A Cool Summer Outdoors in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
Oswald’s Bear Ranch. Rawr!
One of my early memories is of a family vacation to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula—the U.P.—over forty years ago. We stayed in a rustic cabin, where my mom, never one for roughing it, slept fitfully, haunted by sounds of scurrying mice. We bathed in a nearby lake and dined on basic camp fare. For amusement, we played in the water during the day and drove to the local dump at night, in hopes of catching a glimpse of bears or skunks.
So when I was invited to visit today’s eastern U.P., I jumped at the chance, curious about what had changed in the intervening decades.
This trip was miles apart in terms of conveniences but the similarities ignited my memories: the rich wilderness still stretches for miles. On this peninsula surrounded by three Great Lakes—Michigan and Superior with Huron at the tip—water is still the centerpiece. The natural palette still mixes the vivid blue waters and sky with the deep greens of conifers and the white stripes of birch and aspen trunks.
If you’re a craft beer drinker or an avid reader, you’ve probably already heard of Michigan’s Two Hearted River. The legend of the river’s name is, by most accounts, based on a devoted Native American couple, but it’s been immortalized by Michigan’s Bell’s Brewery and by writer Ernest Hemingway. And it is still a place to play and re-create in nature, to escape the big city and summer’s sweltering heat, or to boat, swim, hike, bike, and fish. But there are also opportunities to enjoy fine food and accommodations without mice to keep you company. Michigan “Yoopers” welcome you at campgrounds or motels, bed and breakfasts or country inns.
The 25-mile river flows into Lake Superior, where sand dunes and a Great Lakes beach line one shore and a rustic state campground covers the other. The state park also hosts trails for mountain biking, hiking, and ATV riding plus fishing and a boat launch. You can rent a canoe locally to paddle down the river, navigating around fallen trees and other natural obstacles or casting a line and hauling in fish. Early and mid-summer are renowned for black flies, so bring a hat and insect repellent.
Also in the area is Timber Charlie’s, a restaurant combining the U.P.’s culture and humor. The menu presents local fare, like TC’s Pastie. It also presents a local tongue-in-cheek glossary, so you’ll know to ask for “axle grease” if you want butter, a “biscuit shooter” to summon your server, “tonsil polish” for booze, or “vegetable fireworks” for beans.
A natural must-see is the 50,000-acre Tahquamenon Falls State Park for history, beauty and recreation. Longfellow’s Hiawatha built his canoe “by the rushing Tahquamenaw.” Ojibwa Indians lived off of the abundance of fish and wildlife. Lumber barons came here in the late 1800s, harvesting trees and using the river to send logs to the mills.
The grand upper falls is one of the highest east of the Mississippi—a drop of nearly 50 feet, more than 200 feet across, and a water flow of more than 50,000 gallons per second. The water spilling over the cliff is a light coffee color from the tannins from cedars and hemlocks above the riverbanks.
Park facilities range from rustic camping to cabins and a lodge, with 20+ miles of hiking trails, interpretive programs, paddling, fishing, hunting and winter sports.
The park even features the privately owned Camp 33 gift shop, restaurant, and microbrewery. The pub fare includes local flavors of whitefish and pasties. Their fine craft beers are offered on site, both in the restaurant and in take-home growlers, with four beers rotating on tap.
A wet playground along the southern edge of the U.P. is Les Cheneaux, “The Channels,” 36 parallel islands and sheltered waterways. The area’s biological jewels include nine globally rare natural communities, habitat for 13 threatened or endangered species and 11 sheltered environmental areas. Woods & Water Ecotours offers environmentally sensitive tours of Les Cheneaux by kayak or bike. They’ll also guide you to explore the area caves and for bird watching.
Lodging around Les Cheneaux includes campgrounds, cabins, motels, and bed and breakfasts. Be sure to check out Hessel Grocery and Deli’s quality local cuisine for take-out or eat-in.
My 21st century return to the Upper Peninsula surpassed my expectations. I saw plenty of bears up close at Oswald’s Bear Ranch without having to visit a dump and I even got to feed fruity cereal to a furry little cub. Yet those same invigorating outdoor experiences that I was anxious to relive were still close at hand.
Perhaps Michigan’s U.P. has discovered the secret for improving upon the past without sacrificing the future.
Annie Tobey is a freelance writer and editor living in Richmond, Virginia. For six years, she’s shared her philosophical passions through V Magazine for Women, combining love for life, the diversity of women, and a celebration of success in all its forms, on the printed page and online, now at www.MyVMagazine.com. She also shares her joie de vivre as a travel writer at www.ActiveWomanTraveler.com. She welcomes freelance opportunities for writing and editing, helping businesses present a polished written message that builds a quality brand. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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