Being Michiganders, it seemed only fitting to make our first trip in the van to the Upper Peninsula. So last July, we took Casper, our 2012 Chevy Express self-converted campervan on her maiden voyage up north. For those not familiar with Michigan, we have a lower peninsula shaped like a mitten and an upper peninsula shaped like a sideways mitten. People from the Upper Peninsula are called “Yoopers”. Those from the Upper Peninsula affectionately call those from the Lower Peninsula “Trolls,” as they live under the bridge. And this has been your bit of Michigan trivia for the day! Being Michigan residents our whole lives, we thought it a shame that we had never properly explored our Upper Peninsula. So us Trolls headed to the land of the Yoopers to see exactly what we had been missing out on, and let us tell you, it was a lot!
Where we Stayed
We wild camped each of our 8 nights in the Upper Peninsula. Using our methods to find campsites, we were able to camp each night for free! Our favorite campsite was our first, which Eric found using google satellite images. When we visited Pictured Rocks, we stayed in the Kewadin Casino parking lot in Christmas, Michigan. Though we didn’t need them, they have dedicated hookups for RVs that you can stay in for free. Since we didn’t have to make any reservations for campsites, we were free to make our itinerary as we please as we went along the trip. This is one of our favorite parts of vanlife. Let’s dive into some of the places we visited!
The best way we can describe Kitch-iti-Kipi is mystical, there is definitely an energy to this place. This natural spring pumps out 10,000 gallons a minute of crystal clear water from its depths. The visibility is such that you can see straight down to the 40 foot deep bottom. It is sprinkled with ancient tree trunks and trout. The park has a human powered viewing raft with a clear bottom in the middle that will take you across and back. Dogs are allowed on the raft so our Joni girl was able to ride and stare at the fish!
Waterfalls of Western Upper Peninsula
This little gem of a waterfall is located off M-28 just east of Bruce Crossing. You will park on the north side of the road and cross to start the short hike. The waterfall is just shy of 40 feet tall and is an impressive, cascading site.
Just east of Paulding, this scenic site is one of the more popular waterfalls in the western Upper Peninsula. The falls are maintained by a dam at the top so there is always a constant stream of water. The lower falls are quite impressive, you are able to hike up the river to see multiple upper cascades. It is dog friendly and our Joni girl quite enjoyed the hike!
This is a short and not highly trafficked trail just north of Bruce Crossing. There are actually two waterfalls along this trail, the first is a small waterfall named Peanut Butter Falls. It’s easy to see by the color of the water how the falls got their name. O-Kun-de-Kun has an impressive drop over sandstone cliffs. If you’re feeling adventurous like Eric was, it is possible to walk behind the falls, though it is slippery and wet! This hike is directly on the North Country Trail and has a visitors log that it fun to look through!
This is the most epic roadside park right outside of L’anse. Yeah, you heard that right, this is a roadside park! The hike is part of the North Country Trail, a thru hike that will take you from Vermont to North Dakota. You will hike along the Sturgeon River until you reach the falls which lead into a box canyon. The falls are both beautiful and peaceful.
At the tip of the Keewenaw Peninsula, you will find the town of Copper Harbor. With some of the best views in the Upper Peninsula, it is also know as the gateway to Isle Royale. Isle Royale is Michigan’s only National Park. It is only accessible by boat and has no car traffic. We have not made it there ourselves but it is definitely on the list! Aside from being the jumping off point for the National Park, Copper Harbor boasts plenty of it’s own natural beauty. On your way in, be sure to drive Brockway Mountain drive for some on the most stunning views of Lake Superior. The scenic drive is 8 miles and ends in a gorgeous lookout over the Great Lake. We did two hikes in the area, the first of which was Hunter’s Point Park. The park is a peninsula in Copper Harbor bay. You can do the hike as a loop walking along the coast of the peninsula. The hike was flat and beautiful, it is also dog friendly! The second hike we did was Estivant Pines. This old growth pine forest has two loops, the Memorial and Cathedral, you can pair them both together for a figure eight hike. The forest is absolutely beautiful and made for a very enjoyable hike.
This was easily our favorite town in the Upper Peninsula. It is home to Northern Michigan University which is Ashley’s dad’s alma mater. There is a very active community around the city and tons of hiking and mountain biking trails. We’re told in the winter there is a very big snowshoeing and cross country skiing community as well. Two of our favorite breweries in the Upper Peninsula were here as well. Be sure to check out Blackrocks and Ore Dock. Sugarloaf Mountain is a short but steep hike with awesome views. We also enjoyed Presque Isle which has biking trails and is home to the black rocks, a popular area to jump into Lake Superior. Ashley made the plunge from the cliffs and found it absolutely exhilarating!
Created by Tom Lakenen, Lakenenland is an incredibly unique sculpture park. It is located just east of Marquette on Highway M-28. There are over 80 sculptures made by Lakenen out of scrap iron. The park is easily accessible by car or by foot. Some sculptures are whimsical while others are political. It is a fascinating place to explore and contemplate!
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Along with Isle Royale, Pictured Rocks is one of the crown jewels of the Upper Peninsula. Set on Lake Superior, this National Lakeshore can be seen by foot or by water. Head over to our blog post on Pictured Rocks for a full run down of all the sites to see.
Next to Pictured Rocks, this state park is one of the most visited locations in the Upper Peninsula. The park consists of the Lower and the Upper Falls. The Upper Falls has two observation decks to view the impressive falls. There is also a brewery within the park near the Upper Falls! The lower falls can be seen from the shore of the river, or you can rent a boat to get to an island in the middle of the river for a closer view.
The Upper Peninsula of Michigan has so much natural beauty. There is a great variety of things to do and see. We hope these tips help if you’re planning to take a trip to the land of the Yoopers!