You may know Michigan for Detroit, but in the US it’s definitely best known for outdoor adventures of all sorts. As far as we’re concerned that means you should find out more about it right now.
Easy to reach Michigan is just over 8 hours from the UK, and direct flights are available all year round. So it’s the perfect state to visit in spring and summer for its beaches, during winter for great skiing or any time at all to see Dark Skies, Northern Lights and explore the immense Great Lakes’ coastline.
There’s a lot of adventuring to be had here, but thanks to the experts at Pure Michigan we’ve found a few true highlights we think you’ll particularly like. Of course, it’s only a hint of what you can do and see on a family holiday here.
Begin your outdoor adventures with 3,288 miles of beaches
Michigan is one of Great Lakes’ states, and not just any old one. In fact it’s the state with more miles of freshwater coastline than anywhere else in the US, so if you want a beach holiday, you’ll find just about the beachiest of them all here.
Beaches for hidden treasure and awesome phenomena
The one mile long beach at Petoskey State Park is where kids can go treasure hunting for Michigan’s state stone, the Petoskey. Pick one up and you might be unimpressed, but add water and watch as complex hexagonal patterns appear on its surface. This little miracle can also be found at Magnus City Park Beach. Of course you put the stones back where you found them, but if you want one to take home, you’ll find plenty of lovely Petoskey keepsakes in local stores and galleries.
Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore can only be described as phenomenal. The beaches here stretch for 64 miles and they’re as wild and untouched as you’ll find anywhere, thanks to an act of Congress which has protected them for over 50 years. This is undoubtedly a very special place but it’s not a look and don’t touch. In fact exploring here is actively encouraged so feel free to hike the dunes or even attempt the mighty Empire Bluffs, delve deep into the forests or hire kayaks and go paddling: the shore looks even more impressive from the water.
Lake beaches with a seaside vibe and mighty dunes
For a seaside vibe and a lake that looks like an ocean, you want Grand Haven State Park on Lake Michigan. Some of the prettiest beaches in the Upper Peninsula are found here and its mix of outdoor adventures and laid back beach town charm couldn’t be better for families. Water sports for miles win over older kids, younger ones love just splashing about and, at the end of the day, you can all catch the spectacle of Grand Haven’s Musical Fountain which sits right on the waterfront.
Just about 30 minutes west of Grand Rapids, Saugatuck Dunes State Park gives you almost three miles of Lake Michigan beaches. Then it adds to the excitement with freshwater coastal dunes soaring up to 200ft tall. This promises to be the type of magical adventure your kids will tell their kids about one day.
Even Detroit delivers beachy action, on Belle Isle State Park, just a 15 minute drive from downtown. As well as sandy, family-friendly beaches, this 987-acre state park is a natural playground for outdoor adventures from cycling and hiking to kayaking.
Upper Peninsula beaches you need to see to believe
Michigan keeps many of its big hitters in the northerly Upper Peninsula, so a lot of the beautiful beaches here come with equally stunning features. That doesn’t mean you can’t spend a day simply lazing on the sand, just be warned, the distractions are many in this part of the state.
Take Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore for example. Famous for its colourful cliffs towering over Lake Superior, it’s also known for fabulous beaches; quite a few of which you may have seen – many times – on Instagram or Tik Tok. Come to swim or watch a sunset and if you feel energetic climb the cliffs from Sand Point beach, the view from the top is worth the hike.
Step back in time on enchanting Mackinac Island
You might feel understandably cynical hearing somewhere described as ‘time stood still’, but Mackinac Island in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula will sweep your doubts away in an instant.
Step off the ferry from Mackinaw City and get used to walking, there are no cars on Mackinac, only horse drawn carriages. Although that’s fine as walking here is a pleasure and so is cycling. In fact there are more than 70 miles of hiking and biking trails: one of many reasons Travel & Leisure Magazine rank Mackinac as #1 Island in the Continental US, and USA Today recently named it #1 Best Summer Travel Destination.
All enviable accolades are well deserved as it’s impossible not to be captivated by a place where the town streets are lined with colourful Victorian buildings, artisanal shops and local restaurants, and which chooses charming guest houses and vintage resorts over soulless hotel chain. We recommend you stay as long as possible, or at least overnight, the island sunsets will take your breath away.
Stargaze under the some of the darkest skies on earth
Michigan has some of the clearest night skies in the US. Not just clear and cloudless, but free from light pollution, so pretty much perfect for stargazing. In fact so great are the state skies that several places have been designated as Michigan Dark Sky Preserves, and one area has even been given International Dark Sky Status. So if you want to see stars at their brightest, pinpoint constellations, identify planets or simply gaze in wonder, here’s where to go.
In 2016, Alpena, in the Lower Peninsula’s north east, officially became the best place in the state to see stars. You’ll find no fewer than three Michigan Dark Sky Preserves here: Negwegon State Park; Rockport Recreation Area and Thompson’s Harbor State Park. With light pollution the lowest recorded in the Great Lakes region, even without technical equipment a sensational night sky is guaranteed.
Just west of Mackinaw City, Headlands International Dark Sky Park isn’t just a Michigan treasure, it’s a worldwide phenomenon. Not only is the stargazing potential enormous here any time, in winter it’s also prime territory for spotting the Northern Lights. Open year-round, 24/7, if you visit during summer you’ve the added bonus of Headland Events which can range from fascinating lectures to guided stargazing tours.
Although if you love the new, Keweenaw on Michigan’s most northerly point, is as fresh as it gets. The most recently designated Dark Sky Park in the state, it’s bound on three sides by Lake Superior and. apart from phenomenal stargazing, it’s a true wilderness experience. Sightings of remarkable wildlife aren’t at all rare here and the landscape is almost completely untouched by anything, except nature. However, wild as that sounds, Keweenaw is also surprisingly accessible, at under an hour’s drive north of Houghton city.
Head north for the ultimate outdoor adventures
If you want snow and lots of it, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula delivers all winter. It’s also where you’ve the highest chance of Northern Lights’ sightings and some very good skiing indeed.
It’s territory made for cross-country with lush forests and magnificently deserted trails. Or if you prefer something a bit speedier, fat tire biking is another Upper Peninsula talent. Although you might be straight up downhill, in which case you’ll find no fewer than nine family-friendly Alpine resorts in the upper reaches of the state; all delivering groomed pistes, pristine powder and enough ski and snowboard action to fill several winter holidays.
Explore the Upper Peninsula all year round
- Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is the largest in Michigan at over 60,000 acres. It’s where to scale some of the state’s highest peaks and find the best views of Lake Superior.
- Visit Keweenaw Peninsula and hear the singing sands of Bete Grise beach on the edge of Lake Superior.
- If wild wildlife is your thing, catch the ferry from Copper Harbor to Isle Royale between April and October. The island gives people this window to meet its year round residents including moose, beaver, otter and wolves.
- Take a trip to Sault Ste. Marie to witness the wonder of the Soo Locks, where 1,000ft long freighters are lifted from Lake Huron into Lake Superior before your very eyes.
- Head to Tahquamenon Falls State Park and see the largest waterwall east of the Mississippi River. At 200ft wide the falls are immense and fictional legend has it that Hiawatha built his canoe at their base.
- Meet bear cubs and rescued bears during summer at Oswald’s Bear Ranch in Newberry.
- No fewer than 14 lighthouses lie within easy sailing distance of Mackinaw City. Take a summer cruise and tick a few of the Michigan icons of your list.
Nowhere in the US has as many lighthouses as Michigan
Speaking of lighthouses, if you don’t catch the Mackinaw City cruise, there’s still a high chance you’ll catch a glimpse of at least one of Michigan’s coastal sentinels when you visit. Truth be told, they’re hard to miss, as there are more lighthouses here than in any other US state: a total of 129 to be exact.
Some are tall and stately, others more utilitarian, a few are legends and one or two are almost completely forgotten. But here are four you shouldn’t miss.
- The Holland Harbour Lighthouse, or Big Red as it’s known locally, protects the channel between Lake Michigan and Lake Macatawa, near the town of Holland.
- Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse has guarded the Straits of Mackinac since 1889. Close to Mackinaw City, it’s fully restored and guided tours give kids a fascinating insight into its history from keepers to shipwrecks.
- Close to Harrisville on Lake Huron, Sturgeon Point Lighthouse would look perfectly at home in New England. The light still functions, but the keeper’s cottage is now a maritime museum and the tower itself is open to visitors.
- You’ll find Grand Traverse Lighthouse in Leelanau State Park near Northport. Between the restored keeper’s cottage, playparks and lovely places to hike, it makes a great day out. And the views over Lake Michigan from the top of the tower are stunning.