When most people think of adventure in Northern Michigan, they tend to
imagine a weekend with the kids at the beach or an afternoon at one of our
A pity, because mile-for-mile, Northern Michigan packs more outdoor
adventures than almost any similar-sized region on earth. Only a few
standouts such as Costa Rica, New Zealand and the Hawaiian Islands come
close, and we dare say that the cultural and dining offerings in our many
beach towns help to even that score.
If adventure in Northern Michigan has a down side, it is ironically in
June when summer is coming into bloom. Reason? From mid-May through the
end of June the woods are teeming with mosquitoes (aka: Michigans state
bird) and the beaches all too often play host to biting flies. Its not
the time of year to take on -- oh -- say the marshy stretches of the
75-mile High Country Trail through the Pigeon River State Forest.
So if biting insects really bug you, consider July-September--particularly
August--when skeeter spawn-ing spots tend to dry up and the nights are
balmy and starry-skied.
Here are a few favorites for the Indiana Joness and Jonesettes out there:
Kayaking the Gold Coast: Three rivers, including the Platte, the Betsie
and the Crystal wend their way to Lake Michigan in the stretch between
Frankfort and Glen Arbor and most put-ins are an easy bike ride back to
your car. All three rivers brim with wildlife, including a chance to see
beaver, otters, cranes, deer and trout.
If sea kayaking is your thing, the coast from Arcadia to Leland passes the
grandeur of the Elberta Bluffs, the Empire Bluffs, the Pierce Stocking
Overlook and Pyramid Point -- huge dunes which rise 300 feet or more. Just
off Pyramid Point in Leelanau County, you can glide over a couple of
Bonus: your kayaking adventure ends in proximity to Frankfort or Glen
Arbor, both of which have excellent restaurants and bars for a fitting
Biking Nirvana: Northern Michigan offers some of the best off-road
cycling in the nation and our back roads aint bad either if you dont
mind near-misses from hostile redneck drivers. Some top choices:
-- The Gaylord-Mackinaw City Trail runs 65 miles out of a parking lot at
the north end of Gaylord, all the way through Indian River, Topinabee,
Mullett Lake and Cheboygan to your well-deserved rest in Mackinaw City.
Pack extra tubes, tires and tools for this one though, because if you
break down, the nearest bike shop is 30 miles or more.
-- The TART/Leelanau Trail makes for a fun day trip, running anywhere from
12-18 miles from Traverse City to Suttons Bay (depending on where you pick
it up). Every Friday, a Muffin Run of several dozen mountain bikers
hits the trail at 9 a.m. for a round-trip ride to a bakery and coffeehouse
-- The Charlevoix-Petoskey-Harbor Springs Trail: Another fine day trip,
this takes you from the north end of Charlevoix through Bay Harbor and
Petoskeys Bayfront Park all the way to Harbor Springs. Ride as little or
as long as you like, with plenty of restaurant options along the route.
The Manitous: The ultimate weekend backpack getaway, you catch the
Manitou Island Transit out of Lelands Fishtown for either South or North
Manitou Island. The south island is the one most-visited, and with a
5-mile loop of trails, abandoned farmsteads, a lighthouse, shipwreck and
more, is arguably the most interesting and accessible. Indian legend has
it that these islands are inhabited by spirits (ie. manitous), and youre
likely to agree that they are indeed enchanting.
Beaver Island: pack a mountain bike along on the boat out of Charlevoix
and enjoy the trip back in time in Michigans history as you make the
30-mile transit to the island which was home to Mormon King Jesse
Strang. The roads can be dusty on the 13-mile-long island, but a bike is
a good way to get around. And if you need your dose of Vitamin Quaint,
then the B&Bs and pubs around St. James Harbor are the place to get it.
Camp on the beach halfway down the island and enjoy the lights of the
Mighty Mac twinkling in the night.
Epic Trails: Weve got some wonders in the region, most of which
rarely make the pages of Outside or Backpacking magazines. The
following are 2-3 day trips:
-- Manistee River Trail: Starting at M 131 north of Cadillac, this trail
follows the river for 30 miles or so, ending at a parking lot on M 37
south of Buckley. A highlight is the High Rollaway Bluffs south of
Kingsley; lowlights include avoiding yahoos on 4x4s partying near your
campsite at night, along with a 5-mile hike along a road around a stretch
of private property.
-- Jordan Valley Trail: You can do this 18-mile trail in a day (and many
do), but for a more leisurely experience, consider spending the night at
the campground above the river which is 9 miles from the trailhead at Dead
-- Pictured Rocks Trail: Hike 42 miles all the way from Grand Marais to
Munising or take a shorter 30-mile route from Twelve Mile Beach. Either
way, youve got a breathtaking experience, traversing the 200-foot cliffs
and beaches along Lake Superior.
Best of the Rest:
-- The Sturgeon River: the fastest river in Northern Michigan drops 17
feet per mile from Wolverine to Indian River for a rocket ride in your
kayak or canoe.
-- Chain of Lakes: Legendary boat passage links Torch Lake to the far
-- Shore to Shore Trail: Got a horse? Saddle up for a ride across the
state from Empire on this equine-designated trail.
-- The Mackinac Straits: Family fun zoo with colonial forts on the island
as well as the mainland, a gazillion tourist shops. Budget lodgings in
Mackinaw City, romantic getaway hotels on the island. Dont neglect the
waterfront in St. Ignace which serves up some of the freshest whitefish
and walleye youll find anywhere.