What do you mean “up north”?

I will never forget the conversation that I had with a friend while living in Texas during college.  We were talking about what things were like at home, what we did for fun, etc., and I mentioned that on the weekends, we often go up north.  “Up north???” she exclaimed.  “But you live in Michigan! How much more north can you go???”

With Labor Day–the unofficial end of summer–upon us, I would guess that a great number of people are heading out for one more weekend of fun and relaxation before the early mornings and late nights of the school year take over the schedule. For those of us here in southern Michigan,  this often means a trek up I-75 to some familiar turn-off that leads to a beloved piece of heaven nestled on a lake or in the woods, filled with the memories of vacations past and the hope of adventures to come.

My family loves our vacation time, so I wanted to share a list of five of our favorite places (in no particular order) to visit in our corner of “up north”:

  1. AuSable River, Oscoda:  You can canoe, kayak, or tube down the river, or just walk down to swim or hunt for river treasures.  We’ve also found some great geocaches along the way!  We love to rent from Oscoda Canoe–always a fun and friendly group.

2.  Lumberman’s Monument and Iargo Springs:  About 17 miles straight west of Oscoda you’ll find these two hidden gems.  I should qualify this by saying you have to like stairs. Lots of them.  I find it worth the work for the beautiful views, but even if stairs aren’t an option for you, the Lumberman’s Monument (part of the National Forest Service) is still a great place to walk the grounds, check out the visitors center, and learn about the history of the lumbering industry in Michigan.

3.  Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center, Alpena:  This is always on the kids’ must-do list.  What better way to spend a cool or rainy day than learning about ships that have sailed the Great Lakes, particularly those that never reached their destination?  Admission is free, however donations are accepted.  Explore a replica of a Great Lakes schooner, complete with rough seas and a thunderstorm, as well as many more exhibits that give you a new respect for the sailors who lived and worked on the lakes.

4.  The Presque Isle Lighthouses:  Situated just a few miles away from each other, you can purchase a combo ticket and visit both lighthouses, including the keepers’ homes and climb to the top.  There are beautiful grounds to walk at each–and one of our favorite picnic spots down the road behind the New Presque Isle Light.  The staff at both facilities (often volunteers) are very knowledgeable about the lights, including the history and the reported hauntings (something my 11-year-old always has questions about).  When you’re visiting, be sure to grab a locally-produced Shipwreck Soda–they come in a variety of flavors, and each flavor’s bottle tells the story of a different Great Lakes shipwreck.  However, there is one that highlights a ship that is still in use–and I’ve talked with locals won’t drink that one, out of superstition. (I have to agree with that one!)

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5.  Ocqueoc Falls:  I first heard of this park while searching for waterfalls to visit in our vacation area.  What caught my attention, particularly as a physical therapist, was this YouTube video, highlighting it as the “only universally accessible waterfall in the United States.”  I have to say, it did not disappoint!  There are smooth, wide pathways from the parking lot to the falls area, and along the riverside as well.  My kids absolutely love that it’s shallow enough to play in, and you’ll usually see a line of kids taking turns jumping over the edge into a “just deep enough” area.  (In fact, this year my husband tried it and discovered that there’s a reason that just the kids were jumping–apparently adults will “bottom out”!  But perfect for the kids.)  Ocqueoc also has beautiful picnic areas, and plenty of hiking trails to enjoy.  It is part of the Michigan DNR’s state park system, so a recreation passport or day pass will be required for entry.

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I hope that you whether this weekend takes you up north, down south, anywhere in between, or just to your own backyard, you enjoy a peaceful and restful end of summer, and return refreshed and ready to take on the next season in the year and in life!

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