Moon Michigan

Lakeside Getaways, Scenic Drives, Outdoor Recreation

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By Paul Vachon

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Moon Michigan reveals the best of the Great Lake State's charming small towns, vibrant cities, and vast, untouched wilderness. Inside you'll find:
  • Strategic, flexible itineraries for 3-to-4-day trips to Mackinac Island, the Upper Peninsula, wine country, Detroit, and Ann Arbor
  • Unique experiences and can't-miss sights: Get your fill of vintage vehicles at Detroit's industrial museums, like the GM Showroom or the historic Ford House, or immerse yourself in the sounds of the Motown Museum. Watch hundreds of technicolor butterflies in the Original Mackinac Island Butterfly House, nibble on rich fudge, and unwind on a romantic carriage ride around the island. Browse the art galleries of Ann Arbor, sip chardonnay on a scenic tour of wine country, or explore Michigan's booming craft beer scene along an ale trail
  • The best outdoor activities: Embark on Michigan's best hikes, from family-friendly day treks to rugged dune-scaling adventures. Hit the links at the top golf resorts, cruise along the Pictured Rocks, or relax on a serene, sunny beach. Spend a day fishing and boating and spot moose, elk, and black bears in their natural habitats. Set up camp under a crystal-clear summer sky or cross-country ski through pristine winter snow
  • Expert advice from Detroit local Paul Vachon on when to go, how to get around, and where to stay, from campsites and motels to golf resorts and lakeside lodges
  • Full-color photos and detailed maps throughout
  • Thorough information on the landscape, climate, wildlife, and history
With Moon's local insight and practical tips, you can experience Michigan your way.
Exploring more of the Midwest? Try Moon 52 Things to Do in Chicago or Moon Ohio.

About Moon Travel Guides: Moon was founded in 1973 to empower independent, active, and conscious travel. We prioritize local businesses, outdoor recreation, and traveling strategically and sustainably. Moon Travel Guides are written by local, expert authors with great stories to tell—and they can't wait to share their favorite places with you. 

For more inspiration, follow @moonguides on social media.


covered bridge at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore



Planning Your Trip

Romance on Mackinac Island


Fall Into the Upper Peninsula


Wine Tasting Tour


Three Days in Detroit and Ann Arbor


Michigan’s Best Scenic Drives


Michigan may be known mainly for Motown and muscle cars. But beneath the surface, the Great Lakes State offers a great deal of diversity.

Divided into the mitten-shaped Lower Peninsula and the breathtaking Upper Peninsula, Michigan is the only U.S. state that is surrounded by four of the five Great Lakes—lakes so massive that scientists classify them as inland seas. The Lower Peninsula boasts a wealth of rural areas, nostalgic villages, resort towns, and urban centers like Detroit and Grand Rapids, plus a bevy of art galleries and wineries. North of the Mackinac Bridge, the Upper Peninsula is a vast tract of forests, beaches, mountains, and waterfalls.

Most tourists visit in spring and summer, yet the snowy winters have grown popular, too, for adventures like skating across frozen lakes or riding snowmobiles through glistening forests. Autumn invites drives along winding country roads flanked by apple orchards and crimson maple trees.

With so much to experience, you may begin a love affair with this remarkable state that will create lasting memories. What are you waiting for?

Round Island Light in the Straits of Mackinac


1 Plan a Romantic Getaway to Mackinac Island: If you’re looking for a long, romantic weekend, look no further. You’ll find picturesque views and plenty of Victorian charm.

2 Go Museum Hopping: Detroit, Dearborn, and Ann Arbor are home to some of the finest museums in the Midwest. Whether your interests lie with natural sciences, art, or American history, there are lots of ways to let your imagination soar.

3 Cruise along the Pictured Rocks: The calm lake waters and the remarkable mineral colors of the cliffs combine to create an unmatched experience. Venturing offshore, whether on a cruise tour or a kayak trip, will reveal this stunning palette of color.

4 Hit the Trail: The Upper and Lower Peninsulas offer hundreds of miles of hiking trails, from easy paths to advanced backpacking routes.

5 Explore the Shore: Michigan is blessed with the most miles of shoreline among the contiguous 48 states. Lake Superior’s shore has hardy pine trees, stony beaches, and craggy rocks. Soft, sandy beaches line Lake Michigan. Lake Huron offers a varied topography and much more solitude.

6 Raise a Glass: Explore the ever-expanding wine industry or, if you prefer beer, follow the Traverse City Ale Trail to sample microbreweries one by one.

7 Take a Scenic Drive: Michigan is home to a multitude of beautiful vistas that can be enjoyed by car.

8 Dine Out in Detroit: What better way to experience Detroit’s ongoing renaissance than by eating your way through its restaurant scene? The possibilities are endless, from fried zucchini in Greektown or taquitos in Mexicantown to scaloppine picante at any of the numerous Italian restaurants.

9 Marvel at the Stars: For a pristine view of the heavens, head to Headlands International Dark Sky Park.

10 See Wildlife: Invest in a good pair of binoculars, offer up a day of your time, and you’ll be rewarded with sightings of moose, elk, and many varieties of avian life.

Planning Your Trip


Almost any Michigander knows the trick. Look at the back of your left hand and you’ll find a handy “map” of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. When a visitor from out of state asks for the location of a particular destination, the knowledgeable native will point to the appropriate spot—near one of the knuckles, along the edge of the pinky finger, or when referencing the region surrounding the state’s premier city, the area between the wrist and the base of the thumb.

You can do something similar to symbolize the Upper Peninsula. Turn your left hand to the palm side, and leave only your thumb and first two fingers extended.


Michigan’s densely populated southeast corner offers a huge variety of experiences in a tightly compact area. Known for its Motown music, rock-and-roll vibe, and legendary sports figures, Detroit is undergoing a renaissance, with the revitalizing of its downtown and midtown areas and a vibrant nightlife scene.

Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor offers a unique blend of big-city energy and college-town friendliness, with galleries, gardens, and, of course, football. Visitors are often surprised by the cultural attractions that abound in this region, from impressive museums like the University of Michigan Museum of Art and Museum of Natural History to the Purple Rose Theatre Company in nearby Chelsea.

sidewalk café in Ann Arbor

The Thumb

If you’re looking for a secluded summer vacation spot, you’ve found it. Waterfront resorts and cottages, the warm waters of Lake Huron, and tranquil beaches will seduce any leisure seeker. As a bonus, inviting lakeside communities offer welcoming summer festivals and concerts.

Grand Rapids and the Heartland

A wide swath of rolling prairies, scenic lakes, weathered barns, and abundant farmland, the Heartland is also home to some of the state’s finest educational institutions and largest cities, including Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Midland, and Lansing. Grand Rapids, hometown of President Gerald Ford, offers a walkable downtown surrounded by the picturesque Grand River. Experience a flight simulator at the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo, or head to the Michigan International Speedway to watch a NASCAR race.

The Southwest Coast

Part resort, part artist colony, the Southwest Coast offers dramatic sand dunes, coastal state parks, and abundant art galleries. Home to the state’s hospitable Dutch community and the annual Tulip Time Festival, this region also anchors the southern tier of Michigan’s long arc of wineries and tasting rooms.

Traverse City and Michigan Wine Country

The crown jewel of northern lower Michigan, Traverse City offers fine restaurants, an inviting shopping district, out-of-the-way antiques shops, and wineries—lots of them. After exploring Traverse City, a visit to pleasant Petoskey and a journey through the Tunnel of Trees (M-119) will inspire anyone, especially in autumn. The majesty of nature is most evident at Sleeping Bear Dunes. Northwest Michigan is also known for its superb golf courses and ski resorts.

the Tunnel of Trees

Mackinac Island and Northeast Michigan

The absence of automobiles makes Mackinac Island as close as you can get to 19th-century America. In this picturesque place, horse-drawn carriages ferry guests to the incomparable Grand Hotel. The lighthouses and small towns of the Rogers City area will awaken any visitor’s sense of adventure. For lovers of all things touristy, the quirky shops of Mackinaw City will provide plenty of stimulation, as will the omnipresent fudge shops.

Eastern Upper Peninsula

Most travelers reach the UP by crossing the Mackinac Bridge to St. Ignace. From here, you can explore a bevy of noteworthy sights, including lighthouses, a shipwreck museum, and the Soo Locks near Sault Ste. Marie. You’ll find terrific fishing spots like the Manistique Lakes, excellent canoeing rivers like the Two Hearted, incredible views at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and acres of undisturbed forestland.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Western Upper Peninsula

Take a walk on the wild side. Hike through the Porcupine Mountains or descend to the depths of an abandoned copper mine in Hancock. Backpackers can lose themselves within expansive forests, and kayakers can explore the frigid waters of Lake Superior. Isle Royale, an island national park in Lake Superior, is for the truly daring who wish to enjoy nature as a totally immersive experience.

When to Go

Summer is the most popular time to visit Michigan—people come for the beaches, inland lakes, and major events like the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City and African World Festival in Detroit. July is typically the warmest month. In northern Michigan, it’s also the most bug-infested. Timing a camping trip before mid-June or after mid-August is smart, as the mosquitoes and blackflies are less bothersome.

Autumn may be the very best time to visit. Days are cool, night skies are clear, bugs are gone, and fall colors are outstanding. For peak color, the second week of September in the UP and the second week of October for the Lower Peninsula are usually the best times, but this can vary depending on weather conditions. Make sure to research this ahead of time.

Winter usually descends in November in the Upper Peninsula, in December in the Lower Peninsula, and can linger through March. For snow sports, February is the safest time to ensure good cover.

Spring emerges in southern Michigan in early May, working its way northward. With moderate temperatures and blossoming trees, this season is ideal for foliage lovers.


Reservations may be necessary, especially for popular B&Bs during the summer. Northern Michigan is a seasonal place—some attractions and accommodations are only open late spring to early fall. If you come during the off-season, make sure to call ahead.

Getting Around

The best way to navigate this sprawling state is to bring your own vehicle or rent a car. All major airports have rental car services.

Recreation Passport

A Recreation Passport ( is required for all vehicles entering state parks and recreation areas, state boat launches, state forest campgrounds, and state trail parking lots.

Michigan residents can purchase an annual Recreation Passport ($12 vehicles, $6 motorcycles) with their license plate registration renewal, or at the entrance to any state park for an additional $5 convenience fee.

Nonresidents have the option to buy an annual Recreation Passport ($36) or a day pass ($10). The annual Recreation Passport for nonresidents is valid until the end of the calendar year—a great deal if you plan on visiting multiple state parks. Both of these nonresident passes can be purchased at Michigan state parks or DNR customer service centers (the latter accept cash or check only). Additionally, nonresidents can purchase the annual Recreation Passport online at a DNR e-store.

What to Pack

Be prepared for a variety of weather conditions—even in summer, jackets and umbrellas may be necessary. Attire is casual, though nicer restaurants and houses of worship appreciate business casual. If your plans include golfing and bird-watching, you might want to bring your favorite clubs and binoculars. Heavier, bulkier items such as canoes, bikes, fishing gear, and other such equipment are easy to rent once you arrive.

Foreign travelers will need passports and electrical adapter plugs. Anyone planning to travel to and from Canada should have proper identification as well.

Romance on Mackinac Island

Situated between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas, Mackinac Island is an ideal spot for a weekend getaway, especially during the summer. Whether you reach this nostalgic place via ferry or plane, you and your sweetheart will surely have a memorable weekend.


Prior to your getaway, reserve a room at one of the island’s unique hotels, such as the Chippewa Hotel Waterfront, the Hotel Iroquois, or the Mission Point Resort, all of which feature luxurious suites and spectacular views. If cost is no issue, you might prefer the exquisite Grand Hotel, the setting (and filming location) for the 1980 romance Somewhere in Time.

After checking into your hotel, take a narrated horse-drawn carriage tour of the island, which will introduce you to some of its best landmarks and attractions. For a romantic dinner, consider the Yankee Rebel Tavern, which offers fireplace seating, an ample wine and beer selection, and a variety of winning selections, from slow-roasted ribs to pistachio-crusted whitefish.


Start the day with breakfast at or near your hotel, then head to the bustling downtown area along Main and Market Streets, where you can browse shops, sample fudge, and visit historic homes, such as the Biddle House and the Benjamin Blacksmith Shop, both of which are included with admission to Fort Mackinac.

period interpreters at Fort Mackinac

For lunch, head up to the Fort Mackinac Tea Room, where you can enjoy delicious soups, salads, and sandwiches from a picturesque terrace with a stunning view of the waterfront. Afterward, stroll amid the former barracks and other buildings that comprise the whitewashed fort. Observe the musket firings and cannon salutes reenacted by costumed guides, then walk to the Grand Hotel and take a leisurely stroll through the landscaped grounds.

If you still have energy, venture across Mackinac Island State Park, which encompasses much of the island. Along the way, you’ll see vibrant forests, limestone bluffs, lake vistas, and curious rock formations, such as Skull Cave and Arch Rock. If you’re slightly more athletic, head over to the Mackinac Island Bike Shop. Here, you’ll find a wide selection of rental bikes, ideal for exploring this 2,200-acre paradise. Pick up a free island map and explore as much as your desire and stamina will allow. If you’re really ambitious, you may want to pedal the entire circumference of the island via Lake Shore Boulevard (M-185). When you’re ready, head toward the marina, return your bikes, and opt for a casual dinner at the Seabiscuit Café, which stays open late and serves several delectable entrées, from steak burgers to curry chicken to French Creole jambalaya.

kites over Mackinac Island


Head to the Chippewa Hotel Waterfront—if you’re not already staying here—and have breakfast at the Pink Pony, which offers omelets, pancakes, and fresh berry parfaits amid stunning marina views. Then, take one last stroll through the downtown area, and if there’s time, visit the Original Mackinac Island Butterfly House & Insect World, where you’ll spy hundreds of vibrant butterflies amid a tropical garden. Afterward, check out of your hotel and return to the mainland via ferry or plane.

Fall Into the Upper Peninsula

The Upper Peninsula offers one of the nation’s best yearly displays of autumn colors. Collectively, the area’s flaming maples, oaks, and various other hardwoods reveal a truly stunning palette of reds, ambers, and yellows—balanced with a fair amount of aquamarine from the high number of evergreens.

It’s essential to time your trip with precision. While fall colors in the Upper Peninsula typically peak between late September and early October, a given year’s weather conditions can either accelerate or delay their appearance. During the weeks prior to your trip, monitor the fall color reports via the media and be prepared to change your plans as necessary.

Once you settle on your dates, the following itinerary will lead you to some of the UP’s very best spots for fall color.

Day 1: Tahquamenon Falls

Begin your trip at Tahquamenon Falls State Park, one of the nation’s most beautiful waterfalls west of Niagara. Take your time exploring the park while enjoying the rustic trails that link the upper and lower falls, which appear even more beautiful when set against the background of autumnal color. An excellent place to stay is the Magnuson Grand Hotel in Paradise.

Day 2: Pictured Rocks

After checking out Tahquamenon Falls, head west toward Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore via M-28 and M-77. Here you’ll find Miners Falls and Mosquito Falls, nestled in a swath of fall color. Each requires a short hike from the parking area—but it’s worth it. On your way toward Munising to spend the night, be sure to check out Wagner Falls, another gem. Stay at the AmericInn by Wyndham in Munising.

Pictured Rocks

Day 3: Hiawatha National Forest

After departing Munising, get on M-28 to Harvey, where you can pick up U.S. 41. Take U.S. 41 south through Rapid River, Gladstone, and Escanaba. The route will wind through Hiawatha National Forest, where you’ll experience miles of uninterrupted nature. Stay the evening at the Terrace Bay Hotel in Gladstone.

Day 4: Garden Peninsula and U.S. 2

Take U.S. 41 north to U.S. 2. Head east toward St. Ignace (and possibly detour down the Garden Peninsula). Along the way you’ll pass through Manistique while enjoying more color on your left and the crystal blue water of Lake Michigan on your right.


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On Sale
Sep 12, 2023
Page Count
472 pages
Moon Travel

Paul Vachon

About the Author

Lifelong Michigander Paul Vachon's introduction to the Upper Peninsula was a childhood trip to the fascinating Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie. From that point forward, he developed a love for travel in general, and for Michigan in particular. Over the years, Paul has visited virtually every corner of the Great Lakes State. One of his favorite pastimes is heading "up north" on I-75 to any of a myriad of Michigan destinations. Paul has also traveled extensively within and outside of the United States. His international destinations have included the U.S. Virgin Islands, Canada, Guatemala, Denmark, Italy, Israel, and Egypt.

Paul began his writing career in 2008 and covers topics as diverse as travel, Detroit history, business, education, and green living. He is the author of three books on Detroit-area history: Forgotten Detroit, South Oakland County, and Legendary Locals of Detroit.

Paul lives with his wife, Sheryl, and their son, Evan, in Oak Park, a suburb of Detroit. You can learn more about Paul by visiting his website,

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