Michigan’s Upper Peninsula Is An Untamed Retreat Full Of Stunning Scenery

Nathalie Linge

“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

Nathalie Linge

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.

Day 2 — Cherry Picking & Pictured Rocks

Nathalie Linge

After a leisurely morning in the woods and a camp-style breakfast, head north for some Michigan delights in small town, Glen Arbor, just five minutes north of the dunes.

“There’s this little town I love called, Glen Arbor,” Linge says. “There’s great food and it’s like a little wine country area. There are cherry stands to stop at and it’s on a beautiful section of lake.”

For your late morning and afternoon, head to Cherry Republic for some of the sweet cherries Michigan is known for in….basically everything? You can taste treats from multiple cherry sodas to cherry salsa to cherry pie. And they have a winery and tasting room (all the wine also is cherry based — just go with it.) Before you head out, hit up their Cherry Public House for a fresh cider and a burger. You’re also going to want some more pie.

So. Full. Of. Cherries (and having purchased more for the rest of the trip), head to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore where you’ll be crashing the next two nights. You have a picturesque four and half hour drive ahead that will take you across the Macinac Bridge, over the lake, and along the shores of the Upper Peninsula. So, get ready to open the windows, breathe in the pine-scented air, and stop for the many photo opportunities.

Once at the unique, sandstone-cliffed park, Linge loves hitting up more wild land for camping. (If you want to go for backcountry camping you’ll need to get a permit which can be found here.) If you’re looking for a more established campground, the secluded, Twelve Mile Beach Campground is first come, first serve and is a walk from the beach. You’ll get incredible water views right as you unzip your tent every morning and spectacular, all-encompassing sunsets in the evening. But know that this is rustic — there is no electricity, running water, or cell service.

Relax by the fire this evening, roast s’mores, and feel very, very far away from your normal workaday stresses.

Day 3 — Kayaking near Pictured Rocks

Nathalie Linge

Linge feels certain that kayaking around the cliff is the best way to spend an adventurous day in Pictured Rocks.

“We’d just bought kayaks right before we went,” Linge says. “So we kayaked a ton. It’s just a beautiful landscape — really breathtaking and perfect weather in the summer. Humid, but not super humid, and warm.”

For beginners, we recommend taking a guided, five-hour tour with Pictured Rocks Kayaking ($149). Once you’ve had your fill of kayaking and swimming, there are amazing hikes. The Chapel Rock loop will take you to a spectacular, 80-foot, cascading waterfall. From there, you can head back to where you started — which would make it about a three-mile round trip adventure. Or you can continue to do the whole loop, a little over 10 miles and filled with cliff views. This will bring you to a second waterfall — both are amazing, it just depends on how much energy you want to expend.

Day 4 — The Drive Home

Nathalie Linge

Unfortunately, it’s time to head back to the city. Give yourself a relaxing morning, and then get on the road. Going a more direct route back to Detroit, you’re looking at a manageable six hours mostly VIA I-75 S. After days kayaking, sunning, camping, reconnecting with friends or your partner, and truly being unreachable from anyone back home, you’ll be glad you got out of your comfort zone and took a chance on adventure. Linge certainly was.

“I would never in a million years have gone to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan,” she says. It’s not on the way to anything! But staying on the coast, encountering lake after lake after lake, it’s just so beautiful, and I’m so glad we took the time to explore it.”

Nathalie Linge