Visiting Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with Kids
In July, we took our first trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It was just an extended weekend (5 days). We stayed on the eastern side of the Upper Peninsula. Check out our list of what to do, where to eat, and where we stayed. Check out our tips and suggestions for visiting Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with Kids.
What to Visit in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with Kids
Castle Rock is a scenic overlook cliff 4 miles north of the Mackinac Bridge. It costs $1/person to climb to the overlook.
The climb is fairly steep stairs. There are several places to pause on the way up for a breather. We were lucky to have the platform to ourselves. My daughter brought her binoculars which gave a great view.
Don’t miss a photo opportunity with Paul Bunyan and Babe.
Our stop at Castle Rock was less than 45 minutes including browsing at their store. Castle Rock is at the I-75 Exit 348. From the exit, turn left into the Castle Rock parking lot.
Sault Ste Marie
Soo Locks Visitor Center
We arrived to the Soo Locks Observation Deck at 5:40p, just in time to see the last tour boat finish its trip through the locks form Lake Huron to Lake Superior. Next we saw saw American Integrity, a 1000’ freighter that holds the record for most tonnage through the locks, transition from Lake Superior down to Lake Huron. At the same time, a small pleasure boat was in another lock going from Lake Superior to Lake Huron. It was interesting to watch the little boat disappear below the locks and eventually pull out.
We made a quick stop at the Visitors Center and learned more about how the locks work. The change in water level is driven purely by gravity – no pumps.
The Soo Locks are run by the US Army Corps of Engineers. They operate the visitor center and observation deck. There is no admission charge, but there is a quick bag check on your way in.
There is a Soo Locks Boat Tour. It takes you through the locks in both directions.
When I researched Soo Locks, I had only found information on the Visitors Center and not the boat tour. As we left Ann Arbor, my parents asked what time the boat tours were. Our timing did not work out for a boat tour. However, my parents felt like we saw as much or more from the Observation Deck. Since we had two boat tours planned for Munising, we decided not to change our plans for the next morning to make time for the Soo Locks Boat Tour.
Upcoming Sponsored Events
Whitefish Point/Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum
Whitefish Point is the entry from Lake Superior to Whitefish Bay leading to the St Mary River through the Soo Locks. It is the part of the Great Lakes with the most shipwrecks – most famously the Edmund Fitzgerald.
The Museum includes the main building with information on various shipwrecks particularly the Edmund Fitzgerald. It also has many lighthouse lenses. Other buildings to explore in the museum are a Coast Guard rescue station and the lighthouse keepers residence.
The Whitefish Point Lighthouse is also part of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. A tour of the lighthouse was an additional $4/person. Lighthouse tours run on the half hour with a limit of 8 people per tour. Note, shoes with enclosed toes and backs are required. Children must be at least 8 to climb the lighthouse.
We also wandered out to Lake Superior. We had to walk through sand, then rocks, to get to the lake. My daughter and I both went wading in Lake Superior. We also had fun trying to skip rocks.
We spent about 2.5 hours at Whitefish Point. Museum admission is $13/adults, $9/children (ages 5-17), Free/children under 5.
There are two sets of falls at Tahqaumenon Falls – the Lower Falls and the Upper Falls.
The Lower Falls is a set of 5 short falls around an island. You can rent a rowboat to travel to the island or you can walk up the river to see the falls. From the island, people were swimming at the base of the falls. Officially the only designated swimming area is at Whitefish Bay Picnic Area in the southeast corner of the park. However, many people swim at the base of the lower falls. The best entry is from the island.
We did not have swim suits, but my daughter did go wading near the top. I recommend using extreme caution especially at times of high water. Even with a relatively low flow, my daughter said the current was strong in some places.
The Lower Falls area has picnic tables, a snack bar, a gift shop, and restrooms.
The Upper Falls area features a single falls with a larger drop than the Lower Falls. The parking area has a micro-brewery restaurant, food carts, and gift shops. We walked the trail until the split. At the split, you can walk to the brink lookout or the gorge lookout. We decided to do the Brink Lookout first. The map said it was 94 steps to the brink lookout. I was expecting 94 steps up, but was surprised to find that we were higher than the falls and had to walk down to the brink. While it was our first visit, my parents were with us on their third visit to the Upper Falls. From their memory, the falls had less water this year. That also meant less tannins, so less brown color and less foam.
We decided to skip the gorge view since we felt we already had a good view of the falls. We also wanted the extra time before our next activity – a Picture Rocks Sunset Cruise.
Pictured Rocks Cruise
After Tahquamenon Falls, we drove to Munising to see Pictured Rocks. We had booked the sunset cruise at 7:30pm. The best way to see Pictured Rocks is from the water.
Pictured Rocks Cruise leaves from the dock in Munising. Boarding begins 15 min before your departure time. Arrive even early to secure an early boarding location. We only arrived about 5 minutes early and were among the last to board. On the plus side, it meant we were sitting inside on the first level instead of on top of the boat. While our view was not quite as good, it was not full so we were able to move back and forth to different sides of the boat and to the stern. The top of the boat was full, so you were stuck in your seat.
Pictured Rocks are spectacular. There are lots of colors and interesting rock formations. Check out a few of our pictures.
With the sunset cruise, we also watched the sunset over Lake Superior. We noticed that the setting sun made the colors more vibrant on Pictured Rocks.
The Pictured Rocks Cruises are offered several times a day. We selected a sunset cruise, but daytime cruises are available too. They offer both regular cruise and a Spray Falls Cruise that goes a little further and sees Spray Falls. The regular cruise is $38/adults while the spray cruise is $45/adults. Children ages 6-12 are $10 for either cruises while children under 6 are $1 for either cruise. I’m glad we went when my daughter was 12 instead of 13.
Glass Bottom Shipwrecked Tour
The Glass Bottom Shipwreck Tour was my husband’s number one request in Munising. The 2 hour boat ride takes you directly over two shipwreck sites and close to the Grand Island.
Our first shipwreck was the Bermuda, a canal boat that sunk in 1800s. It originally sunk in deeper water but was towed to a 30’ cove on the Grand Island so it did not block the shipping channels. The Bermuda is largely intact.
Our second shipwreck was Herman H. Hettler. This is a more typical shipwreck. Most Great Lakes shipwrecks either are broken apart on the way down or are demolished to keep the shipping channel open.
In addition to the shipwrecks, we got a closer view of the lighthouse on Grand Island and were able to get very close to the sandstone cliffs on Grand Island. While they are smaller than Pictured Rocks, it was definitely impressive to get so close.
We definitely recommend the Shipwreck Tour. The ship offers both inside and outside seating, so you can do it on a rainy day. The viewing ports are closed while the boat is in motion, so you won’t miss the sights if you sit outside. Advance reservations are suggested, although we bought ours that morning. We arrived about 9a right after it had stopped raining. The 10a tour had sold more tickets than inside seating (and the outside seating was all wet), so we decided to wait for the 11:30 tour. I am glad we waited the extra 90 minutes. In that time, the lingering fog and clouds dissipated and we had a much clearer view of the rocks and shoreline.
The Shipwreck Tour is $33/adults, $12/children ages 6-12, $1/children under 6.
We had about 90 minutes between buying our tickets for the Shipwreck Tour and boarding time. We decided to visit Munising Falls which is part of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. It is a short, paved walk from the parking lot to the 50’ Munising Falls.
Sand Point Beach
The park ranger in the visitors center suggested we also visit Sand Point Beach which was about 2 miles down the road. She told us about the pink sand there. Weather Channel selected it one of the Top 10 Inland Beaches in the US. The pink sand is from crushed garnet.
There was also a walkway at Sand Point to see turtles and frogs. We did not have time to visit there before our shipwreck tour.
Other Munising Activities
Kayaking is another great way to see Pictured Rocks. There are several options including Pictured Rocks Kayaking which launches from a boat and Paddling Michigan. The kayak tours are expensive ($109/adult ) and involve 2+ hours of paddling. As inexperienced kayakers, we decided this was not a choice for us.
There is also a pirate ship where you can go on a pirate adventure. If I were to return to
You can visit beaches and the Miner Castle outlook in Pictured Rocks National Seashore.
Munising is a summer tourist town. There are lots of other activities. We drove by a miniature golf course. There was a bowling alley, boat rentals, and gift shops.
We arrived in Marquette in late afternoon on Friday. With rain forecast for all day Saturday, we headed to Presque Isle Park to explore. Our Sunday plans were slowed by a forecast of rain.
Presque Isle Park
Presque Isle Park is just north of Marquette. Peter White Drive through the park is closed to vehicles at certain times through the week. When closed it is a great choice for walking. Unfortunately, we were not there during a walking time. We decided to drive through and stop to explore along the way. We parked at an area with rocks along the beach. We had a great time climbing on the rocks and exploring.
At a couple points I thought my daughter was going to end up wet. She went rock climbing over the water.
She was also jumping gaps between waves. I had a feeling she’d be climbing all over the rocks, so I told her to leave her phone in the car. I left mine too. Thanks to my dad and my husband for the pictures. They both braved taking their phones out on the rocks. Fortunately no one dropped theirs on the rocks or in the water.
Marquette Regional History Museum
With rain on Saturday morning, we headed to the Marquette Regional History Museum. The history museum includes a brief geologic display on the formation of the UP and Great Lakes as the glaciers receded. It covers the native people, fur traders, mining, traveling the Great Lakes, and modern times.
We spent about 90 minutes at the History Museum. They were open 10a-3p on Saturday.
Sugar Loaf Mountain
The weather cooperated and we were able to take a hike on Sugar Loaf Mountain in the afternoon. Sugar Loaf Mountain is located just outside of Marquette. There are two hiking trails, an easy and a difficult that bring you to the base of stairs. There is an obstructed view from this area.
After what seemed like a never ending set of staircases, we finally reached the summit. It was a cloudy day, so we did not have great views. Despite the clouds, we did have good views of the bay.
The summit featured multiple viewing platforms on top of the rocks. Of course my daughter decided to forego the platforms and just check out the view from the rocks.
Where to Eat in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with Kids
Sault Ste Marie
After visiting the Soo Locks, we wandered the shops in town. We ate at Palace Restaurant which serves Mexican and American fare. I definitely recommend checking out their weekday specials. We were there on Wing Wednesday. A basket of wings and fries was just $5. Specials on other days included $1.99 tacos and $5 burgers. My daughter and I shared a basket of boneless wings and blackened Lake Superior whitefish tacos. We recommend the Honey Garlic Sauce for the wings. We also enjoyed our tacos. My husband had the fajita tacos. They were overflowing from the quantity of meat and vegetables.
Of course one of our stops was a Fudge du Locke. We had fudge for dessert each night on our trip. There were a number of people with ice cream, but we were too full from dinner.
We had lunch at the brewery at the Upper Falls in Tahquamenon Falls.
My daughter loved her Lake Superior Whitefish Sandwich. There were two large pieces of fish and fries on her sandwich. I was shocked that she ate it all. My husband enjoyed his sausage sandwich and my mother enjoyed her grilled chicken sandwich. My dad and I both ordered the BBQ Pork sandwich and thought it was fair.
In addition to sandwiches and burgers, they also offer entrees like steak, salads, appetizers, and more.
In hindsight, I recommend bringing sandwiches for lunch or eating at the snack bar.
Before our sunset cruise, we had dinner at Johnny Dogs. My parent had eaten there on a previous trip and our hotel recommended it again. They serve fancy topped hot dogs, burgers, tacos, and wraps. My mom opted for sauerkraut and mustard, my husband had diced onions and mustard, I had a coney dog. My daughter does not eat hot dogs. She originally tried to order the Bob Marley Tacos – made with Jamaican Jerk chicken, but they were out of the chicken. She ended up with the kids chicken fingers and fries which she enjoyed. Make sure to arrive early – they closed promptly at 7p. We were there at 6:30p, and they were already starting to run out of several dishes.
On our second day we had lunch at The Fish Basket. They had great ratings on Trip Advisor. The Fish Basket is very similar to a food truck, except in a fixed location and with some outside tables setup. Their specialty is the Whitefish Basket which I ordered. My husband and daughter decided to share a shrimp basket and a Whitefish Basket.
The fried whitefish was dusted with a lemon salt. It added a nice flavor, but made it a bit salty. The fries that came with our baskets were delicious. As a warning, they are cash only.
We nearly ate at the Pictured Rocks Pizza. This is one of the few well rated dine-in restaurants in Munising.
We almost had pizza for lunch in Munising, so we had promised my daughter pizza for dinner that night in Marquette. Our hotel recommended Vango’s Pizza in Marquette. Their prices were very reasonable. We shared mozzarella sticks, a salad, and pizza. The food was decent.
Don’t miss the desserts. My daughter loved her baklava. My husband and I both had the Oreo Ice Cream Pie.
The next day we had lunch at Iron Bay which is on the lakefront. They combine a restaurant, pie shop, and tap room in one. We ate in the restaurant. My daughter and I loved sharing a Monte Cristo panini and a cup of Whitefish Chowder.
We were tempted by the pies when we walked in. We decided to splurge and share a slice of blueberry and a slice of chocolate coconut pie. The chocolate coconut pie has a coconut crust making it gluten friendly (they did not advertise it as gluten free). I prefer my fruit pies to be warm instead of cold, so I preferred the chocolate pie.
For our last dinner we ate at Portside Inn. They offer a wide variety of menu items from sandwiches to steaks. My daughter and I shared a French Dip and a side salad.
My husband and mother both ordered dinner entrees – whitefish and a steak. These included soup or salad.
My father had the largest plate of fajitas I have ever seen. When his bowl arrived, he said I’d hate to see the fajitas for 2!
There is a Mexican restaurant above Iron Bay that was highly recommended to us as well.
Where to Stay in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with Kids
On vacation, we prefer to stay in hotels that offer free breakfast and wifi. Camping is definitely not our style.
Sault Ste Marie
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express. It is less than 2 miles from downtown Sault Ste Marie and the Soo locks. We definitely recommend the cinnamon rolls at breakfast. If I had known our room would have a refrigerator, we would have brought sandwiches for lunch at Tahquanemon Falls the following day.
We stayed at the Americinn by Wyndham. Their indoor pool has a great slide. While the pool opens in the morning, the slide only opens at 4p. Make sure to leave time in the afternoon or evening to visit the pool. Our room was comfortable, but a bit outdated.
On our way out of Munising we also saw a Holiday Inn Express that looked nice from the outside. I would definitely consider this for our next trip.
We stayed at a Staybridge Suites. It was about a mile from the waterfront Since we were traveling with my parents, we shared a 2 bedroom/2 bath suite. It was considerably less expensive than 2 individual rooms. Plus, we had a kitchenette and living room.
The hotel was nice and sharing the room was perfect since we had more time to spend at the hotel. It gave us the feeling of sharing a condo or house at the beach.
The only down side to Staybridge Suites was its location. It is on Washington St, about 3/4 mile from the downtown area.
Tips for Visiting Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with Kids
Cell service is limited in the Upper Peninsula. If you typically use a phone based navigation system, make sure to print out directions. Even if you have a navigation system, make sure you have addresses or have verified that it knows all of your destinations.
Pack reusable water bottles for your hikes. We were thrilled to see bottle refilling stations at Tahquamenon Falls.
If you plan far enough in advance, get the State Park Annual Pass when you renew your license plate (and make sure to bring that car). Otherwise, Michigan residents can buy an annual pass for $16 at the gate. It is only $11 with your license plate renewal. Out of state residents can buy a day pass for $9. In state residents are not allowed to buy a day pass.
If you plan to walk along the beach at any point, bring towels to clean your feet and plastic bags for your shoes.
Pack games/cards/puzzles. The last two night in Marquette we were back to our hotel after dinner. We played the hotel’s copy of Scrabble that night. The next night, we played cards my parents had brought from home. While we were sharing a suite, there wasn’t a good table in our room, so we played in the lobby/breakfast area both nights.