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Flatlanders, Yoopers, Motorcycles, and Michigan's "U.P."

Michigan's Upper Peninsula has been on the short list of riding destinations for me and my long time riding companions ever since we began riding together.

The following is my account of our four day trip up into the "U.P." and back.

Day One

Friday, July 7, 4:40 am: I've been up for nearly an hour and it still seems ridiculously early. At about 5AM, I roll up on my brother Jason, and father Bruce who are waiting for me at our designated meeting spot. After a quick discussion, we're off and rolling in the cool darkness of a July morning.

We headed west on I-96 from Grand Rapids toward Muskegon where we turned north on US-31. None of us anticipated the temperature being quite so cold and after about 50 miles, we were all struggling to keep warm. So, when we rolled into Ludington, a little thaw out was in order.

6:45 am: Our destination for the morning was the SS Badger. The SS Badger is a ferry for people and vehicles that crosses Lake Michigan between Ludington, MI and Manitowoc, WI. It's a great alternative to driving around the lake or up and through the U.P. of Michigan on the very busy US-2. We arrived at the docks fifteen minutes before we needed to and were told to line up with the other motorcycles that had shown up.

The SS Badger is 450 ft long, 53 ft wide and can hold up to 90 vehicles and nearly 400 people. It was built in the 1930's to ferry train cars across the big lake. The ship is obviously old but it has been restored nicely and has all of the amenities and conveniences you would expect: restaurants, a bar, TV lounges, a movie theater, state rooms and lots of sitting areas.

The crossing takes roughly four hours and costs about $85 ($60 per person plus $15 for the bike). By the way, bikers do have to provide their own tie downs.

We were guided into the bowels of the ship, lashed our bikes down and climbed the stairs to the passenger area. Breakfast was a priority at that point so we loaded up our plates at the buffet and found a table near the rear of the ship as we floated towards Wisconsin.

11:30 am (Wisconsin time)
12:30 pm (Michigan time) - We arrived at Manitowoc, Wisconsin, which I am sure is a lovely little town, but we didn't see much of it beyond the main street. With me in the lead, we followed the main road north, skirting Lake Michigan, and found state road 42. It was probably my imagination, but the water seemed a lighter shade of blue than on the Michigan side.

The temperature was cool along the lake, but as soon as the road turned inland a bit, it was downright hot.

1:30 pm - It was a pretty uninspiring ride up into Door County and when we reached Sturgeon Bay, it was time for lunch. We parked the bikes on the south side of a big iron draw bridge (whose nasty metal grate-work we rode over twice) and walked up the street looking for a good spot to eat.

Andre's Food and Spirits fit the bill and provided a decent meal. One of the things we all enjoy about traveling with good friends and family, is the depth of conversation we are able to have. Sometimes it's profound, other times it's downright... well, you know how guys are.

2:30 pm - Stomachs full, the road was once again calling to us, and after a few pictures near the water, we answered. The ride so far had not convinced us that Door County was worth further investigation, so I led us back south toward Green Bay on state road 57 then hooked north on US-41.

4:00 pm - After a lengthy fuel stop, we pressed on branching off on US-141 which takes a more direct route north. The landscape steadily grew more desolate, but the ride was enjoyable and soon we rolled across the border back into Michigan and into the town of Iron Mountain.

It may have just as well been a different country because the landscape looked nothing like the parts of Michigan we are used to seeing. This was the "U.P." - land of the infamous "Yoopers" - people who call us from the Lower Peninsula "Flatlanders."

Our focus in Iron Mountain was on finding a motel and then finding eats. A newer Super 8 motel served our purpose for lodging and as an added bonus had a great swimming pool. Dad asked the clerk if swimming in our "birthday suits" was allowed. The clerk said she didn't care but would rather not be around at the time. Good answer.

Following the suggestion of the hotel, we headed for Fontana's Supper Club. One thing you will not likely hear anyone in Iron Mountain say is, "hey, let's go over to the Fontana Supper Club for a quick bite to eat". During dinner, I had begun to wonder if we would ever be able to leave. But, we had a decent meal and we all left full and satisfied.

Back at the motel, we had a great swim and an even greater soak in the whirlpool and called it a night.

Mileage: 315 (405 if you include the boat trip across Lake Michigan)


candy_r3dd says:

Wow, went to Mackinaw and didn't ride the tunnel of trees????
Fri Jul 19, 2013 at 11:18 AM

gunnymills says:

Next time you go to the UP make sure you take the road from newberry to paradise and Taquuamenom falls,then head to Christmas and Grand Marais. beautiful
Tue Jun 7, 2011 at 6:35 PM

GwNorm says:

I have done the circle superior trip also really a great ride, an excellent contrast in riding from the U.P. to the North Shore of Superior. 9 days from Toronto return. Would recommend this ride to anyone. Watch out for the Deer on the roads in the U.P. place is crawling with them. Gladly other drivers are aware of the hazard they pose to bikers and will give you fair warnings with their headlamps.

Spent a few hours in Mackinaw was nice to be able to leave our jackets and lids on the bikes on main street. I give the "Yoopers" two thumbs up.
Wed Feb 10, 2010 at 3:49 PM

jjwitkins says:

Thank you for the article. My father and I have done Lake Superior a couple times, so I have done the UP also. I can't believe you skipped Gay Michigan, You had your chance for the Gay Bar t-shirt. Gross bar, but a huge location for riders. It is a beautiful area. I am not sure if you have had a chance yet, but i would suggest doing the Lake Superior Circle the Lake tour. Great riding.
Tue Jan 6, 2009 at 6:17 PM

deanodemons says:

Hello. Just finished reading your article, brought back memories of my trip that I made with my brother and sister last summer. We made a lot of the same ride although we rode in from Iron River. Agree with you about Brockway Pass. Nice views though. Also stayed at the Super8 in Iron Mt. and ate at the same restaurant. I thought the trip was pretty good, app. 1000 miles for us. Miss out on the pastrys though. Thanks for bring back some good memories. P.S. We are from Wisconsin.
Thu Dec 25, 2008 at 11:30 AM

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