Exploring the Upper Peninsula of Michigan has been on our radar for quite a while now. The remoteness and tales of the outdoor paradise is enough to draw in adventure lovers from all over. Drummond Island was a great place to start our time in the UP.
First off, Yoopers, as the “natives” are called, are some of the most-friendly individuals you will ever come across. Everywhere we visited they were insanely helpful, and eager to give us tips to make the most of our time in the Michigan Upper Peninsula. Just driving in the area is a treat. Aged trees and glimpses of all three great lakes as you make your way around the Upper Peninsula are served up with multiple stops to make to take in the beauty of it all.
The Drummond Island Ferry
Getting to Drummond Island is an adventure in and of itself. The Drummond Island ferry runs year round on the hour every hour. Many of the vehicles on the ferry ride had recreational vehicles in tow ready to enjoy the fun. There was also trucks carrying supplies, and food to the island. Over a thousand live on Drummond Island, and it is the second largest freshwater island in the United States.
The ferry ride from mainland Michigan to Drummond Island is fairly short. Fantastic views of Lake Huron and the surrounding islands everywhere you look.
Once you drive off the ferry there is a simple choice. Left or Right. It felt like it was right out of a Pick Your Own Adventure Book, as we had not done much research on what the island has to offer its visitors.
Drummond Island Visitor Center
Left it is. We figured we might as well get a map. We followed signs to the Tourism Center, and grabbed a free map and chatted with the guide. She was a native to the island, and extremely helpful.
For those who don’t know, Drummond Island is teaming with wildlife. This includes bears. When we asked the guide how many bears inhabit the island, her response was that, “It depends on who you ask, but I can tell you my neighbor had a few in her yard this morning.” That was enough confirmation for me to be determined to spot a bear for the rest of our trip on Drummond Island.
What to do on Drummond Island
Drummond Island has multiple beaches, recreational trails, charming eateries, and wildlife viewing areas. It also offers overnight camping. If time allows, I would definitely recommend splitting the time on Drummond in at least two days and exploring the island in halves. It is a very large area (about 140 miles of AMAZING shoreline), and when combined with the amazing trails it leads to a lot of time spent on the road.
Overall, we found camping spots and reservations to be a little weird throughout the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Some were self-service but the other areas we found were not very clear. While we didn’t camp on Drummond, I would highly recommend checking out the DNR site which provides dispersed camping guidelines.
If we had more time on our trip we definitely would have kayaked the Drummond Island Heritage Water Trail. There are multiple pit stops to explore along the trail by way of water include the renowned Fossil Ledges, and Marble Head. The kayaking is considered advanced, and if you are doing the whole island it can take up to four days.
So again, we didn’t do much research prior to our visit, but we had heard about the Fossil Ledges that the island harbors AND the important fact that its only accessible by trail. The guide at the tourism center let us know that there had been a ton of rain and snow melt causing the trails to be exceptionally wet (and in some cases underwater) around Drummond Island.
Where Are The Bears?
So yeah.. the question of, “Where are the bears?” annoyed my family the entire hour long off-road trail to the Fossil Ledges. I mean, it seriously felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. We came across fields, swampy areas, dense trees. The landscape was every changing on the trail and I figured there had to be bears somewhere.
I didn’t spot a bear. Aside from what I swear up and down was a bear den harboring a bear, I’m still determined to make this happen some day soon. I just want to see a wild bear in its natural habitat. Not too much to ask.
Trail to the Fossil Ledges
The trail is on the Northshore of Drummond. If it has been wet recently, you really don’t want to attempt to get the Fossil Ledges without the proper high clearance vehicle. You will get stuck. Given the remoteness of the entire area, there might not be anyone else on the trail (we only passed two ATV’s on our 2 hour round trip journey).
Rocks. Lots of rock! When its wet you obviously can’t see the rocks so be prepared for this as well. It’s hard to determine how deep the ruts go, but in our opinion you should be good to go with a high clearance vehicle.
As mentioned, there are people living on the island. On the way to fossil ledges you’ll come across many “roads” leading off the trail. I’d definitely take a look here to take note of what roads and turns to take.
The trail was full of wildlife. Birds and deer galore. No bears. It was a bumpy, splashy ride. A blast, to say the least. We had fun navigating the ruts and determining the best path to take across some of the deeper passages.
Arriving at the Ledges
You’ll know when you get there. There is a rocky area to park and an interpretive trail leading down to the ledges. Park where you please.
We opted to cut through a path straight to the ledges. We were greeted by charming “stairs” full of fossils. I mean probably millions? I don’t know but every where you look is a fossil.
All the rocks are fossils. Fossil paradise. On the ledges there are rocks that have broken off. It was fun to pick them up out of the water to see what unique impressions they held.
Middle of nowhere, Lake Huron views, surround by fossils, and being the only people there to enjoy it made our lunch picnic pretty enjoyable to say the least. After lunch we walked pretty far a long the ledges for about an hour exploring the area. We noted that past the Fossil Ledges into the Lake there was a pretty steep drop-off. The ledges can be slippery in some places, so just be careful. Because as you’ve probably figured out by now…medical help will not be immediate in these areas.
Driving Back to the Main Stretch
After all the exploration, we drove back over the extremely fun trail to the main road. Snapped some pictures. Tried to find bears. At this point we thought some ice cream sounded good so we went to a shop shaped like a huge cone. Delish.
Side Note: Camping the day before our Drummond Island Visit
We stayed at the Detour State Forest Campground, about a 10-minute drive from the Drummond Island Ferry. This is a first come, first serve campsite. In May, there was only one other camp site filled. This campground has direct access to Lake Huron. Although freezing, you can certainly take a dip in the water and explore the beach.
There is a clear sign stating no entrance without permit. KEEP DRIVING. There is a self-registration booth farther into the campground. We spent the day on Drummond Island, so it was nice to wake up in the morning and be nearby.
In conclusion, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was a true gem, if you have explored the area or have questions feel free to leave a comment!