Michigan Road-Trip: 8 Places for Summer Adventures!

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!

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Chapel Falls trail

Mackinac Area

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.

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Pictured Rocks

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.

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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.

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Canyon Falls

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!

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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!

White Lake!

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!

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Kayaking and paddleboarding on the White River

 

 

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!

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Lake Michigan Sunset

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

 

Live Like the Locals: 3 Ways to Get to Know Your Destination Better

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Over the days we spent on the small island of Exuma, we met a variety of locals who helped us see further into the lives of the people living there. I fully believe that the only way to really get to know a place is to live like the locals as much as you can! Go to the same restaurants and bars as them. Go to the same local events as them. And most of all, talk to them!

Restaurants and bars

Upon arriving in Exuma, we began to hear two names tossed around quite a bit: Fish Fry and Chat N’ Chill. Both were pretty catchy and fun sounding names, so we decided to give ’em a try. Fish Fry ended up being one of our go-to places for grabbing a bite, and Chat N’ Chill made for one relaxing, or should I say “chill” afternoon! The latter was more of a tourist destination, with far less local/tourist interaction than Fish Fry. We did engage in a nice conversation with the water taxi driver on our way to Chat N’ Chill, as we were the only passengers in the boat!

 

Fish Fry was a little rougher around the edges, and on each of the multiple times we came, we encountered a different friendly Bahamian. The first person was Cat…or “key-at,” which is how it sounded to us. It took him actually spelling out C-A-T for us to understand! He paints signs for resorts, restaurants, and shops around the island. My favorite part of our conversation happened when Aunt Liz spotted a rat, and Cat says, “Oh, that’s just Mickey.” Upon which we looked at him strangely, asking if Mickey visited the bar often. (Which he evidently did!) We also talked to Buzzy, a locally-famous sailor who won the sailing regatta we watched. At a downtown hotel, Peace N’ Plenty, we chatted with the owner, Doc, who had worked there for 30 or 40 years. And these are just a few of the extremely welcoming people we met.

Local events

When you go to local restaurants and bars, you hear about local events! Even just going to the grocery store you might find a bulletin board where flyers advertising events are hung up. These events are great ways to experience the local culture, and besides meeting locals, you can meet fellow travelers!

There were two events that we went to on our trip: the New Year’s Eve party at a casual resort, and the Bull Reg Regatta at Fish Fry. The New Year’s party was open to tourists and locals, and there was a good mix of the two. We even saw my dive instructor Jonathon there! I also got pulled into dancing with a group of twenty-something-aged tourists from different cities in the U.S. who had most likely mistaken me for being a bit older. At the regatta, we talked to multiple people, and learned more about sailing and racing in the Bahamas

 

Talk! Chat! Engage in a conversation with a local!

This, above all, is the best way to get to know a place. Whether you’re standing in line at the grocery store, having some food and drinks at a local bar, or just walking around the streets, you can be sure there will be an opportunity to chat it up with a local. And chances are they will be happy to talk to you, so don’t think that your tourist status changes anything! And in addition to the insights into local culture, you will gain information and recommendations about places to eat, events, and things to do while you’re there! Talking to locals completes the circle: you first talk to someone and get a recommendation, then you go to that bar/restaurant that they recommended, where you talk to another local and hear about an event, then you go there and talk to yet another local, and hear about yet another bar! It works great and is the best way to get immersed in local life.

Sailing the Bahamian Way: Ridin’ the Pry

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On the very first day we went out on the dive boat with Dive Exuma, I noticed the beautifully painted wooden sailboats that were moored near the dock by the dive shop. They were definitely racing boats, with their names streaked across the hulls. When Jonathon, my instructor, saw us admiring them, he told us about the upcoming Bull Reg Regatta, an annual sailing race that was going to take place in a few days. We learned about “ridin’ the pry,” which refers to the outrigger boards for the crew to sit on to keep the boats from tipping over. It was like hiking out on steroids. We immediately decided we wanted to go watch the races, and he told us that Fish Fry was the best place to watch. Fish Fry was a local hangout made up of colorful shacks, all bars and restaurants, located along the shore a ways up the road from town. We had already heard the name thrown around a bit in the few days we had been there, so we figured it was a pretty happening place.

A few days later, the morning of the regatta, we decided to go down to one of the shacks that served as the hub for sailors on the island. The race was advertised to start at 9, so we came down around 10, expecting that 9 meant about 10 in Bahamian time! There were no boats racing, so we chatted with a few locals to find out what was going on with the regatta. We found out it was postponed until the next day, in hopes that the currently-howling winds would calm down a bit. 

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One of the bars at Fish Fry

We came back the next day to find that the races were on! Locals gathered at the shack pictured above, chatting and drinking beers at 10 in the morning, and waiting for the races to start. The start–wow! The one minute horn went off, and the eight or so boats were still sitting anchored with sails un-hoisted! Aren’t they going to get ready? The race is about to start! I was thinking. But then, when the horn blasted to signal the start of the race, bam! Within 5-10 seconds, all of the boats had their anchors up, sails up, and were racing! I couldn’t believe how fast they got moving! And when they did, we found out just how big of a thing sailing was in the Bahamas. The locals were about as bad as Americans watching football! They were pointing out the window of the open air bar, yelling “red boat!” and “Long Island boat!” …And that was about all we could understand through their thick Bahamian accent and the fact that there were about 6 people talking over each other. I had no idea how they could even see what boat was ahead, let alone which boat it was (if it was the red boat or the blue boat, etc.), since by then they had sailed far from shore, and all you could see was their graceful white sails. When they came around the mark close to shore, we were able to see better, and watched as the crew scrambled out onto the pry. It looked incredibly fun! Buzzy, the son of Bull Reg, who the regatta is named after, won the races. 

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On our third to last day on the island, we came back to Fish Fry (which by then was our 4th or 5th time there), and tried to find a sailor to take me out as crew. My dad and I were talking to some men, and we asked if Buzzy was around. They all started laughing, and soon we figured out that we were talking to Buzzy himself! He told us he had to put his two boats on a barge the next day to take them to Nassau for another regatta, so he might not have a boat to take me out on. We said we’d meet him down at the dock after our dive that day, but when we got back the barge was already there and they were getting ready to load the boats. So, I never got to sail, but that’s just one more reason for me to come back again!

5 Reasons Why You Should Learn to Scuba Dive

It’s fun! – Learning to dive was definately one of the best experiences of my life! I’ve been snorkeling ever since I was a little kid, and I absoulutely love it. I’ve wanted to try diving for a while now, and I was always certain I would love it even more than snorkeling – and I was right! If you like swimming or snorkeling, diving will be twice as fun! It might be a little weird or scary when you first breathe underwater, but I quickly got used to it. By the second dive, everything just clicked and it was amazingly relaxing and easy!

You’ll learn something – I used PADI’s eLearning program to do the classroom portion of the course, as well as Dive Exuma (the island’s local dive shop) to do my required dives to become a certified Open Water Diver. The only surprise was how much classroom work I had to do on eLearning! You had to learn a bit of the science and technical part of diving, understanding the pressure increase as you dive deeper, and using a dive table to plan your dive time & depth. It was pretty interesting stuff! I am glad that I had to learn it because it made me appreciate diving even more.

You will get to see a completely different world underwater – My favorite animals have always been sea animals (dolphins and turtles). Diving in the Bahamas let us get close to sea turtles, sharks, and various species of beautiful fish and corals. Unfortunately, no dolphins. The shark dive we did was at a reef about an hour long boat ride from Exuma to a spot off the shore of Long Island. And it was incredible! We descended to a sandy bottom about 40 feet below the surface, and were immediately encircled by reef sharks. They weren’t scary at all, and were quite small, only about 6-8 feet, and as my instructor Johnathon encouragingly said beforehand, “If they bite you, you’ll survive. You’ll just have a big scar!” We also visited 2 blue holes (one diving, one snorkeling), which are quite literally just big holes in the sea floor. They are like caves, with circular openings and steep walls. Some are deeper than others, for example the Angelfish Bluehole that we visited with the dive group was about 90 feet deep, with the surrounding sea floor only about 25-30 feet. There are so many things underwater that you just can’t experience without scuba diving, and for me, that alone is why I wanted to learn.

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It opens up job and travel opportunities – I (obviously) want to travel when I’m older! Even before learning to dive, I fantasized about being a dive instructor at different locations around the world, spending every day underwater. And besides teaching, there are tons of cool group dive travel opportunities as well! You can find fellow divers on PADI’s ScubaEarth website and go on dive trips to places all over the world, with divers from all over the world! Just in the few days we spent with Dive Exuma, I met two divers from Austria, one from France, and two snorkelers from Italy!

You can help protect our oceans – When I went to the Grenadines two years ago, the coral there was not in great condition. Most of the corals were “bleached,” where the color is gone and it appears dead. It was really sad because it didn’t used to be like that! You can read more about coral bleaching here: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/coral_bleach.html  Being a diver, you can get involved in marine conservation projects to study the damage being done, as well as play a part in working to reverse the direction that our oceans are going in. Debris is also a big problem, and as a diver, you can help by picking up trash and other objects, or by checking out organizations like Project AWARE, an organization that teams up with PADI to clean up our oceans. Visit them at http://www.projectaware.org/