“I don’t think a lot of people know how cool Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is,” adventure photographer Nathalie Linge says. “It was really unexpected for me.”
Acting on a whim, Linge visited the U.P. last summer, along with her boyfriend Louis and their dog, Parker. They were headed to Canada to see friends, trailing their lovingly restored 1969 vintage Airstream when they decided that they had a little time to spare for an adventure. Why not head into the wilderness in Michigan’s famed Upper Peninsula?
The duo had few expectations and nothing to lose, which left them all the more blown away by the region’s beauty. The water sparkled in a manner befitting a Caribbean isle, the parks were dotted with seemingly endless lakes, and the forests felt remote in an almost magical sense. Nathalie and Louis knew they were still in Michigan, but this was so unlike the Detroit metro area that Linge had pictured when planning a visit to the state. This was a place completely untamed and full of discovery — where unwinding from the hustle of the city was not only achievable but easy.
“It felt like the middle of nowhere,” Linge says. “We didn’t have service so we couldn’t go online or check our phones. And there are a million lakes in Michigan. So we kept finding spots where we had a little lake all to ourselves to camp at. It was incredible.”
This mentality is in line with Linge’s larger commitment to spend time getting lost in nature. She doesn’t believe that disconnecting from technology and spending time in the woods is something you should put off while you busy yourself with the day to day grind. She thinks it’s something we should all make time for.
“You can’t just wait around for life to happen,” Linge says. “We get to choose what we do with our lives. We have to choose to slow down and stop rushing to this and that, to jobs or to the next cool thing.”
If you’re ready to take Linge’s advice, there’s no better place to escape the city hustle than in the wilds of the Upper Peninsula. We asked the professional vagabond to share some of her favorite spots to make planning easy.
Day 1 — The Drive Up & Sleeping Bear Dunes
Head northwest from Detroit to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Type Maple City, Michigan into your GPS, but you’ll head out of the city on I-75 N. You’ve got about a four and a half hour drive, so you’ll want to fuel up with a hearty breakfast on your way out of town. Ferndale, just north of the city proper, is a classic, quaint midwestern downtown: brick buildings, cute stores and restaurants, and a friendly vibe. Stop at Toast, a quirky, colorful diner, for some great eggs and hearty portions.
After you’re full, jump back on the road and go straight to the dunes — where you’ll want to spend as much of your long summer afternoon as possible.
“At Sleeping Bear Dunes, there’s just like insanely blue water,” Linge says. “And warm lakes and crystal clear rivers, and a huge sand dune. My mind was blown. It was the bluest water I’d ever seen in my life. We went to Thailand a year ago, and this was way bluer than anything there.”
For your afternoon, getting out on the beautiful water is a must. Kayaking is a relaxing way to see the sights in the area, but if you’re looking for more adventure — fresh-water surfing on Lake Michigan is a pretty unique way to spend a few hours. Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak can hook you up for rentals for both and offers surfing lessons.
Before you end your day, you’ll want to visit the dunes themselves. The thrill of slipping down them at a run is the kind of laugh-til-it-hurts fun that makes sand dunes such a fun time. A picnic while watching the sunset over Lake Michigan, exhausted from all the running, is the perfect bookmark to your evening.
That night tuck into Platte River Campground — with lush green forest and a slow-moving river to relax by. It’s one of the best campgrounds you’ll find not only at Sleeping Bear, but in all of Michigan.