What Actually Constitutes "Northern" Michigan?

For years people have debated what northern Michigan actually means. Simple asked, what point does Michigan become Northern Michgian? Entire clothing lines of t-shirts and hoodies have made thousands of dollars off the “Up North”. This language is more common Traverse City area, rather than the Upper Peninsula.

But we ask, where is Northern Michigan University? In Marquette, on the shores of Lake Superior, far north of Makinac Bridge. Despite this, you have to go 136 miles south of the Mackinac Bridge to find the southern most claim of where Michigan’s “North” begins.

Clare County’s official slogan is “Where the North Begins”. When taking a look at the Northern Michigan entry on Wikipedia, it clearly states Northern Lower Peninsula. Particularly the map (below) that is listed on the page, as it does not even represent the Upper Peninsula. However, in the first sentence in the article someone was kind enough to insert “or more properly Northern Lower Michigan”.

Northern Michigan Map

We did some research

Thanks to the handy position finder tool on Google maps to find the approximate (though pretty darn accurate) latitudinal points in Michigan.

Northern most land point in the Upper Peninsula: 47.479779
Southern most land point in the Lower Peninsula: 41.696671

A difference of: 5.783108 degrees (approximately 399 miles)

According to these coordinates the geographic north/south center of the state is at latitude 44.588225.

However, the latitude of Clare (“Where the North Begins”) is 43.822927, which is nearly a full degree south of the geographic center.* That may not sound like much, but that tiny difference in degree means Clare is about 52 miles (there are approximately 69 miles in one degree of latitude) south of the geographic center.

Interesting! Technically, if you split the state in to halves, estimated the latitudes, ignored the border being north of Isle Royale, then yes, perhaps Clare could be where southern and northern Michigan are divided in two if you throw a dart at the map. But depending which way you’re headed, it could just as well be “Where the South Begins”, correct?

To find North, we must first find the geographic center

These arguments define our offical stance on where Northern Michigan (or Up North) begins.

According to our measurements it is at the intersection of highway US-127 and Interstate 75 (about 5 miles south of Grayling). However, there are still some questions at hand, and some interesting points to make.

Menominee is the southern most point of land in the Upper Peninsula. Latitude: 45.095782

This means there is approximately 50 miles of distance shared between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan stretching from their most southern (Menominee) and most northern (Mackinaw City) points respectively.

With all this said, we want to provide a map of the State of Michigan that is divided into Northern, Central, and Southern Michigan as a way for people to know exactly which third of the state they are located in.

Map of Northern Michigan

We also made a larger version without notes for your reference

According to this map, if any county in the lower peninsula can bare the slogan “Where the North Begins” it would have to be Emmet County, the northern most county in the Lower Peninsula. Everything else is central.

Some other facts, points, and arguments…

  • Just south of Gaylord is the 45th parallel, exactly half way between the equator and the North Pole.
  • Conveniently, the 45th parallel is also the halfway point between the northern most and southern most points of the Michigan border (which goes beyond Isle Royale)
  • For all of those who love “going up north” it looks like Traverse City doesn’t even make the cut. T.C. is much closer to the North/South center than it is to the northern third of the state. Trigger warning, but Traverse City is firmly located in central Michigan.
  • The coordinates we used above mean that all three areas combine for 399 miles at 5.783108 degrees.
  • Each third is 133 miles.
  • If anything Clare should be considered Southern Michigan.
  • Central Michigan University is almost exactly on the central/southern border, hardly making it “central”. We propose renaming it to Southern Michigan Univeristy.
  • With this map, yes, Menominee county is technically not part of Northern Michigan. However, with the extra 200 miles it takes driving there from the Lower Peninsula we’re giving it a free waiver to officially be part of Northern Michigan.
  • Saying “UP North” literally has Upper Peninsula in the name.
  • And we’d love to remind you just how far north Northern Michigan University is.

In this example, to give the lower peninsula some leniency, we only go as far north as the most northern tip of the Upper Peninsula. When including the actual state borders of Michigan, which extend beyond Isle Royale, Traverse City, Clare, and all the rest become more central, and more southern, respectively.

Naturally, at U.P. Supply Co., we are a little biased about what actually constitutes “Northern” Michigan. We hope that this can shed some light on the issue for all of you as well.

Another side note comes from Kid Rock’s latest hit song All Summer Long in which the lyrics say “It was summertime in Northern Michigan”. We don’t know Kid Rock personally (not that we care to), but if you do please let him know that we would love to know where he was talking about when he wrote those lyrics. Though we can confirm he likes to part on Mackinac Island, which is firmly in the Upper Peninsula.

We would love to hear your thoughts, let us know what you think.

Some questions from us to you

  • What is “Northern” Michigan?
  • Is it as simple as Upper and Lower Peninsula?
  • Is Traverse City really “Going up north”?
  • What slogan would you give Clare County?
  • How does Central Michigan University fit into the picture?

*As a reminder, this is not the northern most point in Michigan, but the nothern most point of Michigan’s mainland in the Upper Peninsula. If we were to take the true northern most part of the border, in Lake Superior north of Isle Royale it would push the north, south, and center lines even higher in latitude.