Story and Photography by Tom Haxby
If you seek a remote place for wild and scenic photographic opportunities, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, known as the “UP” to locals, is one of those below the radar places with something for almost any photographer. This narrow peninsula is bounded by the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan to the south and the scenic Lake Superior coast forms the northern boundary. Part of Lake Huron also frames the eastern UP. It is connected to the rest of Michigan by the impressive Mackinac Bridge (pronounced Mackinaw) which spans the Straits of Mackinac, and is one of the longest suspension bridges in the world. The largest cities are Sault Saint Marie (population 75,000) on the eastern end of the peninsula and Marquette (population 21,000) which hugs the Lake Superior shoreline further west. Many small-quaint towns dot the landscape and most will have a family run diner or other places to eat and comfortable lodging.
With two national forests (the Hiawatha and Ottawa), over 2 million acres of state forest land, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Seney National Wildlife Refuge, Isle Royale National Park, the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park and many other state and local parks the UP has a wide range of photographic locales.
At this northern latitude summer days are long, but the summer season is very short with the peak of summer being July. Daytime temperatures are usually comfortable and with occasional cool or hot stretches, but bring your insect repellent. Mosquitoes and biting flies can be a nuisance, especially in June and July. Evenings and nights can be cool, so bring a light jacket.
For summer shooting there are over 200 waterfalls in the UP; including the impressive Tahquamenon Falls, the photogenic Bond Falls and even waterfalls that flow more than 100 feet down mineral-stained sandstone cliffs into Lake Superior at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Many waterfalls are best in spring or early summer, when runoff from melting snow supplies ample water.
Autumn features fantastic color displays from sugar maple, aspen, ash, birch, oak and other hardwood trees. Fall colors may show as early as September and usually last into early October. Must visit places in the fall include the Lake of the Clouds in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park and Council Lake on the Hiawatha National Forest.
Spring, the other short-shoulder season, begins in May and can yield awesome displays of woodland wildflowers. Migrating song birds, especially colorful warblers, may stop at wooded areas to rest and feed before flying over Lake Superior.
Winter is by far the longest season and some places receive an average of over 200 inches of snowfall. Access to remote areas is often by snowmobile or snowshoe hiking. Spectacular ice formations such as the Eben Ice Caves on the Hiawatha National Forest, the huge frozen falls at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore or on Grand Island in Lake Superior are unique photographic opportunities.
If you want to get away from some of the crowded national parks, try Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior. This park is closer to Canada than the US, and it is only accessible by boat or seaplane. Thus, it is one of the least visited national parks. However, Isle Royale National Park has beautiful rocky bays and inlets to Lake Superior, wolves, moose and trails throughout the 48-mile long island. There are no roads for cars on the island and lodging is either at the park service lodge at Rock Harbor, camper cabins at Windigo or in a tent.
To top it all off, the UP is one of the best places in the lower 48 states to see and photograph the northern lights. Although the aurora borealis can been seen any time of year, on a clear winter night in a remote area of the UP skies are plenty dark to view and photograph this celestial delight.
So, if you really want to get away from the crowds as well as summer heat and humidity while photographing fantastic waterfalls, sunrises and sunsets over the great lakes and other amazing spring, fall or winter scenery you may want to consider Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Tom Haxby is a retired natural resource manager from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. He is currently based in the Traverse City, Michigan area and his second career as a freelance nature photographer brings together his background in natural resources and enjoyment of the outdoors. He completed an Artist-in-Residence in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the fall of 2016 and is working on a book on the experience. His website is www.tomhaxbyphotos.com . Tom’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org