Michigan’s mojo comes from its beaches, forests, and small towns. Visitors are often surprised to learn that four of the five Great Lakes encompass the state and more than half of the place is forested. What should a visitor do in the midst of all this natural generosity? We have answers. And don’t worry, you’ll get an urban solution as well.
Here are the best places to go in Michigan.
Great for art and nightlife
It’s hard not to fall for the contagious and dynamic spirit of Detroit. The avant-garde public art scene meets you at every turn, from the Heidelberg multi-dot block project to the more than 100 murals remaking warehouses in the Eastern Market. Traditionalists can ogle one of the best collections in the world at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
At night, the city moves and live music comes out of clubs like Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, a jazz hotbed stuck in time. Designer hotels and welcoming restaurants in formerly abandoned buildings add to the buzz. Plus, Detroit is easy on the wallet, with plenty of free stuff to do.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Ideal for days at the beach
One of Michigan’s little-known national parks, Sleeping Bear Dunes stretches 35 miles (56 km) of Lake Michigan shoreline. There are two main ways to absorb the views of the true blue lake. One is Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, a one-lane 7-mile loop dotted with a picnic grove. The other is the Dune Climb, which involves climbing a 200-foot-high (61m) pile of sand. It will punish your leg muscles, but the view at the top – scenic Caribbean-hued water – is well worth it.
The park’s 14 beaches and 100 miles (161 km) of wooded hiking trails provide more magnificent views and many families return here year after year to indulge in them.
Cross the city
Ideal for couples
It may only have about 15,000 residents, but it’s the “big” city in northern Michigan, with its great restaurants and cool shops to prove it. Lounging on the beach, parasailing, bucolic cycle paths and kayaking to breweries with outfitters like Paddle TC provide the action.
Vineyards cover the nearby Old Mission Peninsula, where 10 wineries across 30 km serve Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. The region has the same microclimate as the French regions of Bordeaux and Piedmont in Italy, and the results are just as breathtaking. Brys Estate and Peninsula Cellars showcase how it’s done, with bottles perfect for a picnic on the beach.
Ideal for families
A 20-minute ferry ride from the mainland, Mackinac Island is a charming little town dotted with fudge shops, Victorian cottages and 18th-century hilltop forts. Cars are prohibited and all trips are made by horse-drawn carriage or by bicycle, which reinforces the atmosphere distorted by time.
It only takes an hour to cycle around the island – it’s one of Michigan’s best experiences – but allow more time and detour to Fort Mackinac, where costumed interpreters fire cannons ( always a great pleasure for children). Mackinac is silent the night after the excursionists have left and a million stars flash in the dark sky.
Isle Royale National Park
Ideal for unspoiled wilderness
Morning fog hangs over the lake. You hear the lapping on the shore and see a moose coming for a drink. A loonie is calling. Or maybe it’s a howling wolf? Either is likely on Isle Royale, one of the least visited national parks in the country. The 45-mile-long island floats on the shores of Lake Superior, a three to six hour ferry ride from Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. There are no roads in the untouched forest, only 165 miles of hiking trails, 36 rustic campgrounds, and a secluded lodge. Hikes range from the multi-day Greenstone Ridge Trail on the island to the easy but dramatic Stoll Trail.
Best city for LGBTQ + travelers
Known for its golden beaches, pine breezes, fruit pies and a welcome, welcome to all spirits, Saugatuck attracts tons of vacationers. Oval Beach ranks among Michigan’s best for its soft sands and psychedelic sunsets. For a spectacular entrance, take the Saugatuck chain ferry from downtown, then follow the path up and through the dunes.
Artists can seek out the century-old Ox-Bow School in the woods for lessons in painting, glassblowing, and goldsmithing. LGBTQ-friendly businesses are proliferating in the region, including The Dunes, one of the largest LGBTQ complexes in the country.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Ideal for kayaking and boating
This area of shimmering cliffs and caves in wild colors is the flagship site of the Upper Peninsula. The optics come from blue and green minerals that streak the red and yellow sandstone in an artist’s palette of hues. See them from the water to get the full range. Pictured Rocks Kayaking and other outfitters can prepare you to paddle among arches, caves, waterfalls, and rock formations with names like Lovers Leap and Flower Vase. If that’s too much work, sit on Pictured Rock Cruises or Glass-bottom Shipwreck Tours as they glide over the wonders.
Best city for craft breweries
Michigan’s second largest city, Grand Rapids, has taken off thanks to beer. About 25 craft breweries operate in the city proper, plus scores more in neighboring towns. The beer trail takes you there. What makes the scene so popular is the density of the breweries – you can walk between many manufacturers – and the relatively low cost of drinking alcohol.
Ideal for fall colors
The rugged woodland region of the Keweenaw Peninsula sits atop Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The area was once the largest producer of copper in the world, and Keweenaw National Historic Park tells the story. But what you’re really here for is Brockway Mountain Drive, soaring high into the sky.
The 10 mile getaway offers stunning views of Lake Superior and is particularly impressive in early October when the leaves are blazing. The outdoor towns of Houghton and Copper Harbor hug the peninsula. Both have breweries, snowboarding, mountain biking, and ferries that sail to Isle Royale.
Best place to camp
Yes, the city is named after the European country. And yes, there are tulips, windmills and kitsch clogs galore. This is not the selling point. Holland State Park is. Its expansive beaches are some of the most popular in the state, where vacationers come to paddle in the surf, fish off the coast, hoist a sail, admire fiery sunsets and snap photos of Big Red, the lighthouse that watches over everything. that. Camping is a must, especially in the oceanfront park just steps from Lake Michigan.
Ideal for adrenaline sports
So you want to explore the Upper Peninsula in all its wild, secluded and independent splendor? Marquette makes a perfect base. It’s UP’s largest city and a hot spot for adrenaline junkies. Locals ski, snow bike, and explore ice caves in the winter, and kayaking, rock climbing and mountain biking like crazy in the summer.
Much of the action takes place in Presque Isle Park, a rugged forest that juts out into Lake Superior north of downtown. Nearby, Sugarloaf Mountain offers easy hiking trails and glimpses of the Northern Lights. Everyone gathers at Black Rocks Brewery to discuss their exploits and bruises afterwards.