Not paste-ee, but past-ee. Pasties are everywhere in the UP. They’re the traditional food in the area; dough pockets full of meat, potatoes, rutabaga, really anything you’d like, and eaten with gravy or ketchup (depending on who you ask). Miners used to take them down into the mines for lunch because the food could safely be stored in their pockets and eaten by hand. Try Roy’s Pasties in Houghton for the widest selection, and The Pasty Oven near Iron Mountain or Kaleva Café in Hancock for traditional deliciousness.
See the Marquette ore docks.
These giant structures guard the shore in Marquette. They’re pocket ore docks, once used to load iron ore onto ships. Now they’re mostly a curiosity and landmark; although there is still one operating ore dock left, and it’s fascinating to watch.
Go on a copper mine tour.
If you really want to understand how your home came to be and learn about the lives of your UP ancestors, you have to go see the mines. I prefer Quincy Mine, but you have your choice here—Quincy, Adventure, Delaware… Copper mining was the biggest force in the Upper Peninsula’s economy from the early 1800s to nearly the 1950s. Quincy’s mineshaft even stands high on a hill, lit up at night, on display for nearby towns Houghton and Hancock to see.
Climb a ski jump.
The UP is big on skiing, and Pine Mountain has the biggest ski jump around. The FIS Continental Cup in the middle of February is the winter’s biggest highlight, when about 5,000 people come to tailgate and watch Olympic-level ski jumpers hurtling through the air. And in the summer, you can climb the ski jump. It’s a rite of passage for many, but let me tell you: it is TERRIFYING. I made it to the top, stepping gingerly on thin planks of wood nailed to the sharply angled surface, and it took me nearly an hour. But if you ask the kid who showed up while I was taking a break, sitting and trembling halfway to the top, it only takes a couple minutes. He practically ran up the jump—I have no idea how he survived.
Take a sauna.
If you’ve been in the UP for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed the prevailing ethnicity: Finnish. Even the street signs in Hancock are in both Finnish and English. And a Finn’s favorite pastime is sitting in a sweaty room, smacking each other with branches. Saunas are everywhere in the UP. Make sure you try it on a visit to a friend’s camp. It’s incredibly refreshing. Oh, and learn to say it right, too — it’s not saw-na, it’s sow-na.
Swim in Mother Superior.
Best done after a sauna. Climb out of the hotbox and run into the lake. Or you could visit one of the beautiful Upper Peninsula beaches and hop into the greatest of the Great Lakes. Come on. It’s right there. Great Sand Bay in Mohawk is one of the most scenic; so too is Bete Gris Bay. For a more private excursion, head to the stamp sand dunes in Gay.
Spend the summer at camp.
Saunas and lake swimming are best known as summer activities during camp—the time of the year when locals flee the cities and head to their private retreats (their “camps”) in the woods and along the lakes. And it’s likely that any Midwesterner in general either has or has been to a camp, cottage, or cabin up in the UP. It’s a tradition brought over during the mining boom; employees would work hard and then celebrate freedom at their personal getaways.
Buy something from the Jampot.
A bakery. Run by monks. In the woods. Next to a waterfall. With the most mind-blowing confections you’ll ever taste. How can you NOT stop and buy something? My personal favorites are the pistachio truffles, giant muffins, and booze-soaked cakes.
See as many waterfalls as possible
There are more than 300 waterfalls in the UP, named and unnamed, from a small trickle to massive falls spilling over a cliff’s edge. Two of the best are Tahquamenon and Bond. Bond is 100 feet wide, with a main drop at 40 feet and cascading falls above it dropping 20 feet. Tahquamenon is the largest waterfall in Michigan—we call it the UP’s Niagara. The upper falls is 50 feet high and 200 feet wide, and the lower falls sees water cascading down several 10-foot drops at a time.
Visit the log slide
This steep slope was once used by the logging industry to slide logs down the dunes into Lake Superior. Now, it’s one of the most picturesque sites in the Upper Peninsula: deep sandy dunes, steep hills, and a bright blue expanse of lake. A sign warns visitors that although the log slide is fun to run down and only takes a few minutes, it can be hell getting back up — and can take about an hour.