Visiting Michigan had been on my list for quite some time. One of the main drivers in planning my epic Midwest road trip. There are two parts of Michigan: the Lower and Upper Peninsulas. The Lower portion of Michigan is where you'll find your major cities and spots around Lake Superior on the west side and Lake Huron on the east side. The Upper Peninsula is where all the really beautiful nature lives, and more thinned out in terms of people, with the exception of popular spots, such as Pictured Rocks. I enjoyed the Upper Peninsula (UP) the most, but did enjoy the cities across the Mackinac Bridge. If you're just visiting Michigan, it's pretty easy to do a loop, however if you're more limited on time or want to drive one way through Michigan heading elsewhere as I did, the west side has more going on.

My Favorites

1. Pictured Rocks

Miners Castle

Highlights: Colored rocks, lake, beaches, kayaking, hiking, waterfalls
Suggest Staying: 2-5 days
Stay Around: Munising or Au Train (Superior Times)
Internet: Weak
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In my opinion the most beautiful place in Michigan and my main reason for visiting. The colors along the rocks are beautiful, and the topography is so varied. You can find sand dunes on the cliffs, crystal clear blue waters on the lake, long stretching beaches, forests, waterfalls, and rivers. There are sea caves to be explored by kayak and other boating activities. Plenty of hiking throughout the park, which stretches from Munising to Grand Marais.

Funny interchange at the playground area in the campground…

Kid: “Hey, what’s this game called?”
Me: “Tether ball.”
Kid: “I’m gonna call it fight ball.”
Me: “Cool.”
Kid: “I’m great at fight ball. Wanna play chess?”

See & Do

  • Miners Beach. Long stretch of beach with access to swimming, sunbathing, and sea caves. There are some kayak tours that leave from here.
  • Miners Castle. The best, most photographed place in the park. Absolutely stunning.
  • Sand Point. Beach. Popular for sunsets and swimming.
  • Grand Sable Dunes. You’ll find great views at Log Slide Overlook, a waterfall at Sable Falls, and swimming at Sable Falls Beach. These are short hikes about 1/4-1/3 of a mile one way with some elevation.
  • Twelvemile Beach. Long stretch of beach perfect for hiking, swimming, and kayaking.
  • Munising Falls. Short hike from the visitor’s center to a small but neat little waterfall.
  • Munising Visitors Center. Get your park permit.

Food & Drink

  • Falling Rock Cafe & Bookstore. Great spot for breakfast or lunch with an attached bookstore. Located in Munising.


  • Tahquamenon Falls. Large copper colored falls that’s a nice stop en route to Pictured Rocks if traveling from the south.
  • Marquette. Cute little town with shops, restaurants, and everything you need in any other typical town. Black Rocks in Presque Isle Park is gorgeous, a wonderful discovery I stumbled upon. Nice views, swimming, and jumping off rocks into the crystal clear water.
  • Canyon Falls Roadside Park. Not sure I’d make a special stop for this place, but if heading to the western part of the UP, definitely a great stop for lunch and short hike into the canyon which is a fun forest canyon hike to the falls.


  • Getting There. Probably the closest major airport is Grand Rapids. There are regional airports in Traverse City and Mackinaw City. From there, a rental car would be your best option. I would definitely recommend having a car for the best experience exploring. If coming from the south, Go direct to Grand Marais and see what you can see before heading to your accommodations which will save you time not having to backtrack. You can certainly stay in Grand Marais, but it’s better to stay closer to Munising.
  • Accommodations. Munising is the best place to stay if you want to be centrally located and have access to amenities like restaurants. Au Tran is a nice little spot, not too far away, with some kayaking opportunities and a beach. There are also some more primitive places to camp in and along the park. If you’re looking for a cute little town, Marquette is quite nice, about an hour from Munising. Just note it’s not the most convenient if you plan multi-day exploration of Pictured Rocks due to an extra hour of driving to and from.
  • Cell Reception. Very spotty throughout the peninsula. I would recommend downloading offline maps in Google maps or an offline map app which is convenient for driving through and around the UP to help you get around. You can use the map, see your waypoints, and even use GPS.

2. Traverse City & Sleeping Bear Dunes

Sleeping Bear Dunes

Highlights: Shops, lake, dunes
Suggest Staying: 2-3 days
Stay Around: Traverse City
Internet: Good
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Really liked this town. Plenty of shops and restaurants, access to the lake, and nearby Sleeping Bear Dunes. Very popular Michigan spot that can get crowded in the summer months. Sleeping Bear Dunes is a National Lakeshore which means you can purchase or use a National Parks Pass for entry. The dunes are not nearly as impressive as Great Sand Dunes National Park, but they do offer the beautiful backdrop of Lake Michigan.

See & Do

  • Downtown Traverse City. Shops and restaurants with access to the bay. The Village and Front St.
  • Traverse Bay. Lake views.
  • Sleeping Bear Dunes. Sand dunes along the cliffs with spectacular views of Lake Michigan. Nice hiking trails.
  • Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. Lovely scenic drive with access to lake views.
  • Inspiration Point. Breathtaking views of Glen Lake.
  • Sleeping Bear Dunes Beach and Dune Climb. Beach access.
  • Glen Arbor. Cute little strip of shops and restaurants.
  • Pyramid Point Overlook. Lake views.

Food & Drink

  • Apache Trout Grill. Seafood.
  • The Good Bowl. Vietnamese.


  • Charlevoix. Cute little town.
  • Petosky. Cute little town. Seems a nice alternative to Traverse City if you’ve done it before and/or want something less crowded. There is also a state park.
  • Tunnel of Trees. Scenic drive up the coast heading up north. It adds quite a bit of time to your route, so skip it if you’re strapped for time.


  • Accommodations. If you would rather stay outside of the town, you can camp at Sleeping Bear Dunes or if you want something slightly more secluded, you can look for vacation rentals in Glen Arbor or Empire. If you’re looking for a cute town either instead of or after Traverse City, I really liked Petosky which has plenty of amenities. Charlevoix is also nice, but smaller and less there.
  • Dunes. Don’t be stupid and go too far down the dunes, as they are steep and you could fall down or get stuck trying to climb back up because they’re steep and walking in sand is difficult.

3. Mackinac Island

McGulphin Point

Highlights: Old town, shops, boating
Suggest Staying: 1-2 days
Stay Around: St. Ignace (Tiki RV Park)
Internet: Good
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One of the most talked about must see attractions in Michigan. This quaint town is most easily accessed by ferry and the island itself does not allow cars which is pretty unique. It very much feels like going back in time. You can stay on the island, but it’s cheaper and easier to stay on the mainland. There are shops, restaurants, a marina, and some hiking around the island to some vistas and historical sites. It was fun to see, though not really my thing so I only stayed about 2 hours. I may have stayed longer to do some hiking, but I didn’t have the energy since I was just getting over being sick.

See & Do

  • Main St. Main strip of shops and restaurants.
  • Grand Hotel. Impressive huge upscale hotel with a record for the longest porch. A site to see and also nice views of the Mackinac Bridge. If you’re not staying there, you can get a $10 guest pass.
  • Mackinaw City. Nice little strip of shops and restaurants.
  • Bridge View Park (St. Ignace). Great views of Mackinac Bridge.
  • McGulphin Point (Mackinaw City). Great views of Mackinac Bridge.
  • Headlands International Dark Sky Park (Mackinaw City). Stargazing.

Food & Drink

  • Watercolor Cafe. Healthy food, smoothies, and bowls.
  • Lehto’s Pasties (St. Ignace). Apparently pasties can be found all throughout northern Michigan. This place is quite good.


  • Getting There. The island itself is accessible by ferry from Mackinaw City or St. Ignace, on either side of Machinac Bridge. The two companies are Shelpler’s and Starline, both of which are great and offer regular trips to and from the island. Price is for roundtrip. You can bring luggage and bicycles. If you do go for the day, there are lockers at the port for small bags. The water is generally pretty calm, and it’s not too long a boat ride for those that get sea sick (~25 minutes). I always take a half of a Dramamine anyway just in case. Purchase your ticket(s) ahead of time to skip the line and arrive early so you don’t miss your boat.
  • Accommodations. The main places to stay are on the island, in Mackinaw City, or in St. Ignace. I found that it was easier, less crowded, and cheaper to stay in St Ignace. There’s also much less there, so great if you don’t really need anything and/or plan to camp or glamp. Mackinaw City will be cheaper than Mackinac Island and offer some amenities. On the island, the Grande Hotel is magnificent, though expensive, or you can seek out a rental.

4. Grand Rapids

Windmill Island Gardens

Highlights: Museums, lake
Suggest Staying: 1-3 days
Stay Around: Holland or Downtown
Internet: Strong
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A hub for many large businesses, in particular insurance companies, Grand Rapids is a nice, clean city with some city parks along the river. There are some museums and other attractions, but I personally didn’t think the city was all that interesting to spend much time in. That said, I unfortunately caught COVID just before arriving, so I spent the entire couple days in bed recovering, not to mention it rained most of the time. However, there are many nearby little towns that are fun to explore, such as Holland which is where I would probably stay if I were to go back as my home base and to explore the town. I’ll note some of the places I was planning on checking out despite not actually getting to them.

See & Do

  • Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. Conservatory.
  • Meyer May House. Frank Lloyd Wright. Cost: Free.
  • Blandford Nature Center. 143 acres of wildlife and sustainable agriculture.
  • Heritage Hill Historic District. Neighborhood.
  • Downtown Market. Market.


  • Holland. Very cool dutch settlement only about 36 minutes away. Windmill Island Gardens looked awesome.
  • Lansing. Capitol city of Michigan, nothing really to write home about.
  • Grand Haven. Coastal town.
  • Cherry Point Farm and Market. Labyrinth in a lavender field.
  • South Haven. Beaches, sunset, watersports.

5. Detroit

Grande Ballroom

Highlights: Museums, music, cars
Suggest Staying: 1-2 days
Stay Around: Royal Oak
Internet: Strong
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Rock & Roll, Motown, General Motors, Detroit has a long history of creativity and action. However, in recent years that has all dissipated and become more recently known as crime central, which is unfortunate. I figured a visit to Detroit would either be awesome, filled with hidden gems and remnants from the past, or terrible. Portions of central downtown and a couple of hip neighborhoods in Detroit were decent, but I mostly found it to be very run down and felt a bit uneasy in many areas. Many of the old rock & roll venues and other things I was hoping to explore were either shut down or in shambles. That said, Royal Oak was lovely, and we had a fun afternoon in Dearborn. Nearby Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan, is also very nice, definitely worth visiting.

See & Do

  • New Center. Nice area downtown with many attractions and buildings.
  • Midtown. Artsy.
  • Corktown. Old neighborhood.
  • Gross Pointe. Popular upscale neighborhood.
  • Grande Ballroom. Abandoned legendary rock venue. Cool mural on the outside.
  • Hamtramck. Cool little neighborhood with Polish and Yemen roots. Great for authentic cuisine. Hamtramck Disneyland is an interesting little installation.
  • Heidelberg Project. Artistic wonder.
  • Michigan Central Station. Historical landmark.
  • Motown Museum. Historical music museum. Temporarily closed at time of writing.
  • The Russell Industrial Center. Artist mecca. Seems a place to rent studio space, not sure you can actually see anything, but perhaps.
  • Geodesic Dome House. Train depot.
  • Royal Oak. Suburb of Detroit that has a nice little downtown strip with shops and restaurants.

Food & Drink

  • Polish Village Cafe. Authentic Polish cuisine. Perogies were good, but they made us all a bit sick.
  • Goldfish Tea. One of my new favorite tea shops. Good mix of traditional loose leaf teas and bubble tea. Something for everyone, good quality tea. Get take away or sit and enjoy.
  • Holiday Market. Awesome grocery store with pre-made options.


  • Dearborn. The Henry Ford Experience offers several museums you can visit. We did the Innovation Museum (3 hours) and Greenfield Village (1-2 hours). Cost: $65. There are a few other options and things you can see. You can easily spend the entire day here and there is a lot of walking. Very cool place though, I’d highly recommend it. Not just cars, all kinds of innovations over the years. I’d probably skip the village. You can ride in a Model T which we were excited about, but the line was long and the smell of gasoline was horrible. On display is Thomas Edison’s workshop which is neat, but I wouldn’t go just for that.
  • Ann Arbor. University town with many cute shops and restaurants. Much nicer than Detroit, you may even consider staying here instead. Otherwise perfect for an afternoon. Had a bit of a Boulder vibe to it, but without the mountains.


  • Safety. Detroit has a horrible reputation for high crime. Definitely do your research regarding neighborhoods by reading hotel and AirBnB reviews if you choose to stay in central Detroit. I was originally going to stay in Hamtramck, but while probably fine, got mixed reviews at night. Being with my family and having two cars, we opted for the much nicer Royal Oak. Ferndale was also a consideration. Midtown and Corktown might be okay, but didn’t do much research close to downtown. We didn’t feel unsafe at any points during the day in any areas, it’s really just at night to be careful. Though some areas known for gang violence could be unpredictable. I certainly don’t want to scare anyone into not visiting, just be mindful of the different areas and use common sense.

Other Considerations

Porcupine Mountains

Bond Falls

Also known as the porkies, these mountains are covered in forests, rich in waterfalls, most of which are short quarter mile hikes from the parking lot. The porkies is a bit more off-the-beaten path part of the UP. I found it was a perfect stop traveling from Pictured Rocks to the Apostle Islands. It’s a great spot if you really want quiet, camping, and hiking. There aren’t really any towns except for Ironwood, which is a decent place to stay if you’re looking to stay in a town with restaurants and lodging. As for the attractions, There were two really beautiful areas I enjoyed. The Porcupine Mountains Wilderness Area has a visitors center that will acclimate you to the area as well as the Lake of the Clouds with sweeping views and Bonanza Falls on the east side. There are also some other waterfalls on the west side. The Black River National Forest Scenic Byway was not only a lovely, relaxing drive, but had some awesome waterfalls and forest hikes, including Great Conglomerate Falls, Potawatomi & Gorge Falls, Sandstone Falls, and Rainbow Falls. The road will leave you at Black River Harbor. This was probably my favorite scenic drive and waterfall experience of my Midwest road trip. Another favorite waterfall, Bond Falls, is farther southeast and not to be missed. This is just a portion of the waterfalls I made it to, but there are even more scattered across the western UP.

General Tips

  • Accommodations. I was told that during the peak season in summer, accommodations book up fast. Normally I would not book too far in advance for a trip like this, but waiting runs the risk of not finding a place to stay or paying through the nose. This goes for hotels, lodges, AirBnBs, campgrounds, and RV parks.
  • Northern Lights. I've read it's possible to see the northern lights from the upper part of the lower portion of Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. I would expect in the fall or winter where there is more darkness.

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