For five of the last six years, my husband and I have spent several of our vacation days in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Our “base of operations” is Munising, at the Holiday Inn Express, which commands a sweeping view of Grand Island, Munising Bay and Lake Superior beyond.
The U.P. has many charms for us, all of them relating to its unspoiled natural beauty. You can see and feel the difference almost as soon as you’ve crossed the Mackinac Bridge and begin the drive west on U.S. 2. The northern shore of Lake Michigan is less developed and more rugged than the lakeshore below the bridge. The towns are small and far between.
Besides being the jumping-off point for the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Munising is a nice central location along Superior’s southern shore from which to take day trips.
So, after you’ve taken the Pictured Rocks boat tour and eaten at the Dogpatch, what is there to do around Munising? Here are some new things we did this year:
Glass-Bottom Boat Shipwreck Tour. Based in Munising, the two-hour tour takes you over three wrecks around Grand Island. The oldest dates from between the late 1700s and late 1800s; the most recent from the 1920s. The history is fascinating and the views of Grand Island are stunning. The captain and tour guide didn’t find it necessary to fill up every moment with idle chatter and corny jokes, letting passengers enjoy the fresh lake breezes and views in our own way. But the captain did speak up to call our attention to a bald eagle perched atop a tall tree on the island’s shore. Because it was a calm day, we were able to come in close to one of the caves carved in the cliff. A pleasant way to spend an early afternoon. Adult fares are $32.
Au Sable Light Station near Grand Marais. We discovered this little gem in the book “Gentle Hikes of Upper Michigan.” The trailhead starts a few miles off H-58. It’s about a 3-mile round trip, but the trail is wide, fairly smooth and the hills aren’t steep. If we hadn’t already walked to Sable Falls that day, we might have taken the lighthouse tour. But the walk offers nice views of Lake Superior and the lighthouse itself is lovely.
Laughing Whitefish Falls, in the middle of almost nowhere. Nearest the little town of Sundell, the falls are about 20-some miles either way from Munising or Marquette, but SO worth the drive. The walk is only about a mile round trip, but you have to descend about 150 stairs to get to the base of the falls. There are lots of places to rest along the way. It’s not the quantity of water that makes these falls so enchanting, but the deep gorge and layered limestone walls that wrap you in a peaceful embrace far from the world’s cares. It feels like sacred space.
(If you love waterfalls, the area around Munising is rich with them. A great resource is "A Guide to 199 Michigan Waterfalls" by the Penroses.)
Laughing Whitefish Falls
Presque Isle Nature Trail in Marquette. Presque Isle Park is a huge recreation area that juts out into Lake Superior at the northern tip of Marquette. The 1.5-mile trail is inside the park, and even though you’re so close to the city, you feel as if you’re in deep woods. Toward the end of the trail, you have some beautiful views of Lake Superior and the Presque Isle Light.
Foggy’s Steakhouse and Bar in Christmas, Michigan. Foggy’s (as in “then one foggy Christmas Eve, Santa came to say …”) is across the highway from a big hotel and casino, but you will find the parking lot full on most nights. The steaks are generous, well-prepared and well-priced. You can even grill your own if you’ve a mind to. We went back for lunch and enjoyed the salad with peppercorn filet tips.
“Bucket list” restaurants: These are well worth the drive out of Munising:
- Brownstone Inn on M-28 near Au Train is the closest you can get to fine dining outside of Marquette. They offer a varied menu, including three preparations of Lake Superior whitefish.
- Buckhorn Resort restaurant and bar is a short drive from Munising down M-94 and Buckhorn Road. The featured dish is broasted chicken. The dining room offers a gorgeous tree-framed view of Hovey Lake and binoculars for bird-watching.
- Bear Trap Inn is on H-58 a few miles east of Munising. You can’t miss with a fried whitefish sandwich or basket.