It’s May!! That means only one month until summer! And summer means travel, even if it’s just around your hometown. That’s why in this post I’m going to guide you around my own state, Michigan. The “Great Lakes State” lends itself quite well to summer exploring, and no matter how much time you’ve spent here, there’s always more to see and discover!
We’ll start with one of the places Michigan is most famous for: The Mackinac Bridge (and the surrounding area). Similar in style to the Golden Gate in San Francisco, the suspension bridge links Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas. On one side lies the popular Mackinaw City, famous for its fudge and ice cream. On the way over the 5-mile bridge, you’ll get to glimpse Mackinac Island. Though I’ve never been there, it is a popular destination for many Michiganders. With no cars allowed on the island, it’s the perfect place to slow down and relax. Reaching the other side, you’ll arrive in the small town of St. Ignace. Though much less popular than Mac. City, it’s also less touristy, giving it a little more authentic small-town-Michigan feel.
Tahquamenon Falls & Paradise
Yes, I said Paradise—it’s the real name of a town! And it’s a town that’s pretty much surrounded by wilderness! Whitefish Point & Lighthouse is worth a drive, and Tahquamenon Falls is a must-see. Gorgeous in all seasons (even winter), Tahquamenon is made up of two waterfalls, one a little way down the river from the other. There are viewing platforms at each of the falls, and a nice trail connecting them.
Another of Michigan’s prized possessions, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is named for its colorfully striped cliffs spanning 15 miles of Lake Superior’s southern shoreline. We went on a guided kayak trip along the rocks and were able to get so close that we could touch them. Over the course of the day we squeezed through small crevices formed by boulders, and paddled under archways and overhangs. It was incredible (even though it was drizzling the whole time!). You can also take other types of boat tours, usually half-day or full day. And after seeing Pictured Rocks, don’t miss out on the great hiking trails in the area, my favorite being Chapel Falls trail, a short ways east of Munising.
Marquette & Presque Isle Park
A short ways west of Munising and Pictured Rocks, Marquette is the perfect spot for lunch…and cliff jumping! About a year ago, I thought it would be fun to go cliff diving (typical me), so I started researching places to go in Michigan. Presque Isle Park (just outside of Marquette) seemed to come up a lot, so I decided to check it out! Commonly known as “Black Rocks” for the unusual black rocky shoreline, this is one of the most popular spots for cliff jumping in Michigan. The drop is only about 15 feet, and the water is a welcoming turquoise color, but be prepared for the cold! Lake Superior is chilly! So after you dry off in a towel, you might want to find a cozy restaurant or coffee shop downtown Marquette to get warm.
Well, last summer, this became one of my favorite places in Michigan! I could have stayed there all day! This small roadside park southwest of Marquette has more in store for you than what meets the eye. Walking along the gorgeous trail, we couldn’t actually find the jumping spot until I talked to some kids hammocking in the trees nearby a waterfall. They told me where to jump, I trusted them, and then stepped off the 25 foot cliff (after watching another guy do it once)! It was the most incredible feeling, and I’m not exaggerating. But when you hit the water you don’t have much of a chance to think about it before you get swept away by the current. I think swimming to and climbing up the rope ladder was the scariest part!
Petoskey, Charlevoix & Traverse City
Yes, I know this technically counts as three places, but depending on your time and interest in cute towns, you might only stop at one or two. Petoskey is the smallest of the three, with Charlevoix second, and Traverse City as the biggest. You can find great restaurants, shops, and nice waterfronts with trails and parks at all three. Great places to stop for an afternoon of shopping and dinner.
Sleeping Bear Dunes
I haven’t been here since I was little, but I am hoping to drive up sometime this summer. Because let me tell you—sand dunes are fun. Very fun. Whether you just look at them, take pictures, or run down them, I assure you the trip is worth it. All along the Lake Michigan coastline you will find gorgeous dunes, but Sleeping Bear Dunes is special. It, like Pictured Rocks, is considered a “National Lakeshore” for its spectacular nature. Much bigger and much steeper than most other dunes, it’s quite a chore to climb up!
Spending a great deal of time here, I have many suggestions for things to see and do! We’ll start off with our beautiful and beloved White Lake itself. At one end of the 6-mile lake, you’ll find a nice river that you can explore with a kayak or paddleboard, available for rent at Waterdog Outfitters. One of my favorite things to do is pull up in your kayak to Dog ‘N Suds, a drive-in style restaurant famous for its root beer floats. Then you can enjoy your treat all the way up the river! For exploring the lake itself, you might want to rent a boat at Duneshore Boating! At the other end of the lake, a channel leads out to “The Big Lake,” or Lake Michigan. The coastline of Lake Michigan stretches for miles on either side of the pier, and is the perfect spot for a nice long beach walk at sunset, or a day of chilling in the sand. If you don’t take a dip, it could even be mistaken for the ocean. However, it’s usually much chillier than your typical Florida beach, so if you jump in, be prepared to get a little cold!
There are two little towns in the area, each on different sides of the lake, Montague and Whitehall. It won’t take long to explore their downtowns, as they are both quite small! There is a nice bike trail running through the towns, and you can rent bikes at the same place you get your kayak! There are also multiple parks and trails to hike. Clear Springs Nature Preserve, Duck Lake State Park (also a great beach spot for families), and Meinert Park are some of my favorites. If you venture a little ways south along the coastline, you’ll find the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex. I know “winter” is in the name, but they also offer various summer activities, ranging from their summer luge to archery, to a zip line course (currently still in planning stages). While you’re there you can explore Muskegon State Park, or even go camping!
Well, there you have it: my suggested itinerary for a Michigan road-trip! I’ve listed the travel times to get from place to place below (taken from Google Maps). You can do this trip in as short as a 4 day weekend, but 6 or more days is best to enjoy each place a little longer! Last summer, my family and I went on a very similar trip and found nice campgrounds to stay at all over northern Michigan. There are also hotels available in the towns if you’re not into camping!
Mackinaw City – Paradise: 1hr 22min
Paradise – Munising/Pictured Rocks: 1hr 49min
Munising – Marquette: 48min
Marquette – Canyon Falls: 1hr 8min
Canyon Falls – Petoskey: 4hr 43min
Petoskey – Charlevoix: 24min
Charlevoix – Traverse City: 1hr 4min
Traverse City – Sleeping Bear Dunes: 34min
Sleeping Bear Dunes – White Lake: 2hr 11min