Michigan is known as the “Land of the Great Lakes.” The state is made up of two peninsulas that are surrounded by the Great Lakes. This gives Michigan more freshwater coastal area than any other state. Both the northern Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula offer an expansive, pristine vacation area. Even without the amusement parks and other attractions of the more-populated southern part of the state, you’ll find plenty to do in the north, from tribal casino games to sand dunes.
Some of the highlights of Michigan’s north include:
Mackinac Island, situated to the south of the Upper Peninsula, to the north of the Lower Peninsula, to the east of Lake Michigan and to the West of Lake Huron, is an adventure in time travel. The island gives the aura of having escaped the changes of time with transportation limited to bikes, horse-drawn carriages and one’s two feet.
The original settlers of the island created a vacation get-away that would keep the Victorian era going for perpetuity. You can walk or bike around the island in an atmosphere of safety or hire a horse and buggy for an old-fashioned buggy ride. The island’s bluffs highlight the unique fauna and flora of Michigan nature and the beaches offer plenty of opportunities for swimming and beach play.
There’s cross-country skiing in the winter, the Lilac Festival in the early summer, boat tours, horse parades, walking tours, museums, historical sites and more.
Frankenmuth is called Michigan’s “Little Bavaria” and the shops, restaurants, festivals and other events are all designed to cater to that atmosphere.
Frankenmuth was settled by Germans from the Province of Franconia which is located in Bavaria. In German, “mut” means “courage” so the name translates to “courage of the Franconias.” The original settlers pledged to remain loyal to Germany and set about creating a community that would retain their Germanic culture.
Over time, that focus became of interest to tourists. Frankenmuth residents slowly expanded on that theme and created a town that caters to the atmosphere of an old fashioned Germanic town. The restaurants, with names like the Bavarian Inn, Bronner’s and Zehnders, serve traditional German dishes. There are also numerous festivals that take place throughout the year with a Germanic flavor. They include:
- Oktoberfest – a celebration, held every October, of German heritage and culture.
- Frankenmuth Bavarian Festival – a festival that focuses specifically on the Bavaria region of Germany with its unique foods, music and activities.
- SnowFest – snow-sculpting events including entrants from the United States Collegiate National Ice Carving Championships.
- Fire Muster – held on the last Saturday in July, this festival celebrates Antique Fire Apparatus with a parade, displays of restored antique vintage fire trucks, ambulances and police cars and descriptions and demonstrations of antique firefighting techniques.
Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes
Sand dunes are a natural wonder and Michigan, with its vast fresh water shoreline, has some of the most complex and dynamic dune ecosystems in the United States.
Sand dunes are formed by wind which forms ridges or complexes of mounds and crescents. Michigan is home to the largest freshwater dune system in the world. You can see the sane dunes at numerous places along Michigan’s coastline but one of the most spectacular are those at Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore Park.
The Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore encompasses the North and South Manitou Islands along with a 60 km stretch of Lake Michigan’s eastern coastline. The park includes beaches, forests, dune formations and ancient glacial phenomena.
Some of the things that you can do at the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes Park include:
- Climb the 300-foot tall face of the tallest dune and enjoy a stunning vista of inland Leelanau County, peppered with local lakes. There are picnic tables and places to run and jump into the sane.
- Take a scenic drive through the dunes ecosystems with maple forests, shrub meadows and the mountainous dunes that overlook Lake Michigan. The route, the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, is well marked.
- Canoe, kayak or float along the Platte River or the Crystal River along the edge of the dunes.
- Visit Port Oneida, a historic farm that shows how the people of the region once lived.
- Watch the sunset over Lake Michigan from Empire bluffs, Pyramid Point, Alligator Hill or Bay view Trail.
- Learn about the area’s history at the Glen Haven Historic District where you can wander through the Cannery Boathouse Museum and see a working blacksmith shop. The district also features the US coast Guard Station maritime Museum and the Glenn Haven General Store.
- Sail to the 2 islands that form the foundation of the native American myth of Sleeping Bear. The native peoples related that a mother bear traversed Lake Michigan from Wisconsin with her 2 cubs. The two cubs drowned and turned into the Manitou Islands. There are day trips to the islands where you can see a lighthouse and Coast Guard station or you can camp overnight on either island.
Sault Ste. Marie
Sault Ste. Marie is located at the upper tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, across from Sault Ste. Marie Ontario. It’s one of the most isolated communities in Michigan but visitors are welcome and there’s plenty to do.
One of the most interesting experiences involves a trip through the Soo locks where you can see the locks that were built in the 1800s to permit waterborne commerce between Lake Superior and the other Great Lakes. There’s a fascinating movie about the locks that you can watch before you embark on a boat trip through the actual locks system.
Depending on the time of year you can join different events in the town including the Soo Locks Engineer’s Weekend, the Pow Wow and Sumer Gathering, Kid’s Fishing Day, the Beerfest, the International Festival of Faces, Fall Festival, the Downtown Winter Ice Festival or the International Bridge Walk that takes walkers across the bridge from Sault Ste. Marie Michigan to Sault Ste. Marie Ontario.