Patience not being on my shortlist of virtues, I'm strictly an amateur angler. So whenever I accompany Bud, my native-Yooper fishing-fanatic companion, on one of his semiweekly excursions, I bring a book. I think I was reading Sinclair Lewis's Main Street when I hooked my first keeper—a 20-inch trout—on a springtime drift off the Lake Superior shore. Another time, we walked along the Presque Isle River in the Porcupine Mountains to where waterfalls spill out into Superior, casting into the whirling rapids and circular red-stone pools and catching a variety pack of species. If I can do it, anyone can.
Those who are drawn to water will be happy to learn that Superior's sometimes icy sea is not the only option. There are deep reservoirs, small lakes, slow-moving rivers, rushing creeks, numerous waterfalls, and wetlands. You can shoot the rapids on the upper branches of the Ontonagon River or sail out of the Portage Canal. Several years ago, a couple of foolhardy souls went the 55 miles from Ontonagon to Isle Royale on Jet Skis (this I would not recommend). Wherever you are—on a yacht in Houghton or in a rowboat on Twin Lakes—you'll find rare boating solitude.
You'll also find lake trout, rainbow trout, brown trout, brook trout, walleye, bass, sturgeon, perch, Atlantic salmon, coho salmon, king salmon, northerns, suckers, and sunfish. U.P. fish are smaller, but generally healthier, than those in warmer waters. If you'd rather just watch the wildlife, you can see ospreys, herons, hawks, beavers, otters, and if you're very lucky (or not, depending on your point of view), bears, coyotes, wolves, bobcats, and mountain lions. Last summer, while Bud cast about, I watched a pair of young bald eagles. One stood flapping at the nest's edge, then held its great wings aloft, imagining it was soaring. Two weeks later, I saw both juveniles circle in flight around their island home—while Bud lusted after an elusive walleye lunker.
The Escarpment Trail in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park (412 S. Boundary Rd., Ontonagon; 906/885-5275) begins in old-growth forest. Walking among towering hemlocks that filter the light like green- and rust-colored stained glass, you experience the Upper Peninsula as the Indians and first explorers did. Eventually, the trail turns along the edge of a cliff and wanders above green peaks and valleys. Eagles soar, and at the trail's end, four miles later, is the best view of all: Lake of the Clouds, a meandering alpine lake that frequently floats in mist.
The U.P. is covered primarily with second- or even third-growth forests. Timber remains a major industry; the region is famous for its bird's-eye maple. But though the logging trucks rumble by, the land is still lush with trees: pine, balsam, hemlock, cedar, birch, maple, poplar, ash, oak, ironwood, basswood, cherry. In the Porcupines—named by Native Americans because their outline resembles one of the sleeping creatures—the bony ridges and bogs were too tough to log. With 35,000 of the state park's 60,000 acres still virgin forest, the Porkies, as they're affectionately called, are the crown jewel of the U.P. (even if, at 1,960 feet, they're less than towering).
Backpackers undeterred by the ever-present black bears can explore the park's wilder interior and bathe in river pools. From the observation tower on Summit Peak, you can see all the way to the Apostle Islands in Wisconsin. There are cabins, old mines, natural springs, brooks full of trout, lakes with rental boats, and a boardwalk through a lily pond.
With 1,700 miles of shoreline—much of it white sand decorated with twisted driftwood and smooth stones—the U.P. is one of the world's best-kept beach secrets. Lake Superior can be a still mirror or raging surf, Caribbean-clear and Arctic-cold. Thanks to global warming, for the last two years the water has been swimmable all summer, with an average temperature in the seventies. The beaches are never crowded and often empty.
Sheltered from the winds, the Keweenaw is full of long stretches of sand. Looking out at the Huron Mountains across the turquoise expanse of Keweenaw Bay, you could almost believe you're in the Caribbean. Except that the trees are balsam, not palm.
Great Sand Bay Pull off the north coast's Sand Dunes Drive and watch the occasional freighter pass offshore.
Eagle Harbor The town beach in this semicircular harbor is an easy stroll from the Lake Breeze inn. There's a slide and a raft for kids.
Ontonagon Township Park A tree-lined sidewalk leads back to town; don't miss the ice cream at Sip & Snack or Connie's Place.
They may be plainspoken, but Yoopers are uncommonly creative. There are several good galleries: Tosh (315 Shelden Ave., Houghton; 906/482-2287), the Community Arts Center & Kerredge Gallery (126 Quincy St., Hancock; 906/482-2333), the Omphale Gallery (431 Fifth St., Calumet; 906/337-2036), and Silver Image Studio (250 Hubbell St., Silver City; 800/248-6649).
At Great Lakes Trading Co. (301 Lincoln Ave., Silver City; 906/885-5503), Jackie McMullen sells a mix of local crafts, imports, and antiques. Pottery by Schwartz & Eady comes in lupine motifs. Ironworker Steve Van De Velde makes sculptures of herons; Bo Harbison crafts modern-looking benches out of white pine.
Whatever else they've given up, the brothers of the Holy Transfiguration Skete have not renounced the pleasures of the palate. They make jam from the area's wild blueberries, strawberries, pin cherries, thimbleberries, raspberries, and blackberries. The Jampot (Hwy. M-26, Eagle Harbor; www.societystjohn.com), the gift shop at Poorrock Abbey, also sells chocolate truffles and cakes soaked in brandy or rum. Some brothers know how to live!