A Dozen Hidden Travel Gems In Michigan

The 11th largest state by size, Michigan is surrounded by the massive Great Lakes and also boasts more than 26,000 inland lakes greater than an acre in size. So, when it comes to raw materials, this state is a veritable water wonderland. Beyond the lakes, though, there are many travel gems in Michigan for new visitors, including some top notch accommodations.

While we know a thing or two about Michigan, we figured we’d go right to the source to find the best of the best. So, in putting this post together we pointed Michigan’s residents to a list of some of the more popular destinations in the state and asked them, “If you had to pitch one under the radar getaway to someone not from Michigan, what would it be?” Here were their responses, annotated with some insider tips from local gurus. If you’ve got other ideas, please feel free to share in the comments!

Frankenmuth

Frankenmuth is well known among Michiganders as a sort of mini-Bavaria. The little town is built for tourism and is teeming with old-school German shops and restaurants, with Zehnder’s and their chicken dinners being the most popular stop for visitors.

Another big draw for out of towners is the world’s largest Christmas store, Bronner’s. If you love the holidays this will make your head spin, as it’s one and a half football fields worth of holiday cheer…and that’s a lot. CNBC even paid a visit, check it out.

Insider’s Tip: Ashley from Frankenmuth.org let us in on even more about Michigan’s Little Bavaria. Zehnder’s and the Bavarian Inn, for example, are the only two Michigan restaurants on the “Top 100 Independent Restaurants of America list.” Zehnder’s also claims the title of “America’s largest family-owned restaurant.” And don’t forget to keep an eye out for the Mascot of the town, Fritz, who proudly welcomes bar patrons at the Roof Garten Lounge. Stay in the loop by following Frankenmuth.org on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Petoskey

With the popular destination of Traverse City to the west, many visitors don’t realize how close they are to this little slice of heaven in the northwest corner of Michigan’s lower peninsula. As you can see in the photo, the shoreline in Petoskey is breathtaking as it sits on the Little Traverse Bay off of Lake Michigan.

This is an excellent spot for history buffs, as the Little Traverse History Museum features an exhibit on Ernest Hemingway and his time in Michigan. More traditional vacationers will love the all-seasons activities, including water sports, winter sports, biking and hiking.

Petoskey is also a hotspot for food, with the creative menu offerings of Julienne Tomatoes and top-notch ethnic cuisine at the Polish Kitchen (try the Pierogi Sampler) and Mim’s Mediterranean Grill. Foodies will not be disappointed on a culinary tour of Petoskey.

Insider’s Tip: Who better to reach out too for great things to do in Petoskey than Diane from Petoskeyarea.com? Starting off her list was The Little Traverse Wheelway, a 23-mile trail running along the bay stretching from Charlevoix to Harbor Springs. Other outdoor adventures showcasing the beauty of the area include: Bear River Valley Recreational Park, Petoskey State Park and the Nature Preserves. For those not into the outdoor scene, the area is home to great wineries, rich history, and local art.

Ludington

With all of that water, Michigan, of course, has some amazing shoreline. For those with a love of being on or around the water, Ludington is an excellent choice for a weekend away in Michigan. Beyond the beautiful beaches (Stearns Park even has free parking!), Ludington is a popular destination for anglers as it’s the top salmon port on all of Lake Michigan. Charter fishing options are plentiful as well. For non-lake fishing, the Pere Marquette River is nearby and offers excellent fishing as well.

Ludington’s two lighthouses are also popular with visitors, as the North Breakwater Light and Big Sable Point Lighthouse offer tours throughout the summer.

For some sweet treats, you can’t go wrong with the House of Flavors. The menu is full of specialty sandwiches and homemade soups, but the ice cream is what you’ll find people talking about the most. They even have an ice cream menu!

Insider’s Tip: Barry Neal from the aforementioned House of Flavors shared his thoughts on things to see in the area, “House of Flavors was ranked in the top 5 ice cream parlors in the State of Michigan; Mitten Bar was ranked as one of the best small town bars in the United States; our beaches consistently rank among the best in the United States; we are home to the SS Badger, the only coal-powered car ferry still operating on the Great Lakes; we are home of Michigan’s largest “ball” that drops at midnight on New Years Eve; our Gus Macker tournament is the most favored Macker in the world; we are home to History Prize which launches in 2016, and the list goes on.

You can get a sense of our community at PureLudington.com.”

We got even more insider tips from Lynne Stechschulte of visitludington.com.

“Ludington is also famous for the Ludington State Park – 5,300 acres with over 18 miles of marked trails, a dam, lighthouse, marked canoe trail, beach house, a lazy river great for tubing, and more.

There are many self-guided tours and attractions in the Ludington area, including:
the Historic White Pine Village, the sculptures of Waterfront Park, the Lumber Heritage TrailQuilt Barn trailAgricultural TrailLakewinds Energy Park, and Pumped Storage Plant.

Ludington has a vibrant arts scene, and a very walkable downtown, complete with lodging, dining, shopping, entertainment, and beautiful waterfront scenery.”

Boyne City

While Michigan is mostly known as a relatively flat state, there are some opportunities further north for skiing, with Boyne being one of them. A popular destination for people visiting the area is the Boyne Mountain Resort. This facility has a little something for the whole family, from top-notch golf, skiing and even an indoor water park. Like most of Michigan, Boyne is also a great place to get out on the water, as it sits right on Lake Charlevoix just off of Little Traverse Bay.

Boyne’s festivals are also a lot of fun for visitors, with the Winter Festival offering a ton of activities for people who enjoy getting outside during the winter months. Take in a sleigh ride, go ice skating or test out some of the finest wines in the Midwest at a wine tasting.

While you’re in town make sure you take some time to check out local shops like the Boyne Country Provisions and Wine Emporium & Market. The name’s a mouthful, and so is the food! Incredible baked goods make this a can’t miss spot.

Insider’s Tip: Eric Snider of Pierson’s Grille and Spirits recommended their own location for top notch spirits, food and live music and also offered up Cafe Sante as a recommended place to eat for exceptional ambiance, a nice selection of cocktails and an eclectic menu. Red Mesa Grill is another hot spot known for their Mexican food and top notch margaritas.

Pictured Rocks

If you’re not afraid of a little bit of travel and you love a little peace, tranquility and natural beauty, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore has it in spades. While the area is quite well known in the region, particularly to photographers, it may not have the national recognition you’d expect once you’ve had the opportunity to see it. The natural beauty speaks for itself. Just check out some of the images in this video.

As mentioned, it’s a bit of a hike up to Pictured Rocks, as it sits on the northern coast of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. But if you’re looking for some amazing hiking or scenic cruises, it’s well worth the time it takes to get there. The cruises in particular offer photography buffs a chance for some amazing material.

While most people head to the area for the sites, there are also some tasty eats in nearby Munising including Main Street Pizza, one of the best pizza joints in the state.

Insider’s Tip: We reached out to Brenda from the National Parks Service who was happy to share her tips for a great time. For outdoorsy types, she recommends taking a look at the in-depth Backcountry planning guide which is full of great information about visiting the area all year round. For families, the Family Activities guide has plenty of ideas and activities that are fun for all ages.

Keep up with the National Parks Service on Twitter and Facebook.

Glen Arbor

Sleeping Bear Dunes was recently voted as the most beautiful place in the United States by Good Morning America, and with good reason. Right down the road from this American treasure lies the town of Glen Arbor, making it a great place to stay if you want to take the family or your special someone on a day trip to the dunes.

Like many places on this list, the beaches in Glen Arbor are amazing. In Summer, you can spend all day at the beach and catch a breathtaking sunset. Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter, if you’re into the outdoors Glen Arbor has activities for nearly everyone. Hiking, biking, water sports, or skiing. If those activities aren’t your cup of tea, try the local shops and restaurants, full of local favorites like Blu – a restaurant offering views of the dunes along with a James Beard nomination for their food. Glen Arbor is known around Michigan as a fantastic weekend getaway, and it’s time non-Michiganders found out.

Insider’s Tip: Andrew from Cherry Republic was so kind to let us in on some of the great hidden gems in the area on top of visiting their treat filled shop in Glen Arbor. Those looking to check out the Sleeping Bear dunes have a multitude of options starting with hiking the often over-looked Alligator Hill, taking a breathtaking scenic drive or stretching their legs on the Heritage Trail.

Torch Lake

Another entry from Michigan’s northwest corner, Torch Lake is surrounded by laid back towns full of laid back people. In the Summer, the lake is full of boats and people having a good time hanging out with friends or enjoying fishing or water sports. The 4th of July, in particular, is when Torch Lake comes to life.

Northern Michigan stands in contrast to much of the flatter Lower Peninsula, making for some incredibly scenic golf courses, fabulous hiking, and scenery. The Coy Mountain Trail offers 17 acres of protected virgin hardwoods, full of indigenous wildlife, trees, shrubs, and amazing flowers. This is a popular spot for people from downstate to keep a lakehouse and soak up the Summer sun and the slower local lifestyle. If you want to hit the water in a kayak or a paddle board, or just need some direction on where to do what on the lake, check out one of the two Alden Outfitters locations, they’ll get you hooked up with what you need.

Aside from leisurely pursuits, there are plenty of options for food and shopping, like Mrs. Pete’s Restaurant in Bellaire, a popular spot for a heaping portion of breakfast goodies. If you like a tasty drink, one of the country’s leading craft breweries is down the road and you can try some of Short’s Brewing Company’s award winning beers.

A short trip from Traverse City, a stay on Torch lake provides you access to fun events like the Traverse City Film Festival and the Cherry Festival, as well as other nearby areas also on this list like Petoskey.

The Michigan Wine Trail

Wine, in Michigan? While it might seem a little off the wall if you’re not familiar with the state, Michigan produces a lot of wine. In fact, Michigan is the fourth largest grape-growing state in the country with nearly 15,000 vineyards and contributes more than $300 million to the Michigan economy. As it turns out, the surrounding lakes and sandy soil mimic popular winegrape regions in Europe and allows Michigan to make some high-quality wine.

Start out at Fenn Valley Vineyards, one of Michigan’s oldest wineries. Fenn Valley is a legitimate estate winery, meaning they do everything from growing grapes to bottling finished product. Cellar and vineyard tours are offered on weekends year around.

With 15 wineries along this trail in Southwest Michigan, it’s one of the Midwest’s biggest hot spots for wine. A short jaunt around the lake from Chicago and a short trip from Michigan’s second-largest city, Grand Rapids, the wine trail makes a great destination or day trip from one of these cities.

Insider’s Tip: Brian Lesperance of Fenn Valley vineyards shared his thoughts on some other great things to take in around the wine trail:

“A longtime favorite is Crane’s – an authentic combo of orchard and restaurant. Crane’s recently joined the hard cider movement and offers a great selection of handcrafted ciders and wines. Speaking of cider, your trip to Fennville should also include a stop at Virtue Cider, a new producer featuring European-style beverages in a relaxed atmosphere. What pairs well with wine and cider, cheese of course! Fennville is also home to Evergreen Lane Farm & Creamery an artisan cheese producer with a cheese tasting room. Finally wrap up your trip with dinner at Salt of the Earth, a renowned farm-to-fork restaurant featuring rustic food prepared from locally sourced ingredients.”

Belle Isle

If you’re not familiar with Detroit you’re definitely not familiar with Belle Isle. But if you’re visiting Michigan’s largest city and metro area, Belle Isle has a lot worth checking out. As America’s largest city-owned island park, these 982 acres are home to some impressive sites and fun events.

With a view of the Detroit skyline and the Ambassador Bridge, it’s a nice enough place to just walk around and take in the views. For history buffs there’s the Dossin Great Lakes Museum which holds some amazing history of the boats and people who spent time on the Great Lakes. The Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory houses a variety of tropical plants and is modeled after Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.

For racing fans, there’s the Belle Isle Grand Prix, pictured above. So, if you want a different side of Detroit, Belle Isle is highly recommended.

Insider’s Tip: For insider tips on Belle Isle we got the dish from August Gitschlag, Hamtramck City Clerk, who explained, “Belle Isle has definitely changed since the State took control of the park in 2012 – “Hipster Beach” isn’t as hip, the summer evening hip hop hangout scene is considerably tame compared to what it used to be, and gaining illegal access to the urban ruins of the old Belle Isle Zoo is all but impossible now. However, there is an increased DNR presence, and the park’s notoriously neglected facilities have received excellent upgrades. My favorite part of the island is the Northern tip, just past the old Livingston Light House. There are small trails that lead you to the waterfront, where one can sit and watch Lake St Clair empty into the Detroit River, and get up close and personal with the freighter traffic. Great spot for pictures or just a little mental lunch with a book on a warm day.”

Tawas

While the Lake Michigan coast gets a lot of love from the people we surveyed, Tawas is a great representation of the east side of the state. Tawas contains a lot of what you find in Michigan’s great northern and western getaways, but in a destination that’s quicker to get to. Less than three hours from Detroit or two hours from Flint, Tawas is a short drive from two of the state’s bigger airports.

Tawas is located in one of the best hunting areas in the state, making it a popular destination during deer season. Located on the Tawas Bay of Lake Huron, it’s also an incredible spot for fishing.

If you’re a fan of music, you might want to line your trip up to overlap the annual Blues on the Bay Festival held in August each year. If you’re a birder, the Tawas Point Birding Festival brings in top-notch speakers to go along with tours and workshops each May. This year’s event is scheduled for May 14-17.

What else does Tawas have to offer? We’ll let Tim Allen explain.

Insider’s Tip: Jonathan Lutz of the Michigan Audobon, provided some tips from his work with the Point Birding Festival, “We have good relationships with and recommend Mr. Jack’ss Sports Bar and Grille and Hsing’s Garden as fun, reliable eateries. We also value the local outdoors knowledge of the folks at Nordic Sports.”

“In addition to the festival offerings, we encourage folks to participate in guided tours of the Kirtland’s Warbler breeding and management areas (tours depart from Mio and Grayling). The Kirtland’s Warbler is an Endangered Species that breeds almost exclusively in Michigan’s northern lower peninsula; birders from around the world visit the state each year between May 15 and July 4 to view the birds in their breeding habitat.”

“Finally, a visit to Iosco County isn’t complete without experiencing the Au Sable River. There is a driving route that includes stops and overlooks of the river valley (and viewing of Trumpeter Swans and Bald Eagles), and there are several canoe liveries that rent watercraft and provide shuttle services to eager paddlers.”

Tahquamenon Falls

With all this water there should be some cool waterfalls, right? If you answered yes, congratulations. The Falls are among the highest East of the Mississippi and fortunately for travelers, they’re open year round.

Each season offers something a bit different at the Falls. Guided hikes are popular during the summer, and the area is excellent for hiking and other outdoor activities if that’s more your speed. Autumn offers spectacular views and exceptional opportunities for photographers to grab a once in a lifetime shot. The winter brings in snowmobilers and cross-country skiers, who can also take in some amazing views of the falls as things begin to freeze over. Check out this picture of the falls in the winter to see what we’re talking about.

If you want to take a hike you can do the full tour in, under and over the lower falls. The more rugged terrain of the Upper Peninsula offers some amazing scenery and one of the best is Tahquamenon Falls.

The falls are the destination but be sure to check out the brewery attached to the park for a quick refreshment on the way in or on the way out.

Insider’s Tip: Jon Brown from the Newberry Tourism Association offered up the inside scoop on some of the area’s other attractions, “For under the radar activities, we have plenty from businesses that provide dog sledding tours (Nature’s Kennel), Oswald’s Bear Ranch, which takes in rescued black bears and allows people to view the bears in several acre natural habitat enclosures. We also have a large number of lighthouses in the area that can be toured as well as miles upon miles of unspoiled Lake Superior shoreline.”

Porcupine Mountains

Yes, Michigan also has mountains. Located on the shores of Lake Superior, the Porcupine Mountains offer some of the most unique terrain and wildlife anywhere in the country. A trip to the Porcupines will allow you to take in beaches, rivers, nearly untouched hardwood forests, a number of mines, and even waterfalls. Not what the average traveler would think of when Michigan is mentioned as a destination.

There’s an immense amount of natural beauty, and if you like to get outdoors at any time of the year, the Porcupines have a lot to offer. If you’re interested in seeing some unique wildlife, you can find black bears, moose, otters, timberwolves, and a vast array of birds. If you prefer to take in some fishing, the salmon are plentiful. If you just want to take in the sites, hop in a kayak and take a trip down the winding rivers or take in the pristine views from Lake Superior.

Speaking of views, you’ll find few better than the Lake of the Clouds, located between two ridges of the mountains. Well worth the hike up for the view, and down to check out the surrounding virgin forests.

Lake of the Clouds

Lake of the Clouds

While things are a bit rustic, there are also some fabulous little eateries around the area to take in during your visit, like Grandma Myrt’s in Mass City.

Insider’s Tip: The Friends of Porkies, the non-profit dedicated to the park gave us some awesome information about the park and fantastic festivals it hosts. For German food lovers, be sure not to miss out on the Sauerkraut festival every October. The last weekend in August is host to the annual Music Festival which combines great performers with the breathtaking beauty of the mountains. The spectacular views, acres of wilderness and beautiful fall colors are all icing on the cake of this fantastic park. For more information about other amenities and can’t miss opportunities in the area, head on over to Porkies.org

If you love Michigan, please give us a share on social media so we can get some more recommendations for these locations and others!

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2 Responses to A Dozen Hidden Travel Gems In Michigan

  1. Steve West says:

    Nice piece – Michigan id beautiful. You missed one. Beaver Island. http://www.BeaverIsland.org

  2. Maria L, Rydstedt says:

    The pictures brought back wonderful memories, especially my (40 year old) daughter’s comment while she viwed the Pictured Rocks when she was 4 years old:
    “Mom , Where are the pictures?”

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