The trouble with the typical Michigan summer travel guide is that if you’ve lived here long enough, you’ve probably seen and experienced it all. So while brainstorming for our annual travel round-up, we decided to compile a list of some unexpected, unforgettable experiences that will shake up your summer — including some truly adventurous tips for even the most seasoned Michigan traveler. Read on for our suggestions, start booking and get ready to enjoy the best summer yet.
Explore an underground mine: Helmets are your first clue that tours are anything but ordinary at Adventure Mining Co, a historic Keweenaw copper mine that operated from the 1850’s to the 1920’s. Multiple tour types offer experiences for all ages and abilities, from simple guided walking tours to rappelling and crawling and hiking through the depths of the mine.
Take a dune buggy ride: It’s been almost a century since Malcom Wood offered Silver Lakes’ first “dune scooter” expeditions in a converted Ford Model A for 25 cents a ride. Dune buggies have evolved since then (think four-wheel drive and airplane tires), but Mac Wood’s Dune Rides still bring family-friendly, roller-coaster-style fun to the sand mountains of West Michigan’s coast.
Hike the “Grand Canyon” of the UP: Canyon Falls and Gorge offers one of the rare opportunities to see an awe-inspiring natural phenomenon with very little effort on the part of visitors. An easy 15-minute scenic trail through hardwood forests leads to where the UP’s Sturgeon River emerges from a series of rapids into a waterfall that plunges into a deep, narrow box gorge lined with towering trees. It’s absolutely beautiful and a must if you’re driving on US-41 near L’Anse.
Visit a ghost town: Once a bustling industrial community at the tip of the UP’s Garden Peninsula, Fayette is now a ghost town within Fayette Historic State Park, where the brick facades of the old buildings and weathered dock pilings stand out against the sparkling blue of Lake Michigan. Guided and self-guided tours available; Spend the night at the modern campsite on site.
Go Whitewater Rafting: Adventure seekers don’t have to leave Michigan to find world-class whitewater. The wild and beautiful Menominee River in UP’s far west offers exhilarating Class III and IV rapids that you can raft on a public or private guided rafting trip with TrueNorth Outpost, based in Norway, Michigan. Not quite ready for thunderous rapids? The Sturgeon isn’t whitewater, but as the fastest river on the lower peninsula, it still offers a fun, challenging paddle. Visit Big Bear Adventures in Indian River for river cruises.
Kayaking on Mackinac Island: Sure, a bike ride around Mackinac Island is a classic Michigan experience. But some of the best views of the island are from the water, so this year, swap the pedals for a paddle on a guided kayak tour. Great Turtle Kayak Tours itineraries showcase the island’s sunrises and sunsets, as well as landmarks like Arch Rock. Paddleboards are also available for rent.
Drive a Model T: Driving a Ford Model T, which became one of the world’s first mass-produced cars a century ago, isn’t as easy as simply getting behind the wheel — there’s no accelerator pedal, for starters. The Gilmore Car Museum’s Model T Driving Experience puts you in one of these legendary, authentic “Tin Lizzies” and teaches you how to drive it, complete with a certificate to commemorate your drive through history.
Walk through an ancient forest: The deforestation boom of the late 18th century left much of Michigan in a barren sea of stumps, but some precious tracts of virgin forest escaped the axe. You can still pay homage to these ancient forests thanks to the individuals and communities who have recognized their importance. See old growth pines at the Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary in Copper Harbor, Hartwick Pines State Park in Grayling, or the Red Pine Natural Area in Roscommon; Beech-maple native forest at Warren Woods National Natural Landmark in Three Oaks; and old growth oak hickory forest in the Russ Forest National Natural Landmark in Cass County.
Surf Lake Michigan: Who says surfing is exclusively for the ocean? Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak at Empire offers surf lessons right here on our large, beautiful, salt-free sea. Even if Lake Michigan doesn’t serve up whitewater on the day of your class, you’ll take away the basics and a newfound respect for the sport while laughing plenty along the way.
See a new side of Detroit: Detroit’s early 20th-century rise as a prosperous industrial city left behind an incredible collection of historic architecture, ranging from Art Deco skyscrapers to opulent, glittering theaters. Learn the stories behind these sites on a guided walking tour with Preservation Detroit, the city’s oldest preservation organization. Most tours take place on Saturday mornings, although private tours are also available.
See a shipwreck from above: The Great Lakes might be notoriously unfriendly to ships, and as a result our waters are littered with thousands of shipwrecks – many of which have never been discovered. Glass Bottom Shipwreck Tours in Munising gives you a peek into the depths of Lake Superior at two special wrecks that lie like an underwater museum just a foot below the surface. Reservations are recommended.
Escape to a natural paradise: Michigan has no shortage of pretty parks and preserves, but there’s something very special about the Grass River Natural Area in Bellaire. The 1,500 hectare nature reserve provides habitat for an incredible variety of flora and fauna, including rare orchids and 147 species of birds. Programs for all ages, a nature center and an accessible trail section with Braille signage make this a magical retreat for all.
Experience a concert in a hidden forest: Part nature preserve, part outdoor sculpture gallery, all tucked away on the grounds of Crystal Mountain Resort, Michigan Legacy Art Park is the definition of a hidden gem. The 12-acre park gets an extra dose of magic on Friday nights during its Summer Sounds series, when musicians take the stage in a rustic outdoor amphitheater. Fireflies and live music in the forest? Perfect.
See another side of Sleeping Bear Dunes: Make this a summer when you skip the park’s popular spots to explore the quieter sides of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. A few ideas to get you started: Take a day trip to South Manitou Island to see a lighthouse, ghost town, shipwreck and more; see adorable but endangered plovers on Sleeping Bear Dunes Tour Co.’s guided plover walks; Hike the park’s new Kettles Trail, a 3-mile trail (with a public portion) through a unique glacial landscape.
Sail the inland seas on a pirate ship: Aye — kids and their adults can live like pirates for a few hours on themed cruises in several Michigan ports. At St. Ignace, the Star Line Ferry operates family-friendly and nauti-pirate (21+) cruises to or from Mackinac Island on the pirate ship Good Fortune; in Traverse City, the replica 18th-century tall ship Manitou offers ice cruises and live music sailing with jigs and ballads from life at sea; The Michigan Maritime Museum’s 19th-century replica of the Friends Good Will schooner has kid-friendly “pirate hunter” sails all summer long.
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