Detroit Mom’s Travel Series: Central Upper Peninsula

Summer is here! Many of us are starting to plan summer vacations, and there’s no place like the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) in the summer. The U.P. is a great place for Michiganders to take a summer vacation and get in touch with nature. Outdoor time is so important for children’s development, and can improve things like motor development and mental health. In my experience, a little outdoor time can always cure a bad mood.

Pictured Rocks Lover's Leap
Pictured Rocks Lover’s Leap Formation

The U.P. is a bit of a drive from metro Detroit, but very doable within a day–or, you can take your time and stop at some sights along the way (Mackinac Island, anyone?). As a Yooper myself, I frequently take road trips to the U.P. with my four-year-old son. Here are a few places to check out and things to do while you’re visiting the Upper Peninsula!

Black Rocks and Presque Isle Lighthouse

Presque Isle is great for a drive around to see the sights and the deer. You can stop along the way and check out the lighthouse, and some great views of Lake Superior. Don’t forget to stop at Black Rocks, too. You can walk out on the rocks and see some great views, and, if you’re brave enough, jump in! (Beware that this activity is not safe during times of inclement weather.) You can even stop and get ice cream at the shop if it’s a hot day.

Lake Superior Beaches

Sand Point is a beach located near Munising, and is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Kids will love swimming and playing on the sandy shore.

Between Munising and Marquette, you can find my favorite: AuTrain Beach. This beach is a great option because you get the beautiful Lake Superior views, but can swim in the AuTrain River, which feeds into the lake and is significantly warmer. You can also find canoes and kayaks to rent in AuTrain, and canoe the AuTrain River. 

Pasty Shops

There are many local pasty shops in the Upper Peninsula. A traditional pasty is a meat pie that contains ground beef, potatoes, rutabaga, and carrots. It’s served warm, and often accompanied by ketchup or gravy. Check with the locals in the area you’re staying in for their favorite pasty shop!

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a favorite among Yoopers and tourists alike. There are several ways to see the rocks, but the most accessible is Pictured Rocks Cruises. This is a 2.5-3 hour guided cruise along the lakeshore. Kayaking the rocks is another great option for families with older kids. A free option would be to drive out to Miners Castle lookout. You can get a really great view here of the Miners Castle formation, and the beautiful green-blue water of Lake Superior.

Hiking and private boat options are available; however, be aware that they are serious hikes. Make sure you are properly prepared to hike or boat, and take all safety precautions into consideration. The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore office can help with maps and other hiking information.

Sugarloaf Mountain
Sugarloaf Mountain

Sugarloaf Mountain

Climbing Sugarloaf Mountain is one of the BEST ways to get a great view of Marquette and the surrounding areas. There are two paths up: one that is structured with stairs, and another that is all-natural and a bit more difficult. Both hikes are easy-moderate difficulty. This is another free activity, and totally worth it!

Upper Peninsula Children’s Museum

If you encounter a rainy day and need an indoor activity, the U.P. Children’s Museum in Marquette is an excellent option for those with littles. This place is chock-full of fun for kids and they will spend hours here. From a giant beehive to a rock-candy cafe, there’s no shortage of creative fun to be had. Admission is $6 per person two years and older. For $55, you can get a week of unlimited visits for a family of four. 


Tahquamenon Falls is one of the most popular U.P. waterfalls, and it’s totally worth the trip. It’s located in Tahquamenon Falls State Park near Newberry. There are also several waterfalls in the Munising area, and most are free to visit. Most tourism offices offer waterfall maps that allow you to search them out, but Munising Falls and Miners Falls are two of my personal favorites. Some waterfalls do require an easy to moderate hike. 

Road Trip Tips for Kids

There are many more things to do in the U.P., but I hope that this list inspired you to visit!  This is a great option for metro Detroit families looking for a budget vacation while exploring our great state. If you’re discouraged by the road trip, don’t be! Here’s a few quick tips for helping kids manage the drive:

Car desks are a must-have.

Amazon and other retailers sell a variety of desks that kids can use in the car on their laps. Some even fit over car seats or have dry-erase boards built in! These are great for facilitating car activities like coloring and reading, or even eating!

Screen time is okay!

If screen time is an absolute no for you, skip right on by, but I swear by screen time for a long drive. Just remember that they will be experiencing so much on vacation, and a little tablet to help pass the drive time won’t be what they remember from the trip.

Snacks are necessary.

Everyone loves road trip snacks. Pack a lot of your favorites, and maybe a few special ones to make things fun!

Something new can add excitement!

I recommend if possible that you give your children something new for the trip, such as a new coloring or sticker book, or a new toy or game to play. Target offers a lot of small, inexpensive things in the bullseye section that are great for this. The new toys or activities will often hold their interest longer than something they already have.

I grew up in the Munising and Marquette area, so many of these ideas are in those locales. There are many other great areas of the UP to explore, like Houghton and the Porcupine Mountains. These areas are especially beautiful in the fall when you can see all the fall foliage. So make a playlist, pack your car, and take a trip over the Mackinac bridge. I promise you won’t regret it!

For more UP travel inspiration, check out Kailyn’s travel guide to Houghton + Keweenaw Counties!



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