It’s no surprise there are plenty of beautiful places to spend time in the Great Lakes State. Michigan borders four of the Great Lakes, after all, so it’s surrounded by some of America’s most impressive natural beauties. Alexandra Picavet, Chief of Communications for the Midwest region, has worked with the National Parks Service for 26 years, and has visited about 200 national parks over the course of her life. Here are her tips for getting the most out of Michigan’s national parks.
Remember the Raisin
River Raisin is a national battlefield park commemorating the battles of January 1813 (during which the British and Native Americans defeated American troops). “Remember the Raisin!” became a rallying cry for American soldiers until the region was returned to U.S. control in the fall of that year. Today, the park is a place to learn about the battles that took place there, see historic reenactments—including some with cannons—and attend events. Picavet recommends the annual Joyeux Noël Christmas celebration, a “really fun event where you can see the traditions of the northwest territory.” There are crafts, snacks, and a ton of families. Bonus: River Raisin is very close to Detroit, if you want to pack a historical outing into a long weekend trip.
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Find Your Wild Side
For those seeking a national park that’s more traditionally outdoorsy, try Sleeping Bear Dunes, a national lakeshore. With dramatic ridges of sand, beaches, forests, lakes, farmsteads, and even a little village, there’s truly something for every type of traveler. Check out one of the popular events, like pumpkin-carving festivals and organized star-gazing nights. At the very least, Picavet says, “spend the day walking in nature checking out the beautiful blue waters.”
For hikers, there are more than 100 miles of trails here. Picavet suggests volunteering to help pull invasive flowers and joining rangers for a wildflower walk afterward. Forget-me-nots, though pretty, are an invasive species here.
A national park devoted entirely to commemorating copper mining in the United States, Keweenaw memorializes the 7,000-year-old industry. “The copper that is found there has been used for thousands of years by settlers and Native Americans,” says Picavet. Her top tip? “You can actually go down into a mine that operated from 1850 to 1920.” Such a hands-on experience—tourists can actually eat lunch inside the historic mine—is very unusual for a national park.
Get Off the Grid
Picavet waxes most poetic when it comes to Isle Royale. “As a park ranger who’s worked at a ton of different parks, it’s one of those crown jewels,” she sighs. “We all dream of, and love, Isle Royale.” For those who want an experience of peace, solitude, and “really being off the grid,” she says, this is the place. You may see moose and wolves in their natural environment (and should give both, particularly moose, a huge berth, she advises), and you’ll get to walk around an island largely untouched by modern man.
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Isle Royale is accessible by boat or seaplane, and there are places to stay on the island, though it books up early. And keep in mind that the island closes during the winter. Though the island is technically part of Michigan, it’s much closer to Minnesota, and to Canada’s Ontario. Take advantage of ranger-led tours to Lookout Louise (a scenic spot) and Passage Island lighthouse. Snap photos, but don’t expect to be able to Instagram them. “We can barely get land lines to work out there!” laughs Picavet.
Kayak Through Rapids
For kayaking, Picavet recommends Pictured Rocks, along Lake Superior. “It’s kind of the one-stop shop for everybody,” she raves. “Everybody can find something that will speak to them.” Pictured Rocks gets quite crowded come summertime, she warns, so try to avoid it from mid-June until mid-August if you can. See if you can plan an autumn or spring visit instead, and plan a trip with a kayak company. “They have limits about how many people they bring with them,” says Picavet, “so they can safely manage any situation that comes up.” Since Pictured Rocks encompasses so many different beaches, with varying levels of wave ferocity, talk to a tour leader about your experience level to select the right trip.