West Michigan Beaches
Strung along the entire West Michigan shoreline, from Mackinaw City in the north to the Warren Dunes in the south, is a solid strip of sandy white beaches, the finest in the Midwest. A quick glance at any Michigan map reveals scores of sunning and swimming options. State parks provide inexpensive access ($6 per day, $24 per year for state residents; $8 per day, $29 per year for nonresidents). And the parks often feature great campgrounds. (Reserve your site early -- a year in advance, if possible.) You can get more information by calling tel. 800/44-PARKS (447-2757) or checking online at www.michigandnr.com/parksandtrails.
Traverse City -- Traverse City, in Michigan's northwestern Lower Peninsula, is known for boutique shopping, wineries, and a vibrant arts scene, as well as its beaches. Traverse City State Park, 1132 U.S. 31 N. (tel. 231/922-5270), and Bayside Park, U.S. 31 North, 8 miles east in Acme, both offer great beaches, swimming, and picnicking. Twenty-five miles east, near Empire on M-22, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (tel. 231/326-5134; www.nps.gov/slbe) boasts some of the best beaches and dunes in the state. Contact the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau (tel. 800/TRAVERSE [872-8377]; www.visittraversecity.com) for information.
Ludington -- It's worth a trip just to experience the pristine 8-mile dune drive along Ludington's shoreline. Wild dune vistas and superb swimming beaches are dotted with free parking, both in Ludington City Park (Lakeshore Dr.) and en route to Ludington State Park (tel. 231/843-2423) on M-116. Both parks offer sugar-sand beaches and "Big Lake" boating; the latter includes massive dunes, a lighthouse, and Hamlin Lake, a calmer (and warmer) inland option. For more information, contact the Ludington Convention and Visitors Bureau (tel. 877/420-6618; www.ludingtoncvb.com).
The Holland area enjoys four great beaches: Holland State Park, 2215 Ottawa Beach Rd. (tel. 616/399-9390); Oval Beach, Oval Drive just off Perryman Street, Saugatuck; Dunes State Park, western end of 138th Avenue, Saugatuck (tel. 616/637-2788); and Tunnel Park, 66 Lakeshore Dr. (tel. 616/738-4810), named for its unique tunnel through a sand dune. All four have picnic and playground facilities, but it's the huge sugar-sand beaches that attract thousands every year. For details, contact the Holland Convention and Visitors Bureau (tel. 800/506-1299; http://holland.org).
Set in the waters separating Michigan's upper and lower peninsulas, Mackinac (pronounced Mack-i-naw) Island is one of Michigan's most popular and romantic destinations. Cars are strictly prohibited; visitors get around the island on foot, bicycles, and horse-drawn carriages. The lack of modern transportation cultivates the sense of 19th-century nostalgia pervading the island, a veritable storehouse of beautifully restored Victorian homes. Mackinac Island State Park (tel. 906/847-3328; www.mackinacparks.com) constitutes 80% of the island. For more information, contact the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau (tel. 877/847-0086; www.mackinacisland.org).
Getting There -- The major route to Mackinac Island is I-75 from the south. From the lower peninsula, ferries depart from Mackinaw City; from the upper peninsula, ferries sail from St. Ignace. Arnold Transit Co. (tel. 800/542-8528; www.arnoldline.com), Shepler's Ferry (tel. 800/828-6157; www.sheplersferry.com), and Star Line Ferry (tel. 800/638-9892; www.mackinacferry.com) all service the island from both cities and charge $25 adults and $12 children 5 to 12 for round-trip tickets. Children 4 and under are free; bike transport is $7.50. You can also travel by plane from St. Ignace on Great Lakes Air (tel. 906/643-7165; www.greatlakesair.net).
The oldest structure in Michigan, and one of the nation's few remaining Revolutionary War-era ruins, Fort Mackinac (tel. 906/847-3328; www.mackinacparks.com) looms high on a bluff overlooking the Straits of Mackinac. Originally a British outpost, Fort Mackinac was conquered by American soldiers 20 years after the Revolution. In addition to housing historic ruins, the Fort hosts Victorian children's games; bagpipe, bugle, and drum corps music; hourly rifle and cannon firings; and military reenactments performed by costumed interpreters.
Another prime vantage on the straits can be had from the porch at the Grand Hotel (tel. 800/33-GRAND [334-7263] or 906/847-3331; www.grandhotel.com), a National Historic Landmark. The veranda exudes romance and is a focal point of this wood-frame summer hotel, built in 1887. For $15, take a self-guided tour of this lovely landmark and enjoy the view from a rocking chair on the world's longest front porch. The price of the tour can be deducted from the cost of a meal.
If you like to bike, take a spin around the island following an 8-mile circuit on M-185 (Lake Shore Rd.). The view of the straits is spellbinding from here, and you can rubberneck without fear, given the prohibition on motorized vehicles. Bike rentals ($4-$8 per hour, depending upon the model) are available downtown. Ask about day rates and children's seats.
For an easier tour of the island, travel via horse and buggy with Mackinac Island Carriage Tours (tel. 906/847-3307; www.mict.com; $24 adults, $9 children 5-12). Two-hour trips begin near the boat docks in the shopping district and take in the Governor's Mansion, the Grand Hotel, Fort Mackinac, and Arch Rock, a limestone formation that is among the island's most popular natural attractions.
View natural attractions of a different sort at the Mackinac Island Butterfly House, 1308 McGulpin St. (tel. 906/847-3972; www.originalbutterflyhouse.com; $7.50 adults, $4 children 5-12); and the Wings of Mackinac butterfly house on Carriage Road (tel. 906/847-WING [847-9464]; www.wingsofmackinac.com; $5.50 adults, $2.50 children 5-12). Downtown, a smattering of shops and galleries are worth a stroll. Don't leave the island without sampling its famous fudge. Many downtown shops sell the island's favorite confection to tourists, who are affectionately known as "fudgies."
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
On the north coast of Michigan's upper peninsula, rain, wind, and waves have sculpted 17 miles of multicolored sandstone cliffs into Pictured Rocks, one of the state's most scenic shores. The most spectacular cliffs extend from Munising to Grand Marais and soar to a height of 200 feet, varying from caves and arches to narrow columns and overlooks. Lodging, restaurants, information, and camping supplies can be found in Munising on Route 28 and in Grand Marais on Route 77. For information, contact Grand Marais Chamber of Commerce (tel. 906/494-2447; www.grandmaraismi.com) or park headquarters (tel. 906/387-2607; www.nps.gov/piro).
There are miles of hiking trails and roads, which yield close-up views of the Pictured Rocks, including the North Country Trail. Many visitors prefer to see the multicolored shore via 2-hour cruise. Boats dock at the Munising City Pier, Mich. 28 and Elm Avenue (tel. 800/650-2379 or 906/387-2379; www.picturedrocks.com). Adults pay $33, children 6 to 12 $10, and children 5 and under ride free.
In the summer, lakeshore pastimes include hiking, picnicking, and swimming (if you can brave Lake Superior's frigid waters). In the winter, visitors enjoy snowshoeing, snowmobiling, or cross-country skiing on 21 miles of trails.
Near Grand Marais, the cliffs ease into giant sand dunes, which lumberjacks used as chutes to send forested timber into the lake below. Inland, you'll find waterfalls, forests, abundant wildlife, and fish swarming in lakes, ponds, and streams. At the base of the cliffs, a sand beach stretches for 12 miles.
After a rigorous day in the outdoors, replenish your energy without depleting your funds at Sydney's, 400 Cedar St., Munising (tel. 906/387-4067). Grilled steaks or fresh Great Lakes whitefish are the specialties. Dine in or take out.
There are three drive-in campsites in the 40-mile Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore between Munising and Grand Marais. You can also hike into primitive campgrounds along the water. In Grand Marais, North Shore Lodge, 22020 Coast Guard Pt., 1 mile east of Route 77 (tel. 906/494-2361), offers humble, affordable lodging on a stretch of private beach, with an indoor pool and a kids' play area.
Getting There -- To reach Pictured Rocks from the Mackinac Bridge (I-75), take U.S. 2 west immediately after the bridge, then M-77 north to Grand Marais. For Munising, turn west on M-28 at Seney.
Isle Royale National Park
It's tough to get to Isle Royale National Park (tel. 906/482-0984; www.nps.gov/isro), which is precisely its appeal. The remote, craggy islands are populated with hardwood forests, wildlife, lakes, and streams rather than loads of tourists and RVs. Cars are prohibited in this northern oasis, accessible only by boat and floatplane, 50 miles from Michigan's northwest coast and surrounded by icy Lake Superior. The main island is the largest (45 miles wide*8 miles long) and most visited, but 400 smaller islands pepper the surrounding waters. It's likely you'll have one all to yourself, provided you can paddle there. And you can do so only mid-April through October; the park is closed to visitors the rest of the year.
A trip to Isle Royale takes careful planning. Ferries to the island return just a few hours after they dock; don't waste your time and money on the long voyage unless you plan to stay overnight. If you're traveling midsummer, it's wise to reserve ferry space in advance. The one-way, 2 1/2-hour cruise from Grand Portage, Minnesota (on Hwy. 61 near Ontario) on Voyageur II (tel. 218/475-0024 summer, 651/653-5872 off season; www.grand-isle-royale.com) costs $59 adults, $39 children 11 and under to Windigo; $69 adults and $46 children to Rock Harbor. The 3-hour, one-way trip from Copper Harbor, Michigan (on U.S. 41, on the Keweenaw Peninsula) on the Isle Royale Queen IV (tel. 906/289-4437; www.isleroyale.com) costs $62 adults, $31 children 11 and under. And the 6-hour trip from Houghton, Michigan (on U.S. 41, on the Keweenaw Peninsula) on Ranger III (tel. 906/482-0984; www.nps.gov/isro) costs $60 adults, $20 children 11 and under. The Ranger III is the only ferry large enough to transport boats; fees vary according to boat size. From Houghton you can also catch a seaplane (tel. 877/359-4753; www.royaleairservice.com) for $269 per person, round-trip. Visitors also need to pay a user fee of $4 per day for every person age 12 and over.
You'll encounter Isle Royale's sole inhabitants -- 200 bird species, foxes, beavers, wolves, and about 700 moose -- along the park's 165 miles of foot trails. Greenstone Ridge Trail, the main artery, is strenuous, running east-west along the island -- a 4- or 5-day trek even for fit hikers. Easier routes include the treks along the rugged bluffs of Stoll Trail and along Tobin Harbor Trail to Suzy's Cave; and up 880 feet to Lookout Louise, a more difficult climb that rewards with unsurpassed views. Even inexperienced paddlers can manage a canoe trip across Hidden Lake, where a natural salt lick attracts the local moose population.
Rock Harbor Lodge, Rock Harbor (tel. 906/337-4993 summer, 866/644-2003 off season; www.isleroyaleresort.com; open Memorial Day to Labor Day), provides lodging and meals to those who need more comfort than a tent. Doubles begin at $230 per night without meals or $360 per night with three meals. The lodge's surprisingly good dining room is open to all, or you can bring your own food (there are no grocery stores on Isle Royale) and rent a cottage with kitchenette beginning at $223 a night. All lodging includes a half-day canoe rental. Sightseeing cruises depart Rock Harbor for a variety of island destinations, beginning at $36 adults, $18 children 11 and under. Water Bus service to points along Isle Royale's shore is a popular means of exploring distant trails without the lengthy hike out. Rates begin at $15 per person.
The campgrounds near Rock Harbor have three-sided wooden shelters, but they fill up fast because of their proximity to the island's entry point. Three Mile and Daisy Farm are within a day's hike of Rock Harbor, west along the southern shore. The popular West Chickenbone campground lies a 2- to 3-day hike from Rock Harbor, along the Greenstone Ridge Trail.
For more information, call Park Headquarters at tel. 906/482-0984. Ranger stations are at Windigo, Rock Harbor, Malone Bay, and Amygdaloid.