Northern Michigan encompasses the upper part of the state. It is well known for its abundance of pristine forests, tranquil inland lakes, beautiful sandy beaches as well as charming small towns.
This scenic region offers endless options for outdoor recreation and attractions.
In this guide, I’ll highlight the top things to do for an unforgettable Northern Michigan getaway.
Explore Mackinac Island
This car-free island located between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas can only be reached by ferry. You can catch a ferry from Mackinaw City or St. Ignace.
This charming island says no to car. You can walk around, bike or take horse-drawn taxi tours. I dare say this would be one of the most interesting experience you have.
Mackinac Island captures old world charm with Victorian-era architecture and horse-drawn carriages. The historic downtown is filled with fudge shops, restaurants, Victorian homes.
Fort Mackinac was built by the British in 1780s. It is now the island’s museum. They offer various exhibition and historical related programs.
Enjoy scenic walks around the perimeter, visit historic sites like Fort Mackinac, dine at famed Grand Hotel, and indulge in famous fudge shops. Or if you are into walking, take an evening strolls around Perimeter Road to enjoy scenic views.
Hike Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
This national park stretches along Lake Superior’s shoreline near Munising.
Pictured Rocks is prized for multi-colored sandstone cliffs, secluded beaches, wildflowers, waterfalls and lush forests perfect for hiking.
Chapel Rock extends into Lake Superior, accessible by kayak launch.
Miners Castle, a rock formation shaped like turrets, is also a worthwhile destination to visit. Check the tour information before you plan your trip!
If you plan to stay longer on a budget, check out Twelvemile Beach. It offers camping spots along pristine shoreline.
Depending on seasons, you will need to keep an eye out for wildlife like black bears, bobcats, and bald eagles.
Go Wine Tasting on Old Mission Peninsula
Just north of Traverse City, Old Mission Peninsula contains a cluster of over 20 wineries specializing in cool climate varietals.
Have a sip of the award-winning Riesling and Pinot noir while overlooking vineyards and Grand Traverse Bay.
Grand Traverse Bay is also an interesting destination.
The bay is over 30 miles long and 10 miles wide. It is popular for boating, sailing, kayaking and stand up paddleboarding.
Beside water entertainment, you can visit Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum. The museum sits at the tip of Old Mission Peninsula, offering marvelous view.
Popular wineries include Brys Estate, Chateau Chantal and Chateau Grand Traverse, Michigan’s oldest winery.
Most wineries offer vineyard tours and tastings with lake views. And many serve gourmet cuisine using locally sourced ingredients
Relax in Traverse City
Traverse City is the hub for shopping, dining and nightlife in Northern Michigan.
I would recommend walking the waterfront downtown district for a relaxing and calming evening.
You can also tour microbreweries, including include The Filling Station and Right Brain Brewery. Another activity is to cruise on Grand Traverse Bay, or lounge at Clinch Park Beach.
The Walkable riverfront Clinch Park offers swimming beach and playground for both kids and adults.
Nearby Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore offers hiking atop towering dunes with Lake Michigan views.
In Traverse City, National Cherry Festival is held every July with air shows, concerts, races.
See the Stars at Headlands International Dark Sky Park
Headlands International Dark Sky Park has been designated as one of the best places on Earth for viewing the night sky. If you are into stars and planets, this is your place to be.
Located near Mackinaw City, the park has been certified as a Dark Sky Park by the IDA.
You will certainly enjoy stargazing and spotting constellations, planets, meteor showers and the Northern Lights at this prime celestial viewing destination.
Don’t forget to bring binoculars and telescopes to observe celestial sights at night
Mountain Bike at Copper Harbor Trails
Copper Harbor boasts over 40 miles of mountain biking trails catering to all skill levels.
For skillful rider, you can enjoy challenging single-track through remote forests and hilly terrain with views of Lake Superior.
Trail conditions vary from hard-packed to loose rock and roots. Expert riders can test skills at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge Skills Park.
Brockway Mountain Drive is another great option for experienced riders. It offers stunning ridge-top riding with panoramic views
Newbies also finds lots of biking routs that are charming and easy. The Brockway Vista Path is recommended for new riders. Otherwise, nearby Hunter’s Point and Fort Wilkins State Park offer easier trail options.
You’d better rent bikes and check conditions at Copper Harbor Chamber of Commerce before hitting the scenic trails.
Trails accessible spring through fall. The best riding time is late summer or early fall. Don’t forget to pack bug spray, water, snacks for refueling during the ride
Go Agate Hunting at Lake Superior
Are you keen on hunting? Lake Superior, Northen Michigan is a place for you.
Search for the official state gemstone along the shores of Lake Superior, especially near Grand Marais. The best times to search are normally after storms or when changing water levels reveal new stones.
Agates form in hollow pockets of lava and are brought to the beaches by the waves. Look for smooth, colorful banded stones among the pebbles.
Keep your eyes open for colorful jasper, quartz and marble stones polished smooth by the waves.
Superior agates come in hues of red, orange, yellow due to iron content. Other stones found include jasper, quartz, marble, and the rare Yooperlite.
Some of the most well-known spots are Van Riper State Park near Champion and Laughing Whitefish Falls State Park west of Paradise.
You can bring a bag to collect your findings and a small rake to sift through pebbles.
If you are lucky, you can join the annual agate festivals held in Grand Marais and Marquette with tons of interesting activities.
Kayak the Crystal-Clear Waters
The many rivers, lakes and shorelines of Northern Michigan provide stunning kayaking opportunities for beginners and experts.
Popular paddling spots include Torch Lake near Traverse City, Lake Leelanau, Platte River near Sleeping Bear Dunes and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
Visit Charlevoix’s Castle Farms
Address: 5052 M-66, Charlevoix, MI 49720, United States
This sprawling former estate was built in 1918-1925.
It is located near Charlevoix, and modeled after early Renaissance French castles with stone walls. The castle farm showcases antique collections within a European-style stoned castle.
This sprawling property covers over 120 acres, featuring fountains, ponds, stone paths, and immaculate gardens.
Wander through immaculate gardens, fountains and stone paths. The castle interior contains elaborate woodwork, paintings and artifacts from medieval and Renaissance eras. There are Self-guided tours available of the castle interior.
The property opens from April through October. It is closed in winter months.
Take the Ferry to Beaver Island
Catch a ferry from Charlevoix to reach the peaceful, remote island of Beaver.
Visitors can rent bikes, kayaks or golf carts to explore beaches, inland lakes, forests and the quaint town of St. James.
Watch for unique wildlife like wild turkeys exclusive to the island habitat.
Camp Beside the Great Lakes
Pitch a tent or park your RV right along the shorelines of Lake Michigan, Lake Huron or Lake Superior.
Top campground picks include Harrisville State Park, Fisherman’s Island State Park near Charlevoix and Straits State Park with views of Mackinac Bridge.
Nothing beats dining, reading or napping by the sound of gentle waves lapping the lakeshores.
With its wealth of natural scenery, charming small towns, trails, waterways and attractions, Northern Michigan promises an unforgettable Great Lakes vacation.
Revel in the outdoors hiking, biking and kayaking, then unwind with local wine, brews and food. The beauty and adventures are endless in this treasured corner of Michigan.