Shipwreck coast? Sounds dangerous. Even though an alleged 300 boats have supposedly run aground along the coasts of Michigan's upper peninsula, you can at least take in the stunning scenery from the safety of your car. You'll pass lakeshore beaches, hidden waterfalls, and majestic lighthouses (to, you know, help prevent boat accidents) as you cruise the upper peninsula's shipwreck coast!
Start the trip off right, with a lighthouse tour! The Marquette Maritime Museum puts on the guided tours through the gorgeous Marquette Harbor Lighthouse. That's because the building is located on an active U.S. Coast Guard base... but that just means that the guided tour also includes a look at the history of the Coast Guard in this area, too! The current lighthouse was built to replace the original one, destroyed in a storm in 1889. The red brick building houses a light that's still active to this day, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
For a stop that's a bit more offbeat, go for a cruise through Lakenenland Sculpture Park. The 37-acre drive-through park is loaded with metalwork masterpieces, all welded by Tom Lakenen, a self-taught outsider artist. Keep an eye out for pigs, dragons, flying saucers, sunflowers, mermaids, pink elephants, and more. Lakenan remains super passionate about his work; every winter, he opens that park up to snowmobiles, and has a bonfire and hot chocolate for visitors to warm up.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is home to loads of waterfalls, each worth visiting in their own right. Munising Falls is at the western side of the lakeshore. The trail to the waterfall is a short walk from the parking area (which has restrooms) so you can make this a quick stop. The falls are a respectable 50 feet tall, and in the winter, they freeze into a dramatic column. It's off-limits to ice climbers, but it is really quite a sight to see.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore runs for 42 miles along Lake Superior on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. It's more than just jagged shoreline and beaches; it covers 73,236 acres total, complete with forests, campground, waterfalls, smaller inland lakes, and much more. Admire the views from the Grand Sable Dunes, visit Twelvemile Beach, check out the rock formations visible from Grand Portal Point, and more. One of the best ways to really admire the country's first National Lakeshore is from on the water; kayak or take a boat tour on Lake Superior to get a picture of the forests and dramatic cliffs from a different angle.
And since this is the Shipwreck Coast, you have the chance to see some remains in watery graves. This part of Lake Superior is sometimes called the "Graveyard Coast", and the wrecks here are in great condition. Most shipwreck remains are best seen by scuba diving or on a glass-bottom cruise boat, some are visible along the shoreline (like the wooden ship washed up near Hurricane River.)
Another cool site at Pictured Rocks is the Au Sable Point Lighthouse. Guided tours are offered during the summer for the reasonable price of $3 a person. The still-active light was built in 1874, and the brick keepers' house was added in the 1890s (with an addition in 1909 so it could house two keepers and their families.) Though the light was automated in the 1950s, the Coast Guard still takes care of it, and maintains the historic site. Plus, you can spot some shipwrecks from the 1.5 mile trail that leads to the lighthouse from the Hurricane River Campground. Interpretive signs let you know where to look and what you're seeing.
I know, I know... another waterfall. But Sable Falls is a stunner. The 75-foot cascade tumbles over sandstone cliffs, and you can follow the trail that passes by several great viewpoints to where the falls empty into Lake Superior. This is another spot with a short, well-developed trail, making it perfect for a quick stop. If you want to spend more time here, explore the rocky beach at Lake Superior.
Hard to believe it as you hike around Muskallonge Lake State Park, through the forests and around the lake, but this was once the site of a bustling lumber town called Deer Park in the 1880s. Now, all that remains are a few pine logs stuck in the water. It's ideal for camping, with a spacious campground, and for boating on Muskallonge Lake. There's the boat launch, stellar fishing opportunities, 1.5 miles of trail, and spots for swimming. It's also in a rather convenient location between Pictured Rocks and Tahquamenon Falls.
Crisp Point Lighthouse was active between 1904 and 1993. Since it's no longer operational and is mostly empty, it offers a more serene experience, although there's a nice visitor center next to it. Some of the buildings here were washed away by the lake, but stone barriers were put up to protect what remains of the 58-foot-tall lighthouse tower and part of the brick service room. The famed SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank about 17 miles northeast of here in 1975, and the freighter Major was stranded near the point during the Great Lakes Storm of 1913.
Of all of the waterfalls on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Tahquamenon Falls may be the most impressive. The Upper Tahquamenon Falls is one of the largest east of the Mississippi, at 50 feet tall and 200 feet across. Four miles downstream you'll find the Lower Falls, a series of five cascades pouring around an island. Beyond the waterfalls, the park is massive. Four campgrounds, more than 40 miles of hiking trails, 13 inland lakes, 24 miles of the Tahquamenon River and a lodge are spread out across 20,000 acres of natural beauty. If you're spending some time here, rent a canoe and paddle out to the island in the middle of the lower falls for a truly unforgettable experience.
The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum is situated near the tip of Whitefish Point. The complex is home to the museum, which provides a detailed and super interesting look at the perils of maritime transport on the Great Lakes, as well as the Whitefish Point Lighthouse, the oldest operating lighthouse on Lake Superior; it's been in continuous operation for 155 years! For a small donation, you can even climb to the top of the Civil War-era tower. The museum itself is loaded with artifacts and exhibits that tell the story of the Shipwreck Coast; they even house the bell of the legendary Edmund Fitzgerald.
If you want to make the most of your Shipwreck Coast trip, aim for a visit in September. Many places close for the season in October, and the famously stunning fall Michigan leaves will be starting to show their colors. Summer is also popular, especially for those looking to kayak or canoe or swim. Spring's mild (sometimes even chilly) weather is nice as well, and though many places close in the winter, snow mobilers and ice climbers will appreciate the bounty of snowy fun available.