The first thing to do when you take a road trip to the Upper Peninsula is sleep in. Seriously, turn off the alarm, have a leisurely breakfast, and don’t even think about getting in the car until at least 10:00. Unless you either sleep in or leave at the crack of dawn like a madman, you’ll be bound to hit the morning rush.
We did just this, and left around noon up I-75. Traffic was a breeze, and we were crossing the Mackinac Bridge (Pronounced mack-in-naw for all of you from outside the Mitten) before we even knew it.
You know you’re in the Upper Peninsula as soon as you get there. The air is crisper, the trees are taller, and the land is more jagged. The first little town you’ll get to is St Ignace, so we pulled off at the Driftwood for dinner.
Part motel, part restaurant, part rowdy sports bar – the sum of it’s parts create something I can only describe as totally UP Chic. All of the tables are covered in vintage vinyl table clothes, deer heads adorn the walls, and a stuffed black bear greets you upon arrival.
If you go, order the fish. This is a general rule in the UP, and while the rest of their menu may be perfectly good, the fish is excellent. I got the planked perch, with potatoes and vegetables cooked right on the same wooden board they serve it to you.
With a little bit of renewed energy, we powered through the last hour up to Paradise. No, seriously, the town is called Paradise.
We stayed at Magnussen Grand Lakefront Resort, right on Lake Superior. It’s a friendly little place, with a pool and a sauna and continental breakfast, and hot cider waiting for you when you check in. The rooms are clean and comfortable, but otherwise pretty generic.
The reason you stay here is the view.
It’s about $20 to upgrade from the parking lot view to the lake view. Do it. You’ll wake up to something like this.
I filled up a cup of hot coffee, bundled up in a big sweater and blanket, and sat outside watching the sky change from navy to periwinkle to a bright cotton candy medley.
Once the sun was solidly up and I had enough caffeine to be solidly awake, we headed off to Tahquamenon Falls. I really recommend stopping by a DNR office before you go like we did, they’ll give you all sorts of tips on which trails to take and give you some very important maps to use when your GPS stops working (which, trust me, it will).
The Upper Peninsula is filled to the brim with waterfalls, but Tahquamenon is the most beautiful. The water gets a copper hue from soaking in sap from all of the surrounding cedar trees, which pairs beautifully this time of year against the auburn foliage.
We spent the late morning hiking around the Lower Falls…
..then took the 4 mile hike to the Upper Falls.
If you stay near the main falls areas, the trails are all paved and really easy to navigate. Once you’re off the beaten path, it’s a hilly muddy wilderness. If you’re planning on hiking further past the photo ops (which you really should) make sure you bring good shoes.
I personally love these fur lined Bean Boots for hiking. They’re super cosy while also being ridiculously practical, and the lifetime guarantee on their products ensures they’ll hold up.
Exhausted from trekking all day, we headed for dinner at the recommendation of a DNR officer. Brown Fisheries Fish House is an unpretentious little third-generation family diner serving what they catch in the lake that morning.
They usually are open for lunch and dinner, but if they run out of fish for they day, they simply close early.
The waitress serving us recommended the local specialty, whitefish & chips. They have customers that return year after year from as far away as Argentina, and a few bites in it was easy to see why.
I lived in the UK for years, but this is by far the best fish & chips I’ve ever had.
The perfectly flakey, lightly fried flesh of the whitefish easily flaked away under our forks. Their batter is an in house secret, but boy is it good. The chips were standout as well – chunky and fleshy enough to be convinced that these came from real, fresh potatoes and covered with another homemade spice combo.
Satisfied and totally exhausted, we hopped back in the car and took the crimson canopied roads over to Grand Marais for the next adventure.