Date of Trip: April 2006
A ghost town, casinos, waterfalls, lighthouses, log slides, big lakes and springs, and an abundance of unspoiled land that is full of adventures waiting to be explored.
Who said being called a troll is a bad thing? And folklore tells of trolls being mischievous little creatures who live in caves, logs, or under bridges. Well, I’m rather short, have been known for raising some havoc when I was younger, and yes, I live under the Mackinaw Bridge. So I guess that makes me a Troll…and that’s what Upper Peninsula natives call us living in the Lower Peninsula.
We call Michigan’s Upper Peninsula the “UP” and its native residents “Yoopers,” which is the term they prefer to be called. It’s a different world up there, whole different language, and a whole different lifestyle. They are a hardy-breed of folk that can withstand over 300 inches of annual snowfall, and 5 or more months of winter. It’s not hard to see why saunas and snowmobiles are hot commodities up there. In the past, lumbering and mining were the bread and butter of this region, but after the virgin pines were cut and mines closed down, the UP fell on some tough times, and some still face those tough times today. Tourism is the main industry today, however, a few mines and lumbering mills are still in operation, but on a much smaller scale then before.
Michigan has two peninsulas which are connected by the Mackinaw Bridge (longest-suspension bridge in the US) and is the link between the two worlds. Our state’s population is roughly 9 million, with just 3% of them living in the UP. The UP makes up 1/3 of our state’s total land mass, and has some of the most beautiful scenery in the U.S. found here. What will you find on a visit to the UP of Michigan? Three of the Great Lakes, over 200 waterfalls, acres of national forests, oodles of other lakes, rivers and streams, ghost-towns, Indian casinos, mountains, campgrounds, beaches, lighthouses, Soo Locks, log-slide, shipwreck museums, and my favorite…the pastie. What can you do…hit the beaches, fish, hunt, snowmobile, hike, camp, ski, gamble, go four-wheeling, or just plain relax and enjoy all the picturesque sights this unique place has to offer. If you are not afraid of a little solitude, can appreciate exceptional beauty, love water and the great outdoors, don’t need the big name restaurants or hotel chains, big city life or big fancy freeways, then a visit to the UP might be your ticket to Paradise. It’s not for everyone, but once visited, it is very hard to forget.
Before a visit to the UP it might be wise to brush up on a little of the “Yooper Lingo” you might hear. For instance, a pastie is something you eat, not a dangling item you wear. Lots of words start with “da,” and every sentence end with “ah,” and a “turd” isn’t what you might think it is, but rather just a word that comes after first, second…then “turd!”
Purchase a State Park permit as you will need it to gain entry into any of Michigan States Parks. With over 15 state parks located in the UP, you are bound to stumble across one that is worth checking out. Many of the parks offer camping and some of the favorites are Porcupine Mountains Wilderness Park, Tahquamenon Falls, Laughing Whitefish, Van Riper, or Fayette Historical State Park. Permit fees are $6 daily, or $24 for the year (Michigan residents), or $29 for non-residents. Well worth the cost!
Bring your camera regardless of the season. Autumn is awesome in the UP and arguably one of the best times to visit. Every winding road you travel on will be a picture postcard waiting to be taken. The canopied roads bursting with brilliant reds, orange, and yellow hues are eye candy to any amateur or professional photographer. The winter months hold yet another picture-perfect opportunity, as nature’s once gushing waterfalls surrender to frigid temperatures and engage into some of the best breath-taking frozen ice sculptures ever seen in the U.S. Spring is the best time to see the waterfalls, as the winter snow-meltoff intensifies the flows and makes the paths easier to travel on. Summer, with everything in bloom, and the lush green acres of forest, the sparkling waters of the lakes and some of the best pictures are just a snap-shot away.
My best picks for attractions are: Soo Locks, Tahquamenon Falls, Fayette Ghost Town, Kitch-iti-Kipi, Wagner Falls, Pictured Rocks Boat Tour , Log-slide at Grand Marias, Whitefish Point Ship wreck Museum, porcupine Mountains and crossing the 5-mile Mackinaw Bridge. Some cities I think that are worth a visit are: Sault Ste. Marie, Escanaba, Copper Harbor, Marquette, Grand Marias, Brimley, Houghton/Hancock, Eagle Harbor, Newberry and Paradise. Best new experience is to try an UP staple called the pastie. One visit to this peninsula will never be enough!
The Upper Peninsula is home to only one Interstate highway. I-75 runs North to South beginning at Sault Ste. Marie and ending at St. Ignace (60 miles) then continues over the Mackinac Bridge. They have two major east-west highways, US-2 (southern part, Lake Michigan side) and M-28 (northern route, Lake Superior side) yet neither are 4 lanes. Speed limits are only 55mph except for the 60 miles of I-75. There are numerous unpaved roads found in the UP, many easily passable but some better left to the 4-wheel-drives. With thousands of miles of the best groomed snowmobile trails found in the UP, it is understandable why it’s known as one of the premier snowmobiling areas in the U.S. State permits are required for operators of sleds. Many cities allow the use of snowmobiles on their roads and sometimes it’s a necessity.
With thousands of miles of spectacular scenic back-roads and bike trails to explore, bringing your bike is an excellent way to see some of the most pristine sites the UP has to offer — especially places too rural for cars or trucks. If winter hiking or exploring is right up your alley, then you better invest in a good pair of snow-shoes as the extreme depths of the snowfall can make it impossible to get around otherwise. Occasionally the Mackinaw Bridge may close due to extreme inclement weather conditions. Believe me, you won’t want to be driving on the Mighty Mac with gale force winds or powerful blizzards that can make road travel impossible. On excessive windy days police escorts may be needed to cross.
The UP East/West maximum driving distance is 320 miles; maximum North/South is only 125 miles. It will take you about 11½ hours of driving to make it from the Ohio border (US-23) to near the tip of Copper Harbor. It will take you about a 6½ hours from the bridge to Copper Harbor, or the Wisconsin Border — take your pick. Couple of important tips: Always gas-up before you enter the UP as it rather rural in spots and gas stations may be few and far between, and always beware and prepared for darting deer racing out from the woods (especially at dusk and early evening). I don’t recall ever visiting the UP when I didn’t see at least 2 or 3 deer in any given day while driving. Be careful, and do drive safely.
Crossing the Mighty Mac…five miles of panoramic views of the crystal-clear waters of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are there to greet you as you cross over the Straits on the Mackinaw Bridge, which connects the Lower Peninsula of Michigan to the Upper Peninsula. To us Michiganders, it’s known as the “Mighty Mac,” and is quite a sight to see.
Visible while crossing the bridge (looking east) is the Grand Hotel perched high above the isle it calls its home, Mackinaw Island. At the end of the bridge nearing St. Ignace, numerous sandbars can be seen through the translucent waters below. During the summer months it’s neat to see all the catamarans and water spouting ferries race across the waters to transport tourist to Mackinaw Island.
The excitement for me starts about 5 miles south while still on I-75 heading north. Here is where I get my first glimpse of what lies ahead. Though only a peek, it gets your adrenaline flowing. Now is the time to tune into the bridges radio station to get the latest updates on bridge conditions. Once we past the exit sign for Mackinaw City, the last exit located on I-75 before crossing over the straits, speed limits reduced, and within minutes you are on your way heading across the longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere.
The length of time it takes you to cross over varies. During normal weather conditions (which is my favorite time to cross) speed limits for passenger vehicles are 45mph, and large trucks or trailers maximum speeds limits of 25mph. Cars have there choice of driving in either of the two lanes, while larger trailer/trucks are only allowed to drive on the outside lane. Once in the middle of the bridge, the inside lane is constructed out of a steel grate that you can actually see the water through. Besides being very noisy, I find it a little scary as well. On windy days you can actually feel the rushing of the air forcing your car to move slightly when driving across it. I know its an engineered necessity to have these exposed areas exist, to allow the swaying action that is required on windy days (at least that’s what my father who’s a structural engineer always told us), but it’s still a little frightening for me.
If you don’t like the wind kicking up your car a bit, or the noise, then drive on the outside lane. Here is where, if you aren’t uncomfortable with heights, you will get the best bridge crossing experience. The protective railing isn’t that high and allows excellent viewing, and some have questioned how safe it actually is. As far as I know, only one very light weight vehicle (Yugo) has been blown off the bridge while driving excessively fast in extremely high winds. That might be why speed limit signs as well as speed recording devises monitor your speed as you enter and again as you cross. On extremely windy days (I believe over 30mph) speed limits drop to a maximum of 25mph, or in rare cases, a police escort is needed for you to cross, or the bridge is totally closed until conditions improve. My husband once, in college, recalls being the last vehicle allowed to cross one night during a blizzard and said he was never happier than to finally make it across into the Lower Peninsula that night. But don’t worry, days like this are few and far between.
There is a toll to cross so the bridge can be maintained. Passenger vehicles are $1.25 per axle, $2.00 per axle for motor homes, and commercial rigs $3.00 per axle. Fares are collected on the Upper Peninsula side.
Some facts regarding the bridge are quite impressive. Total length is 26,372 feet (roughly 5 miles), with main towers soaring 552 feet, maximum clearance at mid-span for the many passing ships is 155ft, and the deepest water depths are 295 feet. The bridge took 3 years to build and was open for traffic on Nov. 1, 1957. Before the bridge, ferry boats were used to get over to the other side. During some years, the straits below the bridge freeze solid enough for snowmobiles to drive across and rows of Christmas trees are laid, marking the path to follow. Snowmobiles are not allowed to cross over the bridge.
Every Labor Day, the bridge allows people to cross on foot. This is the only day pedestrians are allowed to cross and is known as the annual Bridge Walk. This annual walk started back in 1958 when 65 walkers participated, and now estimates of 50,000 to 65,000 eager people make the march every Labor Day. Our state’s Governor always starts the walk off, with the rest following closely behind. The walk takes on average of 2 hours, and starts early at around 7am. No additional walkers are allowed past 11am. Animals (except Seeing Eye dogs) are not allowed on the walk, and port-a-potties are only found at both ends. I have yet to build up enough nerve to part-take in this walk — maybe someday.
If you get an opportunity, take a drive across. It will be well worth the trip.
Ghost-Town At Fayette State Park
A Ghost town at a state park, and one that not only offers spectacular views of limestone cliffs off on the horizon, but also breath-taking sights of the sparkling waters of Big Bay De Noc and Lake Michigan…who would have thought. Well, that’s what you get when you visit Fayette State Park in the Upper Peninsular of Michigan. Fayette State Park and Ghost Town is located just 17 miles south of US-2, between Escanaba and Manistique on the southern tip of the Garden Peninsula.
When you enter the park, you will find restrooms and a tourist information center which will provide you will historical photos, literature or guide material, and well as a big three-dimensional model display of the park that show the historic buildings that are open for observation. After the short visit inside you will be directed to doors leading outside the center to a path that will take you down a pretty steep incline. No vehicles are allowed from this point on, but I do think bikes are OK. There are benches on the way if you need to rest and wheelchairs are available for a rental fee if need be. Getting down to the Ghost town is a breeze…but the trek back-up is another story.
During its heyday back in the 1860’s through 1890, around 500 folks called this place home. Jackson Iron Co. was the enterprise that manufactured charcoal pig iron for many of the steel companies that had operations on the Great Lakes, and Chicago was the recipient to most of its biggest shipments. When the charcoal iron market began to decline, Jackson Iron Company closed its doors in 1891 and this once bustling industrial town would soon become a deserted ghost town.
Today, this historic town is also a Michigan State Park, which offers around 19 to 20 restored buildings for self-touring. Around the grounds you will see homes, a town hall with post office, the superintendent’s house, a dance hall, shops, as well as other artifacts just as they stood back in the late 1800s. The largest building is the coal house which housed the huge furnaces which was the heart of the operations…I definitely got a chill once inside this dark building.
The harbor called “Snail Shell Harbor” is where you can see many boats (yachts) docking for the day, the beach area is great for a little swimming, and the campground has many sites for your RVs or campers and tents. The kids will love looking for rocks on the shores or have them bring their rod and reels for a little perch fishing in the bay. I really enjoyed exploring the old buildings in the village, but think the highlight for me was my leisurely walk through a very scenic tree-lined path of the forest. Not a sound could be heard except the chirping of birds, and occasionally the sounds of gentle waves rolling in and off of Lake Michigan. What a peaceful and relaxing end to a perfect day.
When we visited in mid-August, we arrived around noon and the park was not at all crowded. We spent around 3 hours there, which seemed like an adequate amount of time for us to see everything we wanted. If you do plan on visiting, plan on doing a lot of walking, as that’s the only way to get around. Make sure to save some energy for the walk back up the hill — on hot days this hike up can be grueling. Fortunately, we rented a wheelchair for my mother, which made it easier for her to see many of the sites she would probably not been able to see otherwise.
As with any Michigan state park, a permit is required to enter. Permits can be purchased by the day or by the year, and allows admission into all of Michigan’s state parks. Museum hours are 9am to 7pm daily, mid-May to mid-October.
Michigan has some beautiful state parks, but Fayette is definitely one of its best, and one of the most picturesque.
Kitch-iti-Kipi Kool Springs
“I am the heat of your hearth on the cold winter nights, the friendly shade screening you from the summer sun, and ye who pass by, listen to my prayer: Harm me not.” These are some of the profound words found on the “Prayer of the Woods” sign you observe while you enter in to the pine and cedar forest at Kitch-iti- Kipi.
Most people think Kitch-iti-Kipi is the Ojibway word for great cold water or Big Springs, but some history buffs believes the name was given after the warrior who once drowned in these springs. Legend has it that a young warrior was trying to win the hand of a fair but fickle maiden. She would submit to his wooing only if he could catch her in his canoe as she jumped from a bough. What ever tale you believe, Kitch-iti-Kipi is Michigan’s largest spring and is located at Palms Book State Park on Indian Lake, near Manistique.
To get here, go west on US-2 through Manistique to a town called Thompson. Take M-149 north to County Road 455, past the West Unit of Indian Lake State Park, and then continue to the end of M-149 to reach this park. There is a State park sticker that is required to gain entry but the raft ride is free. There is no camping at Palm Book but there is camping at Indian Lake Park located just down the road.
After a short walk through the enchanting woods of this park you will arrive at the spring. Kitch-iti-kipi or the Big Spring is 45 feet deep and 200 feet wide, and has a constant temperature of 45ºF year round with over 16,000 gallons of water gushing out of it every minute. It’s a real beauty too. With its crystal clear emerald colored water it was possible to experience its aquatic life living below. Hefty varieties of trout were swimming freely in its waters, some as large as twenty pounds or more. If you are into fishing as my son is, this was an awesome sight to behold. The light colored sandy bottom of the springs which constantly changes it shape by the force of the water makes it easy to observe whole fallen trees, limbs or branches as well as other objects that lie below.
To feel the depth of the spring, and to truly see all the beauty that lies below, you will have to take the self-powered covered raft across the spring. It’s free, and kids can easily do this by pulling a cable. It only takes a few minutes to reach the other side, and can be stopped where ever you wish it too. The bottom sides of the raft are made out of a plastic/glass material for easy viewing for small children. Parents will have to make sure small children don’t climb on the ledges and hang over the sides as there’s nothing below but 45 feet of crystal clear water to land in. (I mention this only because I witnessed a very small unsupervised child almost end up in Kitch-iti-kipi himself.) The raft is also wheel-chair accessible and covered to reduce reflections on those hot summer days.
The park is only open Mid-May through Mid-October but the Spring is open all year, as it never freezes. Snowmobiles and hikers can view this year round. It only takes less than a half-hour to visit, but bring a sack lunch or picnic basket to enjoy it here a little longer. The gift shop is open only during the parks season but offers lots of really neat souvenirs to purchase.
Before you enter the woods take a moment and read the sign which displays the “Prayer of the Woods.” Appreciate the beauty and goodness nature offers us and do not harm its existence.
Point Iroquois Lighthouse
Traveling down West Lakeshore Drive about 7.5 miles past the small town of Brimley, we came upon the Point Iroquois lighthouse, not hidden down some isolated road but right in plain site in the Hiawatha National Forest. Not knowing much about the history of this lighthouse but curious by its ostentatious edifice, we veered off the road making this our first pit-stop.
A sign greets you — “This point of land is the historic battleground where westward invasion by the Iroquois Indiana was halted by the victorious Chippewa” and then continues on with a brief history of the natives, mentions the 93 continuous years of operation which finally ceased in 1963 due to an automatic light being erected in the channel.
The Point Iroquois Lighthouse was established in 1855 when increase shipping traffic was anticipated due to the construction of the Soo Locks. The lighthouse is located at the entrance of the St. Mary’s River near the Locks and quickly became one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Ships passing from Lake Superior into the canal came close to Point Iroquois, through a narrow passage between the sandy shores of the American side and the rocky reefs on the Canadian side. Later in 1870, the house and tower were completely rebuilt, and in 1902, a two-story brick house was added to the grounds to provide housing for an assistant keeper.
For almost 100 years, the Point Iroquois provided guidance for the many traveling vessels out in the big lake. But in 1962 its light was extinguished as a new automatic beacon erected farther out in the water was preferred.
The 2-story white brick house with bright red roof and the white 65-foot attached tower, have been renovated and is now open to the public. We first toured the two rooms restored to be reminiscent of the 1950s and enjoyed seeing all the antiques on display as well as how the house might have looked in those days.
A short time later we ventured outside to climb the 65 foot tower. After 72 very twisting stairs in an extremely narrow tower, we made it to the top — glad I’m not claustrophobic. The view outside was spectacular and we could see for miles. Looking out on the horizon gave me the sense of what the keepers and their families might have witnessed as well. And as luck would have it, a freighter way in the distance could be seen sailing on by.
The weather was gorgeous so we headed for the wooded walkway to the beach area. It was a pleasant stroll through a few pines, tall grasses and native wildflowers that grow in the sandy soil of the grounds. The beach was as beautiful as we expected, with crystal clear water gently rolling in off the lake, and unique shaped driftwood found just lying in the sand. This was a perfect find, and we were so glad we stopped.
The museum and gift shop are open from May 15th – October 15th from 9am- to 5pm daily.
Road Less Traveled
The sun was shining, temperatures were in the high 70s°F, and I was itching for a day trip while vacationing in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. One hour east lied this quaint little village called Grand Marias, where the Log Slide and Grand Sable Dunes are located. I had heard so much about this place but had yet to experience it. I looked at the map and saw two choices from Munising. One, the direct route took us on Hwy-28 to 77, then north to Grand Marias, about 60 miles total. The second route, marked by dashed lines on our resorts map looked a bit longer but possibly on a more scenic path. My husband tried to discourage me by saying it’s a long way on dirt roads, my brother-in-law from Colorado was just along for the ride and said it was up to me to decide. We plopped in some good tunes, grabbed a few bottles of water and gassed up the old beast (2000 Chrysler Town & Country mini van) and off we headed on the road I anticipated would provide us many scenic views or that rare spotting of a moose, bear or a bald eagle — or at least that was my hope.
The scenic path we opted for takes you on miles of a terribly narrow, extremely deep sandy road barely improved and with little, if any, scenic sites. The road in spots was so sandy if you drove too slow you risk getting stuck or too fast would find yourself hydroplaning off into a path of a tree. We passed no quaint little towns to explore, had zero bars on our cell phones, passed only one other vehicle, were running exceptionally low on windshield washer fluid, and saw not as much as a bird during our wild-life excursion. We did pass several fire-ravished forests and ventured down several tree-lined roads that required good driving skills on, in order to maneuver around its tight curves while still trying to stay within its grooved tracks. It became very challenging trying desperately to avoid the oncoming intruding tree limbs and branches eagerly waiting to scratch up our vehicles finish. But not one moment that screamed out to me “stop and take my picture!”
We did, however, finally run into some other cars once we hooked up with Scenic Hwy-15. This deep canopied road runs parallel to the Lake Superior lakeshore taking you to a campground and Au Sable Point Lighthouse. Again, the road extremely narrow, twisting, and now increasing congested with sightseers created yet another problem, one which involved trying to avoid hitting opposing traffic. There were no panoramic views of the big lake, even though we were traveling long side it within a few hundred yards perched high about its banks. Though the road was beautiful, at times I felt driving on it was a little more stressful than enjoyable due to it’s rough terrain and high volume of travelers.
Three and half hours later, in dire need of a restroom, a bit famished, nerves shot all to hell, and traveling with two grown men chanting “FIND BEER,” we arrived at Grand Sable Dunes (meaning Big Sand) where you find the Log Slide. We quickly found the restrooms. Though not the modern flush type I prefer, they severed its purpose. Picnic tables are also available for your use near the parking lot.
History tells stories how loggers once rolled logs down long dry wooden chutes to the lake below to be loaded onto lumber schooners. They recall accounts of the chutes generating enough frictions to cause the chute to actually catch fire. This log slide was also very instrumental in the re-building of Chicago after it’s great fire. Today the chutes are all gone, but the lumberjack stories still remain.
A 1000 foot groomed trail awaits you, and leads you through the woods to the Log Slide Overlook to see some of the world’s most pristine perched dunes, Grand Sable Dunes. The Dunes covers a 5 mile stretch between the Sable River and Au Sable. Once on the path you will pass a large exhibit explaining some of the history here, which displays an enormous Big Wheel to observe as well as an old horse-powered log-roller that was used to transport logs from the forest to the Log slide. The walk is for the most part flat on a easily paved path. There are signs directing you to the observation deck for optimal viewing. Sign are posted for you to stay on the path or deck as widespread areas of poison ivy are commonly found off the trails.
Once you arrive at the overlook platform, and take a moment to gasp at the crystal clear waters of Lake Superior on the horizon, you’ll become breathless by the beauty of the panoramic views the dunes present. For a brief moment, all of life’s stresses and any memories of the rough journey leading you here are left behind. All you are left with is a sense of euphoria. Now I understood while so many list this place as a must see.
Shortly after we arrived, the fog had started to roll in and views were slightly obstructed. The dunes which go on for 5 miles in both directions and soaring 300 feet high were cut off by the thick fog rising from Lake Superior’s waters. The Au Sable Lighthouse was visible to the west but not good enough to snap that perfect postcard picture. The Grand Sable Dunes outweighed all my expectations. I had only wished my photographs could have better illustrated the magnificent beauty they behold, and that my camera lens had not flattened out their massive stature.
We opted not to climb the grand dunes as I heard the climb back up is grueling but the guys did manage to make it up one of the smaller dunes to have they photos taken to trick others into thinking they actually did. Now a nice walk back to the parking area to continue our trip. First head east to the quaint little village called Grand Marias for some food and beverages, then off west in search for a much needed car wash, then evidently end up back at the cabin.
I definitely will return here, hopefully on a day that offers much clearer views, and I will be taking Hwy 77 north to get here. Travel time from the Mackinaw Bridge is approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes, but worth every minute to see this.
Whether you are a history buff and thoroughly enjoy walking in the footsteps of famous explorers from our past, or are a nature lover who longs for picturesque sites in tranquil settings, then look no farther than Tahquamenon Falls. They offer a little for everyone. Two falls, located about 4 miles from each other are located in the state park, the upper and lower are hidden amidst the forest along the Tahquamenon River, which was made famous in the Longfellow’s poem “Song of the Hiawatha.” A walking path allows you to get between both. According to Indian lore, its name Tahquamenon comes from the water’s amber or brownish color, which is the result of leaching of tannic acid from the cedar and hemlock swamps that feeds the river and not rust or mud.
The Upper Falls is the one most folks come to witness, and with it width spanning over 200 feet and its vigorous cascading drop of almost 50 feet, as well as the 50,000 gallons per second of water flowing over the edge, it’s understandable and truly a magnificent site to behold. The parks paved (handicap accessible) path leading from the parking lot is an easy walk of about ¼ miles through a thick forest to a wooden viewing platform to get to the falls. You can elect to go down to another observation deck directly above the falls to feel its force and spray, but it’s down a lot of stairs and I don’t recall the number, but I do remember the pain of the burn on the way up.
Although the lower falls are not as dramatic and actually not one but a series of five smaller waterfalls, they still are beautiful and worth a peek. You have excellent viewing by either strolling down the pathway or rivers bank, or by renting a rowboat (available at the park) to reach the small island across the river. Either way, it’s easily accessible and perfect for those seeking quiet and solitude moments.
Tahquamenon Falls is located in the State Park bearing its same name, in the NE section of Upper Peninsula just north of Newberry. Known as the second largest waterfall east of the Mississippi, Niagara being larger. The river’s total watershed encompasses more than 790 miles. Besides the rust color water of the falls, you will also witness extensive amounts of white foam floating down the river which is caused by three natural occurrences; soft water, its turbulent action, water containing an organic matter much like egg-whites.
Tahquamenon Falls is open all year long and spectacular during all seasons. Springtime times bring abundant increased flowage with its snow run-off, summer offers lush green forest to explore, fall brings brilliant colors as well as the sounds of crunching leaves under your feet on your journeys, and winter transforms the falls into spectacular ice-sculptures.
Once at the falls you can also enjoy camping, 40 miles of hiking trails, 13 inland lakes, in these 40,000 acres of unspoiled paradise. State Park sticker is required.
When life gets hectic, my husband frequently recommends us buying and moving into an old lighthouse, promising us a peaceful solitude life, long walks on the beach, and endless water portraits at every glance. Though the thought of it at times seems tempting, a much more practical avenue would be to spend the night at one instead, and now at Whitefish Point, you can. Located next to the Whitefish Point Light Station is the recently restored U.S. Coast Guard Lifesaving Crew Quarter that for $150 a night it’s possible.
Whitefish Point is the oldest active lighthouse on Lake Superior and is highly visited by around 90,000 people each year. Located at the northeastern tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, about a 2-hour drive from the Mackinac Bridge, take N-I-75, to M-123 north about 11 miles along Paradise to get here. The lighthouse tour is only one thing that brings the tourist flocking here, the others are its Shipwreck Museum, the Bird Observatory, and the stunning sites of Lakes Superior’s shoreline.
The 80 mile stretch that extends from Whitefish Point west to the Pictured Rocks (Munising, MI) is called the “Graveyard of the Great Lakes” and for good reason, as this is the site of over half of the 550 known shipwrecks on the lake. The most recent sinking was the 711 freighter called the Edmund Fitzgerald, which lost her entire crew of 29 men on Nov. 10, 1975, 17 miles NW of Whitefish Point, by breaking in two and lodging herself into the bottom of the lake in 535 feet of water. She surrendered to the violent gale force winds that November day, proving more powerful then her.
Whitefish Point, today a quiet peaceful spot that holds historical tragic tales of the many unfortunate ships that have met there demise in the dangerous waters it resides on. The carefully restored lighthouse to the 1920 period is in exceptional condition and is open for touring with an admission fee. While touring you will learn about the hard and lonely life of keeper Robert Carlson, while he served from 1903 to 1931, and see the living quarters how they once stood. Many interesting artifacts, plus many original furniture pieces, are displayed here.
The shipwreck museum for some is the highlight of the trip. Here you enter into the haunting world of underwater shipwrecks — lights are dim, eerie somber music can be heard, and numerous sunken artifacts discovered from the depths of the waters are at your side to explore. The original ships bells from the Edmund Fitzgerald, and the Niagara can be found here as well as its anchors, the actual hull from the SS Independence, a 19 foot clamshell, lighthouse lens, old dishes, coins, as well as other fantastic artifacts discovered by divers are proudly displayed here. Also on exhibit here of old diving equipment once used, replicas of many ships, maps, charts and numerous legends that make these tragic stories come to life.
If you are into birding as I am, then you will love the Bird Observatory. Birds flock the point to find a refuge during their spring migration (March to mid-May). They rest and feed until they continue on northward to Canada, then return back to the point in the late fall for their return trip to the south. The eagles arrive in mid-March, followed by large hawks (red-tailed), then falcons, 10-species of owls, and finally the waterfowl and songbirds. The visitor center is located directly across the lighthouse and provides lots of information on the migration birds seen here, outside offers wooden walkways that have been constructed to allow visitors the optimal viewing experience.
Another thing to do while at Whitefish Point is to trek down to the beach and walk along the shoreline in search of driftwood, and unique colored and shaped rocks. A large deck is now offered for those who rather just look but not get sands in their shoes. Either way, the sights are awesome.
Don’t miss seeing the short narrative movie made by the Discovery Channel and played regularly near the lighthouse in a very tiny theater. It cost a few bucks to watch but it’s chuck full of information and facts of the Edmund Fitzgerald’s last journey. While departing, no words are spoken, eyes are filled with tears, Gordon Lightfoots song “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” plays, and the bells chime 29 times — once for each man lost that November day. It’s a powerful presentation and one that leaves you totally understanding while the Whitefish Point Shipwreck Museum stands today.
Before leaving, make sure to check out the gift shop located next to the museum. Its jammed full of cool books, maps, artwork, shirts, and many other trinkets exclusive to the point. A small store is also found here which offers snacks and sodas if needed. Expect to spend a couple hours here or more, as there lots of things to do and see. In the five times I have visited this place, each time I find something new and exciting and ready to explore. Hours of operation are 10am to 6pm daily , from May 15th through Oct. 15th. A large parking lot awaits you and gets very full with visitors, but dontt worry about this place feeling crowded as its offers lots of areas for people to wander around and discover.