Michigan is a large state with many different environments and activities. The warm summer weather is the perfect time to hit the road for a tour of this wonderful state. From the urban sprawl of Detroit to thick forests of the Upper Peninsula, there is something for every traveler in the Great Lakes State. Here are a few of my favorite activities and places to visit.
Walk Through History at Greenfield Village
Henry Ford was an avid collector with the intent of preserving what life was like before people flocked to cities to work in factories. At Greenfield Village, just outside Detroit, guests can wander through tree lined streets and tour a variety of buildings within its 80 acres. The Wright Brothers’ home, Thomas Edison’s labs, and a working farm offer insight into daily life of the 1800s. Visitors can also take a ride in a Model-T or circle the grounds in a steam train, then get up close to the locomotives in the round house or adjoining Henry Ford Museum. Read my post here for more information on visiting Greenfield Village.
Explore German Culture in Frankenmuth
Looking for an unique town to visit on your next road trip? Look o further than Frankenmuth, located in Michigan’s thumb region. This quaint town features several buildings in classic Bavarian style along with an open air shopping district. After strolling through the shops on Main Street, no trip to Frankenmuth would be complete without a delicious family style chicken dinner at Zehnder’s or Bavarian Inn. Afterwards, take a walk through Bronner’s, the world’s largest Christmas store to work off your chicken dinner and find a few unique ornaments to take home. Visit Frankenmuth’s visitor site for more information and a schedule of the many annual festivals.
Sail Over Alpena Shipwrecks in a Glass Bottom Boat
During the 1800s logging was big business in Michigan. Alpena, in the northeastern Lower Peninsula, was a busy port for shipping logs throughout the Great Lakes. Several ships were sunk in this area due to weather or accidents in the crowded waters. Today, visitors can get a glimpse of several wrecks in the crystal clears waters in the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary by way of glass bottomed boat tours. Half a dozen ships, mostly lost in the early 1900s, are visible from the upper deck or bottom window. You may also see a modern freighter or two sailing out of Alpena or on a long distance haul from Lake Superior. Back on dry land, take a free tour of the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center to learn more about area shipping history. Visit the Alpena Shipwreck Tours site for information.
Step Back in Time on Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island is part resort, part museum; an island artificially frozen in time. Located in the Straits of Mackinac, separating the Lower and Upper peninsulas, the island has been a popular tourist destination since the late 1800s. The island has retained its Victorian charm by preserving the historic downtown buildings and hotels. There are no cars on the 4 square mile island, so getting around means horses and bicycles. To get to the island, guests need to take a ferry from the mainland on either side of the massive Mackinac bridge.
Most notable on Mackinac island are the opulent Grand Hotel and Fort Michillimackinac, which was built by the British Army during the War of 1812. Many visitors come to the island for a day of sightseeing, but some choose to stay at the Grand Hotel or one of the other old Victorian hotels in town. Check out the Mackinac Island visitor site for info on activities, accommodations, and links to the ferry companies.
Hike Along the Tahquamenon Falls
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is home to around 200 waterfalls and the Tahquamenon falls are easily the most popular. Two sets of falls are part of the State Park. The upper falls spans about 200 feet across and has an easy to access viewing platform. The lower falls, which is more a series of cascades around an island, is a fun place to cool off from the summer heat.
A 4 mile long trail connects the two falls for an easy day hike. Campgrounds and several more miles of trails are located within the park for an extended adventure. And what better way to quench your thirst after a long hike than the Tahquamenon Falls microbrewery located at the Upper Falls entrance. Sample a few of their brews and try the locally caught whitefish. Tahquamenon Falls State Park information can be found here.
Take a Boat Ride to See Lake Superior’s Pictured Rocks
Sometimes you need to get on the water to have the best view of the land. Head up to Munising to board a boat and take in one of Michigan’s natural wonders. The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore features miles of sandstone cliffs featuring a myriad of colors best seen from the comfort of a cruise boat or kayak in warmer weather. Intermixed with the cliffs, visitors will also find historic lighthouses, waterfalls, and beaches. There are plenty of outdoor activities to round out your visit to the National park, such as hiking, fishing, and camping. Check the National Parks site for more details.
Sample Your Way Through Traverse City Wine Country
The Traverse City area is beautiful enough on its own, but it also happens to be the perfect climate for growing several varieties of grapes. Throughout the Leelanau and Old Mission peninsula’s visitors will find dozens of local wineries. Enjoy a scenic drive on your own, or sign up for one of the many tours for a better sampling experience. If you’re not a wine lover, the Cherry Capital is also home to several microbreweries. Read TDAD Tim Burn’s post on Traverse City wine country. An easy drive to the west will take you to the shores of Lake Michigan and Sleeping Bear Dunes.
Scale Massive Dunes at Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore
Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore is truly one of Michigan’s gems. Encompassing large parts of the Leelanau peninsula shore, Sleeping Bear was set aside to preserve the massive sand dunes as nature created and is constantly molding into new shapes. The best place to begin an adventure here is at the National Park welcome center in Empire for a map, info, and a quick tour of the exhibits inside. Then head off to the Piece Stocking Scenic Drive for some incredible views of both the forested areas and sandy shores of Lake Michigan. Several small villages dot the area and there’s even a State Fish Hatchery at the southern end that is worth a visit along the way.
Drive Over the Sand Dunes Silver Lake
If scaling sand dunes on foot isn’t your speed, head further down the coast for drive through the dunes at Silver Lake State Park. Mac Woods Dune Rides has been taking visitors through the dunes for since 1930. This family run business takes guests on a fun drive aboard converted trucks over the dunes and to the beach. For the more experienced, quads and dune buggies are available for rental in town. Tip: Visit at the edges of the summer season when there aren’t many people around and more room to enjoy the dunes.
Explore the Beer City Ale Trail in Grand Rapids
Michigan is one of the top areas for the microbrewing industry with over 300 locations across the state. Grand Rapids, in the southwestern corner, is one of the hotspots. Grand Rapids is host to over 30 microbreweries ranging from hole-in-the-wall to increasingly popular brands like Founders and Bell’s. Download a map to explore on your own or take a tour. Pick up a Beer City Passport or download the Brewsader app before your start your adventure. While you’re in the area, set aside a few hours to visit the Frederick Meijer Gardens.
Michigan, the Great Lakes State, is home to a variety of destinations with something for everyone. Museums, outdoor adventures, or just watching the sun go down over Lake Michigan with a cold drink in your hand. You’ll find more exciting Michigan destinations here on Traveling Dad or follow along on Wagon Pilot Adventures as I tour my home state.