Having been born in southwestern Michigan and being left out of a trip to the Upper Peninsula (UP) with my older sister and cousins when I was 11, I’ve always wanted to go. Bob got to visit the UP during his 1987 tour with the Continental Singers and Orchestra. More than 30 years later, my wish finally came true.
Surrounded by Lake Superior, Lake Huron, and Lake Michigan, the UP boasts beauty, forests, unique sights and experiences, pasties, and much more. There are three ways to get to the UP: through northern Wisconsin, by boat, or by driving from the lower peninsula of Michigan over the 5-mile “Mighty Mac” Mackinac Bridge, the fifth longest suspension bridge in the world.
We took option three and spent a week on the Lake Huron side of the UP in the vacation town of St. Ignace. These are four cool things to do from that base location:
1. Mackinac Island
Pronounced “Mackinaw,” this island is visible from St. Ignace and is only a 20-minute ferry ride away. No motor vehicles are allowed on the island, so the main modes of transportation there are horse-drawn carriages, bicycles, and feet. We intended to rent bikes and ride the 8.2-mile loop around the island. Instead, we found ourselves enamored at Fort Mackinac and spent most of our day there.
Fort Mackinac dates back to the American Revolution and has a storied past that includes British and American military control. You can tour 14 buildings and be taken back to the 1880s. But that’s not the coolest part. The fort offers daily demonstrations, including cannon firing and rifle firing, complete with workers dressed in period costume.
The fort also features the Tea Room Restaurant, which isn’t a room at all but a patio that presents the most spectacular views on the island. We basked in the sun there over lunch while gazing at beautiful blue Lake Huron and watching goings on below us.
When we finally left the fort, we walked to Arch Rock and climbed 207 steps to see the natural limestone arch that stands 146 feet above the water.
No trip to Mackinac Island would be complete without partaking of the island’s famous fudge. Many shops pedal the sweet treat, and all offer a variety of flavors. We scored a chocolate-peanut butter combination and an Irish cream delight and were not disappointed.
2. Castle Rock
We certainly got our steps in while in St. Ignace. Known as “Pontiac’s Lookout” by the Ojibwa Tribe, Castle Rock, located right off I-75, is another limestone stack that rises 195 feet (171 steps). It only costs $1 per person and is well worth the amazing views overlooking Lake Huron and Mackinac Island. You have to pass through a little gift shop to get from the parking lot to the overlook, but doing so also warrants a photo op with Paul Bunyan and Babe, his blue ox.
3. Soo Locks
A 45-minute drive north of St. Ignace will bring you to Sault Ste Marie and the Soo Locks, which connect Lake Superior to Lake Huron so freighter ships can get their goods in and out of more ports. The locks date all the way back to the mid-1800s, and a free visitor center offers period photos to prove it.
You can linger in the visitors center and take in the history of the locks, learn about the Great Lakes and the passageways between them, and interact with a number of displays. Right outside the visitor center stands a viewing platform where you can witness ships passing through the locks. We watched a Canadian Coast Guard ship enter the lock from the Lake Huron side and wait for the water to rise in the lock before moving out toward Lake Superior.
Although we’ve been through the Panama Canal on a cruise ship, we found this experience fascinating as it gave us a different perspective.
4. The Antlers Restaurant
We researched other things to do in the Sault Ste Marie area and happened upon the most unique restaurant we’ve ever frequented. Antlers, as its name implies, showcases lots and lots of antlers throughout, including chandeliers made of them.
In addition, a sprawling collection of taxidermied critters are on display, staring down at visitors while they eat. The building was built in the 1800s and still features unlevel floors in areas. Story has it that the taxidermied specimens were accrued in bartering.
We saw a two-headed calf that actually lived six days, a wolverine, moose, an armadillo, lions, an anaconda, a hammerhead shark, a fur-bearing trout, and much more.
Lake Huron only provides a small taste of life in the UP, which spans 240 miles wide and 490 miles long. Yoopers, as residents of the UP are called, consider it God’s country and paradise, and we can certainly see why.
This is the travel blog of Bob and Lana Gates and our truck, Gulliver, and fifth wheel, Tagalong. We live on the road full time, enjoying all the adventures that come our way.