Ready for a UP Family Road Trip?
Use our UP Family Road Trip Guide for road-tripping tips, pit stop locations & sight-seeing recommendations.
Parents with Littles…Road Tripping to the UP is Possible!
Last year, spring break was upon us and we had planned to stay home, until my husband realized he was going to travel to Escanaba in the Upper Peninsula for a one-day work conference. He could have gone alone and made it a quick one-night trip, but he decided to request a vacation day and we turned his work trip turned into a short UP family road trip adventure.
While my hubby and I love squeezing in family adventures wherever and whenever we can, I was really nervous about the 6.5 hour drive (each way) with our two boys. Everson was four at the time and Adler was only 18-months-old. So I went kind of nuts at the Dollar Tree preparing for our trip.
Road Trip Prepper
You know those people that are super well-prepared for an end-of-the-world, apocalyptic catastrophe? Their basements are bursting at the seams with food and supplies. That pretty much sums up my mentality for preparing for our Yooper road trip.
Thanks to the handy ole internet and a rare streak of creativity on my part, we were super prepared for our UP adventure. Check out my road trip tips below, so you can plan your own UP adventure.
Travel Tips & Tricks for Road Trippin’ with Littles
- Pack one bin/caddy for each kid that can hold a water bottle, snacks, some of their favorite books and a few small toys.
- Pack comfy, cozy things like blankets, lovies, their favorite pillow, etc. And plan to dress them in comfortable layers.
- Head to the dollar store and find brand-new, cheap toys and prizes that will help keep your kids entertained along the drive. I kept the new toys hidden in a bin in the car and would pull a “prize” out every so often. This was perfect for those times they were getting really antsy or fussy. Some of their favorite items were window gel clings, finger puppets and metal cookie sheets ($1 from Dollar Tree to draw on or play with magnets.
- Family car games are another great way to pass the time and what starts as a ridiculous game usually gets us all laughing pretty hard. This road trip we played the “Christmas Song game” where we took turns singing Christmas songs until we couldn’t think of anymore Christmas songs. Our renditions of “Jingle Bells” and “Deck the Halls” may sound totally lame, but it was actually pretty funny. Toddlers can also join in playing “Eye Spy” or (for lack of a better name) the “Car Color Hunt” game. We like to pick out a color car that we all have to search for, then we get super pumped about finding a YELLOW CAR, for instance. Our (feigned) enthusiasm gets our boys really into searching for the cars and spending lots of time staring out the window.
- Screen time! We throw all screen-time limits out the window while traveling. We don’t have a car with a DVD player, so for this trip my husband ordered this inexpensive, headrest tablet mount (you can order one here from Target). The night before we left, we downloaded some of our kids’ favorite movies from Netflix, so they could watch iPad movies sans internet. GAME CHANGER.
- Kid-friendly apps were also really helpful, especially when my youngest was in a crying spell. I researched highly-rated, free apps for kids before we left town and downloaded a few to my phone since I didn’t have many kid apps. One of my sons’ favorite apps was called CamCam and it basically allows you to take pictures with filters that look very similar to SnapChat’s filters.
- Pack LOTS of snacks and drinks. Even though we only went on a two-night trip, I still packed tons of snacks and some lunch items like PB&J supplies. One of our favorite snacks was a homemade trail mix I whipped up before we left.
- Plan your drive time strategically around kids’ naps (if applicable) and your pit stops around meal times. We left GR in time for our boys to nap at the start of the drive. We didn’t stop (aside from a quick gas fill-up) until we got over the Mackinac Bridge and were in St. Ignace. More on that pit stop below…
Pit Stop Ideas
We only took one extended pit stop on the way to Escanaba from Grand Rapids. We stopped in St. Ignace to run around, check out the Wawatam Lighthouse and grab dinner. It took us about 4 hours to get to St. Ignace from Grand Rapids.
We discovered the Driftwood Restaurant on Yelp and enjoyed a delicious, very UP dinner there. I ordered their locally-caught “whitefish in a bag.” It was a fillet of fish that had a dry rub on it along with seasoned vegetables, they baked altogether in a parchment bag. It was DELICIOUS! My husband ordered a pasty and it was made with sirloin steak, rather than the usual ground beef. It was also really flavorful and well-made. We give the Driftwood Restaurant a thumbs up.
Some other pit stop ideas that locals in Escanaba gave me are listed below:
- B.C. Pizza (East Jordan, MI) has an indoor play area for kids
- Gaylord has a Burger King with an indoor play area (make sure you go to this location: 2801 S Otsego Ave, Gaylord).
- If the weather is nice, one mom told me she picks up Subway and they eat a picnic in the Hartwick Pines State Park (a beautiful old growth forest)
Sight Seeing Recommendations for your Yooper Family Road Trip
There is SO MUCH to explore in the Upper Peninsula and I’m totally hooked now after absorbing such incredible natural beauty during our short trip last year. I want to travel up there a lot more in the coming years (let’s go #MinnieTheBrave!). Check out our top 3 favorite sight-seeing spots from this trip below…
The Pictured Rocks are over an hour from Escanaba, but they are a MUST SEE.
While my husband was attending his work conference, I went to the local Escanaba Public Library and took my boys to their children’s story time. It was a great way to pass the morning and we got some great insider tips from locals while there. One of the best tips was to take our kids to Scott Falls and to climb behind the waterfall in an ice cave. It’s not too far from Pictured Rocks and is a really short walk from the road.
The Eben Ice Caves are far more famous and impressive, but harder to get to and climb around in with little kids. This was the perfect “ice cave” adventure for a family with littles.
Big Spring (Kitch-iti-kipi)
Kitch-iti-kipi, located in the Palms Book State Park, was a magical experience. The “Big Spring” is Michigan’s largest natural spring. The water is a beautiful emerald green color and completely clear.
Once at the state park, you only need to walk a short bit through the woods before you’ll see the emerald spring and the self-guided raft. The raft is available year-round and is completely free to use. It was definitely one of the highlights of our trip.
YOU CAN DO IT!
Even with little kids, traveling to the Upper Peninsula from Grand Rapids is totally doable and so worth it. The UP is saturated with so much beauty and an abundance of natural treaures. Please do yourself and your family a big favor and plan a trip to the glorious, wondrous UP soon.
Have you been to the UP with your kids? Leave a comment below with your favorite sights to see. We hope to be back up there soon!