Michigan’s landscape is littered with breathtaking features. These are some of our favorite natural wonders from around the state.
MICHIGAN—The Ojibwe tribe of Michigan told a story of a young chieftain named Kitch-iti-Kipi, who told his girlfriend he loved her more than the other maidens dancing near his home.
The story goes on to say that the woman wanted the man to prove his love, and wanted to put him through a test, requesting that he sail his canoe on a large nearby spring. Then, as the story goes, she would jump from an overhanging branch and he would need to catch her.
But the tale turns dark. Kitch-iti-Kipi overturns in his canoe and drowns, and so the local spring bears his name.
Michigan, with its rich history of Indigenous people and geographical location, is home to all sorts of legends like this, each of which seems to attach itself to some natural fascination. The story of the Kitch-iti-Kipi spring in the upper peninsula is a commonly referenced tale, but it’s certainly not alone.
The same can be said for Michigan’s natural wonders. From the Kitch-iti-Kipi spring to the Great Lakes, Michigan is home to numerous sites that draw tourists from all over the country. It has unique sights, cool rock formations, and mighty forests.
Here are some of our favorite natural wonders in Michigan, a list that likely includes some places you’re familiar with and possibly some that will come across as new.
Mackinac Island is popular for many reasons. It has its continued tradition of no motorized vehicles, it has its share of tourist attractions, and, of course, there’s Mackinac Island fudge. But it also is home to more than a few natural beauties, which brings us to Arch Rock, a limestone rock formation that resembles—you guessed it—an arch.
The arch was a place of spiritual power to some Indigenous people in the lands that are now Michigan. Stories and legends were passed down from generation to generation about the arch and how it formed, but in reality, the formation came to be during the glacial period, when Lake Huron water levels were higher than they are today.
Eben Ice Caves
When you think of ice caves, your mind probably takes you to frozen tundras outside the continental US, but you might be surprised to learn that Michigan is home to its very own set of frozen caverns.
Outside Marquette in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the town of Eben Junction becomes the home of the Eben Ice Caves every winter. The caves form when melting snow drips over a small cliff and freezes in the cold temperatures. The caves typically form in middle-to-late December, bringing tourists to the area in packs.
The trip to the caves usually involves a bit of a hike and may even require tourists to pack some ice cleats, but once there it’s easy to see why the location is considered one of Michigan’s top natural wonders.
The Great Lakes
The Great Lakes seem obvious, and we felt obligated to include all of them because how can you choose just one? But it’s true. As far as natural wonders go, the Great Lakes certainly fit the mold.
The five Great Lakes make up a giant portion of the world’s freshwater. The lakes are home to a large amount of freshwater fish, serving as crucial elements in much of the area’s history. Fishing has been proven crucial for many indigenous people dating back to the 18th century, and it still serves as an active sport among residents in the area.
Beyond that, they serve as integral parts of the day-to-day functions of much of the midwest, as freighters ship materials used in a wide array of fields across the depths of the lakes every year.
Hartwick Pines Old Growth Forest
The old-growth forest at Hartwick Pines State Park, near Grayling, is one of the most-visited old-growth forests in the nation, according to the state park. The forest is a 49-acre stretch of original forest within thousands of miles that make up Hartwick Pines.
Those visiting the forest are greeted with tall white pines, majestic to the eye, and beautiful to stand among in person. The land was donated to the state after being purchased by Karen Michelson Hartwick, who’d originally bought about 8,000 acres of land. Her only request? That the area not be logged.
Today, Michiganders get to embrace the area and appreciate the tall trees, although it isn’t what it once was. According to the state park website, a windstorm from the original old-growth forest from 86 acres to the 49 acres that exist today.
Kitch-iti-Kipi is probably a staple on most Michiganders’ bucket lists. The state’s largest freshwater spring, the spring is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
The oval-shaped spring is really quite the phenomenon. It’s about 40-feet deep with a green bottom. According to some reports on the spring, hydraulic pressure from below forces groundwater to the surface of the spring. But it’s not known for sure where the water comes from, although the spring is connected below to a nearby lake.
The spring was formed when a layer of limestone dissolved, collapsing into an underground cave that had already existed thanks to the underground water.
Lake of the Clouds
If you ever go hiking through Michigan’s Porcupine Mountains, you may stumble across a body of water that resembles a lake in the sky. The aptly named Lake of the Clouds might seem out of place, but the lake fits right in in the beautiful forests of the Porcupine Mountains.
The lake is a beautiful blue fixture in an otherwise expansive field of green. In the fall, those green colors turn to a mixture of orange and yellow, only adding an extra layer of beauty to the scene.
Another awesome facet when it comes to the Lake in the Clouds? It’s easy to find, as multiple trails lead the way to a scenic view of the lake.
Nestled on the northern shore of Michigan’s upper peninsula, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is one of the state’s most popular tourist attractions, serving as a destination hot spot for photographers.
The Pictured Rocks name comes from the unique look and designs displayed on the face of the rock cliffs. The pictures are mineral stains created by water that seeps through the cracks in the cliffs and trickles down.
Pictured Rocks towers up to 200 feet above Lake Superior. The lakeshore stretches for 15 miles.
The Porcupine Mountains
Ontonagon and Gogebic counties
No, they’re not the Appalachian or the Andes mountains, but Michiganders love the Porcupine Mountains, a set of small mountains in the northwestern corner of the upper peninsula.
“The Porkies,” as they’re sometimes called, work as a one-stop-shop for many Michigan outdoorsmen who look for a place to fish, hike, and take part in other adventurous activities. The state park at the Porcupine Mountains is the largest in Michigan, more than 60,000 acres—35,000 of which is old growth forest.
The Porkies are filled with some of Michigan’s coolest attractions. It’s home to the Lake of the Clouds, the Konteka Black Bear Resort, and other historical placemarks.
Sleeping Bear Dunes
Leelanau and Benzie counties
Another staple destination for Michiganders, Sleeping Bear Dunes in the northwest corner of the lower peninsula is a wildly popular place for tourists and lifelong Michiganders alike.
The dunes are rich in history and folklore, with stories of their creation dating back to an Ojibwe tale about a family of bears swimming across Lake Michigan to escape a blazing fire in Wisconsin, only for her two cubs to drown.
The dunes are an activity-rich place to go, with opportunities galore for hiking, dune buggy rides, and camping.
Sugar Loaf Rock
Sugar Loaf Rock on Michigan’s Mackinac Island is a 75-foot rock formation made of limestone. It gets its name from maple sugar, which was packed into cone-shaped baskets when the Great Lakes region was still a part of the frontier.
As with most natural wonders and phenomena in Michigan, Sugar Loaf Rock has a great deal of lore attached to it. Some believe it was the home of Gitchie Manitou, or the “Great Spirit.” Others believe it was the sight of burials.
Another lesser known natural phenomenon in Michigan: sinkholes. No, not the ones that close down the road you take to work or the one that potentially puts your house at risk, but rather large, natural sinkholes that have existed for years and offer fun hiking opportunities.
A large number of these natural sinkholes can be found in the northeast portion of Michigan’s lower peninsula. In fact, the country’s largest concentration of natural sinkholes can be found in and around Alpena, offering a bevy of sunken forests for people to explore.
More sinkholes can be found in nearby Presque Isle County, near Onaway.
Tahquamenon Falls can be found in the aptly named Paradise, Michigan. The widest stretch of falls in the state, Tahquamenon Falls is an easily Instagramable location, offering up a wide array of cool colors and relaxing sounds as water rushes over the falls and drops below.
The state park around the falls includes around 50,000 acres over 13 miles. The area is filled with woods, giving visitors a real opportunity to unplug and take in Michigan’s finest natural environments.
According to the state, Tahquamenon Falls is one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi River in the US, stretching 200 feet across and featuring a drop of about 50 feet.
It’s Michigan’s longest inland lake, known as a great place for swimming, boating, and water skiing, but Torch Lake has started to become increasingly popular in recent years for something else: its crystal clear look.
With its turquoise waters and white, sandy beaches, Torch Lake has recently been compared in looks to waters in the Caribbean. And it’s treated as a sort of destination lake for many Michiganders looking to party and enjoy a relaxing weekend.
The formation of the lake has a unique and “Great” history, too. Torch Lake was once a part of Lake Michigan, but became its own 19-mile-long waterway when it became separated from the Great Lake by a sandbar.
Pointe Aux Barques Township
Another unique rock formation in Michigan is Turnip Rock, which gets its name from its odd-looking shape in the waters of Lake Huron. The rock resembles a turnip, with a wide, flat top and a narrow bottom, where waves have eroded away at the base of the formation. Further undercutting of the rock has been prevented thanks to a collar built around the base.
Turnip Rock is another in a long list of popular photo spots in Michigan. What makes it slightly more unique, however, is that it’s actually on private property.
Valley of Giants
South Manitou Island
Michigan’s Valley of Giants on South Manitou island makes the 1.5-hour ferry trip to the island worth it. It’s another old-growth forest, and one of the largest in Michigan.
The cedar forest has some of the oldest trees around. One was reported by MLive to be as much as 528 years old! In addition to being old, some of the trees on the island are monstrous, with some reaching higher than 100 feet into the sky, explaining why the forest got its name.