Discovering Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with Paul Vachon

1. Describe the local cuisine. What’s your favorite local food?

The Upper Peninsula offers a wide array of foods which are linked to the area’s ethnic heritage. These include cudighi, a uniquely Italian sausage, and nisu, Swedish sweet bread, and, of course, the ubiquitous pasty, a turnover filled with either pork, venison or beef brought to the area by Cornish miners. But my favorite is the ever versatile Lake Superior Whitefish. It can be prepared in a number of ways: pan fried, malt crusted or baked in a tomato sauce. It’s also very healthy—the colder waters of the lake cause the fish to build up greater amounts of Omega 3 fatty acids.

2. What’s the best way to learn about and experience the area’s diverse background?

My suggestion is to try things that veer from the well trodden path that many tourists take. For example, each September, Parade of Nations & the Multicultural Festival is held in Houghton. Nearby, Finlandia University offers campus tours, and throughout the UP, you’ll find a bevy of local history museums.

3. When is the best time to visit?

Either late summer or early autumn, without question. If you’re planning to camp or hike, the insect population is lower at this time than its early summer peak. Fall colors arrive earlier this far north, but timing the optimal week to see them can be tricky. I suggest keeping up with up-to-the-minute reports, which are usually included in area weather forecasts.

4. Michigan has a number of state parks, national parks and forests. In your opinion, what’s the best way to experience all of this natural territory?

It depends largely on your specific interests and on your physical abilities. For those who are able, camping and backpacking is the very best way. For those slightly less adventurous, a short day hike might be a good choice. But don’t discount the automobile! Many of the region’s parks can be accessed via car, and some beautiful sights can be observed this way.

5. There are over 100 waterfalls within the U.P. Which is your favorite?

Tahquamenon Falls, hands down! The cedar swamps upstream give the water its unusual brown hue, and its notoriety is even celebrated in Longfellow’s poem “The Song of Hiawatha”, where Hiawatha builds his canoe “by the rushing Tahquamenaw.”

6. What famous landmark should every visitor see?

The Mackinac Bridge. This miracle of engineering should make anyone feel humble. If possible, try to view it’s underside from one of the ferry boats heading to Mackinac Island. Occasionally they make detours toward the bridge

7. What’s the Upper Peninsula’s best-kept secret?

The fact that it’s so lightly populated and is therefore the perfect place to find peace and solitude. The Upper Peninsula is home to only three percent of Michigan’s total population.

8. Where’s the best place to watch a beautiful sunset?

The best view is on the west side of the Keweenaw Peninsula, probably around Eagle Harbor. It’s where you’ll be able to observe the sun setting over Lake Superior and over the widest possible expanse of water.

9. What are the top three activities to do with kids?

  1. The Upper Peninsula Children’s’ Museum in Marquette
  2. The Upper Peninsula State Fair (third week of August) in Escanaba
  3. The Soo Locks—the fascinating sight of the ships rising and descending is just as amazing to kids as it is to adults, maybe even more.

10. What sets the Upper Peninsula apart from the rest of the state?

The unavoidably different atmosphere makes it stand out. The more northerly location engenders an altogether different sense of place. You immediately know you’re in an area where nature is more powerful, the landscape more scenic and the people ever friendly.

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