Nestled in the heart of northern Michigan’s forest region, Grayling is a scenic small town surrounded by the unspoiled beauty of rivers, lakes, and woodlands. Set along the Huron National Forest along the Au Sable River, Grayling has long been a beloved destination for fishing, canoeing, and outdoor recreation. The natural beauty and serenity of the forests and waters seem to move at a slower pace. Locals embrace the Grayling motto “Life is Better Up North” fully.
From scenic snowmobile trails winding through winter wonderlands to summertime festivals celebrating the lush peak season, there are year-round reasons to visit this northern Michigan gem. Known as the “Canoe Capital of the World,” Grayling offers plenty of outdoor recreation and natural beauty. Here’s my guide to the very best things to see and do during your Grayling getaway. Discover the top things to do in Grayling Michigan, and make the most of your visit to this picturesque town. Please join Let’s save Michigan to learn more through this article.
1. Paddle the Au Sable River
The Au Sable River provides some of the best canoeing and kayaking in the Midwest. The designated “Wild and Scenic” river flows over 130 miles from Grayling north to Lake Huron.
Numerous liveries and outfitters in Grayling offer canoe, kayak, tube, and raft rentals for trips along the Au Sable. Beginner-friendly day trips go from Burton’s Landing to Wakeley Bridge.
Multi-day excursions paddle through peaceful forest scenery and small rapids up to the takeout at Mio Pond.
Northern Waters Adventures provides Au Sable River rentals and shuttle services for paddling trips from day trips to overnights. Located right in downtown Grayling.
Gateways Outfitters for renting canoes, kayaks, rafts, tubes, and paddleboards on the Au Sable. Also offers fishing gear and river shuttle services.
2. Fish the Au Sable River
Known as a Blue Ribbon Trout stream, the Au Sable River is revered for its excellent fly fishing. The river is home to healthy populations of rainbow, brown, and brook trout.
Late April to early May is the prime fishing season with the insect hatches. Fly shops in Grayling offer guided wade trips, float trips, gear, and local expertise for the river.
3. Hike Lake Margrethe Loop
This scenic 9.2-mile hiking loop encircles Lake Margrethe just north of Grayling. The trail passes through lush forest, crosses over the lake dam, and provides gorgeous views of the lake from shoreline overlooks. Well-marked and maintained, the loop is very popular for day hiking and mountain biking.
4. Mountain Bike the Vasa Pathway
The Vasa Pathway is a 16-mile single-track mountain biking trail running between the villages of Lake Margrethe and Oscoda. Built for beginner to intermediate riders, the trail winds through rolling forested terrain with some fun technical features along the way.
5. Paddle Lake Margrethe
This scenic 3,260-acre lake north of Grayling is ideal for kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding. The state park offers a sandy public beach, boat launch, and kayak rentals. Margrethe is known for pristine waters, loon calls, and lush wooded shorelines perfect for paddling adventures.
6. Play Disc Golf at Camp Grayling
Regarded as one of the nation’s best disc golf courses, this challenging 54-hole course is set within the rolling wooded hills of the military base. The pro-designed course has multiple tee pads, elevation changes, and scenic views. Open to the public on non-training days.
7. Try Paddling Manistee River
The Manistee River flows over 200 miles across Michigan, offering wonderful multi-day paddling trips. Many Grayling outfitters provide full equipment rentals and shuttle services for Manistee River trips from day outings to 5+ day excursions. Highlights include huge pines, river camps, and views of the Manistee National Forest.
8. Tour Kirtland’s Warbler Habitat
The rare Kirtland’s warbler songbird nests almost exclusively in the Grayling area jack pine forest habitat. Visitors can take guided tours May-July to see these endangered birds firsthand.
The Kirtland’s Warbler Festival held in May also celebrates the species with tours, talks, wildlife viewing, and more.
Guided trips into nesting areas to spot the rare warblers led by expert naturalists. Tours are limited to 12 and fill up fast.
9. Check Out Hartwick Pines Logging Museum
Address: 4216 Ranger Rd, Grayling, MI 49738
Located in the Huron-Manistee National Forest, this outdoor logging museum shows the history of Michigan’s early timber industry. Over 50 historic buildings recreate a century-old logging camp, including bunkhouses, a blacksmith shop, a mess hall, a horse barn, and a steam donkey engine. Open May through October.
10. Go Off-Roading at Pig Gig
Located 10 miles north of Grayling, the Pig Gig ORV riding area offers over 70 miles of designated off-road trails and a single track. The challenging wooded trails are open to 4×4 vehicles, ATVs, dirt bikes, and full-size 4-wheel-drive trucks with valid ORV stickers. Trails range from beginner to difficult.
11. Swim at Beaver Lake Campground
Beaver Lake Campground 11400 Boyne City Rd, Grayling, MI 49738
Popular public swimming and beach area located at Beaver Lake Recreation Area just west of Grayling. The lake has a nice sandy shoreline, grassy picnic areas with BBQ grills, a playground, a snack bar, and a boat launch. Open Memorial Day to Labor Day. $5 daily entry fee.
12. See Animals at River Valley Animal Farms
This unique family-owned farm lets visitors get up close with animals like camels, zebras, water buffalo, yaks, and more. The hands-on animal encounters are fun and educational. Open weekends, Memorial to Labor Day, and by appointment.
13. Go Snowmobiling
With over 2,000 miles of groomed snowmobile trails, the Grayling area offers prime snowmobiling from December through March. Area clubs and lodges maintain the expansive White Pine Trail system winding through the forests. Rentals, service, and guided tours are available in town. Major snowmobile events include the I-500 race and WinterFest.
14. Ski & Snowboard at Hanson Hills
Address: 7601 Old Lake Rd, Grayling, MI 49738
Located just 5 miles south of downtown Grayling, Hanson Hills offers day and night skiing from December through March. The hill has 12 runs plus a terrain park serviced by 3 chairlifts. Equipment rentals and lessons are available at the site.
15. Golf at Grayling Country Club
This scenic 18-hole championship golf course offers bent grass greens and fairways set within northern Michigan woodlands. Amenities include a pro shop, practice green, rental clubs, carts, leagues, clinics, and a grill for post-game refreshments. The public course opens from April through October.
16. Watch Movies at Rialto Theater
Address: 302 Michigan Ave, Grayling, MI 49738
Rialto Theater hosts live music, theater performances, films, comedy shows, and community events year-round. The 344-seat theater features an orchestra pit and vintage stage dressing rooms.
The theater has a ballroom and art gallery attached. There is also a concession stand serving snacks and drinks.
In addition to bringing in touring performers and bands, the Rialto also partners with local arts groups for youth theater, battle of the bands, open mic nights, and other community events.
17. Grab a Pint at Lake Margrethe Brewing
This popular microbrewery overlooking Lake Margrethe serves craft beers and ales made in-house. Sip a flight or pint at the tasting room bar and grab some food from the rotating selection of food trucks outside. Family and pet-friendly.
18. Dine & Shop Downtown
Downtown Grayling is centered along James Street, offering a nice selection of local restaurants, cafes, brewpubs, and shops to browse.
Some top picks include Michigan on Main, Casa Lasagna, Octopi Brewing Co., Sweet Dreams Chocolate Shop, Maggie’s Gourmet Pretzels, and Grayling Antique Marketplace. The Riverhouse Arts Center also has exhibitions and events.
19. Camp at North Higgins Lake State Park
Just 11 miles south of Grayling, this large state park offers campsites right on the shores of pristine Higgins Lake.
Sites range from wooded wilderness walk-ins to full RV hook-up spots. The park has picnic areas, a playground, a boat launch, and 3 miles of hiking trails.
20. Take a Scenic Train Ride – Things to Do in Grayling Michigan
Ride this historic train pulled by an authentic 1923 steam locomotive on sightseeing trips through the Au Sable River valley from Grayling to Roscommon. Seasonal-themed rides like the Pumpkin Express are also offered.
With its pristine rivers, scenic lakes, trails, and quaint downtown, Grayling provides the perfect base camp for exploring the forests, waterways, and wildlife of Michigan’s north.
Paddling, fishing, hiking, biking, and winter recreation abound. Hopefully, this list gives you lots of great ideas to experience the natural wonders and attractions of Grayling during your visit!