Michigan’s mojo comes from its beaches, forests and small towns. Visitors often are surprised to learn that four of the five Great Lakes clasp the state and that more than half of it is covered by timberland.
What’s a visitor to do amid all of this natural bounty? We’ve got answers, and don’t worry, you’ll get an urban fix, too. Here are the best places to visit in Michigan.
Best place for art and nightlife
It’s hard not to fall for the infectious, can-do spirit of Detroit. The edgy public art scene meets you at every turn, from the multi-block, polka-dotted Heidelberg Project to the 100-plus murals remaking the warehouses of Eastern Market. Traditionalists can ogle one of the world’s best collections at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
Come nighttime, the city rocks, and live music spills out of clubs like Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, a stuck-in-time jazz hotbed. Design hotels and homey restaurants in once-abandoned buildings add to the buzz.
Planning tip: Detroit is easy on the wallet, with plenty of free things to do.
2. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Best place for days at the beach
One of Michigan’s unheralded national parks, Sleeping Bear Dunes spreads across 35 miles of prime Lake Michigan shoreline. There are two main ways to absorb the true-blue lake views. One is the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, a 7-mile, one-lane, picnic-grove-studded loop. The other is the Dune Climb, which entails slogging up a 200ft-high sand pile. It will punish your leg muscles, but the summit view of panoramic, Caribbean-hued water is worth it.
The park’s 14 beaches and 100 miles of forested hiking trails provide more gorgeous vistas, and many families return here year after year to enjoy them.
3. Traverse City
Best place for couples
It may only have about 15,000 residents, but Traverse City is northern Michigan’s “big” city, with the superb restaurants and cool-cat shops to prove it. Beach lounging, parasailing, cycling bucolic trails and kayaking to breweries with outfitters like Paddle TC provide the action.
Detour: Vineyards blanket the nearby Old Mission Peninsula, where ten wineries in 18 miles pour chardonnays and pinot noirs. The area has the same microclimate as France's Bordeaux and Italy’s Piedmont regions, and the results are equally delicious. Brys Estate and Peninsula Cellars show how it’s done, with bottles perfect for a beach picnic.
4. Mackinac Island
Best place for families
A zippy 20-minute ferry ride from the mainland, Mackinac Island is a petite charmer speckled with fudge shops, Victorian cottages and 18th-century hilltop forts. Cars are banned, and all travel is by horse-drawn carriage or bicycle, enhancing the time-warp vibe.
It only takes an hour to cycle around the island — it’s one of Michigan’s top experiences — but allow more time and detour to Fort Mackinac, where costumed interpreters fire cannons (always a big kid pleaser).
Planning tip: Mackinac hushes at night after the day trippers depart, and a million stars blink in the dark sky.
5. Isle Royale National Park
Best place for unspoiled wilderness
Morning fog wisps over the lake. You hear sloshing on the shore and see a moose plop in for a drink. A loon calls – or is it a wolf howling? Either is probable on Isle Royale, one of the least-visited national parks in the US.
The 45-mile-long island floats by its lonesome in Lake Superior, a three- to six-hour ferry ride from Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. The unspoiled forest has no roads – just 165 miles of hiking trails, 36 rustic campgrounds and one lone lodge. Treks range from the multi-day, island-spanning Greenstone Ridge Trail to the easy-but-dramatic Stoll Trail.
Best place for LGBTQI+ travelers
Known for its golden beaches, piney breezes, fruit pies and a welcome-one-welcome-all mindset, Saugatuck draws boatloads of vacationers. Oval Beach ranks among Michigan's best for its soft sand and psychedelic sunsets. For a dramatic entrance, take the clackety Saugatuck Chain Ferry from downtown, then follow the path up and over the dunes. Artists can seek out the century-old Ox-Bow school in the woods for painting, glass blowing and metalsmithing lessons.
Planning tip: LGBTQI-friendly businesses proliferate in the area, including The Dunes, one of the country’s largest LGBTQI resorts.
7. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Best place for kayaking and boating
This area of cliffs and caves shimmering with wild colors is the Upper Peninsula’s top sight. The optics come from blue and green minerals that streak the red and yellow sandstone into an artist’s palette of hues. See them from the water to get the full scope.
Pictured Rocks Kayaking and other outfitters can set you up to paddle among arches, caverns, waterfalls and rock formations with names like Lovers Leap and Flower Vase. If that’s too much work, take a seat on Pictured Rock Cruises or glass-bottom Shipwreck Tours as they glide by the marvels.
8. Grand Rapids
Best place for craft beer breweries
The second-largest city in Michigan, Grand Rapids has gotten its groove on thanks to beer. Around 25 craft breweries operate in the city proper, plus heaps more in nearby towns. The Ale Trail takes you there. There are so many breweries around town that you can walk between many of them, and the bonus is the beers are relatively inexpensive. Brewery Vivant is foremost among the lineup, pouring Belgian-style suds in an atmospheric old chapel.
Detour: When you get off the barstool, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park awaits, where you can nose through exotic landscapes and eyeball works by world-famous chiselers.
9. Keweenaw Peninsula
Best place for fall colors
The rugged timberland of the Keweenaw Peninsula sits at the very top of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The region was once the world's greatest copper producer, and Keweenaw National Historic Park tells the story. But what you’re really here for is the Brockway Mountain Drive, which climbs high in the sky.
The 10-mile jaunt shows off terrific views of Lake Superior and is particularly stunning in early October when the leaves flame bright. The outdoorsy towns of Houghton and Copper Harbor bookend the peninsula. Both have breweries, snowboarding, mountain biking and ferries that sail to Isle Royale.
Best place for camping
Yes, the city of Holland is named after the European country. And yes, it has tulips, windmills and clogs in kitschy abundance. The real selling point, though, is Holland State Park.
Its sprawling beaches are among the state's most popular, where vacationers come to splash in the waves, fish off the pier, hoist a sail, admire fiery sunsets and snap photos of Big Red, the lighthouse that watches over it all.
Planning tip: Camping is a must, especially in the beachside campgrounds a stone’s throw from Lake Michigan.
Best place for adrenaline sports
Want to explore the Upper Peninsula in all of its rugged, remote, independent-minded glory? Marquette makes a perfect base. It's the UP’s largest town and an adventure sports hotspot. Locals ski, snow bike and explore ice caves in winter, and kayak, rock climb and mountain bike in summer.
Much of the action happens at Presque Isle Park, a cliffy patch of forest jutting into Lake Superior north of downtown. Nearby Sugar Loaf Mountain offers easy hiking trails and glimpses of the northern lights. Everyone gathers at Black Rocks Brewery to discuss their feats and their bruises afterward.