Pure Michigan

Before moving on west, I want to look over my shoulder one last time at my home state. Michigan is a grand state to be from. Nestled as it is between big, freshwater lakes, Michigan doesn’t lend itself to incidental visits. It’s not on major east-west arteries. It’s not even a good north-south option because of the bottleneck at the Mackinac bridge (pronounced mak’-in-aw). (Five miles long. The third largest suspension bridge in the world.) Then you would dead-end at Lake Superior, anyway. (Largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area.)

Mackinac bridge in all its grandeur*

So, out-of-state license plates are rare in Michigan. Sure, I see the occasional Indiana, Illinois, or Ohio visitors, and there’s a well-traveled Chicago-West Michigan summer vacation route, but by-and-large, you don’t end up in Michigan by accident.

I think that’s a good thing. It’s also my curmudgeonly view that the latest economic downturn has been good for Michigan, in a twisted sort of way. Not for the people who lost jobs, but to stem the crazy growth that was gobbling up lakeshore (10,083 inland lakes) and forest like PacMan on steroids. People can no longer afford to snap up lakefront property at any price; they can no longer afford to then demolish the perfectly fine cottages on those tiny lakefronts and erect McMansions that leave fifteen centimeters on either side of the property line.   

So, here are some of my favorite spots in Michigan:

  • Greenfield Village. I know that Henry Ford Museum is part of this complex, but visiting Greenfield Village as a child was a feast for the imagination. Located in the paved-over parking lot of Southeast Michigan, Greenfield Village is a collection of historic buildings of famous and ordinary people, such as Alexander Graham Bell’s labratory and George Washingon Carver’s house.
  • Ludington State Park. Michigan has an incredibly rich park system. Hundred of small campground are scattered throughout the state. State parks tend to be larger with more amenities. They are also more expensive and heavily used. Ludington State Park is one of the most beautiful and busiest, so don’t visit between Memorial Day and Labor Day unless you plan to hike beyond the campgrounds. After the “fudgies” leave, however, locals have the trails and white sand beaches all to themselves.
  • Rifle River Recreation Area. I camped here this summer. Located in the northeast quadrant of the lower peninsula, this watershed of the Rifle River has a small-ish developed campground and several really lovely rustic campgrounds. A watershed of the Rifle River, the park has lots of lakes, rivers, and trails to explore. And I did explore them, although I think I became anemic from mosquito attacks. Wear a headnet and bring good repellant.
  • Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. You can’t really see the Pictured Rocks from land. (You need to take the charter boat tour from Munising and don’t neglect to do this), but I love the rugged, less crowded environment in this national park. I camped there for a few days and didn’t begin to explore the region. Be forewarned that only the most hardy swimmers will enjoy the frigid Lake Superior waters.
  • The city of Marquette. West of Pictured Rocks, Marquette is the biggest city (20,000) in the Upper Peninsula and home to Northern Michigan University. Settled by hardy Scandinavians, mostly of Finlandish variety, residents of Marquette hardly blink at many feet of snow and sub-zero winter temperatures.

    Landmark Inn from the top of the hill

    I love Marquette because of its lively, cheerful atmosphere, jaw-dropping natural beauty, and its old-timey, historic downtown.

    Downtown Marquette

    If you’re camping, don’t miss the Tourist Park. It’s clean, pleasant, and right at the north edge of town.


OK. This is my list. What are your favorites? I’d love to discover new places to explore next time I go home.

*photo courtesy of Rebecca Makowski.

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6 Responses to Pure Michigan

  1. Carrie 2 November, 2011 at 2:27 am #

    Greenfield Village is like going back in time when things were slower paced and simpler. Wish I could stay there forever.

  2. MaryKat Parks Workinger 15 December, 2010 at 9:52 am #

    Tahquamenon Falls–especially in winter–is no less than magical. No amount of tourists (even on their idling snowmobiles) can diminish its beauty. Ken and I skied into the lower falls on the morning our daughter was born in China, fulfilling a wish I’d had since I was a little girl. On one of our many many family trips to the UP I bought a little cedar box with a picture of the falls in winter glued on the top (which I still have). It took me 33 years to get there, but I knew the thing I wanted most was to see that rootbeer-colored water pouring through the foam of ice. I was not disappointed.

  3. Gail Brown 11 November, 2010 at 3:29 pm #

    Just checking on you and to let you know you are in my prayers!
    Stay safe and warm this winter!
    God Bless
    Dancing Rabbit Internet Coffee Shop
    Hochatown Ok
    Wished you could have stayed longer!

    • Kate 15 November, 2010 at 5:27 pm #

      Hey Gail,
      Great to hear from you! Your post is scheduled for a week or so.

      So fun to meet you!

  4. Kate 6 November, 2010 at 3:33 pm #

    A guy I met in a campground also mentioned that the Keewenau Peninsula was not-to-be missed in Michigan. I like its more rugged and remote location, and I’m sure putting it on my list of places to explore.

    I spent a few days at Sleeping Bear, but not at Platte River. Think I’ll try that end of the park if I ever get back there.

  5. Marcia Davis 5 November, 2010 at 8:49 pm #

    I love that Michigan is on the roads less traveled. It’s one of the reasons I’ve made it my home after growing up in New Jersey.
    Some of my favorite spots are Platte River Campground in Sleeping Bear Dunes (Leelanau County), Porcupine Mountains and Keewenau Peninsula, both in the U.P. Also, Saugatuck Dunes State Park, which is near home, and a beautiful place to hike! Michigan is a beautiful, four-season state!