Enjoy everything from wild-cherry picking to lakefront fishing as you wind your way past charming small towns, one-of-a-kind islands and a natural wonder once billed as “the most beautiful place in America.” Known simply as “Up North” to the locals, the region is one of the most picturesque and fun-filled vacation destinations in the country, but it hasn’t lost the quaint, welcoming appeal that brought visitors in the first place.
1) Traverse City
As the largest town on the upper half of the Michigan Mitt, Traverse City is the perfect jumping off point for many of the area’s top attractions. Just 30 miles from the renowned Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the city is also an angler’s paradise, with multiple rivers, bays and Lake Michigan all within a stone’s throw. The nearby Boardman River is quintessential trout water that every fly-fishermen should check off their list. Try the Long, Spider, Duck and Green lakes for opportunities to land salmon and steelhead. Of course, if heart-pounding adventure is your thing, a parasailing excursion on Grand Traverse Bay offers a whole new perspective of life on the lake.
Drive 67 miles • 1 Hour, 27 minutes
Along scenic U.S. Route 31, Petoskey brims with a charming, nostalgic feeling that reminds some visitors of stepping back to a simpler time. From the stately Victorian homes to the hilly, winding streets of the historic gaslight district, it’s hard not to fall in love with this classic American downtown. Enjoy bayside views as you explore the hip microbreweries, cool restaurants and funky boutiques. Bayfront Park, which begins at the town’s marina, offers up easygoing nature hikes that include the Little Traverse Wheelway, a 26-mile path that connects a handful of the region’s green spaces.
3) Mackinaw City
Drive 36 miles • 48 minutes
Continue north to the tip of the Lower Peninsula where Mackinaw City seems tailor-made for history buffs with a sweet tooth. First-timers should head straight to the ferry for the quick ride to Mackinac Island, a national landmark and throwback destination that features world-famous local fudge, mesmerizing sunsets and a laidback approach to vacation. In fact, the island is so easygoing it’s even car-free; bikes are the preferred way to get around, but the best way to explore the quaint shopping district is on one of the traditional horse-and-buggy tours. Back on the mainland, history comes alive at Fort Michilimackinac, a restored 18th-century fur trading post that boasts re-enactors and immersive activities that highlight colonial life.
4) St. Ignace
Drive 9 miles • 17 minutes
The Upper Peninsula awaits just across the Mackinac Bridge in the small coastal town of St. Ignace. Nestled on the straits between the Great Lakes of Michigan and Huron, the town is a haven for fishermen looking to capitalize on the salmon, steelhead and lake trout that populate the bountiful waters. For the best chance of landing the big one, take an excursion with one of the charter companies in the marina. For a bird’s eye view, try a hike along the Cut River Bridge trail just west of town. Rising nearly 150 feet above the river, the bridge is a marvel for photographers and birdwatchers and provides easy access to the forested dunes of Lake Superior State Forest. For the perfect picnic, follow the bridge trail down to one of the roadside parks situated along the river’s edge and open the basket for a restful snack.
Drive 139 miles • 2 hours, 23 minutes
Follow U.S. Route 2 west along the Lake Michigan coast until you reach the breathtaking waters of Little Bay de Noc and the fun-loving town of Escanaba. Home to over 200 miles of shoreline, the area is renowned for its kayaking, swimming, boating and fishing history, as well as more unique attractions like the 30 sunken ships just offshore. Anglers can hope to land trophy-sized bass and walleye, while landlubbers will find plenty to do on the miles of hikes and bike paths that wind inland past the nearby lakes and forests of Hiawatha National Forest and Escanaba River State Forest. At the 40-foot Peninsula Point Lighthouse, visitors can climb the circular staircase for an expansive view of the vast waters of Lake Michigan below.