From exploring tree tops to rowing, horse-drawn buggies, to touring on a pirate ship—these are our favorite ways to explore Michigan in 2021.
MACKINAW, Mich.—One of the most treasured ways to experience the majesty of Pure Michigan came back in 2021. The Mackinac Bridge Walk is a storied tradition and a fairly unique way to see the Straits of Mackinac over the water by walking.
But Michigan’s summers are flush with ways to experience the state in unique and fascinating ways, and they aren’t just limited to hoofing it! From soaring through the treetops to sailing an 1800s privateer to just taking a horse-drawn taxi, there are so many ways to experience the magic of Michigan that come as a mix of the familiar and the fantastic.
Here are nine of the best in 2021.
Exploring Michigan by Land
Michigan is just covered with parks, trails, campgrounds and beautiful sights to see. But there are some extraordinary experiences among those innumerable ways to take in Michigan’s natural wonders.
Ride the Rails of Michigan
We’re not talking about Amtrak, though that railway might be expanding it’s Michigan presence soon. No, we’re talking about the various small railways kept alive from the heyday of train transit. The track between Coopersville and Marne in West Michigan is a prime example, running over creeks and through Michigan countryside.
The 90-minute rides also feature musicians and special events throughout the year, and take a ride on a track that was first laid in 1856!
Sure anyone can take a drive around historic Michigan attractions, but one of the state’s top destinations puts a spin on that carefree cruise. As most Michiganders can tell you, Mackinac Island doesn’t allow cars except for emergency response vehicles. That leaves tourists to try out the world’s largest horse-and-carriage livery.
Enjoy their island tours that run just shy of two hours (and bring your dog along!) or call for a horse-drawn taxi to get around this jewel of the Great Lakes.
Drive Through Some Unique Dunes
The Saugatuck Dunes are fascinating. Taking a buggy tour can show off dunes that don’t exactly look like the massive hills of sand you might imagine. Even cooler, buried under the sand is one of Michigan’s most famous ghost towns, Singapore.
Singapore was hoped to rival Chicago or Milwaukee, but fell fate to the October fires that befell the Lake Michigan coastline in 1871. Now that’s some cool history for a hot summer on the dunes!
Exploring Michigan by (Inland) Sea
The lakes and waterways that mark Michigan are part of the state’s cultural identity. Bordered by the Great Lakes, those mighty inland seas are in the blood of so many Michiganders. So how can you set out to see the state by sea? Try one of these.
Row Around the Tip of the Thumb
Port Austin is situated at the top of the state’s Thumb, where Lake Huron meets Saginaw Bay. From the rockier areas on one side of Port Austin to the sandy beaches on the other, the water trail gives travelers tons of Michigan’s natural beauty to enjoy. Be sure to stand in awe of places like Turnip Rock.
There are 44 places around the thumb to access the trail, where Michiganders can hit the waves in their kayaks, canoes, rowboats and other small non-motorized craft.
Sail a Pirate Ship (Basically)
Okay, the Friends Good Will wasn’t actually a pirate ship, it was a merchant vessel built in River Rouge in 1810. But during the War of 1812, she served as an American gun runner, which made her a privateer! She sailed like that until she was captured by the British forces occupying Mackinac Island. She then got recaptured by the Americans at the Battle of Lake Erie. Not Jack Sparrow, but still pretty cool!
A replica of the Good Will is sailed by the Michigan Maritime Museum in South Haven, and does pirate chaser sails, sunset sails, and more to entertain and educate guests on the tall ships of the Great Lakes.
Check Out the Great Lakes’ Elevator
Before the Soo Locks were built in Sault Ste. Marie, it was hard for boats of any size to get from Lake Superior to Lake Huron. The St. Marys River had rapids that dropped 21 feet in elevation. That’s only about the size of an average house, but that drop could be a disaster for a ship! So a large chamber was built. The chamber fills with water to lift boats, and drains to lower them, overcoming that 21-foot barrier.
A quintessentially Michigan activity when up in the UP is to ride through the Soo. There are multiple tour companies that take travelers through this giant water elevator during the summer months!
Exploring Michigan by Air
Want to really see a sight that takes your breath away? Get the bird’s-eye view of the beautiful state of Michigan and take in that wider perspective! Because sometimes you need thrills with your connection to nature!
Soaring Through the Treetops
With 7,000 feet of zip lines through Michigan’s woodland canopy available, you might be interested in taking a quick trip across the treetops. Just outside Boyne City among the hills, valleys, and trees that inspired Earnest Hemingway, is a fast, fun, and flighty way to take in Michigan’s nature.
And, if you want to make it competitive, there’s the Midwest’s only racing lines, which send guests screaming at 40 miles an hour across one of three 1,200 feet lines.
In Case Zip Lines Are Too Low-Octane
If shooting yourself through Ernest Hemingway’s picturesque treescapes at 40 miles an hour is too tame for your sense of adventure, why not skydive? It may sound intimidating, but at Skydive Tecumseh in Jackson, they show people the ropes (and parachutes) of the high-thrills way to get a truly unique view of southern Michigan.
Get training, jump out of a plane, and see the sights of Michigan in an absolutely unforgettable way. With tandem skydiving you can be ready to fly in just an hour!
A Bird’s Eye View Without the Adrenaline Hit
On the other hand, if zip lines and skydiving are all just a bit more than you’re bargaining for, a more relaxed way to set off into the sky is by hot air balloon. A bend of casual and magical, floating like a cloud over Michigan’s coastline is not to be underestimated.
Up at the Grand Traverse Bay you can join group tours or take private sunrise or sunset flights by hot air balloon to see the countryside of Michigan’s cherryland and take in the awe of Lake Michigan from above.