For Fourth of July weekend in 2016, a friend and I decided to travel to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for a long weekend of hiking, camping and exploring the UP’s vast wilderness. As a frequent traveler and selfproclaimed adventurer, I was very excited for our trip. Living just five minutes from the Michigan border for 29 years, you might be surprised that I’d never been to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula before.
Our plan was simple: pack up the car with camping essentials, drive the 7-8 hours north and set up camp in remote, dispersed locations. Our plan was, more or less, to not have a plan when it came to finding a campsite. We wanted to test our wits at dispersed camping, or ‘boondocking’ as some refer to it.
Driving north through the lower portion of Michigan to reach the UP, one of the most exciting and breathtaking sights was the Mackinac Bridge entrance. Currently the fifth longest suspension bridge in the world and spanning five miles, the bridge offers stunning views of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron and serves to connect Michigan’s Lower Peninsula with its Upper.
After my curiosity started to get the best of me, I did some research (Read: Google) and learned that this waterway was once a greatly coveted strategic channel. The Straits of Mackinac, as it’s come to be known, wasn’t even surrendered from British rule until 15 years after American independence. Offering up some 1,700 miles of continuous shoreline with the Great Lakes and with about 4,300 inland lakes, the UP is truly a water lover’s paradise.
On our first night in the UP, in search of a remote location to set up camp, we were directed by the Hiawatha National Forest Service to travel south along Federal Forest Highway 13 and to look for one of the many abandoned logging “roads” where we could drive down and, hopefully, find a suitable camping site. I was immediately amazed by the frequency of these old logging roads – they’re everywhere! Once home to a booming logging and mining industry, logging and mining are now all but extinct in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, leaving behind hundreds of forgotten, one-lane, dirt logging roads.
Finding a suitable logging road was easy. The first logging road we drove down led us to a charming lake situated in, literally, the middle of nowhere – exactly what we wanted. There are no adequate words to describe the beauty of the night sky there. Miles and miles away from the nearest artificial light source, the night sky was fully illuminated with stars. I’ve never seen stars so bright or bountiful before or since.
On night two, we took a different approach and decided to camp at a group campsite in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore area. With it being a holiday weekend and all, we knew space would be tight but we were lucky enough to find a great spot on Trapper’s Lake.
I would highly recommend visiting Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Situated along Lake Superior, the beauty of the lakeshore landscape is dreamlike. Pictured Rocks are actually sandstone cliffs rising about 50 to 200 feet along Lake Superior, stretching for about 15 miles. I was awestruck at the color variations in the water near the cliffs, what I later came to find out, was due to mineral seepage, creating the most beautiful hues of red and orange produced from iron as well as greens and blue produced by copper.
I would definitely recommend a trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula if you are looking for a trip that will afford you picturesque views and a slice of what, I can only image, would’ve been similar to life on the frontier. Untouched, forested land stretches on for mile after mile. If there is another place so desolate, isolated and beautiful as Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, it may be Iceland. Stay tuned...