Camping in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

At the end of June, with our camper in tow and kayaks loaded, my family and I embarked on a week-long adventure in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. My husband and I have both been several times before but our kids had never been past St. Ignace and Mackinac Island so it was time to show the boys the beauty that is the rest of the U.P.

After traveling, in my opinion, the most beautiful highway in Michigan, US-2, for over an hour past the Mackinac Bridge we arrived at our first destination, Indian Lake State Park in Manistique. Just as its name suggests, this campground resides on the banks of 8,400 acre Indian Lake. With a maximum depth of only 18 ft and 90% of the lake being less than 15 ft deep, it is not ideal for larger boats, but it is perfect for fishing boats and kayaks. My husband and oldest son spent a few hours out on the lake fishing from kayaks with worms and did catch a few pan fish and a small bass. Unfortunately nothing worth keeping for dinner. The campground itself was pretty quiet, it seemed that most used it as a place to rest after exploring all day. The bathrooms were clean, and the showers were always hot. We stayed on lot 83 and had a great view of the lake, and the bugs were not as bad as the lots closer to the woods.  DISCLAIMER: there is a sign cautioning against swimmer’s itch near the designated beach area, but there are several access points to the lake throughout the park that did not have signs, and I will tell you from experience, shower well immediately after swimming in this lake. Both of my boys had itchy legs within an hour of wading through the water and by the next morning had terribly itchy bumps covering their legs that lasted the rest of our trip.

Sunset at Indian Lake State Park

From the base point of our campsite at Indian Lake State Park we set out on a day trip to visit the famous Kitch-iti-kipi Spring and the Historic Fayette State Park, both of which are entirely doable on the same day. If you have never heard of Kitch-iti-kipi, it is Michigan’s largest natural freshwater spring located inside Palms Book State Park. This impressive spring is 40 feet deep and 200 feet across and the crystal clear, teal blue water maintains a constant 45 degrees, rarely freezing over during the winter months. While at the park you can board a raft that will take you back and forth across the spring by a manual pulley system. The raft has a center cut-out viewing area where you can peer down into the spring and watch the large, various types of trout swim below. 

The raft at Kitch-iti-kipi

After visiting Kitch-iti-kipi, we ventured over to Fayette Historic State Park located in the town of Garden on the Big Bay de Noc on Lake Michigan between Snail Shell Harbor and Sand Bay. Fayette is a historic industrial community known for manufacturing charcoal pig iron between 1867 and 1891. When you visit this state park you will have the opportunity to walk through several historically preserved buildings, each providing its own mini history lesson. Aside from the ghost town, Fayette has 3.5 miles of easy hiking trails with breathtaking views of the bay and its towering limestone cliffs which would also make it a great place to kayak. My fish-loving 9 year old had to check out the boat docks on site there, where he saw an abundance of large perch and begged to come back later in the day with his fishing pole. As an added bonus, the lodge on site had a little gift shop that sold ice cream which was wonderful after doing some hiking on a warm day. We spent only a couple hours at this park, but we could have spent much longer if we had allotted more time for it. I would recommend bringing fishing poles and a picnic lunch and hanging out for the afternoon. SIDE NOTE: If you are interested in camping at Fayette State Park there is a small campground there. We did drive through it, and in my opinion the campsites are a bit small for those with larger campers and may be more suited for tents and smaller units. There were a few motorhomes and bigger campers in there so it is doable, just tighter quarters than I prefer when I am camping. 

After a few days at Indian Lake we packed up and headed to the town of Newberry for the next part of our adventure. We stayed at a private campground called Newberry Campground. The campground has sites available for all types of campers. They have rustic tent sites, 30 amp power and water hook-up, and 50 amp full hook-up sites. When booking through this campground it goes through the website and you can pay an extra $10 to reserve a specific campsite, if you choose not to do this they will assign you a campsite dependent upon what they have available. Most, if not all of the sites in the campground were pull-through sites of decent size so I opted to not reserve a specific site and it worked out in our favor. We ended up on lot number 29 which was an end lot with nothing but open field in front of it. I will say, the field was intended for tent campers, however there were none there during our stay and we had trees close by for the boys to hang their hammocks. Other amenities at this campground worth mentioning are a heated pool, arcade, mini golf, and ice cream and the camp staff there were very friendly. The only, very minor, inconvenience was there is only one bathhouse and it is at the very front of the park which was a ways away from our campsite at the back of the park. Again, this was very minor, and we opted to just use the shower and bathroom in our camper. 

Always looking for a place to fish, my son and husband spotted a lake on our way into town that had a public DNR access site. After talking to some locals at the gas station, we discovered that there are actually two lakes back there called Twin Lakes and that it was a good spot to fish for pike and muskie. They headed over to do some kayak fishing that night and though they missed out on the pike and muskie, they did catch a few pan fish. 

The Upper Falls

The Lower Falls

Our main purpose for staying in Newberry was that it is only about 25 minutes from Tahquamenon Falls and that is where we headed on our full day in town. We first stopped at the larger upper falls which is very easily accessible with small children. There are several viewing platforms available with varying degrees of accessibility but all provide stunning views of the falls so you shouldn’t worry about missing out if you have a stroller or little ones who can’t handle the stairs. To get to the lower falls you can either hop back in the car and drive, or there is a 4 mile (8 miles round trip) challenging hiking trail for those of you who enjoy hiking. Just like with the upper falls, you can pretty easily view the lower falls as well with minimal walking, also like the upper falls there are several viewing platforms, if you are willing to do some walking you can get up close and personal with the lower falls by taking some of the hiking trails. If you are able I recommend you do this, it was such a cool experience. While on site at the falls, there are modern bathrooms, a gift shop, restaurant, and even a brewery. If our kids were a little bit older, we would have liked to spend the day there and explore more of the hiking trails, but we will save that for another trip when they are a bit older. 

One stop that was on my youngest boy’s vacation bucket list was Oswald’s Bear Ranch, also in Newberry. We headed there after visiting the falls. For those that don’t know, Oswald’s Bear Ranch is a 240 acre refuge for 40 rescued black bears that has been open to the public since 1997. At the ranch you have the opportunity to purchase bags of apples that can be thrown to the bears as treats, and for an added cost you can pet and have your picture taken with a bear cub. Watching the bear cubs play together was hilarious and my boy’s favorite part. I will say, if  you have older kids, like teenagers or just to go as adults that this stop may not be super exciting,(think zoo, but with only black bears) but my younger kids loved being able to see some black bears up close and personal.

When we left the bear ranch there was a sign that said “Lake Superior 18 Miles” so since we had a little bit of time to kill and Lake Superior is known for some good rock hunting, we said, “Why not?” We parked across the street from Muskallonge Lake State Park where there was public access to the lake. It was cold and windy, but the sun was shining, the lake was beautiful, and the rocks were plentiful. Due to being unprepared for the cold we didn’t stay long, but left with some pretty cool rocks to add to our collection. Muskallonge Lake State Park looked like a nice place to camp as well and has been added to our list to stay at in the future. 

Our last stop of the trip, and the main reason we decided to go to the U.P. when we did, was to visit the St. Ignace Car Show. If you are a car enthusiast, you won’t be disappointed. This 3 day show is one of the biggest of its kind in the country and has been happening annually for 48 years. Thursday night after most of the cars arrive they have a cruise night, followed by a Memory Lane Parade on Friday evening, and the event finishes with the actual car show where over 800 cars park in town for your viewing pleasure. With rain all day Friday, and into Saturday morning, we did not have the greatest weather for this portion of the trip, but we made the best of it and were thankful it let up long enough for us to walk through the car show on Saturday.

In between the weekend’s scheduled events you can keep busy by visiting the vendor booths and food trucks set up in town. There are also lots of nice shops and restaurants within walking distance. We had lunch one day at The Gangplank restaurant and visited The Mackinaw Fudge Shop where you can stock up on locally made fudge and candies. 

While in St. Ignace, we stayed at Tiki RV Park. This one is also booked through where you can pay extra to reserve a specific site. Again we did not pay extra and let them assign us a site and we regretted that decision this time. Even though they were given the details and size of our camper we were assigned a small lot that required a lot of maneuvering around trees, electrical posts, and water hook-up to get us on the site (thankfully my hubby is a pro!). Once we got on site, it was on the edge of a hill and required several blocks on the one side to get us leveled. In order for us to have our slide out fully extended we had to back far onto the lot, which in turn meant our fire pit was now very close to the camper and under the awning. So long story short with this one, if you are going to stay here pay the extra money to pick your site and avoid sites 39-48 (we were on 44) if you have a larger camper.  Also important to note, the bathrooms were not the greatest, and there is no pool, playground, or activities for kids. If you are just looking for a place to stay while you are in town to see the sights it is sufficient. 

Last but not least, we stopped at a favorite of my kids, The Deer Ranch in St. Ignace. Around since 1950, The Deer Ranch is home to white tails, white white tails, and albino deer. You can purchase cups of carrots or apples to feed to the deer and they will walk right up to you and eat them out of your hands and let you pet them. They have lots of bucks with impressive antlers, and a barn that houses the fawns, where if you are lucky, they will let you pet them. 

We squeezed a lot of activities into a short amount of time on our trip, but there is just so much to do and see in the Upper Peninsula, it is truly a beautiful place to visit where you can really take the time to enjoy and appreciate nature. Without a doubt, we will be back.  I hope you have found this post helpful and informative if you are considering a trip of your own. We have already begun planning our next trip and can’t wait to explore more of this beautiful state we call home.

Brittany Holthof

I’m a REALTOR and Traveler. When I’m not camping or exploring a new area, you can find me showing houses and helping homebuyers make their dreams a reality. If you’re looking for a home or piece of property anywhere in the West Michigan area, I can help you find it! Contact me to get started!