I just returned from the North Woods — the Upper Peninsula of Michigan on the shores of Lake Superior. My visit focused on Hiawatha National Forest and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The Lakeshore has been called Michigan’s “Best Kept Secret,” and a hidden treasure.
The UP of Michigan is a perfect destination for a nature photographer. It offers rugged landscapes with carved, colorful cliffs along Lake Superior; northern hardwood and mixed forests vibrant in fall colors; a wildflowers in the spring and summer; abundant waterfalls and cascades year round; ice caves and frozen lakes in winter; and bugs and butterflies in the morning summer dew.
Hiawatha National Forest is the forest of the Great Lakes. It boasts of “great lake shores, lighthouses, islands and snow” that set it apart from other National Forests. Several points of interest are listed on the Forest’s website.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore provides miles of pristine beaches and hiking trails. Sandstone cliffs emerge from the shoreline, forming a backdrop for arches, caves, coves and waterfalls. Stained by ground water, the cliffs are ablaze in colors derived from iron, copper, manganese, and limonite. Boats cruise the lake and kayakers are out in full force exploring the shoreline.
There is more than nature to photograph in northern Michigan. A rich and diversified historical and cultural heritage has evolved around mining, logging, and shipping. Architectural gems and historical sites are found in the cities and along byways. Abandoned piers and docks line Lake Superior. There is a strong community spirit, with farmers’ and artists’ markets providing a meeting place for locals. Summer days are filled with bike races, boat races, road and trail running, and other sporting events. Winter brings on activities such as skiing, sledding, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling. Just check the calendars on the internet for the locations you plan to visit.
My suitcase was a little heavier than usual for this trip, since I planned on focusing on nature photography. In addition to hiking boots, I brought waterproof boots that came up to my knees as well as waterproof pants and a gortex jacket. The high boots and pants enabled me to walk into lake water and streams, near some of the waterfalls and ponds, and on extremely muddy, wet hiking trails. Also, the ground cover and plants were rather wet from dew early in the morning when I was shooting bugs and butterflies.
We did have a fair amount of rain and misting, so the waterproof jacket was a must. Likewise, I packed rain protectors for my camera and different lenses, and a small umbrella. The umbrella can come in handy, as holding it over a camera keeps water droplets off the lens. Despite the mist and light rain, we were able to do photography. There are lots of waterfalls in this part of Michigan, which make excellent subjects in misty, wet weather.
Since I was shooting bugs and flowers, I also brought 2 plamps and a plamp stake with extensions. A plamp is a clamp which allows you to stabilize windblown subjects such as flowers. One end attaches to a stake (or other support such as your tripod) and the other end attaches to the subject. A plamp can also be used to hold reflectors, diffusers, and even small flashlights.
Anticipating changing weather before you travel to a destination is important, particularly when you plan to be out very early in the morning and late at night, photographing sunrises and sunsets. Although I was visiting Michigan in summer, I knew nights and early mornings can get quite chilly. I included a warmer jacket and down vest in my suitcase “just in case.” Also summer in Michigan brings lots of bugs that bite, so bug repellent and/or bug-proof clothing is recommended. Of course sun protection is always a must wherever you travel.
It is a good idea to have a headlamp or flashlight in your camera bag. At Pictured Rocks we were hiking in to hidden beaches for sunset shots, which meant hiking out in near darkness. The trails undulate along the shoreline, thick in mud with fallen trees and branches everywhere. Hiking sticks, to improve balance on steep, slippery, muddy trails are helpful.
Book accommodations early, if you plan to go. Hotels seemed to be full in August, during my visit. I had some difficulty getting a room. Munising is the closest city to the National Lakeshore and Forest. I flew into Sawyer International Airport near Marquette, which is about an hour’s drive from Munising. I connected through Chicago, which made it very convenient to get to. Of course those of you living in the Midwest U.S. or central Canada can easily drive to the Upper Peninsula.
Note that small planes fly into Marquette, and carry-on space is limited to small bags. I had to hand check my carry-on bag with my most of my camera equipment at the gate as I boarded the plane. Knowing this, I used a hard-sided carry-on bag and I padded my gear very well inside the case. My camera backpack, that I took on the plane, held my laptop, memory cards, SSD drives, and other essential items that I needed to keep with me, as well as one camera.
Northern Michigan is a destination for all seasons, with a broad appeal for many interests. Just ask a “Yooper”, as locals call themselves, for advice. They are the friendliest people I have met in my travels. They love to give suggestions, helping you find those “hidden gems.”