It’s easy to think of the common misconceptions that are associated with Michigan to outsiders. The city of Detroit and cold, blustery winters are just a few that come to mind. However, Michigan is known for so much more than meets the eye. With many hidden gems and places of historical significance to explore, it’s a state that has something for everybody. There is so much to discover in Michigan.
Here, in no specific order, are the top ten places to see in Michigan if you’re planning a trip to the Great Lakes State.
1. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Michigan has the longest freshwater shoreline in the world. In fact, Michigan has more shoreline than any other state in the country except for Alaska. You can find that and more at Sleeping Bear Dunes.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was named the “Most Beautiful Place in America” on ABC’s Good Morning America. That alone should tell you that the park and beaches should be on any to-do list when visiting Michigan.
Sleeping Bear Dunes boasts miles of sandy beaches with clear lakes, bluffs that soar 450-feet above Lake Michigan and abundant forests that make the perfect camping trip location. Those who conquer the steep and sandy bluffs are rewarded with a breathtaking view of the lake.
All of this makes Sleeping Bear Dunes a natural world inside Michigan.
2. Detroit Institute of Arts
The Detroit Institute of Arts, or the DIA for short, was founded in 1885 and quickly established itself as a gem of the city of Detroit. The DIA quickly outgrew its original location on Jefferson Avenue and, in 1927, established its permanent home on Woodward Avenue in 1927.
The DIA is a massive expanse which covers 658,000 square feet and includes over 100 galleries, a 1,150-seat auditorium, an art reference library and a state-of-the-art conservation services laboratory. The DIA’s art collection is one of the largest and most significant art museums in the entire United States.
Without the help and direction from William Valentiner, museum director from 1924 to 1945, the DIA would not be in the position it is today. Under his leadership, the DIA were able to obtain important works by artists such as Diego Rivera and Vincent van Gogh. Rivera’s fresco style Detroit Industry, a piece Rivera considered his most successful work, and van Gogh’s Self Portrait, the first Van Gogh painting to enter a United States museum collection, are iconic pieces still on display to this day.
3. The Henry Ford Musuem
The automobile and Michigan are synonymous with one another. A man named Henry Ford founded a company called Ford Motor Company in 1903 and was largely considered the brainchild of assembly line techniques that mass produced automobiles that, in turn, many middle class Americans could afford.
The Henry Ford Museum began as a place where Ford would attempt to preserve historical items and portray the Industrial Revolution as far back as 1906. Presently, the 12 acre site now holds antique machinery, pop culture items, automobiles and other items of historical significance.
Some items that are priceless historical artifacts are a model of the nuclear-powered Ford Nucleon, the 1961 Lincoln Continental limousine that President John F. Kennedy was riding in when he was assassinated, the rocking chair President Abraham Lincoln was sitting in when he was assassinated from Ford’s Theater, Georgia Washington’s camp bed, Thomas Edison’s alleged last breath in a sealed tube and the bus Rosa Parks was arrested on for refusing to give up her seat.
4. Greenfield Village
Take a step back in time once you enter the vast outdoor museum of Greenfield Village. A subset of The Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village takes observers back to the Industrial Revolution to show visitors how Americans lived and worked since the founding of the country. Greenfield Village was the birth place of Henry Ford and was opened to the public in 1933.
With his passion of preserving history, Ford brought in historical buildings to keep the past alive. Many of the buildings that were brought in were crucial parts of history including Orville and Wilber Wright’s bicycle shop and home, the home of Noah Webster the creator of the dictionary, an exact replica of Thomas Edison’s laboratory and much more.
Outside of the historical buildings, there are many other things to see and do as well. Such as watching costumed interpreters demonstrate glass blowing or sewing methods dating back over a hundred years ago to taking a ride in a horse-drawn carriage or a Ford Model T.
4. Mackinaw Island
Do you need to take a step away from the hustle-and-bustle of daily life? Mackinaw Island is the place for you. When you first step foot on the luxurious island after a short ferry ride, you’ll notice that automobiles are not allowed on the island that has a population of 492 people in the non-tourism months. Instead, bicycles and horse-drawn carriages are often used as a major form of transportation on the island. Of course, you can walk the island if you feel so inclined, as the island is only 3 ½ miles long and 2 miles wide.
Despite being known and recognized for its delicious fudge, and there’s plenty of it to enjoy on the island, Mackinaw Island boasts so much than the delectable fudge treat. Walking downtown, you’ll see endless gift shops, restaurants and, of course, fudge shops waiting for you to peruse. The crown jewel of the island is the Grand Hotel. The hotel has hosted many historical figures including Mark Twain, Thomas Edison and five US Presidents. Even if you cannot stay at the Grand Hotel, the grounds and tour of the hotel itself is worth the $10 price of admission.
The Butterfly Conservatory, the Equestrian Center and Skull Cave are also recommended places to see during your visit to Mackinaw Island.
6. Tahquamenon Falls State Park
The second largest state park in the state of Michigan, Tahquamenon Falls has over 50,000 acres of woodland trails to be explored. The reason the state park exists is thanks to the Tahquamenon River with its breathtaking waterfalls.
The waterfalls are split into two major sections, the Upper and Lower Falls. The Lower Falls are the smaller of the waterfalls but are equally as impressive to the Upper Falls. It consists of five smaller waterfalls cascading around an island.
Four miles upstream is where the Upper Falls can be found. One of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi, the Upper Falls has a drop of nearly 50 feet and has a maximum flow of 50,000 gallons of water per second.
The falls can be accessed by walking the beautiful island walk trails or the falls can be viewed on the river bank or on the island by renting a kayak.
7. Motown Historical Museum
Not only is Detroit and the state of Michigan known for the automobile industry, its presence is music history also cannot be ignored. The Motown Historical Museum showcases the contributions of the likes of Diana Ross who call Detroit home. A powerful woman like Ross in the music industry wouldn’t be in the historical position she is today without the help of the Motown record label.
The Motown Historical Museum was once home to the label’s founder, Berry Gordy Jr., who single-handedly built the Motown roster of artists that once included Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and the Jackson 5 at its peak. With the combined roster, no other record label has ever seen as much commercial success as Motown has. With over 180 No. 1 hit songs worldwide, the Motown sound is still as iconic today as it was back then.
The museum showcases Berry Gordy’s two-family flat preserved to showcase what it was like when Gordy was living there. The upper level is where Gordy lived and the lower level exhibits the iconic Studio A, where songs such as “Stop in the Name of Love” by the Supremes were made. Studio A exhibits original instruments and equipment, dating back to 1959 through 1972.
8. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Lake Superior is the largest, deepest and coldest of the Great Lakes surrounding Michigan. Lake Superior also surrounds the beautiful Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore gets its name from the 15 miles of colorful sandstone cliffs northeast of Munising. The U.S. Congress made Pictured Rocks the first officially designated National Lakeshore in the United States in 1966 and is governed by the National Park Service.
The national lakeshore has miles of beaches, 100 miles of trails and hardwood forests to explore. The cliffs of the painted rock are the real attraction, which are composed of 500-million-year-old Cambrian Period sandstone. The mottled red Jacobsville Formation is the oldest rock in the park.
9. Isle Royale National Park
The Isle Royale National Park, an isolated island located near the Canadian border, remains one of the largely untouched areas of land in Michigan. Isle Royale is the perfect location for backpackers, hikers and boaters alike to explore the natural beauty the island has to offer. Like Mackinaw Island, wheeled vehicles are not allowed on the island.
The island itself is characterized as an archipelago which preserves over 132,000 acres of land. The national park consists of one large island that is surrounded by 450 smaller islands; it encompasses an area of over 850 square miles. Isle Royale is said to be sculpted by the Ice Age 11,000 years which gave birth to Lake Superior. The massive sheet of ice that covered the region is said to have formed the ridges the island is known for.
10. Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
Meijer Gardens, located in Grand Rapids, offers a unique botanic and sculpture experience to over a half-million visitors annually. Meijer Gardens boasts over 134 acres of grounds that features Michigan’s largest tropical conservatory, one of the largest children’s gardens in the country as well as a 1750 seat amphitheater for concerts in the summer time.
Grand Rapids has turned into a hub for artists to gather and create art. So there’s no better location to encapsulate the artistic spirit within Grand Rapids than Meijer Gardens. The gardens have one of the most significant collections of sculptures in the nation. Hosting more than 50 major works in the sculpture park, there will always be something unique to be seen in a natural setting.