Hi there, and thanks for stopping by! Have you ever been to the North side of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula? Are you planning a trip now? If you are, you’ve come to the right place! We’ve compiled a list of some of the best things you can do on your trip up to the U.P. in the Paradise area. We been to almost every location on this list and we’d like to share these awesome places with you too. For the few places we haven’t been to, there are plenty of raving reviews to verify the cool factor of each of these U.P. locations.
Even if you’re just interested in reading about what the middle portion of the U.P. has to offer, I’m sure you’ll come across something that you didn’t previously know existed. I hope that you’ll enjoy the article as much as I enjoyed reading it.
Don’t forget to drop a comment at the bottom of the page and to check out some of our other articles.
And, without further ado…
#1. Tahquamenon Falls State Park
While those of you from the Midwest may have already heard of Tahquamenon Falls, it is an absolute must-see for those just visiting Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and for those who have spent their whole lives around the area. The falls are best visited in autumn (mid-September or so) when the colors are popping in the trees, but actually witnessing the falls can be a great adventure all year round. The trails are very well maintained to gain amazing vantage points of the falls from boardwalks and platforms. There are a number of steps in certain locations to find those awesome views, but they’re not very steep and are well taken care of with your small donation upon entry of the park.
Great for a family full of kids, or a couples weekend getaway, Tahquamenon has a bit of splendor for everyone. I highly recommend seeing the Upper Falls first, as they require a little more effort hiking up and down stairs. This is where the real gems of Tahquamenon’s sights are. The Upper Falls offer plenty of photo opportunities without other people in the background. Be prepared to wait in a bit of a line to enter the park on particularly beautiful days, but once you get on the trails, you’ll nearly have the whole of Tahquamenon’s waterfalls to yourself.
Another great option to check out is the Lower Falls, only a couple of miles down the road. While this location does not quite have the same source of raging waterfalls, many people swim in the river waters here. There is also the opportunity to rent a small boat and drive out to an island in the middle of the river to catch a better, and more personal sight of the waterfalls. The Lower Falls are also well worth the money and never cease to disappoint. If you plan on staying for a few days, consider checking out the State Campground as well. To check out more information on the park, click here.
#2. Whitefish Point Lighthouse
We visited the Whitefish Point Lighthouse a few days after Independence Day and we were very impressed. Not only were we able to climb up the spiral staircase of the lighthouse to experience an incredible view of the Whitefish Bay in Lake Superior, but we also thought the grounds were peaceful and intriguing. In operation since 1849, the lighthouse is the oldest active lighthouse on Lake Superior. There is plenty of history to be learned about and gleaned from the various plaques and signs noting what life was like living on the lighthouse grounds and of the various shipwrecks that have taken place in Superior’s frigid waters.
The lighthouse is open from 10 AM to 6 PM from May 1st to October 31st. Others have claimed there is a small fee to climb the lighthouse, but we didn’t get charged. Either, we must have been lucky, or we were there near closing time. On the main floor of the lighthouse is a few rooms decorated with historical memorabilia showing what it was like to live on the grounds and operate the lighthouse decades ago. If you can’t quite make it up the steep spiral staircase, don’t fret. The view is still spectacular from the ground, and the downstairs historical rooms also reminisce the heart with nostalgia over old Coke cans, classic typewriters, and a transistor radio.
If you plan on visiting the Whitefish Lighthouse near sundown, be sure to take some of the trails over the dunes to Lake Superior. Less than a quarter of a mile walk from the Lighthouse, you’ll be in awe of the beach, especially during sunset hours. Take a stroll down the beach amongst thousands of beautifully polished Superior rocks and giant pieces of driftwood that look like they have been floating as full sized trees for years. Seriously, I have never seen so many washed up tree-sized driftwood on the beach. They don’t necessarily impede your stroll though, so press on and catch the sunset at the tip of Whitefish Point. You’ll be pleased you did. To find more information about the lighthouse, click here.
#3. Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum
If you’re going to be at the Whitefish Point Lighthouse for the day, plan on stopping by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum as well. Located on the same grounds as the lighthouse, the Shipwreck Museum is a great place to check out some of the history behind local boating catastrophes, including the bell of the infamous Edmund Fitzgerald, recovered from about 17 miles beneath Lake Superior’s surface. The Museum and the Lighthouse at Whitefish Point can almost be counted as one category, but we thought that they were just too cool to not make separate mention of them.
The staff does a great job of answering any questions about the history of the shipwrecks. They are very welcoming and committed to providing you with the best experience possible while up in Whitefish Point. Visiting the Shipwreck Museum is almost like a journey back in time. There is a movie on the Edmund Fitzgerald which plays throughout the day and many various artifacts recovered from sunken ships over the years.
The museum and the lighthouse are both open during the same time, from 10 AM to 6 PM, May 1st through October 31st. Although the museum is not terribly big, you’ll walk away with a sense of wonder for what it must have been like for the sailors on those cold, stormy nights before they perished. Last we checked, admission is $13 for adults and $9 for kids under 17. If you’d like a souvenir, there is also a nicely sized gift shop in the next building over. To check out the very cool website for the Shipwreck Museum, click here.
#4. Whitefish Point Bird Observatory
On the same grounds as the lighthouse and the museum, the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory was also established in 1978 as a non-profit organization. The WPBO has recorded sightings of over 300 different bird species! The reason that this location serves as such as fantastic site for bird sightings is because so many birds treat Whitefish Point as a stop on their annual migration to Canada. During the spring and fall, thousands of birds can be seen migrating through this corridor of land, including Golden eagles, peregrine falcons, merlins, boreal owls, great grey owls, red-throated loons, red-necked grebes, scoters and jaegers.
If you aren’t sure what all of those types of birds are, it’s okay! Many of the volunteers and fellow bird watchers will be happy to point out different species and explain some of the fun facts about their nature. The WPBO is a great place for novice photographers to hone their skills and take not of some of the many varieties of birds that inhabit the United States and Canada. The spring migration typically starts near the end of March and the fall migration is in swing around September to October. Occasionally, the volunteers additionally put on presentations for visitors about owls, hawks, and other raptors. Check out their listings here to see when the next event will be.
#5. Brown Fisheries Fish House
Open Monday to Saturday, noon to 7 PM during the summer, the Brown Fisheries Fish House is an incredible place to have a feast on the local catches from Lake Superior. This place is a true gem for their deep fried whitefish, an absolute must if you’re going to visit Paradise! It’s important to know that this restaurant is cash or check only; they do not accept credit cards. The dining area is not terribly large, so plan to wait for a bit on a busy day, but it is well worth the wait. Rated as one of the top restaurants in Paradise, you will not be let down for whichever meal you choose.
Native Yoopers and out-of-staters alike swear by it that this is a must on your trip into Paradise. To see their menu, check out the listing here. However, if you’re not feeling like having fish for the day, or the parking lot just looks too dang crowded, this next restaurant will blow your socks off.
#6. The Inn Gastropub & Smokehouse
Meat-lovers welcome! Get ready to fill yourself to the brim with a few brews and a piping hot barbecue sandwich. We chose to stop in at The Inn Gastropub & Smokehouse because it was the only place open later at night. The inside is decorated almost like a true Texan roadhouse and the bar is right in front of you once you walk in the front door. We’re not big meat-eaters ourselves, but sometimes a great sandwich is just too hard to pass up. We ordered the Log Splitter and the Tony Montana, and boy, words can hardly explain how good each of those sandwiches were.
They’ve got craft beer, hand cut fries, homemade ketchup, and all of their meat is smoked in house. The restaurant is typically open from 11 AM to 10 PM, Sunday to Saturday and the bar is open a few hours longer. If you’re staying at the Magnuson hotel on the shore of Superior, the restaurant is practically in the same parking lot. To check out their menu, check the listing here. We can both attest that this is an exception restaurant, especially for two people who aren’t regularly eating a meaty diet.
#7. Crisp Point Lighthouse
If you’re up for a scenic drive, about an hour and a half drive outside of Paradise is the Crisp Point Lighthouse in Newberry. Just take 123 to 506, then 437 to the winding 412 and you’ll find yourself at this second great lighthouse along Lake Superior’s shore. As a fair warning, be prepared to drive a while on logging roads and to test the shocks of your vehicle. 412 can turn into quite a washboard surface. With that said, this lighthouse is definitely off the beaten path, and your determination will be well worth the journey. The lighthouse and shoreline are absolutely breathtaking, and they have something different to offer than the Whitefish Point Lighthouse. Though both are certainly stunning in their own way.
This is another hidden gem up near Paradise. If you’re going to make the trek, be sure to bring extra snacks and take the journey low and slow. The drive out is simply awesome as well, aside from the bumpy roads, but that too makes it part of the adventure. The volunteer of the lighthouse is friendly and easy-going and never hesitates to make visitors feel welcome. Don’t worry, there are nice bathroom facilities here as well. If you’re willing to spend a little extra money, there is also the option of taking ATVs from Paradise and along dirt trails all the way out to the lighthouse. We personally didn’t have the opportunity to do this, but I’ve heard word of people making the journey. To read more about this lighthouse, click here.
#8. Toonerville Trolley Riverboat Tour
The Toonerville Trolley is a combination of a train ride through the Upper Peninsula wilderness, and a boat tour that leads to a private access viewing area of the Upper Falls of Tahquamenon. The combined train and boat tour takes about 6 1/2 hours and you can expect to spot plenty of wildlife along the remote journey. The Toonerville Trolley usually starts its daily tours in June and stays open until the first week of October. If you’re interested just head south from Paradise, down 123 and west on 28 and you can expect to reach the tour location in about 40 minutes. Although there is the option to only take the train for a shorter day’s tour, we highly recommend Tour #1, as this is the combined boat and train tour. There is a cash bar on the boat serving lunch style food. To check out more, click here for booking information.
The riverboat tour and famous Toonerville Trolley has been around since 1927, partners Joe Beach and Robert Hunter received ceaseless requests from friends to take a journey through the 15,000 acres of lumber land. At that time, there was no other way but to hike the virgin land to catch a rare glimpse of Tahquamenon’s hidden falls. The company is still family owned and ran by Robert Hunter’s great grandson. The journey through the wilderness is still scenic and pristine, and you can surely count on feeling like you’ve taken a trip back in time. As a side note, if you’ve ever heard the sound that white pine makes as the wind passes through it, you’re in for a real treat.
#9. Oswald’s Bear Ranch
Not far from the Toonerville Trolley tour is another must-see attraction: Oswald’s Bear Ranch. Yes, this really is a ranch full of 40 black bears that you can observe! Not only has this site received a 5-star rating from conservationists for their study and documentation of black bears, but you also have the chance to interact with rescued cubs. This is the largest (bear only) ranch in the world. You can find the ranch just north of Newberry of off route 407. The cost is typically $20 for families, however if you’re a biker just passing through then you can expect to pay just $10. In addition, there is no cost whatsoever for active military individuals, a way for founder, Dean Oswald to show his thanks. For more information, check out the website here.
The ranch was originally established in 1984 as a refuge for local black bears. In 1997 Dean Oswald opened his ranch to the public, building multiple elevated viewing platforms for guest to watch and learn from the behavior of the bears. With lots of room to roam, the rescued bears are able to continue their lives in the comfort of their natural habitats. Dean has plans to continue expanding his ranch another 200 acres to include more room for the abandoned and rescued bears to roam. The ranch runs mostly on donations, and entrance fees to support his cause, however, if you love the ranch enough, you can also stop by the gift shop to purchase your own Oswald’s Bear Ranch memorabilia.
#10. Annual Wild Blueberry Festival (Aug. 18-20)
Last but not least is the Annual Wild Blueberry Festival at the Whitefish Township Community Center. To round up the list, we’re going back to Paradise to talk about this great tradition. Yes, sadly this festival only runs for a couple of days out of the year, but you can bet its one of the best you’ll ever see. Akin to Traverse City’s National Cherry Festival, this gathering is replete with music, arts & crafts, horse-drawn wagon rides, and entertainment (including mimes, clowns, and ventriloquists). Did you know, Paradise is known as the wild blueberry capital of Michigan? This event draws everyone from around the Upper Peninsula and beyond. Start the day off with a blueberry brunch, listening to piano music from one of Michigan’s own native musicians. Then sit back and relax, explore some of the shops, or listen to a long set of some of Michigan’s finest folk musicians.
There is one requirement, however to attending this event. Be sure to wear blue! Otherwise, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb (or like a watermelon in a field of blueberry bushes). If you’re interested in picking your own blueberries, be sure to bring a bucket as well. In the Upper Peninsula, most of the land north of the Tahquamenon River is full of blueberry bushes in fields, alongside roads, and out in the open in full sun or sparse shade. You can usually expect to find them in areas where loggers have cleared out fields, so don’t go looking in dense pine forests. We can personally attest to harvesting some of Michigan’s wild blueberries and let me tell you, they are exceptionally more delicious than the store bought kind (not to mention that they’re free in the wild). Just be sure to respect the area for its delicate balance, as you take in some of the most vibrant scenery around. If you’d like to visit Paradise’s Wild Blueberry Festival website, click here.
#11. (Bonus!) Marquette, Michigan
Although it’s a 2 1/2 hour drive west of Paradise, I would be hard-pressed not to include little old Marquette into this list after we called it home for a few wonderful months. Where do I start? We moved up here after high school with our sights set on attending Northern Michigan University. We camped in the woods for a month in the summer, often moving from place to place to avoid people (and sometimes bears). Once the fall rolled around, we moved into a little A-frame house diagonal to the campus. See, the great thing about Marquette is not just its campus, or the wilderness right out the back door, or the yooper accents, or Lake Superior swaying just down the street. Though we took full advantage of all of these, I have to say that there is some kind of mystical charm to this U.P. town.
Maybe it’s the fact that Mother Superior is so close to Father Marquette, or that Sugarloaf mountain is just a short drive away, or the chance to see the northern lights on those cold and windy beaches, or that there really isn’t much else to do other than hanging out with friends and hiking in the woods, but we reminisce about little old Marquette often. Sometimes, we even think about moving back, but there’s too many other adventures waiting to be discovered on the forefront. I just had to mention it. Something in me wants other people to know how great Marquette can be. If you’re going, check out Sugarloaf mountain, and Presque Isle, and Presque Island, and Wetmore Landing, and the Casa Calabria (the Italian restaurant I used to dishwash at). I hope that you can find that sense of wonder there like we did. After all, I often attribute Marquette to being the place that changed everything for me. Stay tuned for a more extensive article about our love for Marquette…
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