For an unforgettable sight, drive north on Interstate 75 toward Michigan’s Upper Peninsula at dusk.
Day will become night, but the sun will hang in the western sky — in the summertime, it’s still visible even after 10 p.m.
It’s just one aspect of visiting the “U.P.” — a secluded, yet delightful, gem of the Midwest where you can find the very best of the region’s aesthetic beauty.
Touching three of the five Great Lakes — Michigan, Superior and Huron — the peninsula contains nearly a third of the state’s total land mass, but it’s very light in natives. The “Yoopers” only make up about 3 percent of the state’s total population, comprised largely of Finnish, Italian and Swedish descendants whose predecessors moved here to work the area’s mines.
Marquette, the most populous city, was dubbed one of the 10 best places to retire in the U.S. by CBS in 2012. It’s a distinction no doubt attributable to the reason the region is an understated tourist attraction — the abundance of tranquility and natural beauty.
From Chicago, you can fly or take two driving routes — one that takes you through Indiana and straight up Michigan’s Lower Peninsula or a slightly longer path straight up the west shore of Lake Michigan through Wisconsin. Expect to dedicate about half a day to either drive.
If you’re nature-minded and you and your family are more at home with an active, outdoors vacation, you won’t soon run out of things to do in the U.P. Here are just a few:
Sault Ste. Marie
Pronounced “Soo Saint Marie,” one of the U.P.’s biggest tourist areas is also one of the most remote cities in the state.
Sault Ste. Marie borders a city of the same name in Ontario, Canada, and is packed to the gills with plenty of nature activities for visitors. The International 500 (i-500.com) snowmobile race is a weeklong event that starts in late January.
The Fall Color Tour is a free art exhibit courtesy of Mother Nature — an explosive multi-color display of trees from Tahquamenon Falls to Iroquois Point Light Station.
The Great Lakes near the U.P. have served as significant maritime routes for years. Munising Bay Shipwreck Tours (shipwrecktours.com) offers visitors a means to check out some ships that didn’t complete their journey.
Climb aboard the 60-foot Miss Munising, a steel vessel with built-in glass in the hull for viewers to look directly below. The 10-mile trip, complete with a two-hour narrated tour, displays three shipwrecks preserved by Lake Superior.
And if the wreckage isn’t enough to keep your attention, you can always embrace the scenery of the area.
Carving white powder
Since the U.P. touches so many Great Lakes, the lake effect makes for some serious snow every winter. Many records for U.S. snowfall have been set on the peninsula.
All that powder, combined with several man-made hills, allows for some quality skiing and snowboarding.
Check out Big Powderhorn Mountain Resort (N 11375 Powderhorn Road, Bessemer) which offers year-round lodging but will open up its hills for the season in December. Mount Bohemia (6532 Gay Lac La Belle Road, Mohawk) is a full-service ski resort with beautiful views of the scenic Michigan countryside. Warm up with food and local brews in Mount Bohemia’s North Pole Bar and Restaurant.
Eats and drinks
One word: “pasty.”
A popular staple for the area miners who downed the cheap and easy pastry — a pie crust filled with meat, potatoes and vegetables — is the quintessential U.P. delicacy.
The Pastry Oven (W-7270 Highway U.S. 2, Quinnesec) offers chicken, vegetable and mini-pasties, fresh out the oven or available for order. For the rustic U.P. restaurant experience, check out Tahquamenon Falls Brewery & Pub (M-123 Upper Falls Drive, Paradise), where the most popular dishes are a seasonal Lake Superior whitefish and a burger made from locally raised buffalo.
A great beer spot is the Blackrocks Brewery (424 N. Third St., Marquette), which has brewed more than 150 beers and rotates its menu every week.
Plenty of fish to catch
The entire state of Michigan has about 36,000 miles of waterways and, thanks to its relative remoteness, those in the Upper Peninsula go under-fished.
That’s where your inner angler comes in.
St. Mary’s River is a fantastic place to catch some whitefish, walleye and smallmouth bass. If you don’t have a boat of our own, check out Blue Heron Fishing Charters (blueheronfishingcharters.com), where you can drop as little as $300 for a day trip.
If you’re a fly-fishing aficionado, try the Greenwood Reservoir (uptravel.com), a 1,400-acre, man-made reservoir with 26 miles of shoreline.