Posted by: kerryl29 | September 11, 2013

The Upper Peninsula

When it comes to locations outside northern Illinois and central Indiana, I’ve spent more time photographing in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP) in the fall than anywhere else.  I’ve spent the equivalent of about four weeks photographing autumn in the UP, dating back to my first trip in 2002.  I was back again in 2003, 2006 and 2008.

Red Jack Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Red Jack Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

While I’ve shot in the western part of the UP, I’ve spent the largest share of my time around Munsing, which is in the north-central part of the peninsula, on the southern shore of Lake Superior.  The area is surrounded by the Hiawatha National Forest, and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and filled with lakes, rivers, waterfalls and other wetlands (including the relatively nearby Seney National Wildlife Refuge).

Elliott Creek, Miner's Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Elliott Creek, Miner’s Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

One of the most inviting things about the UP for a landscape photographer is how empty it is.  With an area of nearly 17,000 square miles and a population scarcely above 300,000 (Marquette, the largest town, has about 20,000 people), there’s plenty of opportunity for solitude.  There are few things I enjoy as much as wandering around the sprawling Hiawatha National Forest with my camera, capturing the seemingly endless photo opportunities presented in and around the dozens of lakes and the dazzling fall colors of the mixed deciduous/coniferous North Woods.  The Lake Superior shoreline, accessible in multiple points in Pictured Rocks, is every bit as compelling and just about as empty.  In my opinion, the UP in the fall has about 95% of the subject appeal of New England with none of the crowds.

Little Carp River, Lake of the Clouds Overlook, Porcupine Mountains State Park, Michigan

Little Carp River, Lake of the Clouds Overlook, Porcupine Mountains State Park, Michigan

Of course the remoteness of the region comes at some “cost”:  it’s about 380 driving miles–only about half of it on Interstate highways–from my base in the Chicago area to Munising, and the trip takes between six and seven hours.  Since I’m starting on the west side of Lake Michigan, I drive north through Wisconsin, and the Interstate ends at Green Bay.  From there, it’s about 165 miles on a series of U.S. highways and a joint county road/forest service road through the Hiawatha to Munising.

Birch Tree Twins, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Birch Tree Twins, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

On October 2 I’ll be making my fifth week-long pilgrimage to the UP–my first in five years.  I will be visiting plenty of familiar places, but will explore many new ones as well.  I am–I think–a better photographer now than I was when I last visited the UP and with a bit of luck–trying to time the peak of fall color is a notoriously frustrating exercise–this will be my best and most productive trip to the region yet.  I know the lay of the land up there pretty well.  All reports I’ve received suggest that this should be an excellent year for color in the area, given the comparatively cool, moist conditions through the spring and summer.  So, things are setting up favorably thus far.  [crossed fingers]

Otter Lake Dawn, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Otter Lake Dawn, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

To say that I’m looking forward to the trip would be a massive understatement.

Autumnal Impressions, Halfmoon Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Autumnal Impressions, Halfmoon Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

All of the images accompanying this entry come from my previous trips to the Upper Peninsula, and I’m barely scratching the surface with the images I’ve chosen to present here.

White Birch Forest, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

White Birch Forest, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

This gives you a sense of the subject matter that is present with just about every step you take.  Perhaps it provides a window into my thought process:  this is why I look forward to this trip with such anticipation.

Lake of the Clouds Sunrise, Porcupine Mountains State Park, Michigan

Lake of the Clouds Sunrise, Porcupine Mountains State Park, Michigan

Though it has little impact on my photographic eye, I was still using a cropped sensor camera the last time I was in the UP: I moved to a full frame system less than two months after I returned from Munising in 2008.  More importantly, I now have the footwear that should allow me much better access to numerous spots in the Hiawatha and Pictured Rocks.  And there’s better road access through Pictured Rocks than was the case on my previous trips, which should provide an outlet to numerous promising, photogenic areas I’ve either glossed over or ignored entirely in the past.

Road to Halfmoon Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Road to Halfmoon Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

When I return, I’ll certainly share some of my favorite images here, as has become my custom when returning from photo trips.  Hopefully what I’ve presented here will be just an appetizer; with some luck, I’ll come back with the main course and dessert.

Lake Superior Sunset, Miner's Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Lake Superior Sunset, Miner’s Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan



  1. I can almost here the silence of solitude with these images. So striking are the colors that you have captured, that they stir the deepest of emotions

    • Thanks very much! Yes, there are plenty of opportunities to hear yourself think when you’re in the field in the UP.

  2. […] via The Upper Peninsula | Lightscapes Nature Photography Blog. […]

  3. Fantastic shots ! I love Lake of the Clouds 🙂 Looks amazing!

  4. Simply gorgeous. Each and every one of these is beautiful.

  5. The reflections in Red Jack lake really grabbed me for starters, I guess you did not use a polarizer or at least not full strength. Love Autumnal Impressions and the capture of colour and perspective in Elliott Creek and Miner’s Beach (last photo).The haziness of fog and the cripness of the foilage-yes! I have seen Superior from the north shores and definitely have a fondness for the area.I wish you fun, good light and good colour when you go back.

    • Thanks, Jane. I’m really hoping I get optimal conditions when I’m up there.

  6. Foto stupende. Sono bellissime. I colori fantastici!!!

  7. WOW!

    You and I will be crossing paths soon. I’m headed to the UP the last week in September. I was going to go that same week as you are, but at the rate the trees are turning here, I decided to go one week earlier. One of us should hit the peak of color, but I know that it will be you who brings back the best photos!

    • Thanks, Jerry. Whereabouts in the UP are you headed?

      I’m seeing signs of change already in northern Illinois, but this is pretty clearly drought/heat stress (it’s been incredibly dry here, and in central Indiana, since some time in July), and I’m wondering if that’s what you’re seeing in your part of the LP. This kind of thing doesn’t appear to have been the case in the UP–temperatures have remained quite moderate through the late summer and they seem to have continued to get a decent amount of rain as well.

      I wonder if I could ask you to let me know what you’re seeing, color-wise, when you’re up there (if you’ll have access to e-mail). If this is going to be a very early peak color season, I’d like to know about it ASAP, because I might be able to adjust my plans a bit and run up there earlier than I’d originally planned. Obviously if you aren’t able to do this, don’t sweat it, but if you can I’d greatly appreciate it.

      • Well, I’m going to attempt to take in too much in my week off. Since I will be going up through Michigan and crossing the bridge, I’m going to spend one day around St. Ignace, then hit some of the sights along the Superior shore on my way to the Pictured Rocks for a couple of days, then a couple of days in the Porkies before returning home via the Fayette Historical State Park on the shores of Lake Michigan.

        The leaves started to turn here near (Grand Rapids) in August, but they haven’t progressed much since. A lot of trees are turning brown or dropping their leaves, that worries me, but we’ve been in a drought for over a month as well. I do know that around the first of October is about peak color in the northern lower peninsula (Petosky, Gaylord, Cheboygon) which is why I bumped my vacation up a week. I used to kayak the Jordan River the first weekend in October for years, just for the color.

        I doubt that I would be able to Email you. I wasn’t planning on taking my computer, but I suppose that I could. But, I don’t have wireless Internet any longer, I’d have to find a WiFi hot spot, and they are probably few and far between up in the UP, especially where I’ll be staying, which is as far out in the sticks as I can find.

        Have you tried to find any web cams that may give you an idea as to the extent of the color? I haven’t tried that, but I do use them to check the weather along Lake Michigan sometimes before I waste my time driving that far, since the weather can be totally different along the Lake than here in GR. Just a thought.

        • No sweat on the e-mail thing–I was only asking in case it wouldn’t be an imposition, and under the circumstances it obviously would be (and a big one at that) so don’t give it another thought.

          The last time I was up in the UP–five years ago next month–a fair number of motels still didn’t have Wi-Fi that was readily accessible, and cell service was spotty even in or near towns. Wi-Fi at establishments seems more regularly available now (based on my limited inquiries) but I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if cell service is no better than it was then.

          I’m not aware of any Webcams that show what the foliage is doing up in the UP. There are a few for Munising, but they’re all showing the lake. I also found a Webcam from the Buckhorn Lodge (which would be a perfect location to do some leaf-peeping) in the Hiawatha, but it’s a pretty poor image. (Best I can tell, everything is still completely green.)

          I’ll see what else I can chase down.

        • I found a couple of web cams last night, but the images were old, as evidenced by the fact that they weren’t just black at 2 AM.

          I think that you’ll be there at the best time, that’s why I originally picked that week. But, I’ll settle for green with a little color, since I’m doing this for practice, not a paycheck. I have to give my boss advanced notice of my vacation time, as they have to hire a temp driver for the week, so there’s little flexibility for me. I’d also rather not camp in very cold weather. I don’t mind an overnight frost, but much below 10 degrees is a bit chilly for my equipment.

        • I was able to make contact with a friend of mine, a lifetime resident of Munising (and a photographer, with a photographer’s sensibility). He told me that he thinks:

          1) that this is shaping up to be one of the best color seasons in the area in years, due to the consistently temperate, moist conditions through the spring and summer

          2) that normal dates for peak (which he places at Oct. 4-9) will likely hold this year.

          I’ve asked him to e-mail me if, over the next 2 1/2 weeks, what he’s seeing causes him to revise his opinion about the date of this year’s peak color.

          We’ll see what happens.

        • Thanks, I was almost positive that I was going to be a week early, but I’d rather be early than late. Good luck!

  8. All the photos in this post are fabulous and I’m sure it was a tough decision to include only these. Looking forward to a full course meal!

    • Thanks very much, David. You’re right, deciding what to include with this entry was tough. At some point I just kind of stopped going through material and said “that’s enough.” 🙂

  9. Sights to sooth the soul 🙂

    • Thanks very much.

  10. Absolutely marvelous shots you’ve presented here. It will be fun to see how you’ve grown when you return with the newer images.

    • Thanks and, agreed; it should be interesting to find out how I approach a (relatively) familiar locale after five years.

  11. How good to see another of your posts, Kerry. I’ve been back to the UP a number of times through the years, but mostly with little or no time for any photography to speak of. I tent-camped for a week near Tahquamenon Falls with a friend back around 1962 and still remember it very well. All I had back then was a Brownie camera. You make me itch to pay it another (serious) visit! Thanks!

    • Thanks. The truth is, I’ve never been to Tahquamenon (it’s a bit of a haul from Munising), but if conditions hold, I may rectify that oversight on this trip. We’ll see.

  12. Kerry, I don’t quite know what to say. Your first image had such an impact that it took me a long time to stop staring at it. And the last was just as powerful. Hmmm, it is not that you just have great photographic skills; it is more than that. You have an eye that sees the impossibly beautiful and you are somehow able to translate that into a form that you share with the rest of us. It is not just technique, it is the ability to “see” the beauty beneath the beauty – I can’t find the words to express how your work affects me. It as if the most beautiful dreams that I have ever had suddenly are realized in your images. I can’t thank you enough for sharing your gift.

    • I don’t think I’ve ever received a more gracious, personally meaningful comment than this one. I’m not sure what to say in response, Lynn, other than to offer a most sincere “thank you.”

  13. This collection of fall landscapes is the best I have seen. Wonderful images and I look forward to seeing more after your trip this year. Thank you for such an uplifting post.

    • Thanks very much for the extremely kind words; they’re much appreciated.

  14. That’s a fantabulous first photograph. The reflection of all the clouds in the water made it special.

    • Thanks, Steve.

  15. I love it when a special place is explored and revisited. Thanks for letting us see your take on this wonderful place.

    • Thanks, Mike.

  16. Absolutely stunning images. That first one is my favorite.

    • Thanks very much!

  17. Kerry, can’t wait to see your images upon your return! I definitely need to plan a trip to the UP at some point, especially since I grew up nearby in northern Wisconsin and can certainly relate the the beauty and solitude in the Fall. I’m venture out to Western Colorado for 4 days to hopefully find their Fall and Aspens at peak as well. Good luck on your journey!

    • Hi Ward. I hope you’re planning to head out to CO soon. When I drove all the way back to Chicago from the West Coast 12 years ago I went through Colorado from west to east and the aspens around Vail were at peak right around Sept. 16 or so. If you’re headed to the San Juans, it might be a hair later, I suppose.

      Do me a favor and drop me a line and tell me about your experience when you get back, if it’s not too much of an imposition. I do plan to hit the Colorado Rockies in the fall one of these years and I’d love to hear about how things went for you.

      • Kerry, I’ll connect with you upon my return and share my any good locations I came across. Not leaving until Sept. 25, as hard to predict when peak will occur. Meeting a local professional though, so hopefully he’ll know what elevations/locations to choose to maximize our time.

        • Thanks, Ward. I would certainly hope (and expect) that a local pro would know what he/she is doing regarding timing, etc.

          When I was in New Mexico in 2007, the aspens in the Jemez National Forest, about an hour north of Albuquerque, peaked in the last week of September. This is no more than 100 miles, as the crow flies, south of the San Juans in Colorado, so perhaps that’s the best timing for that area as well. Regardless, as I implied above, I’d trust a local photographer to steer me in the right direction every day of the week.

          Looking forward to hearing from you when you get back, and here’s hoping you have a great experience out there.

  18. sooo beautiful! wow! greetings from Berlin

    • Thanks very much!

  19. Amazing set! I love the reflection in the first, how the clouds look like stones under the water. But even so, the Little Carp shot is my favorite. I love forest scenes compressed by distance… They’re surprisingly hard to do right

    • Thanks very much, Matt.

  20. Those are gorgeous! I’m getting a little deja vu, so I apologize if I’ve said this before, but I was considering a trip up there, and now I’m committed to sticking around until spring, then heading over that way. Thank you!

    • Thanks very much. While I feel that autumn is the best time to experience the UP, it’s quite picturesque in all four seasons.

  21. Absolutely stunning. I would return just as often for that kind of beauty.

    • Thanks very much, Naomi.

  22. Magical Autumn colors!

  23. […] I mentioned  last month in the Introduction to the Upper Peninsula entry, posted as a foreshadowing to my UP photo trip in the first third of October, I’ve […]

  24. […] Introduction […]

  25. Great shots, the first two are perfect…and complement each other well. The first one, the eyes just go on forever. We have the Olympic NF out here, which is heaven on earth…but you make a good argument for Hiawatha National Forest 🙂

    • Thanks very much.

      I’ve spent a fair amount of time in a number of national forests–Daniel Boone in Kentucky, Monongahela in West Virginia, Santa Fe in New Mexico (among others), but at this point, the Hiawatha remains my favorite.

  26. fantastic!

  27. All of my mystery novels have at least 1 scene in the UP. Several of the books take place 100%.

    • That’s interesting. Why the UP?

  28. […] spoke to someone at the motel that I stayed at when I made my last trip to the Upper Peninsula, in October, 2013 to see how they were handling things given the COVID situation.  I was told that […]

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