive there. Then you are talking about a 400+ mile travel, which equates to 7 to 8 hours of driving.

Doesn’t matter how you get there though, it is well worth the trouble. Upper Peninsula has a lot to offer. There are 1700 miles of shoreline to explore (L. Superior, L. Michigan and L. Huron), and 4,000 inland lakes.  Eighty eight percent of the total area is covered with forest. There are 300 waterfalls, 40 lighthouses, numerous sunken shipwrecks, many miles of hiking and mountain biking trails.


There are two national parks: Isle Royale National Park, and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Miners Falls
Miners Falls, Pictured Rocks Nat’l Lakeshore

Isle Royale, as the name suggest, is a fairly big island – 45 miles long and 9 wide. Since it is an isolated park, there are, neither roads, nor car traffic. You can only get there by boat or seaplane. It is a unique and very popular, in warm months, backpacking destination. It is the place to go to see a moose, or if you really lucky – wolf.

(If you would like to read more about backpacking on Isle Royale, here is my post about it: Backpacking Isle Royale.)

Miners Castle
Miners Castle, Pictured Rocks Nat’l Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks is definitely the most popular tourist attraction in UP. The colorful cliffs, the grand view of turquoise waters of Lake Superior from the high elevation of the cliffs, the sandy beaches, boat tours, the kayaking and hiking… Possibilities are endless. There is something to do for everybody.

Pictured Rocks Nat'l Lakeshore
Pictured Rocks Nat’l Lakeshore

However, this is not the end. Upper Peninsula has a lot more to offer.

Tahquamenon Falls, which is probably the second most popular attraction, is in Tahquamenon Falls State Park. The Upper waterfall with a 50-foot drop is second only to Niagara Falls as the most voluminous vertical waterfall east of the Mississippi River.

Tahquamenon Falls
Tahquamenon Falls

If you have time, visit the remote Keweenaw Peninsula with its bustling university towns of Hancock and Houghton, or sleepy towns with a lot of history, like Calumet, once center of mining industry, or Copper Harbor, once a copper shipping port. Take a drive down the tunnel of trees towards Copper Harbor. Stop and admire rugged shoreline.

(To find out more about Copper Harbor, you can read my post: Visiting Copper Harbor in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.)

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, one of the very few remaining large wilderness areas in the Midwest, offers miles of hiking trails, and camping in secluded, walk-in only, cabins in the woods. There are many streams and small lakes and, if you’re lucky, you can spot a black bear.

Porcupine Monutains
Porcupine Monutains

Fayette State Park today, was once one of the Upper Peninsula’s most productive iron-smelting operations. Fayette Historic Town is a living museum with many restored buildings. Visitors may walk through to learn about life in Fayette during the late 19th century.

(To find out more about Fayette, read my post: Fayette – One of The Hidden Treasures of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. )

Another one of the landmarks to visit in UP, is the Whitefish Point lighthouse and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. The lighthouse is the oldest one on Lake Superior. The museum exhibits artifacts from shipwrecks from the Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve and the bell from the wreck of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald.

(If you would like to read more about SS Edmund Fitzgerald, you can check out my post: Edmund Fitzgerald Museum Exhibits.)

Beach at Whitefish Point
Beach at Whitefish Point

With average of 17 feet of annual snowfall, UP is not only a travel destination for warm months. There are 3,000 miles of groomed snowmobile trails. There are number of cross-country ski trails and few downhill ski resorts. Furthermore, if you would like to try more unusual winter activity, like dog mushing, there are few outfitters out there.

If the winter is really cold, there will be ice caves to explore along the Lake Superior shoreline in Pictured Rocks.

If you are not a nature buff and instead are looking for big city life for entertainment, you are out of luck here. The biggest town in UP is Marquette with 21,000 plus residents. As far as nightly activities, Marquette, does not have much to offer. Besides a casino, there are number of local restaurants and breweries. However, if you’re an outdoorsman, there is plenty to do – in the warm month – mountain biking, kayaking, and hiking; in the winter – fat tire biking, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, snowshoeing.

I have to admit, even though I’m proud that Upper Peninsula has been chosen, I hope that the LP recommendation will not start a major tourist influx into the UP, because it will lose its charm, its character, and will become another tourist trap that you learn to avoid during the vacation time.

If you would like to read the Lonely Planet recommendation, here is the link.

Rich S.
Rich S.http://www.greatlakesexplorer.com
Rich S. is a lifetime photographer and traveler based in Metro Detroit area. He has been traveling the Great Lakes area for over 30 years. Follow his blog about his trips, interesting activities and destinations in the Great Lakes region.

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