As the crush of the holidays nears, consider a weekend escape a gift to yourself. Hunker down in one of these harbor towns on a November vacation in Northern Michigan for peace and quiet on the shores of a Great Lake.
Eastern Upper Peninsula: Freighters and waterfalls
Head just north of the Bridge to St. Ignace, on Lake Huron’s Moran Bay. Stay near downtown—the city’s visitors bureau lists cabin, campground, hotel and B&B options—and explore one of the country’s oldest continuously inhabited cities. Day trips: Going east along the Lake Huron shoreline offers scenic viewing at Bush Bay Overlook and other small parks, while Sault Ste. Marie and its rich maritime history—watch freighters, barges and tugboats traverse the 21-foot drop between Lake Superior and Lake Huron any day of the week—is just over an hour’s drive northeast. West of Soo Locks is Paradise and Whitefish Point Light Station—a great beach for rockhounds. (Find more Upper Peninsula lighthouses here.) From there, travel south to Tahquamenon Falls, for a day of late-fall hiking and waterfall chasing at the state park, before circling back toward the Mighty Mac.
Cheboygan: Live music and lighthouses
Settle in for an artistic performance at the 582-seat Opera House during your stay in Cheboygan, along the shores of Lake Huron and the banks of the Cheboygan River. “STORM: Great Lakes Shipwrecks,” featuring singer Dan Hall and shipwreck researcher Ric Mixter, is set for November 19 at the Opera House, 403 N. Huron (adults $15, students, $10). Cheboygan—an Indian name meaning “through passage,” referring to the 38.2 mile Inland Waterway Route—offers U.P. culture as well as outdoor recreation galore—this area is home to trailheads for the North Central State Trail and Cheboygan to Alpena Trail, former railroad lines that have been converted for pedestrian use in the warmer months and snowmobile trails come winter. For lighthouse seekers, Cheboygan is home to two of its own, plus two more easily visible from the city beach on Lake Huron. Three more lighthouses are 30 minutes or less away, and most are open to tours. Stay in an 1895 Victorian downtown (Bailey Street Cottage, vrbo.com, average nightly $125).
Frankfort: Sunsets and great food
Watch rolling waves (and likely a few freshwater surfers) during your visit to Frankfort. Get up close and personal with Lake Michigan with a stay at Harbor Lights Resort, a collection of waterfront hotel rooms and condos on a private beach (mini-suites with a lake view start at $129/night). Wander through the year-round farmers market, taking place each Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., on Main Street. Hike the Betsie Valley Trail, two miles from the resort, and satisfy your post-walk hunger and thirst at downtown’s Stormcloud Brewing Company, 303 Main St. (Pair their flagship Rainmaker Ale with The Stormavore flatbread pizza.) Top off your day with the two-block walk to Lake Michigan and the Frankfort Lighthouse for magnificent fall sunset-viewing.
Harbor Springs: Art galleries and antiques
A postcard-perfect autumn experience awaits in Harbor Springs, on Lake Michigan’s Little Traverse Bay. Browse the four-block downtown, situated between Little Traverse Bay and Victorian cottages lining the bluff overlooking the bay. Find chic boutiques and world-renowned galleries, featuring an array of art from woodcarvings and Petoskey stone jewelry to oil paintings, hand-blown glass, pottery and bronze sculptures. L’Esprit Antiques, 220 State St., offers hand-selected French antiques and home decor from the countryside of France. Check out Pond Hill Farm, 5581 S. Lake Shore Dr., for a variety of natural and organic foods and products—the farm, cafe, winery and brewery are open year round. Trout Creek Condominium Resort in Harbor Springs offers special lodging through November 30 (three-night stay starting at $51 per night/per person, includes welcome tote filled with local chocolates and treats). Hike the on-property trails and bike along the Little Traverse Wheelway.
If you are in the woods during firearm deer season, November 15–30, wear hunter orange and avoid brown or white clothing.