by Julie S.
When looking for a family vacation, Michigan is a great spot to start. Our state offers a diverse array of scenery and wildlife as well as cities that expand our horizons by exposing us to new foods and cultures without having to travel abroad. The ten places below are by no means the extent of what our great state has to offer, but are a great sampling of unique Michigan experiences for your family.
Cannons booming, the Mackinac Bridge in the background, and Fort Mackinac standing guard, Mackinac Island is a slice of Victorian history right here in the middle of Michigan. Horses and bicycles abound since motorized vehicles aren’t allowed on the island. The island offers a huge variety of things to do with your family from tasting the world-famous fudge, cycling around the island, riding horses, hiking on nature trails, and visiting the fort. You start with a 30-minute ferry ride to the island from Mackinac City or St. Ignace where you join the 500 permanent residents. There are hotels and bed and breakfasts on the island if you choose to stay, and also a campground off the island in Mackinac City, which overlooks the bridge. Fort Mackinac has also been recognized by National Geographic as one of the best state parks in the country.
Michigan’s state rock is the Petoskey stone, a prehistoric fossil only found in the Traverse Bay and Petoskey area. The best time and place for hunting for these fossils is in the spring on a Lake Michigan beach. There are two beaches in particular that are hotspots for the unique stone: Petoskey State Park and Magnus City Park Beach. Plan a trip to nearby Castle Farms in Charlevoix to view the 100-year old castle and grounds that offers family fun such as a hedge maze, reflection pond where you can feed rainbow trout, museum collections, and the largest working outdoor model railroad in Michigan with over 70 trains!
Only a little over an hour away from Kalamazoo is this beautiful city that packs both modern fare and old world. There are plenty of reasons to visit Holland, notably the Tulip Festival every spring where there are over 4.5 million tulips abloom as well as parades, shows, and special activities for children. Afterwards, head over to Dutch Village and try on a pair of wooden shoes! If you can’t go in the spring, Holland’s Dutch Village is still open and worth the visit. Enjoy the beautiful Dutch architecture, canals, learn the “klompen” dance, watch artisans make cheese and candles and go down the wooden shoe slide. You can also visit Windmill Island Gardens, which is the only authentic Dutch windmill in the United States. If you head to Holland in the summer, you can enjoy the beautiful white sandy beaches, climb the sand dunes and enjoy dinner al fresco after attending an art fair. Holland has something for everyone.
With 129 still standing, Michigan boasts the most lighthouses of any state in this country. No two are alike from the color of the light to the shape of the tower. Some of them have museums where you can learn the lighthouse’s history and some of them allow you to climb to the top for a stunning view over the lake. Steps to the top are on average between 80-130 and worth the exercise. Many of the lighthouses are located in or around state parks and offer a great spot for a family vacation. Top lighthouses to visit in Michigan are Big Sable Point Lighthouse, Little Sable Point Lighthouse, Mission Point Lighthouse, New Presque Isle Lighthouse Park and Museum, Tawas Point Lighthouse, and Fort Gratiot Light Station, the oldest operating lighthouse in the state.
5. Frankenmuth and Bronner’s
Michigan’s Little Bavaria is somewhere you can easily spend the day with your family. Enjoy one of their famous all-you-can-eat chicken dinners at one of the many restaurants, eat some fudge or taffy at one of the many unique stores, or head over to the brewery for some German beer. Don’t forget to visit the shops at River Place Shops where the family can board the paddleboat named the Bavarian Belle. There are also many indoor water parks in the area for the kids if you need to cool off. When you’re finished, stop at Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, the world’s largest Christmas store for one-of-a-kind decorations and ornaments for your tree. It’s over one-and-a-half football fields long so you are sure to find that special something.
Lake Michigan is home to some of the most impressive sand dunes in the country thanks to glacier melt and leftover quartz being ground into super fine sand. What better way to enjoy it than visiting some of the dunes and racing down them while enjoying the beach? There are seven sand dune areas on Lake Michigan in our state alone, including the famed Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, voted by the viewers of Good Morning America as the most beautiful place in America. Also popular is Silver Lake Sand Dunes where you can take a guided dune buggy tour or even rent vehicles to explore with your older children. Fulgurites are often found in these dunes, glass formations caused by lightning hitting the dunes. Nearby is Ludington State Park and Hamlin Lake dune area. Make a day or vacation out of it and visit one of the lighthouses nearby as well.
Make it a point to visit these waterfalls that are arguably the most beautiful in all of Michigan, and one of the largest east of the Mississippi. Tahquamenon Falls State Park is almost entirely undeveloped wilderness without roads or power lines. There are two sets of falls, the Upper and Lower and if you visit, you need to head to the Upper Falls for parking. After you park, there is a short hike to the observation deck to view them. The Upper Falls are over 200 feet across with over 50,000 gallons of water per second cascading down them. If you choose to hike the trip to the lower falls it’s a four mile hike and there’s an ice cream shop at the Lower Falls as a reward for making the round trip! If you’re lucky you may even catch a glimpse of some of the more elusive wildlife of the Upper Peninsula, such as a moose.
Detroit is known for Motown music and its cars and there’s no better way to see Detroit’s history and dominance in the early automobile scene than the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn. Plan on spending an entire day, or even a weekend in the area, there is plenty to see. There is the Henry Ford Museum itself, as well as the opportunity to take the Ford Rouge Factory Tour and see the F150 being made. Next door is Greenfield Village, created in 1929 as an educational and historical village. Here you can see the original light bulb, an old working farm, and artisans practicing their trades from years past. There are restaurants in the village and museum that are unique and there’s no need to bring extra food. An IMAX theatre is on site, and it shows a variety of movies, not just about cars. Both are open 9:30 am-5:00 pm, seven days a week except for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Hugging Lake Superior’s shore for about 40 miles is the country’s first national lakeshore dedicated in 1966. The sandstone cliffs are a marvel of colors and shapes due to the streaks of mineral stain decorating them. There is no better way to see them than a two-and-a-half hour boat cruise on the lake. Buy your tickets online and get there early, during the best parts of the season people line up an hour ahead. If your family is more adventurous, kayaking is a popular activity and way to see the cliffs as well.
10. Soo Locks
The Soo Locks and the different types of boats and freighters passing through mesmerize kids of all ages. There is an observation platform where you can watch the magic for yourself or you can choose one of the many boat tours, which will give everyone a close up view of the action and learn about the different vessels passing through. There is a visitor center and a theater where the family can learn how the locks were constructed and why this water feature exists as well as learn about our relationship with Canada.
What’s your favorite place in Michigan to visit with the kids? Or what do you think is a “must do” before the kids grow up? Let us know in the comment section below.