The Ultimate Michigan State Park Tour (Upper Peninsula Edition)
Michigan is home to more than 100 state parks, and more than 20 of those are located in the Upper Peninsula. As we continue our quest to visit every state park in the state, we also want to share what we’ve seen and done at the ones we’ve been to. I had the idea of splitting the parks into four segments, then putting together a travel guide for visiting all of them. Today we start that project off with the Ultimate Michigan State Park Tour: Upper Peninsula edition, a guide and map that navigates historic sites, campgrounds, beaches, waterfalls, lighthouses, and more.
This trip starts in St. Ignace and heads north to the Sault Ste. Marie area before heading west along the Lake Superior shoreline. From there it heads up into the Keweenaw Peninsula then covers more Lake Superior shoreline before heading inland. We then stop at a few sites before trekking down to the Lake Michigan shore. The rest of the trip covers more sites on the U.P.’s southern shore as it heads back to St. Ignace.
Straits State Park (I-75 Business Loop at Church St., St. Ignace) – One of the most popular state parks in Michigan, Straits State Park is located in St. Ignace and is known for its views of the Mackinac Bridge. This park also manages the Father Marquette National Memorial on the west side of I-75. Popular activities here include hiking and swimming. There are multiple playgrounds and picnic areas in the park and several great overlooks for viewing the Mackinac Bridge. The campground here has more than 250 sites.
Mackinac Island State Park (Shepler’s Ferry from St. Ignace) – More than 80 percent of Mackinac Island is part of the state park, including many of its roads, historic sites, and natural formations. Check out our guide to a bicycle trip around the island, as well as posts about Fort Holmes, what to see and do on a bicycle trip around the island, and historic sites to check out. Find ferry info at https://www.sheplersferry.com/.
*Lime Island State Recreation Area (private boat or charter from Raber or DeTour) – The only Upper Peninsula State Park we have yet to visit is Lime Island Recreation Area. The more I read about it, the more I want to go. Miles of hiking trails, tent and cabin camping, historic buildings and lime kiln ruins are just a few of the things to see and do on this island in the St. Mary’s River. Since no official ferry service exists, you are on your own to have a boat or charter one to get to and from the island.
Brimley State Park (9200 W. Six Mile Rd., Brimley) – Our usual base camp for exploring the Eastern Upper Peninsula is Brimley State Park. This park celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2022, and continues to bring people back due to its great location on Whitefish Bay. The campground here has a mini cabin and more than 230 sites for tents and RVs. It is about a 20 minute drive to Sault Ste. Marie from here, and a less than five minute drive to the start of the Whitefish Bay Scenic Byway. The beach here is great for swimming and the protected waters of the bay make it great for kayaking and boating and/or fishing. From the beach you can even watch as freighters pass by before making the trip through the Soo Locks.
Tahquamenon Falls State Park (41382 W. M-123, Paradise) – Hundreds of thousands of people visit this park every year to see the largest waterfall in the state. Upper Tahquamenon Falls is 50 feet tall and 200 feet wide, making it one of the must-visit locations in the U.P. Tahquamenon Falls State Park is split up into three units: Upper Falls, Lower Falls, and Rivermouth. You can find excellent campgrounds at Lower Falls (more than 180 sites) and the Rivermouth (more than 100 sites). At the Lower Falls visitors can rent a rowboat for a trip out to the island that the waterfalls surround. Starting in 2022 there will be a pedestrian bridge to allow better access to the Lower Falls and the island. There are close to 40 miles of trails in this park (including the North Country Trail), which also makes it a hiking paradise.
Muskallonge Lake State Park (29881 County Rd. 407, northwest of Newberry) – Campers and other visitors to Muskallonge Lake State Park have options for swimming or sitting at the beach – the park has frontage on both Muskallonge Lake AND Lake Superior! There are more than 150 campsites here, and a day use area for hiking and visiting the Lake Superior beach. This is a popular spot for rockhounds, and the lake is known to be a great spot for fishing.
Wagner Falls State Scenic Site (just west of the M-94/M-28 intersection) – Four of Michigan’s State Scenic Sites are Upper Peninsula waterfalls. Wagner Falls can be found just south of Munising, where a short trail leads to a beautiful waterfall. The waterfall is around 20 feet tall as Wagner Creek makes several drops on its way down dolomite ledges.
Laughing Whitefish Falls State Scenic Site (off of M-94 west of Chatham) – One of Michigan’s most spectacular waterfalls is reached after a half mile hike through this small park. There are three observation decks with different vantage points of the waterfalls, which cascades down into a limestone gorge. Laughing Whitefish Falls is best viewed in the spring or after heavy rain, and at 100 feet it is one of the tallest waterfalls in the U.P.
Van Riper State Park (851 County Road AKE, Champion) – West of Marquette you will find yet another amazing Upper Peninsula state park. Van Riper State Park is located on the shore of Lake Michigamme, which offers opportunities for swimming, boating, kayaking, fishing, and more. The campground has a rustic section (40 sites), several cabins and mini cabins, and more than 140 modern sites. The park also has frontage on the Peshekee River, and several miles of trails on the north side of U.S. 41/M-28. This park is near the location of Michigan’s “Moose Drop” of the 1980s – keep your eyes peeled as moose are sometimes spotted within the park!
Craig Lake State Park (8 miles west of Van Riper State Park then north on Nelligan Lake Rd.) – It takes a drive of nearly seven miles on rough roads (high clearance vehicles recommended) to reach the most remote state park in Michigan. This 8,400 acre park has no modern amenities, and that is part of its appeal for those who visit. There are six lakes in the park, miles of trails, rustic campgrounds, and even a yurt that can be rented. Deer, black bear, loons, eagles, hawks, and even moose can be spotted by quiet wildlife watchers here, and those looking to fish can land bass, walleye, muskellunge, pike, and northern pike.
Baraga State Park (1300 U.S. 41 S, Baraga) – The second park on this list that celebrates 100 years in 2022, Baraga State Park is another go-to base camp for us when exploring the U.P. There are more than 100 sites for tents and RVs in the campground, which has grassy and flat spots. There is also a mini cabin and a teepee that can be rented. Visitors can explore the park’s nature trail, head out on nearby ORV trails, or head across the road to the day use area on Keweenaw Bay for swimming, boating, fishing, or kayaking. This is another great park for wildlife watching as well.
Fort Wilkins Historic State Park (15223 U.S. 41, Copper Harbor) – We stay on U.S. 41 and head as far north as you can go on the mainland to visit Fort Wilkins Historic State Park. The fort was built in 1844 to help maintain law and order during the Keweenaw copper boom. Today, many fort buildings have been restored and are open to the public. In summer months, costumed historical interpreters are on site to provide a glimpse at what U.P. frontier life was like. Water recreation opportunities can be found here on both Lake Fanny Hooe and Lake Superior. The campground is split into two parts and has more than 150 sites. The Copper Harbor lighthouse is also part of the park, and while coat tours are not currently being offered it can be viewed from Astor Shipwreck Park across from the fort.
F.J. McLain State Park (18350 M-203, Hancock) – On the western side of the Keweenaw Peninsula, McLain State Park offers access to Lake Superior and a beautiful campground. The campground has more than 100 sites as well as a handful of cabins, and the day use area has a beach, dog beach, ADA compliant picnic area, trails, and the Keweenaw Waterway Upper Entrance Light at the end of the breakwall and fishing pier.
Twin Lakes State Park (6204 E. Poyhonen Rd., Toivola) – Located in the southwest part of Houghton County and in the heart of “copper country,” Twin Lakes State Park has a small campground and lots of outdoor recreation opportunities. The campground is located on the shores of Lake Roland, one of the two lakes that gives the park its name. Both Lake Roland and Lake George are known great for fishing, and the day use area here has a popular beach, volleyball court, boat launch, and more. The park has a 1.5 mile nature trail, and Wyandotte Falls is located just a mile down the road.
Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park (M-107 at S. Boundary Rd., west of Silver City) – At 60,000 acres, this is the largest state park in Michigan. It’s so large that we are going to need a few paragraphs to describe everything it has to offer. Camping options include the rustic campground at Presque Isle, a seemingly endless supply of backcountry campsites and cabins, and the Union Bay Campground on the shores of Lake Superior. Waterfall enthusiasts will love the Presque Isle waterfalls loop that includes Manabezho Falls and Manido Falls, or the short hikes to Nonesuch Falls and mine ruins, or Overlooked Falls and Greenstone Falls. Longer hikes into the park’s interior lead to elusive waterfalls like Shining Cloud Falls.
Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park has nearly 90 miles of trails. Wildlife watching here can even result in the occasional black bear sighting. Lake of the Clouds is one of our favorite places in the entire state, and other park attractions like the Summit Peak Overlook, Union Mine Trail, or even the ski area! Be sure to stop by the visitor’s center on South Boundary Rd. to find out everything the park has to offer and see some cool displays.
Lake Gogebic State Park (N9995 M-64, Marenisco) – Lake Gogebic is the largest inland lake in the Upper Peninsula, and the park that bears its name is incredibly popular in the summer months. The most popular of the more than 125 sites in the campground are located near the shore of the lake. A day use area provides access to a sandy beach and warm water. Boating and fishing also remain popular here, with walleye, perch, and bass among the popular catches. Hikers will find several miles of trails that wind into the Ottawa National Forest. The water is what brings visitors here, but it also makes this park heaven for mosquitos – make sure you come prepared!
Bond Falls State Scenic Site (Bond Falls Rd. east of U.S. 45, Paulding) – One of the state’s most beautiful waterfalls can be viewed from a universally accessible boardwalk and platform. Bond Falls has a drop of 50 feet at a point where the middle branch of the Ontonagon River is around 100 feet wide. You can follow a trail all the way up to the dam that controls the flow of the river, seeing many smaller drops on the way. Keen observers may catch a glimpse of small mammals near the base of the falls, as they search for the same thing the occasional fisherman here does.
Agate Falls State Scenic Site (roadside park on M-28 west of Trout Creek) – A short trail from a roadside park leads under a historic bridge then past a towering trestle bridge before providing views of the top of Agate Falls. To get a good view of the whole waterfall you have to follow one of the rough trails that makes its way down the hill to the river. These trails aren’t for everyone, and we would describe them as moderately difficult due to the steep incline. However, the reward is worth the effort. Agate Falls is a drop of 40 feet on the middle branch of the Ontonagon River and one of the more picturesque waterfalls in the state.
Bewabic State Park (720 Idlewild Rd., Crystal Falls) – Part of the Iron County Heritage Trail, Bewabic State Park has a rich history with the Civilian Conservation Corps and some of the CCC-built structures still stand to this day. Hiking trails, a beach and water access to Fortune Lake, and even a tennis court can be found here. The campground has more than 120 sites, known for being shaded and somewhat private.
Menominee River State Recreation Area (U.S. 8 at Piers Gorge Rd., south of Norway) – One of the newer additions to the state park system is this 10,000 acre paradise on the Michigan-Wisconsin border. Hiking trails lead to views of Misicot Falls and other drops on the river, and outfitters like Northwoods Adventures take groups on whitewater rafting trips here.
J.W. Wells State Park (M-35 south of Cedar River) – Another park with quite a bit of Civilian Conservation Corps history is Wells State Park on Green Bay. A beautiful sandy beach stretches for miles, and a day use area has basketball and volleyball courts as well as a playground. The campground has 150 sites, and be sure to reserve early if you want one of the handful of popular sites that are right on the water. Several miles of trails wind through the park.
Fayette Historic State Park (4785 M-183, Garden) – The 16 mile drive south of U.S. 2 is more than worth it once you arrive at Fayette Historic State Park and get your first viewed of the restored and preserved townsite and iron smelter. This area was once home to a thriving community and you can now tour in and around 20 buildings to see what life was like at that time. Hiking trails lead to the top of the limestone cliffs that surround the harbor. Snail Shell Harbor has 15 transient slips for day-use or overnight boating, and the campground here has 50 modern sites.
Indian Lake State Park (8970 W. County Rd. 442, Manistique) – Unlimited opportunities for water recreation on the U.P.’s fourth largest inland lake await at Indian Lake State Park. The West Shore Campground offers 72 campsites while the modern South Shore Campground offers more than 125 sites. Boating, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, and swimming can be enjoyed in the warm waters of Indian Lake. In the winter this park is popular for cross country skiing and snowmobiling. The Dufour Creek Trail is an excellent spot for hiking and wildlife watching.
Palms Book State Park (M-149 northwest of Indian Lake State Park) – This day-use park is home to one of the top must-see attractions in the entire Upper Peninsula: the Big Spring Kitch-iti-kipi. This 220 by 40 foot natural spring maintains a year-round temperature of 45 degrees as thousands of gallons of water push their way through fissures in the limestone at the bottom. A wooden raft takes visitors out over the spring where they can see it in action. Watch for lime encrusted tree branches and large trout as you travel on the raft. Our best advice for this park is to get there early in the day unless you want to wait in line for a half hour or longer to go out on the raft. There is a small gift shop here as well.
**A Michigan recreation passport is required for entry into all of the parks listed above. Camping reservations can be made at https://midnrreservations.com/.