River with rocks near trees in fall color on the Upper Peninsula of northern Michigan

Northern Michigan is a stunning region blessed with natural beauty, rich cultural heritage, and an abundance of recreational opportunities. From dunes and waterfalls to historic lighthouses and quaint coastal towns, there is something for everyone to enjoy in this captivating area.

This comprehensive guide covers the top things to see and do across Northern Michigan, including:

  • Outdoor Activities
  • Cultural Attractions
  • Entertainment & Events
  • Best Places to Eat
  • Where to Stay
  • FAQs

We’ll highlight must-visit destinations, hidden gems, family-friendly adventures, and more to help you make the most of your Northern Michigan vacation!

Outdoor Activities in Northern Michigan

The varied landscapes across Northern Michigan provide the perfect backdrop for outdoor recreation. Here are some of the top natural attractions and outdoor activities you won’t want to miss:

Sleeping Bear Dunes

Lover's Leap Arch in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore against scenic sunset
Lover’s Leap Arch in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore against scenic sunset

The towering perched dunes at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore draw visitors from around the world. Take in panoramic views of Lake Michigan from the Dune Climb or Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. Explore miles of hiking trails through wooded forests, golden sand plains, and rugged shoreline. The crystal clear water makes for excellent swimming and boating opportunities as well.

Highlights:
  • Dune Climb
  • Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive
  • Glen Lakes
  • Platte River Point
  • Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail

Tahquamenon Falls

Upper Tahquamenon Falls during autumn season on a sunny day in Michigan, United States
Upper Tahquamenon Falls during autumn season on a sunny day in Michigan, United States

One of Michigan’s most iconic natural wonders, Tahquamenon Falls State Park is home to the second largest waterfall east of the Mississippi. upper falls have a 50-foot drop and stretch more than 200 feet across. Four miles downstream, the Lower Falls are a series of five smaller cascades. The Tea-colored water gets its distinctive amber hue from tannins leached from nearby cedar swamps.

Paddling, camping, hiking and bird watching are all popular in the park’s 46,000 acres of woodlands.

Highlights:
  • Upper Falls
  • Lower Falls
  • Tahquamenon Falls Brewery & Pub
  • Rivermouth Campground
  • Upper Falls Trail

Pictured Rocks

Upper Chapel Falls-Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore-2006
Upper Chapel Falls-Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore-2006

Stretching along 42 miles of Lake Superior shoreline, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore showcases natural rocky cliffs, arches, caves, and sand dunes formed by centuries of wind, weather and waves.

Must-see sights include Miners Castle, Chapel Rock, Alger Undercut and Spray Falls. Activities like kayaking, paddleboarding, hiking and camping allow visitors to fully immerse themselves in the beauty.

Highlights:
  • Kayak Tours
  • Chapel Loop Trail
  • Miners Falls & Beach
  • Twelvemile Beach Campground
  • Au Sable Point Lighthouse

Traverse City State Park Beach

Traverse City State Park Beach is located right off the shores of West Grand Traverse Bay, providing a picturesque spot for swimming, sunbathing or wildlife viewing. The clear waters are shallow, making them family-friendly.

Visitors can also camp, picnic, or hike trails through lush northern hardwood forests. Nearby scenic roads like M-22 trace the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Highlights:
  • Swimming Beach
  • Camper Cabins
  • Picnic Area
  • Oval Beach

Cultural Attractions & Historic Sites

In addition to natural scenery, Northern Michigan has a rich cultural heritage evident in its historic coastal villages, museums, and Native American influences.

Mackinac Island

Aerial shot of the pier and island houses of Mackinac Island, Michigan
Aerial shot of the pier and island houses of Mackinac Island, Michigan

This iconic island vacation destination transports visitors back in time with its Victorian cottages, horse-drawn carriages and banning of modern motor vehicles. Highlights include Fort Mackinac, Mission Point Resort, and fudge shops galore! Stroll downtown or enjoy views from Arch Rock.

Highlights:
  • Fort Mackinac
  • Grand Hotel
  • Butterfly House
  • Arch Rock
  • British Landing Trail

Frankenmuth

Modeled after a Bavarian village, Frankenmuth is Michigan’s “Little Bavaria”, complete with German-style architecture, beer gardens and world-famous chicken dinners. See decorative murals, explore unique shops and ride a flume at Michigan’s largest water park.

Popular attractions include Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, Zehnder’s Splash Village Hotel & Waterpark and the Historical Museum.

Highlights:
  • Zehnder’s Restaurant
  • Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland
  • Bavarian Inn Restaurant
  • Fantasy Forest Amusement Park
  • Frankenmuth River Place Shops

Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum

Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum
Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum

Learn about Michigan’s rich maritime history at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum inside Whitefish Point Light Station. Artifacts, images and hands-on exhibits detail over 200 shipwrecks in the Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve. Climb the historic Whitefish lighthouse for gorgeous Lake Superior views.

Highlights:
  • Whitefish Point Light Station
  • Shipwreck artifacts
  • Edmund Fitzgerald exhibIt
  • Whitefish Point beach & nature trails

Entertainment & Events in Northern Michigan

From summer festivals and farmers markets to fall foliage tours and ski resort entertainment, Northern Michigan offers fun events happening year-round.

National Cherry Festival

Each July, Traverse City kicks off cherry season with festivals, concerts, parades, cherry pit spit competitions and more culminating in the spectacular fireworks display over West Bay. Savor the flavor at the Cherry Culinary Marketplace.

Highlights:
  • Air shows & Blue Angels
  • Music headliners
  • Cherry pit spitting contests
  • Firework displays
  • Grand parades

Interlochen Center for the Arts

The nationally renowned Interlochen Center for the Arts has been presenting stellar concerts, theater productions, visual arts exhibits, workshops and summer camps since 1928. Students and guest artists perform pieces spanning everything from classical and jazz to indie folk rock.

Highlights:
  • Concerts
  • Theater productions
  • Visual arts exhibits
  • Creative writing classes
  • Summer arts programs

Leelanau & Old Mission Wine Trails

Sample award-winning cool climate varietals at over 30 wineries along these neighboring wine trails located on beautiful rolling peninsulas jutting into Lake Michigan. Settle in at a vineyard restaurant, join a tasting tour or design a custom self-guided driving tour.

Highlights:
  • Guided winery tours
  • Scenic routes
  • Chateau Chantal
  • Bel Lago Vineyards & Restaurant
  • Bowers Harbor Vineyards

Frankfort Art Fair

Frankfort’s creative spirit is on display each September during its lakeside Art Fair featuring original works from over 100 juried artists. Enjoy live music, family activities, local food and special exhibits in this artsy beach town.

Highlights:
  • Artist booths
  • Craft beer & food tents
  • Art demonstrations
  • Live music performances
  • KidZone activities

Best Places to Eat in Northern Michigan

From locally sourced farm-to-table fare to iconic Midwest comfort foods, dining in Northern Michigan bursts with flavor. These hot spots should be on your must-eat list:

Tap Root Cider House + Kitchen (Traverse City)

With a seasonal Northern Michigan-inspired menu paired brilliantly with its own award-winning hard ciders and meads on tap, Tap Root Cidery is a Traverse City gem for elevated pub fare in a rustic yet hip setting.

  • Korean Sticky Ribs – fall-off-the-bone beef short ribs glazed in spicy Korean-style sauce
  • Roasted Beet Salad – mixed baby greens topped with roasted red and golden beets, chevre cheese, candied walnuts, shallot vinaigrette

Art’s Tavern (Glen Arbor)

Serving the finest prime steaks and fresh Great Lakes fish since 1946, Art’s white tablecloth northern dining never disappoints. Cozy up by the rustic fireplace or nab a patio table during sunset over Sleeping Bear Bay.

  • Cherry BBQ Glazed Salmon – grilled Atlantic salmon filet topped with Michigan Balaton cherry BBQ glaze
  • Surf & Turf – charbroiled filet mignon paired with lemon garlic jumbo shrimp

Sandcastle Restaurant (Manistee)

Boasting floor-to-ceiling views of Lake Michigan, Sandcastle Restaurant at the Victorian Inn is Manistee’s premier spot for waterfront fine dining. Enjoy New American cuisine made from locally-sourced ingredients.

  • Seafood Linguine – plump shrimp and sea scallops simmered in garlic herb sauce then tossed with linguine
  • Lake Perch – pan fried and served golden brown atop wild rice pilaf with housemade coleslaw

Where to Stay in Northern Michigan

Northern Michigan resorts run the gamut from quaint mom-and-pop motels to grand Victorian island hotels