20 Best Places to Visit in Michigan
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From the towering natural sand dunes on the western shores to the urban edge of Detroit, Michigan is an enjoyable state to explore. Each region has unique and diverse landscapes, with experiences that change with every season.
Wintertime means hitting the slopes in Traverse City and exploring the frozen paradise of the Upper Peninsula. Springtime is when Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids awaken to invite travelers to stroll along the quaint streets and enjoy outdoor patio dining.
The summer means vintage vacationing on Mackinac Island and swimming in the waters of Lake Michigan. Fall is when to hit the scenic roadways in upper Michigan to catch the first glimpse of colors of the changing leaves.
There are some great destinations in the state, from scenic to romantic to exciting. Plan your travels with our list of the best places to visit in Michigan.
1. Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island is one of the best vacation spots in Michigan. The experience on the island is reminiscent of a vintage summer vacation, complete with rocking chairs on the porch; horse and carriage rides; and a stillness over Lake Huron, with mesmerizing sunsets that put a dramatic stamp on the end of a memorable day.
This quiet island on Michigan's Upper Peninsula is only accessible by ferry, and there are no cars, so vacationers enjoy the simplicity of riding bicycles and walking along the neighborhood streets. Activities on Mackinac Island range from kayaking and horseback riding to a sunset boat cruise under the Mackinac Bridge.
The historic Grand Hotel sits on the hill overlooking the elegantly landscaped gardens. Lodging ranges from luxury inns to bed and breakfasts.
The energy in Detroit is infectious. The town has a vibe that comes from its Motor City roots in the transportation industry. Some of the best things to do in Detroit relate to that history, like The Henry Ford Museum, the Automotive Hall of Fame, and the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant/Model T Automotive Heritage Complex.
Other must-visits include the Motown Museum and the Parade Company where you can take a behind-the-scenes tour of costumes and floats designed for the Michigan Thanksgiving Parade.
Modern-day Detroit has trendy neighborhoods to visit for dining and artsy experiences, like Midtown and Rivertown. The Eastern Market is a fun place to visit, with more than 150 years of history - it's one of the best things to do in southern Michigan. The open-air market is the largest historic public marketplace in the United States.
The Entertainment District is where you will find 50 blocks of theaters and sports complexes for evenings out on the town.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Detroit: Best Areas & Hotels
3. Great Lakes Bay
The Great Lakes Bay region in central Michigan is a laid-back location that is great for romantic getaways and for families. It is an agricultural region, with several communities that have experiences to enjoy, from farmers markets and antique stores to outdoor recreation and art galleries.
There are more than 100 miles of trails for hiking and scenic walks, and parks that are popular for birding. One of the must-sees in the Great Lakes Bay area is the longest canopy walk in the Unites States located in Whiting Forest in Midland. The city of Saginaw is a great place to stay in the region, as it has a public market, children's zoo, art museum, and eco tours at the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge.
The city of Frankenmuth is one of the most known in the Great Lakes Bay. It is a tourist town created to replicate a small Bavarian village. Frankenmuth is known for its festivals, chicken dinners at the Bavarian Inn Restaurant, and the world-famous CHRISTmas Wonderland Christmas store. To stay in the center of it all, the Bavarian Inn Lodge is a popular option because it keeps you close to everything.
A nice day trip in the Great Lakes Bay area is Bay City on the waterfront of Lake Huron. The waterfront area is a nice place to walk around, and you can book themed cruises for a day or evening on the water. It is also home to the largest antique center in Michigan, covering an entire city block.
4. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
One of the best places to visit in Michigan is Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. In fact, if you are looking for a great first experience in Michigan, this is where to start. It is located on Michigan's western coast with a 35-mile shoreline along Lake Michigan. The glacier-carved region has a unique environment, with lakes, streams, and beaches.
The sand dunes are the main draw at Sleeping Bear Dunes, as visitors climb them and capture memorable vacation photos trekking the 300-foot-tall face. The area has 70,000 acres of wilderness, so there are many outdoor experiences to fill your agenda, from hiking and camping to swimming and kayaking.
There is also a Maritime Museum and the Glen Haven Historical Village. For a cool experience head to the Sleeping Bear dunes in winter, when you can enjoy some unforgettable sledding.
5. The Upper Peninsula
The Upper Peninsula is one of the best places to visit in Michigan in the winter. With 200 inches of snowfall every year this northern region becomes a playground for winter outdoor recreation. You can book a weekend at one of several dozen ski resorts or hit one of the many groomed cross-country ski trails through the UP forests.
The Upper Peninsula is a great place to try out some new winter adventures, like ice climbing, dog sledding, and snowshoeing.
The scenery is stunning, with ice-encased structures like lighthouses, frozen waterfalls, ice-accented cliffs along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and winter festivals. Perhaps one of the best reasons to go to Michigan's UP in the winter is the cozy lodging, where you can end your day warming up by the fireplace.
6. Ann Arbor
The city of Ann Arbor is one of the best towns to experience the creative side of Michigan. There are many opportunities for relaxing at a local bistro or outdoor café as you people-watch in the downtown area. Ann Arbor's downtown is pedestrian-friendly, so it is easy to park the car and go sightseeing on foot.
Ann Arbor is known for its shopping opportunities, especially in the Main Street area and State Street District, which have many small boutiques and galleries. There are scenic trails nearby, and activities like stand up paddleboarding and kayaking on the Huron River.
If you visit during the fall, you can join the exciting college sports scene at The Big House for a University of Michigan football game.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Ann Arbor
- Read More: Top-Rated Things to Do in Ann Arbor
7. Traverse City
Beautiful Traverse City is one of the best cities to visit in Michigan, in part because of the scenery but also for the diversity of things to do. Traverse City is in northwest Michigan, and it is a prime spot for skiing, fat bike riding, and snowshoeing in the winter, and water recreation in the summer. Traverse City is also known for its golf courses and spas, where you can plan a relaxing weekend.
A nice day trip while in Traverse City is driving along the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive near the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. It is a seven-mile scenic route that takes you past some of the most stunning Michigan sites, with panoramic views from a number of overlooks on Lake Michigan, Glen Lake, and the towering sand dunes.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Traverse City
One of the best times to visit the west central town of Holland is during the spring Tulip Time Festival. The town relishes its Dutch heritage, which is fun to enjoy as a visitor. Your visit should include some time at The Dutch Village, where you can walk up the five-story Dutch windmill, the only one of its kind in operation in the United States.
The village also has regular experiences for tourists, like a hand-painted carousel to ride, a children's garden, and the Windmill Island Gardens.
The beaches in Holland make for nice day trips in the summer. There are a number of sandy beaches along Lake Michigan, as well as several smaller beaches for families, like Laketown Beach.
While in Holland, you might want to enjoy some experiences that are unique to the area, like the Holland Bowl Mill, which makes high quality hardwood bowls, or taking a cruise on board the Holland Princess, an old-style paddleboat.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Holland
The dark skies in northern Michigan make Charlevoix one of the best places in the state to go stargazing. The region has a number of vast nature preserves and not many lights, making it a prime location to catch a glimpse of the northern lights and meteor showers.
Winter is a great time to plan a trip to Charlevoix to look for the aurora borealis at Fisherman's Island State Park and Mt. McSauba.
Charlevoix has a cool mix of attractions in town, from antique stores and farmers markets to art galleries and beaches. Spend some time in the Cultural Corridor, where you can even use an afternoon to take an art or cooking class from one of the local merchants.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Charlevoix
10. Porcupine Mountains
For those looking for a more remote and unplugged trip to Michigan, the Porcupine Mountains is one of the best places to visit in the Upper Peninsula. They are located on the western tip of the Upper Peninsula and give you a chance to experience some of Michigan's unexplored areas.
The Porcupine Mountains have 87 miles of scenic hiking trails and breathtaking views from high lookouts. There are 21 beaches along Lake Superior, and you will want to see the Lake of the Clouds in the valley of the old-growth forest that surrounds it in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.
Waterfalls are the other main attraction in the mountains with more than 90 that sit in the forestland. Two of the most notable to see are Bond Falls and Agate Falls.
11. Blue Water Area
The shores of eastern Michigan are known as the Blue Water Area along Lake Huron. This region has 10 different communities to enjoy, so you can stay in the area and visit several during the same trip. Visit the Algonac Riverfront Park in Algonac, a nice waterfront community and park along the St. Clair River.
Watch freighters crossing into the port from the Blue Water River Walk in Port Huron. Also in Port Huron is the Blue Water Trolley, which is nice to ride and learn more about the cultural and maritime history of the area. To explore the region on your own, you can visit the Nautical Mile in Marine City, which is a half-mile area with shops, restaurants, and riverfront viewing. You can also explore by water on a local river cruise.
The town of Cheboygan Northeast Michigan is considered the gateway to the waterways because it is the access point to the state's inland waterway system. The Inland Waterway is a 42-mile route along three rivers and several lakes that starts in Cheboygan and ends in Conway.
The public land near Cheboygan makes it a great place for outdoor activities, like hiking in the summer and accessing ski trails in the winter. It is one of the best places to experience the quiet solitude of Michigan's wilderness.
You will want to spend some time at the Cheboygan State Park and the Black Mountain Recreational Area for outdoor recreation opportunities.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Cheboygan
13. Grand Rapids
Grand Rapids is a fun city to visit in southern Michigan, known for its trendy music and food scene. There are many attractions in Grand Rapids that are close to the city, and if you want to add in some outdoor activities, you are never far from a state park or scenic area in Michigan.
Some of the best things to do in downtown Grand Rapids include tours, from cooking to fishing. If you prefer to plan your own itinerary, you will want to include the Grand Rapids Public Museum, the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, and the John Ball Zoo. The city also has loads of shopping, with several malls and boutique stores in the neighborhoods.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Grand Rapids
The small college town of Ypsilanti has so much cultural diversity that it makes for a fun contemporary city to visit. The city is known for its aviation history, so you will find many references to that in town.
The Yankee Air Museum has a number of vintage aircraft on display and even offers rides in a WWII B-17 airplane. The Firehouse Museum is another nice place to see, with a large collection of historical firefighting equipment. This is a fun museum for kids.
Car enthusiasts will want to plan a stop at Depot Town in the summer, where there are regular classic car shows commemorating the location's history as the last documented Hudson dealership.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Ypsilanti
15. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
The Michigan coastline along Lake Superior is where you can visit the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and soak in one of the most stunning scenic areas in the state. The coastal area has 42 miles of preserved lakeshore in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Its beauty comes from the symphony of ecosystems that exist together, from the beaches, waterfalls, and sand dunes to rugged sandstone cliffs and forests.
Whether you are an outdoor enthusiast or just visiting for some serenity and scenery, you are in for a memorable experience. Pictured Rocks has more than 100 miles of hiking trails that are especially nice to visit in the spring to see native wildflowers and in the fall, when the forest trees turn into an array of warm fall colors. If the water calls to you, there are more than 12 miles of beaches and five miles of towering sand dunes.
Located inside Pictured Rocks is Beaver Basin Wilderness, a federally protected area, where you can enjoy kayaking, cross-country skiing, hiking, and overnight backpacking in a more secluded wilderness.
There are several historical sites at Pictured Rocks worth a visit if you have time, including the Au Sable Light Station and the Munising U.S. Coast Guard Station. Because there is so much to see and do at Pictured Rocks, it is best to make your first stop at the Grand Sable Visitor Center to get advice on what to see for your time and interests.
Address: Munising, Michigan
Official site: https://www.nps.gov/piro/index.htm
16. Bond Falls Scenic Site
There are many waterfalls in Michigan but some of the standouts worth a visit on their own are at Bond Falls Scenic Site. Bond Falls is a stunning waterfall on the Ontonagon River on the western side of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, located 10 miles north of Watersmeet Township.
The waterfall drops 50 feet and is separated into multiple waterfalls as it flows down the middle branch of the river. There are several nice access points to see the falls, including a boardwalk that leads to several viewing platforms.
There are some hiking trails in the area suitable for making a day out of your visit and enjoying a packed lunch at the Bond Falls picnic area. While you are in the area, you should make a stop to nearby Agate Falls.
A visit to Frankenmuth will make you forget that you are in the United States, and it is one of the most unique places in Michigan. It is called Michigan's little Bavaria because of the German-inspired experiences, from food and lodging to its year-round Christmas theme.
Start your visit at Bronner's CHRISTmas Wonderland, home of the world's largest Christmas store, which has been operating since 1945. You can pick up a personalized gift or just walk the complex that is the size of 1.5 football fields to admire the uniquely adorned trees and decorations.
Channel your inner German baker by taking a pretzel-making workshop at The Bavarian Inn and Bakery for a truly unique and fun experience. Take time to stroll through the village and experience the Bavarian Inn Castle shops; take a carriage ride or hop aboard the Bavarian Belle Riverboat for a trip down the Cass River.
While Frankenmuth has plenty of tourist attractions, there are many outdoor experiences that you can mix into your trip. You can rent a kayak and get a view of Frankenmuth from the Cass River, or take a drive to the covered bridge in the village, which is one of the most iconic images of the area. The wooden landmark is a nod to authentic German architecture and craftsmanship.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Frankenmuth
18. Beaver Island
Michigan has so many places to visit with stunning beauty and history, but Beaver Island is a standout because it is an island in the middle of Lake Michigan with a population of only 600, and so secluded that it is one of the best stargazing spots in the United States. It takes a bit more effort to get to Beaver Island, but the visit is worth the effort.
You can get to Beaver Island by a ferry or plane departing from Charlevoix. As the largest island in Lake Michigan and the largest among the 14 islands in the Beaver Island Archipelago, it has unspoiled beauty and is far away from city lights. The ecological diversity on the island makes paddling along The Beaver Island Water Trail a fun activity. Canoe or kayak along the designated 42 miles of paddle trails that go around the island for a close-up glimpse of native wildlife and waterfowl.
Beaver Island has hundreds of miles of scenic opportunities. You can just take a drive without an agenda and enjoy stumbling on the lighthouses, historic cabins, wildflowers, and scenery that you find.
For those who make conservation a priority when traveling, you will appreciate the "leave no trace" principles instituted on the island, designed to help preserve the ecosystem that exists here and the species like bald eagles that call it home.
The charm of Saugatuck, located in southwest Michigan, is its arts scene, which makes it one of the best places to visit in the state. The town's history is entrenched in the Arts and Crafts Movement of the late 1800s, which carries through to today. You will find dozens of art galleries in town with artists of many mediums showcasing their work.
Saugatuck is nicknamed the "art coast of Michigan," so you will find that to be the backdrop of your visit. Drop into an open arts class at the Ox-Bow School to learn how to create something new, or find a one-of-a-kind item to take home from one of the arts fairs that take place in the town.
Art is not the only beauty in town, Saugatuck has a stunning beach scene and notable sunsets on the Lake Michigan shoreline. There is plenty of hiking in the area at Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area or at the Saugatuck Dunes State Park.
No visit to Saugatuck is complete without a paddleboat cruise down the Kalamazoo River.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Saugatuck
20. Isle Royale National Park
Isle Royale National Park in Michigan is as pristine as its name makes it sound. It is located on the U.S.-Canadian border and is a must-visit if you have extra time to plan in your Michigan itinerary, given its distance. Isle Royale is only 45 miles long and has nearly 400 islands surrounding it in Lake Superior.
The wilderness feel of Isle Royale is for those who want to experience Michigan's unspoiled beauty in a peaceful getaway and not the tourist locations. It is great for hikers, bikers, kayakers, and backpackers.
As you travel around the island, you will see remnants of Isle Royale's rich history in the mining and fishing industries. Drive by the Rick Harbor Lighthouse and look for important pieces of history, like the Kemmer cottage in Tobin Harbor and some of the historic resorts that hosted some of America's elite in the early 1900s.
You can get to Isle Royale by ferry or seaplane from Houghton, Grand Portage, Copper Harbor, or Grand Marais.
Address: 800 East Lakeshore Drive, Houghton, Michigan
Official site: https://www.nps.gov/isro/index.htm
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Exploring More of Michigan: As you plan your Michigan trip, be sure to review the top beaches if you are traveling in the summer and the top ski resorts if you are visiting in the winter. If you are looking for unique weekend getaways in Michigan there are many small towns, historic areas, and outdoor recreation options to consider.