Michigan’s Wild North Woods: Upper Peninsula Drive

from The Most Scenic Drives in America | 217

6. Seney National Wildlife Refuge From Munising the drive sidles east on Rte. 28 across a flat expanse of forestland before turning south on Rte. 77 to Seney National Wildlife Refuge. No avid angler or birdwatcher should miss this wealth of wilderness—nearly 100,000 acres of wetlands dotted with drainage ditches, dikes, and small bridges. Visitors to these wild marshes can hear the cries of more than 200 kinds of birds: the whistled notes of the wood duck, the honk of the Canada goose, the high-pitched screech of the bald eagle, or the rare bray of the trumpeter swan. Motorists can cruise the seven-mile Marshland Wildlife Drive (between mid-May and mid-October), while hikers and bikers have 70 miles of gravel roads from which to choose.

At nearby Seney the drive crosses the Fox River, believed by some to be the setting for Ernest Hemingway’s classic fishing story, Big Two-Hearted River (the real Two-Hearted River is actually many miles away). The celebrated author, a native of Michigan, wrote fondly of the trout stream, “pebbly-bottomed with shallows and big boulders” and the trout “keeping themselves steady in the current with wavering fins” and changing their positions “by quick angles, only to hold steady in the fast water again.”

7. Tahquamenon Falls State Park Reached by a turn north on Rte. 123, the caramel-colored Tahquamenon River is none other than “the rushing Tahquamenaw” of Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha. Beside its waters the poem’s Indian hero builds a birch-bark canoe that “shall float upon the river like a yellow leaf in Autumn.” Even Hiawatha’s skill, though, couldn’t have carried him safely over Upper Tahquamenon Falls, where the river pushes up to 50,000 gallons a second over a sandstone precipice in a wide copper-hued arc. Called the little Niagara, the Upper Falls (as distinguished from the more modest-size, multitiered Lower Falls farther downstream) is second in the volume of water flow only to Niagara itself in the eastern United States. Stairs and observation platforms allow close-up views of the wide, raging cataract, whose waters eventually flow into Lake Superior. 8. Whitefish Bay Scenic Byway After heading south from the village of Paradise, on Whitefish Bay, the drive turns east onto the well-marked Whitefish Bay Scenic Byway. Here the pines of Hiawatha National Forest (the eastern unit) slope to glistening white beaches along the bay. A number of scenic turnouts dot the byway, which culminates at Point Iroquois Lighthouse, built in 1870. Visitors can climb its spiral staircase for a lofty view of the Canadian shore. 9. Sault Ste. Marie Canada looms even closer as the drive nears Sault Ste. Marie at the narrow end of Whitefish Bay. Here 1,000-foot-long freighters laden with ore from Minnesota mines or grain from the Canadian prairies point their bows east into the St. Marys River, which flows from Lake Superior into Lake Huron, connecting the two lakes. Some of the longest, busiest canal locks in the world await these giant cargo vessels at “the Soo,” as locals refer to Michigan’s oldest city. Visitors can gawk up at the locks’ concrete walls from a sightseeing boat, or they can peer down from above at the mammoth ships squeezing through. But the best views of all await tourists atop the nearby 21-story Tower of History. 10. Mackinac Bridge Tooling south on I-75, the drive arrives at St. Ignace, which juts into the Straits of Mackinac. Each summer about a million tourists surge through this historic crossroads of the Great Lakes, where massive chunks of Michigan geography—the Upper Peninsula, the Lower Peninsula, Mackinac Island, Lake Michigan, and Lake Huron—converge like pieces of a colossal jigsaw puzzle. It’s not hard to see why this stunning confluence of land and water played a strategic role for the New World empires of France and England during the French and Indian Wars. A generation before the American Revolution, the blasting guns of hostile forts threatened travelers on this treacherous strait, but times have obviously changed. Today you can vault the straits by car in 10 carefree minutes on the Mackinac Bridge. The “bridge that couldn’t be built” opened in 1957, casting its ribbon of steel across five watery miles. Known locally as Mighty Mac, it is one of the longest suspension bridges ever erected.

11. Mackinac Island One of the most popular destinations in northern Michigan, lovely Mackinac Island holds an unusual distinction. Its state highway is the only one in the country where there has never been an automobile accident. For good reason: Mackinac Island has outlawed motor vehicles since the 1930s. After you leave your car at one of several parking facilities in St. Ignace (or in Mackinaw City across the bridge), prepare to enter a bygone era. A short ferry ride takes you to the island’s 19th-century harbor village, nestled next to wooded bluffs. Victorian-era storefronts with bright canvas awnings greet visitors, as do horse-and-buggy “taxis” waiting at the docks. At the waterfront you can rent bicycles and hire porters with old-fashioned drays to follow behind, toting your baggage to its destination.

One such destination might be the elegant Grand Hotel or some other island hostelry. Day-trippers, however, can head straight to Fort Mackinac, a restored citadel offering reenactments of local history. Visitors can also explore the island on foot, by bicycle, or in a horse-drawn carriage, stopping off at such rock formations as Skull Cave and Arch Rock. A captivating potpourri of land, water, and history, Mackinac Island seems to embody the essence of the Upper Peninsula.

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