Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP) is long regarded as one of the best places in the US to visit in fall. Most people are quick to point out that it’s because of the stunning beauty of UP’s changing autumn foliage. While UP’s autumn colors are certainly spectacular, there are plenty of other reasons to fall in love with UP in autumn. Here are our eight reasons why we think fall in Upper Peninsula, Michigan is so worth the trip.
Reason #1: UP is a vast wilderness
With seven million acres of untamed wilderness, the Upper Peninsula is a magnet for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. You’ll really miss a lot if you don’t pack your hiking shoes, and maybe your mountain bike and camping gear, with you when you visit UP. UP’s wild scenery becomes even more awe-inspiring from September to November. The dense forests of maples, aspens, and pines turn red, yellow, and gold. These fiery colors provide an amazing contrast to grays and browns of the sandstone formations, as well as the blues of the sky and UP’s inland waters.
The protected wildernesses in UP are a mix of federal and state lands. Among the protected areas you need to visit in UP are:
- Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The first designated national lakeshore in the US, Pictured Rocks refers to the colorful cliffs and rock formations in the town of Munising facing Lake Superior. These colors are created by groundwater leaching, leaving the rocks with streaks of red, black, white, yellow, copper, and other hues. Pictured Rocks is also the home of Grand Sable Dunes, sand slopes that rise five miles from Lake Superior.
- Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. Also known as the Porkies, Porcupine Mountains State Park is 60,000 acres of small mountains, waterfalls, rivers, and one of the largest expanses of old-growth hardwood forests in North America. The views there are breathtaking in autumn, when the maples, birches, hemlocks, and basswoods turn red and gold. You’ll enjoy these views best after a climbing hike through one of the park’s 90 hiking trails.
- Ottawa National Forest. At Ottawa National Forest, you’d be hiking down trails with an overhead canopy of maples and aspens changing their colors to brilliant reds and oranges. The forest covers a million acres stretching from the south shore of Lake Superior to the border between Michigan and Wisconsin. It also lies adjacent to Porcupine Mountains State Park. The forest is rich in wildlife and is particularly famous for its several waterfalls.
Reason #2: No crowds
You won’t find crowds in UP, even during peak tourist season. Despite having 29% of Michigan’s total land mass, the Upper Peninsula only has around 3% of the state’s total population. This population is spread thinly across many small towns and villages. Marquette, the largest city in UP, boasts of a population of only around 30,000.
Add to this the lack of urban development in the area. This fact often turns off travelers who value their creature comforts. This means only a dedicated few tend to visit UP any time of the year. Fall in Upper Peninsula also means UP’s cold and wet weather gets even colder and wetter, and this weather attracts only a number of veteran lovers of the Great Outdoors. If you fancy yourself a veteran hiker who can brave the elements and you’d love a hiking trail all to yourself, UP is your ideal destination.
Reason #3: Waterfalls
Love waterfalls? UP has 300 of them. And they look even more picturesque in autumn, with the fiery fall foliage creating a contrast between the rocks’ grays and browns, the sky’s blue, and the water’s clarity. Ottawa National Forest alone has seven waterfalls from Black River, as well as seven of the 11 waterfalls from Presque Isle River.
Perhaps the most famous of UP’s waterfalls is Tahquamenon Falls, considered to be one of the largest waterfalls in the US. Tahquamenon’s Upper Falls spans around 200 feet and drops 50 feet. It has a distinct brown color that has earned it the nickname “Root Beer Falls.” The Lower Falls, on the other hand, cascades down five layers around an island some four miles from the Upper Falls. These falls are the focus of the Tahquamenon Falls State Park in Paradise, Michigan.
Reason #4: Aurora borealis
You don’t need to travel all the way to the Arctic Circle to see aurora borealis lighting up the sky. You only need to go to UP, where the northern lights snake across the heavens. UP’s aurora borealis is particularly brighter around September and October. Seeing the aurora borealis is an extra treat that will make your experience of fall in Upper Peninsula a lot more enjoyable.
Reason #5: UP Fall Beer Festival
With 20 breweries and wineries operating in the region, is it any wonder that UP celebrates its brews and wines? Happening every September in Marquette, the UP Fall Beer Festival is one of the events that kick off fall in Upper Peninsula. You can add a crawl of UP’s pubs, bars, and wineries as part of your UP road trip.
Fall in the Upper Peninsula is a magical time. Take time to experience this magic and reconnect with nature in UP this autumn.