Northern Michigan Vacations: Kick-back? Kick-start? Find the vacation vibe you crave in one (or more!) of these 10 gorgeous full-on-July escapes in Northern Michigan.
Location: Ludington State Park, Ludington
Photographer: Angela Brown
To find the spot where Angela Brown captured the magic of what she calls the twinkly time of day, just follow the Big Sable River’s downstream flow to where river and Lake Michigan converge on the shore of Ludington State Park. Along the way, keep alert for the great blue heron that perch near wading fishermen, hoping to catch the fish first. Then rent a canoe at the park store and paddle the meandering water trail. If it weren’t for signs that mark the way, you might feel like an early explorer here, the first to discover these overgrown bayous and ponds and spot a deer on the shore or eagle overhead. Says Brown: “I was amazed at how beautiful it was, the way the light was cast across the water feeding into the lake.” Eat: Pack a picnic and nestle into a beach dune by following one of many paths that head to the lake from the park’s access road.
Luciano’s Ristoranti (231.843.2244) offers pasta take-out; Best Choice Market (231.843.6328) an impressive selection of wine. Stay: Hike-in spots at the park’s Jack Pine campground get you closest to the sound of lapping waves (231.843.2423, visitludington.com/statepark). Or listen from the comfort of your bed at Snyder’s Shoreline Inn (231.845.1261, snydersshorelineinn.com).
Location: Spray Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Munising
Photographer: Aaron Peterson
Spray Creek runs as a tiny meandering stream, easily overlooked until it throws itself in spectacular fashion over the side of a rugged cliff and launches a 70-foot freefall into Lake Superior, says photographer Aaron Peterson of ever-impressive Spray Falls, in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (906.387.3700, nps.gov/piro). Peterson captured a rainbow across the spray by camping west of the falls at Chapel Beach, a do-able 1.75-mile kayak trip that allowed him time to watch the waning sun hit the falls and still paddle back to camp before dark. The so-called golden hours are most impressive at twilight, Peterson says, when the sun best illuminates the many-colored streaks in the sandstone. For this kayak-seat view, try the guided trips or a rental from Northern Waters Adventures (northernwaters.com). Catch the falls from above by hiking the moderately challenging six-mile round-trip on Lakeshore Trail from a parking spot at Beaver Lake Campground. At cliff’s edge, look down for a glimpse of the 1856 shipwreck Superior at the falls’ base. Or, easiest of all, hop a ferry: once a day, the Pictured Rocks Boat Cruises makes an extended three-hour loop that reaches Spray.
Eat: The perfect Yooper finger food, the pasty, is at its flaky best at Muldoon’s, in Munising, where the pumpkin pie pasty with whipped cream offers a decadent meal end (906.387.5880). Stay: The Sunset Motel on the Bay, Munising, offers affordable lake-view suites and a guide to three waterfalls within easy hike distance (906.387.4574, sunsetmotelonthebay.com).
Location: Torch Lake, Antrim County
Photographer: Paul Masck
The water radiates a Caribbean blue and runs so clear that, on still days, you can see the meandering path of a crawfish etched into the lake bottom some 20 feet down. Whether it’s urban legend or truth that National Geographic once named Torch Lake one of the world’s most beautiful lakes is beside the point; those who catch a glimpse believe it true. The name comes from an Ojibwe phrase meaning place of the torches, for the native practice of attracting fish by torchlight.
Eat: Siren Hall in Elk Rapids is a favorite way to enjoy fresh local seafood, sleekly presented and supplemented by that flown in from the coasts (231.264.6062, sirenhall.com). Stay: Lovely hilltop views from The Torch Lake Bed and Breakfast. Kayaks provided or book the sandbar cruise (231.599.3400, torchlakebb.com).
Location: Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island
Photographer: Anjanette Merriweather
The iconic sight of Hackney horses hauling a British-style coach, complete with tuxedoed driver in top hat, past this famed geranium-scented porch is one worthy of the bucket list. Photographer Anjanette Merriweather caught this panorama of the Straits of Mackinac from the storied Grand Hotel porch (reputed to be longest in the world), where the Edison phonograph was demonstrated and where four presidents and a who’s-who list of celebs have strolled.
Eat: Even nonguests can take high tea on the porch with a $10 entry fee. Stay: The Grand’s 125th anniversary this year is a great time to splurge on a stay that includes its traditional multi-course dining (800.334.7263, grandhotel.com). Or opt for Mackinaw City, where the Waterfront Inn offers a true bridge-view bargain (800.962.9832, largestbeach.com).
Location: Grass River Natural Area, Bellaire
Photographer: Brian Confer
Lush. That’s the word that came to photographer Brian Confer’s mind when he first hiked the pathways of the Grass River Natural Area, near Bellaire. No desertlike sand dunes here, just watery richness as boardwalks wind through woodlands, the ponds teeming with life. Wandering’s encouraged, and the silence of dusk has a special allure. But creative programming tempts, too, say, on scheduled pontoon trips to loon hangouts or photo safaris with camera phones
(231.533.8314, grassriver.org). Stay: Try the Applesauce Inn for nature-loving owners who know Grass River well and whip up a gourmet breakfast spread (231.533.6448, applesauceinn.com). Eat: Short’s Brewery, in Bellaire, is a must for creative deli fare and pizzas, buzz-worthy brews and family-friendly acoustic acts (231.533.6622, shortsbrewing.com).
Location: Isle Royale National Park, Lake Superior
Photographer: Aaron Peterson
Photographer Aaron Peterson admits that he once snubbed Stoll Trail, just off the Isle Royale ferry landing, as not adventurous enough for a true National Park (906.482.0984, nps.gov/isro) explorer. And then he hiked Stoll. What he found, he says, was a dramatic path that hugs a shoreline of lapping waves and jet black volcanic boulders accented dramatically by hunter orange lichens—in short, some of the island’s most spectacular (and easily reachable) views. Peaceful Duncan Bay Narrows (below) takes a bit more effort to reach since water’s the only navigable route to the campground at the base of some fjord-style harbors. You can get there via kayak, rentable at Rock Harbor Lodge. At camp, rise with the sun to catch the call of loons, the scampering of a family of fox, maybe a sailboat puttering out from a sheltered cove.
Eat: Peterson starts and ends each Isle Royale trip with a burger at Rock Harbor Lodge, paired with a Widow Maker Black Ale. Stay: Lodge rooms and cottages offer comfort and a view (906.337.4993, rockharborlodge.com); first-come, first-served backcountry shelters offer more adventure, but bring a tent in case they are occupied.
Location: Wilderness State Park, Mackinac Straits
Photographer: Ed Wargin
Head to Wilderness State Park’s southern edge for a swim on sugar sand; steer to the north rim for cobbled beaches. Hunt for treasure amid the stones, like this improbably placed shell engulfed in the rich orange twilight. Beaches are plentiful, with 19 continuous miles of shoreline in the park, and they’re left natural, so rare plants and birds, like the tiny piping plover, thrive undisturbed. And that’s as it should be in this corner of the state notable for the wild feel of its shoreline and skies. Fickle weather, a hallmark of the Northwest Lower P., means always-dramatic skies, particularly when—as in this shot—the light is trapped between storm clouds and the horizon, photographer Ed Wargin says. Find the shot spot by driving to the park’s northernmost end and exploring the beach just off the parking lot. While Wilderness’s southern end conjures images of bucolic summer, this stretch along the Straits of Mackinac feels fittingly wild. And stick around until after dark. The remote park is so free of light pollution that it’s seeking official dark sky designation and planning astronomy programs.
Eat: Find authentic Polish cuisine and quirky decor at Legs Inn (231.526.2281, legsinn.com). Stay: The park’s rustic, shoreline cabins book early for a reason. Try a weeknight if you’re hoping to slip in last minute. Also 250 campsites (800.436.5381).
Location: Arcadia Overlook, Arcadia
Photographer: Angela Brown
Most people lug their gear (or picnic basket) the entire 210-step climb to the top of Arcadia Overlook, then shoot (or eat). And so did photographer Angela Brown, but on her way up she stopped to capture this perspective—she liked how the rising boardwalk offered a sense of promise. Do climb to the newly built top deck, where Brown found a couple toasting the view. From here, one of Lake Michigan’s highest points, you can look down upon one of its deepest.
Eat: Four miles south on M-22, toast a Lake Michigan view while enjoying the locally focused and stunning al fresco dining at Arcadia Bluffs Golf Course (231.889.3001, arcadiabluffs.com). Stay: Arcadia House Bed and Breakfast rooms start at $109, leaving extra for an in-house massage followed by a garden Jacuzzi (231.889.4394, thearcadiahouse.com).
Location: Grand Traverse Bay, Traverse City
Photographer: Angela Brown
To capture the quintessential feel of the Traverse City region, photographer Angela Brown finds herself drawn to the sailboat masts that flicker in Grand Traverse Bay harbors at twilight each summer eve, the action of downtown Traverse City visible at a distance across the bay. A favored spot for photography or a beach cookout, the Greilickville Harbor Park is notable for the nautically themed playground recently built by famed TV carpenter and Traverse City native Carter Oosterhouse—and this just-after-sunset view of sailboats that whispers serenity, beauty, peace. Actually hoisting a sail and catching some wind is an option, too, on a microbrew, ice cream or otherwise themed outing of the schooner Manitou (231.941.2000, tallshipsailing.com). Or, be like Matt Myers (cover photo) and paddle the bay's placid waters.
Eat: The Apache Trout Grill serves you this view and great food (231.947.7079). Stay: The Holiday Inn West Bay (231.947.3700, tcwestbay.com) also lets you step out the door and head out for a sail. The catamaran Nauti-Cat docks here for its affordable day cruises and offers options for the party crowd and younger set. Opt for the kids cruise to Hula Hoop on board.(231.947.1730, nauti-cat.com).
Location: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Photographer: Mark Lindsay
Cliffs of soft sand seem to pour into the deep blue depths of Lake Michigan all along the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, evoking a gasp even from photographers well familiar with this spectacular landscape. Photographer Mark Lindsay finds creative relief in the solitude of nature, something he seeks during hundreds of hours exploring the park. Lindsay captured the image on the left from a bluff on Port Oneida, looking southwest to Sleeping Bear Point. He shot the image on the right along the shore of Good Harbor Bay.
Eat: Tiny Burdickville, near the southeast shore of Big Glen Lake offers elevated Euro fare at the French LaBécasse (231.334.3944) and Northern Italian Funistrada (231.334.3900). Also several options in Glen Arbor: burgers and whitefish at Art’s Tavern (231.334.3754) and Boone Docks (231.334.6444), Italian at Nonna’s (in The Homestead, 231.334.5150). Stay: The Glen Arbor Bed and Breakfast puts you at the heart of the village—walking distance to bookstores and paddling outfitters (231.334.6789, glenarborlodging.com). Or splurge on The Homestead for amenities like golf, spa and a lakeshore view (231.334.5100, thehomesteadresort.com).