We have been getting to know Michigan over the past few weeks and have enjoyed discovering it’s many facets. In this article we’ll take you along our trail up Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.
When we entered southern Michigan it felt a lot like northern Indiana. We had yet to develop a relationship with the landscape and as we approached our first destination in the small town of Sparta we started to soften to its beauty. We found ourselves on a small family farm, tucked between apple orchards and rolling farm land. We soon learned, Michigan ranks 3rd in the nations apple production!
About 15 miles down the road lies Grand Rapids, the largest city in West Michigan. As we approached the city, history practically came alive in the red brick streets and and the ornate buildings. Around every corner remnants of the past are faded on its walls, a furniture store or factory long since forgotten and reincarnated as a hip microbrewery. A walk along the banks of the Grand River gave way to a different kind of history, a home to mound builders, a thriving community to indigenous peoples and trade hub for fur traders spanning thousands of years before we wandered the very same streets.
On this very day, the street were alive with with food venders and musicians. We had stumbled into a festival in full swing and people were buzzing about happily with lemonade and pretzels in hand.
From our next campground we ventured into the town of Manistee. The downtown ran parallel to the river and the storefronts were reminiscent of small Desert towns like Bisbee. We stopped for lunch at the Iron Works cafe, where we had an amazing mushroom and asparagus soup. All their ingredients were locally grown and all their proceeds went to hunger relief projects. Now that’s a meal you can feel good about.
Our next stop landed is in the town of Frankfort. The small tourist town was filled with souvenir shops and ice cream parlors. There was no shortage of large grassy parks and playgrounds along the marina. Not to mention a huge beach area with the most fantastic view of the lighthouse. The turquoise waters of Lake Michigan smashed against the rocks of the jetty and people lounged lazily in the sun. The perfect place to get lost in your thoughts awhile.
Empire & Sleeping Bear Dunes
We made our way to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, where we set up camp in Empire. We spent days hiking different trails, leading to breathtaking overlooks of crystal blue water and white sandy bluffs sweeping out in all directions below us.
Those cool waters greeted us again in Traverse City, just 20 miles away. Sailboats crisscrossed the Grand Traverse Bay and sunbathers gathered on boats and lined the beaches. A short walk across the street transforms the scene from green parks and beaches to bustling businesses and crowded sidewalks. Shop windows displayed an array of high-end, locally crafted goods and handprinted t-shirts. Many restaurants offered healthy vegetarian and gluten-free options and brew pubs were plentiful, exuding a cool ambiance to passers by.
Another 15 miles along the peninsula of Old Mission Point led us on a most scenic drive between orchards and vineyards overlooking the coast on either side. Our drive ended at the Mission Point Lighthouse, where I slipped out of my shoes and waded into that hypnotic blue water, with River bounding along beside me, to feel the sand between our toes.
We have been told to visit Mackinaw countless times in the past few months. It was a small tourist town with a fudge shop every few feet. It wasn’t quite our speed, so we made our way over to the Old Mackinac Pointe lighthouse. It was a beautiful old brick lighthouse and was surrounded by grassy parks and turquoise beaches.
We didn’t make it to Mackinaw Island because tickets on the ferry were a bit too expensive for our budget at the time. Fortunately, we found a nice little boondocking spot just three miles from town!
Our final stop before heading into the UP was the low key town of Cheboygan. We stayed at a waterfront RV park where boats passed lazily in front of the docks and a 60 mile hiking/bike trail ran just behind the park. We woke up early one day and went into town to explore. It was a busy day downtown, with an arts and craft festival and a vintage car show just down the road. Adjacent to the car show was a large parking lot where a community yard sale was being held. There was so much to do in such a small area, and just another block away there was a weekend farmers market with local goodies to choose from!
The LP was full of new experiences and we can’t wait to continue north to see what else Michigan has in store for us.
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