The problem with the typical Michigan summer tour guide is that if you’ve lived here long enough, chances are you’ve seen and done it all. So, while brainstorming for our annual travel roundup, we decided to compile a list that contains some unexpected and unforgettable experiences to rock your summer, including some truly adventurous choices for even the most seasoned Michigan traveler. Read on for our tips, start booking and get ready to enjoy the best summer ever.
Explore an underground mine: Hard hats are your first clue that tours are anything but ordinary at Adventure Mining Co, a historic Keweenaw copper mine that operated from 1850 to 1920. Different types of tours offer experiences for all. ages and abilities, ranging from easy guided walking tours to abseiling, crawling and excursions into the depths of the mine.
Take a dune buggy ride: It was nearly a century ago when Malcolm Wood offered Silver Lake’s first shipments of “dune scooters” aboard a reconfigured 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 continue to bring family-friendly, roller-coaster-style fun to the sand coaster of the West Michigan coast.
UP excursion to the “Grand Canyon”: Canyon Falls and Gorge offers one of those rare opportunities to see an impressive natural phenomenon with minimal effort on the part of visitors. An easy 15-minute scenic trail through deciduous forests leads to a point where the UP’s Sturgeon River develops from a series of rapids into a waterfall that plunges into a deep, narrow canyon lined with towering trees. It is simply beautiful and a must see if you are sailing on US-41 near L’Anse.
Visit a ghost town: Once a vibrant industrial community at the tip of the UP’s Garden Peninsula, Fayette is now a ghost town contained within Fayette Historic State Park, where the brick facades of old buildings and the weather-beaten docks stilt houses strike against the sparkling blue of Lake Michigan. Guided and self-guided tours available; overnight stay in the modern campsite on site.
Go rafting: Adventure seekers don’t have to leave Michigan to find world-class white water. The wild and beautiful Menominee River in the far west UP features exhilarating Class III and IV rapids, which you can ride on a guided public or private rafting tour with Norway, Michigan based TrueNorth Outpost. Not ready for the roaring rapids yet? The Sturgeon isn’t exactly white water, but being the fastest river on the lower peninsula, it still needs a fun and challenging paddle; check out Big Bear Adventures in Indian River for river rides.
Kayaking Mackinac Island: Sure, a bike ride around the perimeter of Mackinac Island is a classic Michigan experience. But some of the best views of the island come from the water, so this year consider swapping pedals for a paddle on a guided kayak tour. Great Turtle Kayak Tours’ trails showcase island sunrises and sunsets and landmarks such as Arch Rock. Paddleboards are also available for hire.
Drive a Model T: Driving a Ford Model T, which became one of the world’s first mass-production cars a century ago, isn’t as easy as simply getting behind the wheel: for starters, there’s no accelerator. The Gilmore Car Museum’s Model T Driving Experience takes you inside one of these iconic and authentic “Tin Lizzies” and teaches you how to drive it, complete with a certificate to commemorate your cruise through history.
Walk in a centuries-old wood: The logging boom of the late 1800s left much of Michigan a desolate sea of tree trunks, but some precious stretches of pristine forest have escaped the ax. Thanks to individuals and communities who have recognized its importance, it is still possible to pay homage to these ancient woods. Find century-old pine trees at Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary in Copper Harbor, Hartwick Pines State Park in Grayling, or Red Pine Wildlife Area in Roscommon; virgin beech and maple forest at the Warren Woods National Natural Landmark in Three Oaks; and the ancient oak and walnut forest at Russ Forest National Natural Landmark in Cass County.
Surfing on Lake Michigan: Who says surfing is strictly for the ocean? Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak in Empire offers surfing lessons right here on our big, beautiful salt-free sea. Even if Lake Michigan isn’t serving white waters on the day of your class, you’ll be taking away the basics and a new respect for the sport, enjoying lots of laughs along the way.
Discover a new side of Detroit: Detroit’s rise in the early 20th century as a wealthy industrial city left it with an incredible collection of historic architecture, ranging from Art Deco skyscrapers to opulent, glittering theaters. Learn the stories behind these places on a guided walking tour with Preservation Detroit, the oldest conservation organization in the city. Most tours take place on Saturday mornings, with private tours also available.
See a shipwreck from above: The Great Lakes may be notoriously rude to ships, and as a result, our waters are littered with thousands of wrecks, many of which have never been discovered. Glass Bottom Shipwreck Tours in Munising allows you to peer into the depths of Lake Superior two particular wrecks that lie beneath like an underwater museum, with only one foot below the surface of the water. Reservations are recommended.
Escape to a natural paradise: Michigan has no shortage of pretty parks and reserves, but there is something special about the Grass River Nature Area in Bellaire. The 1,500-acre nature reserve provides habitat for an astounding variety of flora and fauna, including rare orchids and 147 bird species. Programming for all ages, a nature center and an accessible section of the trail complete with interpretive Braille signage make this a magical getaway for all.
Attend a concert in a hidden forest: Part nature reserve, part outdoor sculpture gallery, all tucked away in the grounds of Crystal Mountain Resort, Michigan Legacy Art Park is the definition of a hidden gem. The 30-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 mix in the woods? Perfect.
See another side of Sleeping Bear Dunes: Make summer skip the park’s famous spots to explore the quieter sides of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Some ideas to get you started: take a day trip to South Manitou Island to see a lighthouse, ghost town, shipwreck and more; See the adorable but endangered plovers on the guided plover walks of Sleeping Bear Dunes Tour Co .; hike the park’s new Kettles Trail, a 3-mile trail (with one portion universally accessible) through a unique landscape sculpted by glaciers.
Sail the inland seas on a pirate ship: Yes, kids and their adults can live like pirates for a few hours on themed cruises to several Michigan ports. In St. Ignace, the Star Line Ferry hosts family and “nauti-pirate” (21+) cruises to or from Mackinac Island on the Good Fortune pirate ship; in Traverse City, the replica of the 1800s Manitou sailing ship offers ice cream cruises and sails with live music featuring masks and ballads from life on the sea; Michigan Maritime Museum’s 19th-century replica, the Friends Good Will schooner has kid-friendly “pirate hunter” sails all summer long.
7 secret places to explore in Michigan’s Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
Sleeping Bear Dunes Vacation: 50 Unforgettable Things to See and Do
Headed for Michigan’s remote Isle Royale? Here are 12 tips from the pros