Growing up in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, I always looked at the Upper Peninsula as a vast, unknown wilderness. Though I had crossed the Mackinac Bridge several times, my first camping excursion in the U.P. was just three years ago. In lieu of a crowded birthday celebration, my friend Andrew and I opted for an extended weekend of camping for my 25th birthday. Other than my burning desire to see Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, we had no set plans.

Crossing the five-mile bridge was a treat on its own. The breathtaking views of Lake Michigan on one side and Lake Huron on the other are almost as amazing as standing underneath the bridge and hopping back and forth between the two, a silly habit to which I adhere every time I visit the gateway to the U.P.

We stopped first at Tahquamenon Falls State Park, pitching our tent at the Lower Falls Campground. For first time Tahq. Falls visitors, if you choose to stay at this campground, I would recommend making a reservation ahead of time, at least during the summer season. We arrived at approximately 2 p.m. and by that time, all riverside sites were occupied. As a popular tourist destination, the Lower Falls Campground is modern with flush toilets and hot showers, unlike its more rustic sibling, The River Mouth Unit, which is equipped with only vault toilets. Personally, I prefer the latter: the seclusion of most of the sites at River Mouth gives the illusion of being completely alone in nature. That, however, is a story for a different day.

After setting up camp, Drew and I made our way toward the Lower Falls concession area to rent a rowboat and paddle across the river to the island in the middle of the falls. Upon reaching land once again, we spent the afternoon hiking in and around the falls. Though swift in current, shallow waters allowed for easy wading.

A family wades through Lower Tahq Falls.

Drew enjoys an island in the shallow waters of the falls.

The next morning, we drove north to Whitefish Point, a venture I would highly recommend for history buffs. While touring the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, reading of numerous tragedies, we were cued into the familiar notes of Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” In honor of one of the lakes’ most remembered losses, the song was appropriately set on repeat during the museum’s hours of operation.

Directing our travels west, we followed paved and unpaved roads that appeared deserted, even in the summertime. We passed through Grand Marais and continued until we came upon what I consider to this day to be one of my favorite campgrounds.

The lovely Twelvemile Beach Campground is nestled on the shores of Lake Superior in the midst of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. With luck, we snagged the last available lakeside campsite in the picturesque little park. Though a line of trees separated the site from the lake, I followed a short path to a beach full of the most incredible stones I had ever seen.

Rocky shores of Lake Superior near Twelvemile Beach.

Lake Superior, in my opinion, is the Pacific of the Great Lakes. “Gitchee Gumee,” as it is known by locals and fresh water gurus, is the largest of the lakes and sets a tone of peaceful mystery with hidden power. I enjoyed an afternoon of reading and combing the beach along the calm shoreline.

Near Gitchee Gumee at Twelvemile.

As the day drew on, the wind grew stronger, and Drew and I both knew a storm was imminent. Despite the small forest that separated the campground from the beach, I could hear waves crashing as I snuggled in my tent.

Then came the rains. Steady through the night, it poured. At daybreak, it seemed to be letting up. The winds had ceased, and everything was still. Hindsight would prove this to be the quiet before the storm. In our optimism, Drew and I readied ourselves for a dip in the big lake. As we approached the trail to the beach, a heavy gust of wind whipped through the tree tops above us, and we heard the crashing of waves return with a roar. We turned back abruptly but were, nonetheless, caught in a sudden torrential downpour. Within five minutes, we had broken down camp and shoved our sopping-wet gear into the trunk of my car.

The monsoon continued as we made our way to Munising, Michigan, stopping only when we finally reached town. The sun broke through the clouds, and we unloaded our drenched equipment to dry in its rays.

Despite the morning’s high seas, Pictured Rocks Cruises, a business offering boat tours of the shoreline, was up and running. We purchased tickets for a mere $36 a head. For a two-hour jaunt on the water with views of high cliffs painted in natural, spectacular colors, I thought it was extremely reasonable. The incredible rock formations along Lake Superior were almost unfathomable, and left me imagining a future kayaking trip to get a closer glimpse.

Rock formations along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Cliffs along the lakeshore.

After the cruise, we hopped into the car and rambled back to the Lower Peninsula. It was a short trip compared to the excursions I’ve had since, but one does not easily forget their first camping trip in the U.P.

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# Comments

  • Greg Heil

    Great trip report! I’ve spent a lot of time in the UP during the winter skiing, but I’ve never camped or hiked up there. Maybe one of these summers when I go back to Wisconsin to visit family I’ll be able to swing up through the UP!

  • Jeff Barber

    Always wanted to visit the UP. Those last two photos almost look like they were taken in the Caribbean. Definitely on my to do list!

  • SarahHikes

    I visited the U.P. earlier this year purely in search of morel mushrooms (which we happened to be too early to find). I went to or drove by most of the places you mentioned. It’s a very beautiful part of the country and somewhat desolate. Pictured Rocks was incredible. I didn’t get to do any boating but I would love to in the future. Great article 🙂

  • Mbetka

    Awesome Carrie, I love this! We’re gonna have to plan a good long hike UP there in the spring time!

  • carsuek

    Thank you, everyone! Matt- we should rally up the troops and hit the Porcupines! I haven’t spent enough time in that part of the UP and I really want to scope them out.

  • jpmmcbride

    Thanks Carrie! Those cliffs look incredible! I wonder if the water is deep enough to do some deep water free soloing (rock climbing without ropes over very deep water). A kayak trip would be super fun up there!

    • carsuek

      Ya know, I’m not completely sure on that. The waters of Lake Superior fluctuate and I would guess that it would be deep enough along some parts of the Picture Rocks lakeshore, but I’m no rock climbing expert. It’s worth a little research, the cliffs are incredible!

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