MACKINAC ISLAND & U.P. of MICHIGAN: A Simple Guide to Jaw-dropping Sights

Upper Peninsula (U.P.) of Michigan sunset

A simple guide for a visit to Mackinac Island and the U.P. (Upper Peninsula) of Michigan is all laid out for you below. I can’t wait for you to experience some of the jaw-dropping sights in this region of the country. 


Day 1 — Travel day
Day 2 — Mackinac Island
Day 3 — Pictured Rocks National Shoreline & Munising waterfalls
Day 4 — Glass Bottom Boat Shipwreck Tour & Sand Point Beach
Day 5 — Au Sable Light Station & Grand Sable Dunes
Day 6 — Travel home

Travel (Day 1)

Your first destination on this trip should be Mackinaw City / St. Ignace, Michigan. There are docks for the ferry to Mackinac Island in both of these cities (just 8 miles apart). In other words, we’ll consider this a travel day to arrive in the area.

Mackinac Island (Day 2)

In the early hours of the day, board the ferry to Mackinac Island. Purchase tickets for a specific time in advance online or in person at the Mackinac Star Line Ferry.

When you get to the island (approx. 20 minute ferry ride), head up to the famous Grand Hotel. If your budget can swing it, stay overnight at the hotel. It’s spectacular. If not, non-hotel guests can pay $10/person to tour it, and/or you can eat in the main dining.

Motorized vehicles are not allowed on the island, so walking to the hotel from the ferry dock is only about 20 minutes. Or, you can take a horse-drawn carriage or rent a bike. Signs are everywhere pointing you to the numerous places for these options.    

Horse and Buggy - Mackinac Island

In the afternoon, visit Fort Mackinac, which was founded during the American Revolution in 1780. You’ll experience what it was like for the soldiers and their families that made it their home during that time period. The history is fascinating.

Next, rent bikes at one of the many rental sites, and take a trip around the island. The 8-mile loop is flat, fortunately, and much of it is along the island’s shoreline. Depending on how many stops you take along the way, plan on 1 to 3 hours. 

Plan to be on the island for a full day to do and see a lot. Get on an early ferry and return on one of the last ones back to the mainland. Ultimately, if your timing is right, cruising back at sunset would be the way to go.

Pictured Rocks & Munising Waterfalls (Day 3)

Drive 2 hours north to Munising, MI. This city on the shores of Lake Superior is the central place to access Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. It’s 15 miles of shoreline with amazing beaches, cliffs, and waterfalls.

I’d recommend spending the afternoon hiking to a few of the 17 waterfalls that are all within the area. Honestly, the easiest one to start off with is Munising Falls. Really, it’s just a 1/4 mile hike on a paved path. 

Wagner Falls is a super easy, quick stop too, and one of the most impressive in the area, in my opinion. It’s just 1.5 miles north of downtown Munising and is an easy walk from the parking lot.   

As you explore the area, there are lots of signs for waterfalls, so be on the lookout.

Waterfall Falls in U.P. Michigan

Finally, end your day at Miners Beach, which is 6.5 miles east of Munising. It is a beautiful beach to hang out at and nearby is a hike to Miners Castle, which is a really cool rock formation with an awesome view (especially at sunset like you see below).  

Shipwreck Tour & Sand Point Beach (Day 4)

Take a glass bottom boat tour to see shipwrecks in Munising Bay. This area, amazingly, claims to be the only place in the United States where you can do that. The water is so clear and the ships are really close to the surface, so the detail you can see is truly spectacular! Book tickets online to secure your spot. Tours do sell out, unfortunately. 

Shipwreck site on Glass Bottom Boat Tour in Michigan - Lake Superior

If the weather is warm, spend the afternoon at Sand Point Beach (just 4 miles from Munising). You will not be disappointed. The Weather Channel once named it among the “top 5 summer beaches in America.” The sand reminded me of a beautiful Florida or Caribbean beach, and the water is crystal clear with a sandy bottom.

It’s a great place to watch sunsets too. I remember this evening at the beach very vividly. I felt God’s presence as I soaked in the beautiful scenery that He created. So awesome!

Sand Point Beach sunset in the U.P. of Michigan

 Au Sable Light Station & Dunes (Day 5)

On this final day, go to the Au Sable Light Station. It’s just over an hour drive from Munising, but well worth it. Tour guides teach you its history, and what it was like living there starting way back in the 1800s.

Be prepared for a 1.5 mile walk on a flat trail to get out to the point where the lighthouse is. Pay the $3 per person for a tour of the buildings and access to climb to the top of the lighthouse. I bet you’ll find yourself saying: “Whoa, what a view!” 🙂 

For lunch, head into the town of Grand Marais, which is about a 20 minute drive. Then head west out of town 10 minutes to the Grand Sable Sand Dunes. Truly, it was a highlight of our trip! The dunes are perched on the cliffs 300 feet above Lake Superior, and are “among the best examples of perched dune systems in the world,” according to the national park service.

Prior to the trip, we received a tip to bring snow sledding saucers to slide down the dunes, but when we got there we found that sliding down on our butts worked even better! Warning: you’ll end up with LOTS of sand… everywhere!

Sand Sable Dunes in U.P. of Michigan

More time on Mackinac Island and the U.P. of Michigan?

  • Go to Grand Island – accessible by ferry, this island has some more beautiful scenery that you can explore by hiking, biking or even a guided bus tour.
  • Take a guided kayaking tour – there are two companies (Pictured Rocks Kayaking and Paddling Michigan), both of which will take you to explore the many coves along the shoreline and view shipwrecks.

Pin this itinerary for later!

Jaw-dropping sights simple guide - U.P. Michigan Mackinac Island

More Mackinac Island & U.P. Michigan ideas.

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Tags: Itinerary, Mackinac Island, Michigan, Pictured Rocks, Travel, U.P., Upper Peninsula
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