Northern Michigan is packed with natural beauty. With towering cliffs, forests as far as the eye can see, and a stunning shoreline, it’s the ideal destination for anyone who wants to escape the crowds and indulge their love of the great outdoors. With so much to do and see, drawing up an itinerary can be challenging. What places can you skip, and what experiences shouldn’t be missed? To help out, we’ve rounded up 20 of the very best things to do in Northern Michigan. Pack a few of these into your schedule, and you’re guaranteed the trip of a lifetime.
20. Scale the heights of Michigan’s highest points
Northern Michigan’s highest peaks offer panoramic views that are calling out to be photographed. If your legs are up to the challenge, pull on your hiking boots, pack a camera and some water in a backpack, and set off into the wilds for a few days of adventure. A great place to start is the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park: as Michigan’s largest state park, it’s packed with natural beauty, wildlife, and challenging trails. While you’re there, don’t miss the sublime views from The Lake of the Clouds. Next, hit the Brockway Mountain Drive on the Keweenaw Peninsula for heavenly panoramas over Lake Superior. Finish up by donning your skis and tackling the tallest ski jump in the country, Iron Mountain’s Pine Mountain Ski Jump.
19. Birdwatch at Whitefish Point Bird Observatory
Every year in spring and fall, the skies around Whitefish Point in Paradise come alive as thousands of eagles, hawks, and other birds begin their bi-annual migration. A great place to experience this natural wonder is at the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory. For 40 years, Whitefish Point Bird Observatory has been monitoring and documenting the feathered population of the Great Lakes region, and today, it offers twitchers the chance to join in the migration count while enjoying heavenly views over Lake Superior. While you’re there, don’t miss a quick visit to the museum and gift shop to pick up some mementos.
18. Tour the mines on the Keweenaw Peninsula
During the copper boom of the 19th century, the Keweenaw Peninsula became one of the richest areas in the country thanks to its rich natural resources. Learn about the history of the region by donning a hard hat and booking a tour of the Iron Mountain Iron Mine and the Keweenaw Peninsula’s Quincy Mine Properties and Delaware Copper Mine. You’ll get to experience first hand what daily life was like for the generations of miners who spent their days toiling underground. As a word of warning, don’t even think of taking the tour if you suffer from claustrophobia!
17. Escape the crowds on Isle Royale
Northern Michigan is a nature lover’s dream. Experience the raw beauty of the region by heading over to Isle Royale, a rugged, isolated island that promises dreamy tranquility and adventure. As nps.gov says, amidst the island’s stunning scenery, you’ll find endless opportunities for reflection and discovery, and make memories that last a lifetime. Backpackers, hikers, boaters, kayakers, canoeists, and scuba divers will find plenty to keep them entertained in this unspoiled wilderness, while the opportunities for wildlife spotting are immense. The park is open to the public from April through October.
16. Visit Fayette Historic State Park
Once upon a time, Fayette was the center of the charcoal pig iron industry. It hustled, it bustled, and it provided hundreds of people with a livelihood. And then the bottom fell out of the business, and overnight, Fayette turned from a lively center of industry into a ghost town. Today, visitors can explore the historic townsite at the Fayette Historic State Park. As per michigan.org, the park also offers plenty by way of outdoor adventure thanks to harbor slips, a boat launch, a beach, and five miles of hiking and cross-country skiing trails with sublime views of the Lake Michigan shoreline. If you want to extend the fun over several days, camping is available.
15. Sample wine at Mari Vineyards
If you’re a wine buff, don’t miss sampling some of Northern Michigan’s best wines while you’re in the area. According to travelingmom.com, Mari Vineyards in Traverse City has some of the most upscale and beautiful tasting rooms around. The Praefectus red and the Scriptorium Riesling white come highly recommended.
14. Shop till you drop in downtown Harbor Springs
Northern Michigan might be famous for its natural beauty, but there’s plenty of urban delights to enjoy as well. If you want to indulge in some retail therapy, take the advice of visitmichiganupnorth.com and head to downtown Harbor Springs. The area is packed with stores selling everything from clothing to antiques, books to home furnishings. There’s also plenty of restaurants, coffee shops, and even a marina to check out.
13. Get fruity at Cherry Republic in Glen Arbo
Michigan is the Cherry Capital of the World. Celebrate its status by enjoying every variety of cherry-flavored goodie imaginable in the Great Hall at the Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor, a store that’s dedicated entirely to the cherry. There’s cherry wine, cherry bratwurst, cherry ice cream, cherry salsa, cherry chocolate, and 101 other varieties of cherry snacks and beverages. Try as many samples as you can before packing your bag with your favorites to take home as gifts.
12. Indulge in a traditional pasty
Michigan.org recommends trying a pasty while you’re in Northern Michigan. It may not sound the most exciting way to pass the time, but one bite of this famous treat will help you understand what all the fuss is about. The savory half-moon pies were created as a convenient lunch for Cornish and Finnish miners: the crimped edge let miners hold onto the pastry without getting any coal dust onto the edible inner section. These days, pasties are a popular statewide snack served at restaurants, fundraisers, and the annual Pasty Fest. If you like rutabagas, stick to the Cornish version. If you prefer carrots, try the Finnish one. And if you like it with pumpkin and a big dollop of whipped cream on the side, try Muldoon’s famous pumpkin pie pasties in Munising.
11. Visit Black Star Farms
Travelandleisure.com recommends paying a visit to Black Star Farms during your time in Northern Michigan. Famed for its award-winning wines and spirits, the farm boasts a very swanky B&B, a farmers’ market, a creamery, and stables. Stop by one of the tasting rooms in Suttons Bay, Traverse City, and on the Old Mission Peninsula to try some of its famous Arcturos Late Harvest Riesling.
10. Take a horse and buggy tour of Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island is a car-free island where residents and visitors can choose from one of three modes of transport: bike, foot, or horse-drawn carriage. Bikes can be rented cheaply enough and your feet will hopefully have come along with you for the ride. However, if you want to enjoy the island in style, there’s no substitute for taking a scenic drive by horse and buggy. The gentle pace and opportunity to stop where and when you want will let you soak up the scenery and snap as many pictures as you like.
9. Take a boat ride around Charlevoix
Charlevoix is a charming little town surrounded by Lakes Michigan, Round, and Charlevoix, and the Pine River. Check out the elegant waterfront properties by taking a boat ride around the town. There’s also the opportunity to take a paddle out onto Lake Michigan or kayak around Round Lake. While you’re in the area, don’t miss a visit to the charming Charlevoix South Pier Light Station.
8. Enjoy some of the best fudge in the world
If ever there was a reason to indulge your sweet tooth, a visit to Mackinac Island would surely be it. The island is famous the world over for its legendary fudge. Taste it at its source by paying a visit to the many candy stores in the downtown. Watch the master fudge makes fold and flip the treats to perfection before sampling the results for yourself.
7. Go island hopping
If you’re heading for the Upper Peninsula, don’t miss the opportunity to take an island hopping tour. The region is packed with islands – some populated and bustling with activity, others isolated and wild. Some of the islands not to miss include the intriguing Mackinac Island, an “all-natural” theme park where the preferred mode of transport is a horse and buggy and where the prevailing vibe is modern-day victorian; Drummond Island, a quiet, tranquil spot famed for its outstanding range of flora and fauna; Les Cheneaux, a group of 36 small islands that’s perfect for water sports; and Grand Osland, a rugged gem with some sublime wilderness camping opportunities.
6. Meet the cubs at Oswald’s Bear Ranch
If you’re heading for the Upper Peninsula between late May and late September, you’re in luck. There are around 15,000 to 19,000 black bears in Northern Michigan, with 90% of them living in the Upper Peninsula. Your visit will coincide with the bear migration period – a great time to visit the wild rescue bears at Oswald’s Bear Ranch. The ranch provides shelter to dozens of orphaned cubs and mature bears who’ve been recused from cruelty or neglect. All entry fees go directly towards keeping the bears in fresh fruit and food.
5. Stroll Lelands Historic District
The Leland Historic District, or “Fishtown” as it’s best known, is a historic district in Leland, Michigan that was designated a Michigan State Historic Site in 1973. Today, it’s a charming place packed with 19th-century fishing shanties, quaint little shops, and sublime waterfront views. Once you’ve checked out the sights, consider dialing the excitement up a notch by chartering a fishing boat – even if you don’t manage to catch your dinner, you’ll still have a blast on the water.
4. Tour the Mushroom Houses in Charlevoix
If you want to see something truly extraordinary during your visit to Northern Michigan, head to Charlevoix to check out Earl Young’s wild and wacky Mushroom Houses. You can tour all 28 houses on foot, but to get the most out of the experience, it’s worth riding the tour out in style aboard a cute GEM car. With their stone masonry walls, wavy eaves, melted chimneys, and gnome-like designs, the houses are clearly the product of a very unusual mind. As the homes are rented, you’ll have to contend with viewing them from the outside only. Even so, it’s still a very worthwhile experience.
3. See the sand dunes at Sleeping Bear Dunes
Sleeping Bear Dunes is a National Lakeshore that ranks as one of the most beautiful stretches of sand dunes in the world. The towering dunes are majestic. However, thanks to their 450-foot drops, you’ll need to be fit to enjoy them. Getting to the bottom isn’t a problem, but getting back up requires some serious strength. During winter, the inclines are substantial enough to attract legions of cross country skiers to the area. If you want to extend the fun over a few days, the park boasts plenty of RV and tent camping sites.
2. Explore Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum
You don’t have to be interested in maritime history to get a kick out of Shipwreck Museum, but it does help. Over 100 ships lie scattered around the shore of Whitefish Point. Among their number is the famous “Edmund Fitzgerald,” whose mysterious demise in 1975 inspired Gordon Lightfoot’s song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum boasts hundreds of artifacts recovered from the ships, including the bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald. If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about Lake Superior lighthouses and Great Lakes shipwrecks, it’s well worth a visit. Admission costs $13 for adults and $9 for children aged 17 and under. Children under 5 go free.
1. Chase some waterfalls
Northern Michigan’s natural scenery is legendary, as are the many waterfalls found in the Upper Peninsula. To witness the majesty of the tumbling displays for yourself, head to Tahquamenon Falls in Tahquamenon Falls State Park. The falls consist of two separate waterfalls located on the Tahquamenon River near Lake Superior. As Wikipedia explains, the waterfalls are characterized by their brown hue, a quality that comes from the tannins that leach into the water from the nearby cedar swamps. In tribute to their distinctive coloring, the upper falls have earned the nickname, “The Root Beer Falls”. Once you’re done admiring the falls, take the opportunity to explore the rest of the park. Encompassing almost 50,000 acres stretching over 13 miles, it’s a great place to hike and indulge in some wildlife spotting. Once you’ve had your fill of nature, head to the park’s microbrewery for a refreshing glass of craft beer.