Is Northern Michigan Worth a Visit?
Northern Michigan often falls off the radar of RV road trips.
After all, it goes as far north as bordering Canada. There’s a limited window of optimum weather, and it’s a bit off the beaten path from typical RV routes.
So is Northern Michigan a destination you should add to your plans? Keep reading to find out.
Is Northern Michigan Worth a Visit?
We’ll cut to the punch line. Northern Michigan is one of the most beautiful places in the northern U.S. With lakes, forests, dunes, and more, it’s worth more than one visit.
Northern Michigan comprises the northern portion of Michigan’s Lower and Upper Peninsula. The famous Mackinac Bridge connects the peninsulas. As a result, any type of traveler can find enjoyment in the region.
If you’re an adventurer, you can access hiking, biking, rock climbing, and every type of water sport. In addition, there are countless opportunities to learn about Michigan’s past, from forts and museums to lighthouses and local history. And if you want to relax and refresh, you’ll always be close to a beach or nature. There are also numerous wineries, breweries, restaurants, and shops.
What’s the Best Time of Year to Visit Northern Michigan?
You can visit Northern Michigan year-round. We recommend planning your trip based on the activities you want to do. Summers are warm and the most common time to visit. It’s the best time to participate in water sports and check out some tourist spots that are only open from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
The spring and fall seasons are less crowded than summer, and temperatures are cooler. If you enjoy hiking, this can be a great time to escape the heat and humidity.
However, winter is the perfect time to visit for adventure seekers. You can go snowshoeing, skiing, or snowmobiling. Limited campgrounds remain open outside of the summer season, but you can find some primitive sites and hotels.
Best Things to Do in Northern Michigan’s Lower Peninsula
Northern Michigan’s Lower Peninsula has a national park, wineries, and much more. Check out the five best things to do.
See Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a wonderland of sandy bluffs cascading into Lake Michigan, some of which stand 450 feet above the Great Lake. The national shoreline comprises more than 100 square miles and includes inland lakes, forests, and wildlife.
You can take in the national lakeshore on a day trip by driving through and stopping at lookouts along the way. Or try some short hikes or dune climbs. But if you want to enjoy all that Sleeping Bear Dunes has to offer, we recommend two to four days.
There are many activities you can do in the area. For example, embark on a geological tour or hike one of the many trails in the park. You can also participate in water sports such as scuba diving in shipwrecks, swimming, fishing, and kayaking.
Pro Tip: While traveling through Michigan make sure to seek out these 7 Amazing Waterfalls in Michigan.
Take in the History at Charlevoix
Charlevoix is a quaint small town on the shores of Lake Michigan. It has a culture and history that draws people from around the world. For example, Ernest Hemingway, the famous writer, spent much of his childhood in Charlevoix and married his first wife in the city. You can view the original marriage license at the Historical Society.
Castle Farms is a popular attraction in Charlevoix. Built in 1918, it was a working dairy farm owned by the then-president of Sears, Roebuck & Co. You can now take a tour through it and learn about the history as you take in the buildings and gardens.
Another fun activity is a self-guided tour of the mushroom houses. You can walk or bike by these iconic houses designed by Earl Young in the early 1900s. He was an artist who didn’t use blueprints, so his structures are each unique architectural treasures. He used limestone fieldstone, and boulders that he found throughout Northern Michigan.
Visit Petoskey, Michigan
Petoskey sits on the clear blue waters of Little Traverse Bay in Northern Michigan. It was named after the Ottawa Indian Chief Pe-to-se-ga. The Petoskey Stone became Michigan’s State Stone in 1965. A popular activity is hunting for the stones on the shore.
Petoskey has loads of things to do, and it’s a popular summer destination for water sport enthusiasts. Since it’s on a bay, the waters tend to be calm and warmer for Lake Michigan this far north. As a result, kayaking and boating are a way of life here. You can also take a ferry from Petoskey to Beaver Island.
Beaver Island, the “Emerald Isle,” has shops, eateries, and lots of recreational opportunities. It’s a popular destination for hikers and paddlers. Best of all, it’s unspoiled and away from the city lights for fantastic stargazing of the night skies.
See Traverse City
Traverse City is a perfect place to base yourself in Northern Michigan. Home of the famous Cherry Festival and winery-central, you’ll likely want to stay for a week or more. There’s a state park campground right in town, providing you easy access to shops, restaurants, beaches, wineries, and more.
Old Mission Point in Traverse City is famous for its wineries. Sitting on the 45th parallel gives Traverse City the optimum microclimate for growing grapes. You can visit the winery tasting rooms on your own or take a wine tour. Tours typically visit four to five wineries, and some will pick you up and drop you off at your campground or hotel. The Old Mission Point Lighthouse sits at the end of the peninsula. It’s worth a stop for great views of the bays on either side of the peninsula and to learn about its history.
Traverse City also has a great shopping district. Downtown provides local shops, restaurants, breweries, and entertainment. You can stop at places like the Cherry Republic to stock up on all things cherry. Traverse City puts on the National Cherry Festival each year.
Spend a Day on Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island is a tourist destination in Lake Huron. There are no cars on the island, but lots of locally made fudge. You can access the island via ferry from Mackinaw City on the tip of Northern Michigan’s lower peninsula or from St. Ignace, which lies just over the Mackinac Bridge into Upper Peninsula. It’s only accessible by ferry from late spring to early fall.
When you step off the ferry and onto the island, you’ll traverse into another world. Shops line streets that look more suitable for horse-drawn carriages than cars. You may smell the horses first, but you’ll smell the handmade fudge next. Stock up before you head back to the mainland.
There are several landmarks of historical significance around the island. We recommend stopping by the Grand Hotel. If there’s not an event going on, you can typically take a peek inside. The view from the front porch is worth a visit. The hotel opened in 1887 and has welcomed politicians and celebrities. It’s also the backdrop to some Hollywood movies.
Biking around the eight-mile-long shoreline is one of the most popular activities. You can rent a bike or bring your own over on the ferry. The loop has opportunities for stopping or a swim.
What to See on Northern Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
Northern Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is wild and free. With unspoiled forests and shoreline, it makes for a great getaway. Check out these four destinations on your visit.
Tour Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore sits on Lake Superior. It has sandstone cliffs, dunes, waterfalls, beaches, forests, and wildlife. You could spend days exploring the area.
The best time to visit is in the summer months when Lake Superior, the coldest of the Great Lakes, is tolerable for a swim. One of the best ways to see the cliffs of Pictured Rocks is from the water. You can take a kayak trip or boat tour. The boat cruises include narration that provides a history of the area.
The national lakeshore also provides opportunities for hiking, fishing, bird watching, and biking. You can stay at a campground or try some backcountry camping.
Observe the Soo Locks
The Soo Locks are in Sault Ste Marie, Northern Michigan. Built in the mid-1800s, they’re an engineering marvel. The locks help freighters move through the St. Marys River, allowing them to go from Duluth, Minn., all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. About 7,000 vessels pass through the Soo Locks every year, equating to about 86 million tons of cargo.
You can view the operation from the Soo Locks Park. Or you can take a boat tour and experience what it’s like to go through the Locks. The tours are educational and entertaining, and you can choose from a Soo Locks tour, lighthouse tour, or dinner cruise.
Sault Ste Marie has grocery stores, service stations, and restaurants if you’re planning an overnight stay. It’s also the Upper Peninsula’s gateway into Canada. The International Bridge starts in Sault Ste Marie and connects Michigan to Canada.
See Tahquamenon Falls
Tahquamenon Falls State Park is home to beautiful natural waterfalls. If you’re in the Upper Peninsula, this destination is well worth a day trip or a longer stay. The state park is approximately 50,000 acres, with the Tahquamenon River running through it. The river creates large waterfalls. The Upper Falls drops 50 feet and spans more than 200 feet across. You can view it from multiple overlooks.
The Lower Falls lies four miles downriver from the Upper Falls. They’re made up of five small falls around an island. You can go out to the island by rowboat, which you can rent in the park.
The park has more than 35 miles of hiking trails. It’s a great destination for bird and wildlife watchers as well. You might spot black bears, coyotes, otters, deer, and occasionally moose. There’s also a variety of waterfowl. You may even catch a bald eagle.
Visit Kitch-iti-Kipi Springs
Kitch-iti-Kipi Springs near Indian Lake is a delightful stop in the Upper Peninsula. It’s Michigan’s largest freshwater spring at 200 feet across and 40 feet deep. Water gushes out of fissures in the limestone at more than 10,000 gallons per minute.
You can take an observation raft across the crystal clear water. It allows you to see deep into the water and view the century’s old tree trunks around the spring. One of the water’s main attractions is the trout.
Pro Tip: Make your Michigan adventure even more spectacular by seeing the northern lights! Read more to find out How You Can See the Northern Lights in Michigan.
We Think Northern Michigan is Worth the Visit
If Northern Michigan didn’t convince you before, we hope you now see that it’s worth a visit. There are countless things to do and see that will keep you occupied for days. Which of these destinations will you add to your Northern Michigan road trip checklist?
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