From cliffsides and lakes to bridges and gardens, we’ve got all the natural and human-made Michigan creations that feel like another universe
MICHIGAN—Sometimes, Michigan’s beauty can truly feel magical.
Today, you’ve probably heard the word “portal” associated with online services. Before the advent of the internet, however, the word simply meant a doorway or gate, often with the intended meaning that it involved magic-based transportation to some otherworldly place.
In Michigan, we certainly have a lot of natural beauty, and some of those natural features feel like they’re not even a part of this world. We’ve rounded up our favorite transcendental destinations guaranteed to make you feel like you’re in a fantasy world.
Pictured Rocks is frequently cited as one of the most beautiful natural features in Michigan. And this unique shoreline definitely feels otherworldly. The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is part of the National Parks system. The entire park is large, covering 40 miles of Lake Superior shoreline. They are so named because of the approximately 15 miles of sandstone cliffs towering up to 200 feet over the shoreline. These cliffs have trademark mineral streaks and stains caused by groundwater seeping through the cracks of the cliffside and trickling down.
One of the most gorgeous views at the Pictured Rocks, which truly feels like a portal to another world, is at Grand Portal Point, an overlook encroaching on glistening turquoise waters. Visitors usually access this “portal” through a hike in the Chapel Loop trail, offering plenty of stunning views along the way.
Lake of the Clouds in Porcupine Mountains
Carp Lake Township
Some Michiganders still don’t know that, despite being in the Midwest, Michigan is host to several mountains. One such mountain range is the Porcupine Mountains, also known as the Porkies, one of the oldest mountain chains in the world at 2 billion years old. Though gorgeous views abound in the 60,000 acres of the Porkies, the most otherworldly view comes from the Lake of the Clouds, an inland lake situated in a valley between two ridges. The lake is surrounded by lush green forests and mountain cliffs. On a good weather day, visitors can see views for more than 20 miles.
Eben Ice Caves
Michigan winters aren’t easy. But starting in about December each year, our climate creates a gorgeous natural phenomenon: ice caves. The most prominent Michigan ice caves are the Eben Ice Caves, located within the Hiawatha National Forest. Although this isn’t your average hike, and you’ll definitely need some specialized footwear and other gear, the ice caves themselves are truly surreal to experience. The 1-mile trek takes about an hour or so to complete and winds through cliffs that, at the right time of year, have thick and gorgeous columns of ice that form from freezing snowmelt over the edges of the cliffs.
Sawmill Road, Manistique
Within Palms Book State Park is Michigan’s largest natural freshwater spring. It goes by the name Kitch-iti-kipi, which in the Indigenous Ojibwe language means “big cold spring.” This spring is so otherworldly, though, that it is also sometimes referred to as the “Mirror of Haven.” Kitch-iti-kipi’s 40-foot-deep waters never freeze, even in the middle of Upper Peninsula winters, thanks to fissures in the underlying limestone that keep it at a steady year-round temperature of 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Kitch-iti-kipi’s beauty is easily observable through the self-operated observation raft.
Black Rocks and Presque Isle Park
2 Peter White Drive, Marquette
This popular hotspot in Marquette definitely feels like a portal—and it’s one people often jump right through. Within Presque Isle Park are the Black Rocks, so named because they are natural black rocks looming about 30 feet over Lake Superior, offering some of the most gorgeous views of the Great Lake. One of the best spots to experience the feeling of another world is Sunset Point, a popular location for sunrise and sunset photography.
Lakenenland Sculpture Park
2800 M-28 East, Marquette
Though Michigan definitely has plenty of beautiful trails, the sculptures on this one make Lakenenland feel like a whimsical world all its own. Local metal artist Tom Lakenen created more than 100 sculptures, many of which are fashioned from junk metal and scrap iron, and offered them up for public view, entirely for free, 24 hours a day. The sculptures depict everything from Upper Peninsula history and culture to political commentary. The art covers 37 acres of land and is located directly along a snowmobile trail.
Pine Mountain Staircase
N3332 Pine Mountain Road, Iron Mountain
The Giant Pine Mountain skip jump may be one of several skiing locations in Michigan, but it’s made extra special for one reason—it hosts the largest outdoor staircase in America. The Pine Mountain Staircase is a set of concrete stairs that covers nearly half a mile of upward distance. The stairs are open year-round for public use, but caution should be taken in icy conditions. With its impressive height and gorgeous natural views, it definitely feels like a staircase ascending into another world.
6131 Arch Rock Road, Mackinac Island
If there’s anywhere in Michigan that feels like a portal to another world, one could follow the Indigenous tribes, who preserved the legacy of Mackinac Island’s Arch Rock as otherworldly in oral history. The natural wonder is an arch-shaped limestone formation created over time by erosion from Lake Huron. The Ojibwe tribe told tales of how the rock was shamed by Gitche Manitou, or the Great Spirit, who held great reverence in Indigenous Michigan folklore. Some tales spoke of Arch Rock being a bridge to the afterlife—a portal to another world where spirits could find peace. Indigenous people believed it was a sacred site and used it as a place of prayer and a site to seek spiritual guidance.
Tunnel of Trees
M-119, Harbor Springs
This scenic route along M-119 is a popular attraction, especially during autumn, when it features especially breathtaking combinations of natural colors. The Tunnel of Trees stretches about 20 miles from Harbor Springs to Cross Village. The journey takes about 40 minutes by car. The tree canopy arching overhead certainly feels like a tunnel or even a portal through another realm, with plenty of stops along the way.
1 Boyne Mountain Rd, Boyne Falls
Located in Boyne Mountain Resort, SkyBridge Michigan is a new attraction serving as the world’s longest timer-towered suspension bridge. The bridge spans a whopping 1,200 feet—or about four football fields—between McLouth and Disciples Ridge peaks, overlooking the Boyne Valley. The bridge is 118 feet above the ground, offering panoramic views for miles around. Though the entirety of the bridge feels very portal-like, the more literal portal is located in the middle of the bridge. There, a 36-foot section of walkable glass allows visitors to see through to the valley below.
Headlands International Dark Sky Park
15675 Headlands Rd, Mackinaw City
One of Michigan’s most otherworldly and coveted experiences is the aurora borealis, often visible in northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula at certain times throughout the year. Though tracking this breathtaking weather phenomenon can be tricky, one of Michigan’s dark sky preserves can make the process easier. Dark sky preserves are areas protected from light pollution and allowing for the best opportunity to see everything the night sky has to offer. Headlands International Dark Sky Park is one of the best options. Located just a few miles from the Mackinac Bridge, the Headlands cover 2 miles of undeveloped Lake Michigan shoreline and around 600 acres of woodlands. Headlands tracks and publishes the aurora borealis weather conditions so travelers will know their chances of seeing this unforgettable view. Even without the aurora borealis, the vast expanse of stars visible from Headlands promise a view to the rest of the universe.
Torch Lake is Michigan’s largest inland lake, noted for its beautiful Carribean-like turquoise waters. Torch Lake’s crystalline waters stand out even among the cadre of Michigan’s freshwater offerings, but things start to truly feel otherworldly along its sand bar, located near the southern end of the lake. The sand bar is a popular party location during the summer as many boaters park there. But aside from the sand bar, there are also several swimming beaches, all offering a different version of a very otherworldly body of water.
Red Drive, Traverse City
Though it is today a complex of restaurants, shops, and Airbnbs, the Grand Traverse Commons was once known as the Northern Michigan Asylum, and urban legends affiliated the location to an actual portal to hell. The supposed portal is located nearby within the forests of the Grand Traverse Commons Natural Area, within the Hippie Tree, a long-since-dead willow tree with a rotted-out heart that’s become a public art project with bright colors and psychedelic drawings. The drawings are a longstanding tradition of the namesake “hippies” who supposedly meditated under the tree and received magnificent visions from spirits anchored to the area.
According to local folklore about the tree, a visitor can open the portal to hell simply by walking around the tree in a precise manner. It’s unclear exactly what this step entails, though it’s known that one is not supposed to walk or crawl under any of the tree’s limbs. Other folklore claims the tree itself is haunted, possibly by the spirits of the Northern Michigan Asylum’s tormented patients. Whatever the reason, even without the folklore, the Hippie Tree’s ever-changing artistic canvas creates a unique and otherworldly experience.
Lavender Labyrinth at Cherry Point
9600 W Buchanan Road, Mears
Labyrinths are ancient spiral patterns with complicated networks of paths that serve as a space for walking meditation. Taking on a highly spiritual role for many, labyrinths are said to be symbolic of the life path. These ancient designs have been used for centuries across many spiritualities, but a common thread is the belief that walking to the middle will unlock internal and spiritual transformation. Here in Michigan, one such labyrinth is made from the calming flower and regional crop lavender.
Cherry Point Farm and Market’s Lavender Labyrinth is a contemporary design of this ancient tradition, and it certainly feels like another world. It also uses sacred geometry, using a 12-point vesica pattern, which symbolizes joining of the spiritual and physical. The Lavender Labyrinth is free to explore during business hours.
Dixon’s Bridge at Historic Bridge Park
South Wattles Road, Battle Creek
Historic Bridge Park is a park along the Kalamazoo River that contains painstakingly restored bridges that make up a quaint trail. In particular, Dixon’s Bridge feels the most portal-like. Dixon’s Bridge, originally called the Michigan Central Railroad Bridge, is a stone-arch bridge dating back to 1890. It was widened on one side with concrete and crosses the Dickinson Creek and the North Country Trail. This arch served as the original entrance to the park, though it’s older than the park itself. As one of Calhoun County’s oldest bridges, the history and timelessness of the bridge can be felt in its presence.
The Richard and Helen DeVos Japanese Garden at Frederick Meijer Gardens
1000 E Beltline Ave. NE, Grand Rapids
The Meijer Gardens have been one of Grand Rapids’ most noteworthy attractions since first opening in 1995, but one of its gardens stands out as truly otherworldly. The Richard and Helen DeVos Japanese Garden were first opened in 2015 as a tribute to the traditions of Japanese gardens. The entire garden space feels like an entirely separate harmonious realm of its own, with some of the most noteworthy attractions including the authentic Japanese teahouse, a zen-style garden, the Long Island Buddha statue, waterfalls, and various Japanese plants like Japanese maples, cherry blossoms, and bamboo.
Fantasy Forest in Leila Arboretum
928 W. Michigan Ave., Battle Creek
The Leila Arboretum Society is a 85-acre arboretum and garden dedicated to preserving nature. But what makes the Leila Arboretum truly feel like a reverie is its Fantasy Forest, a sculpture garden using natural materials and carrying a fantasy theme. These sculptures of dragons, gnomes, and more were shaped into a grove of dead ash trees. The trees had been destroyed by an invasive beetle species, but the Fantasy Forest was a collaborative project by local artists to keep them alive in spirit and creativity. The Fantasy Forest is so popular that the Leila Arboretum created a chainsaw carving festival to help promote local chainsaw artists.
3860 Newton Road, Commerce Charter Township
Glenlore Trails is an immersive night-walk experience that transforms the Multi Lakes Conservation Association forest into a magical realm with lights, sounds, and interactive displays, all of which are family-friendly. The ethereal event is truly otherworldly, with the backstory of Glenlore Trails indicating that mysterious creatures invented the forests. The trail through the forest is just over 1 mile long, but the themes of the event are always changing. There’s generally a new theme every two months, ensuring that the magical experience is never the same twice.
The Heidelberg Project
3600 Heidelberg St., Detroit
The Heidelberg Project is an outdoor art environment that makes one of Detroit’s east side streets feel like an entirely different—and altogether surreal—world. The Heidelberg Project was originally devised in 1986 as a political protest against decaying neighborhoods. Entire houses were upcycled and transformed into assemblage art installations. The two most common symbols used in the art of the Heidelberg Project include clocks, which invites the viewer to ask deeper questions about reality; and polka dots, which represent how everything is connected.
Castle Museum of Saginaw County
500 Federal Ave., Saginaw
What was once Saginaw’s post office is today a local history museum, but then and now, it’s always looked like a castle. Saginaw County’s Castle Museum draws on Saginaw Valley’s early French settlement history with a French Renaissance Revival castle that’s free to visit for county residents and quite cheap for everyone else. The museum has a total of three floors to explore, all containing exhibits and displays devoted to Saginaw’s history. The stone architecture helps to truly make this museum visit feel like stepping back in time to the Medieval era.
Tunnel of Music and Light
Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, Airport Drive, Detroit
Detroit is known as the Motown capital and this tunnel in the Detroit Metropolitan Airport makes sure that visitors experience it even if they’re just passing through. In the McNamara Terminal, a 700-foot corridor connects Concourse A with concourses B and C, using moving walkways to help visitors get where they need to go. But to make things interesting, the entire length of the walls and ceilings are lit with LED lights. The walls also have glass panels with river-like flowing patterns. This tunnel was originally called the Motown Music Tunnel and, upon first opening, it had a 20-minute song loop of famous Motown songs. This is why the tunnel is often called the Tunnel of Music and Light.
Since its opening, the music has gone more atmospheric, but Motown still plays sometimes. Even when you’re using the airport to take a trip elsewhere, the Tunnel of Music and Light will have it feeling like another dimension.
101 Golfside Drive, Midland
Midland’s most popular and famous bridge is also remarkably liminal, feeling like it could take you to another realm easily. The Tridge sits in Midland’s Chippewassee Park. It is a three-way footbridge spanning the Tittabawassee and Chippewa Rivers, connecting Chippewassee Park to St. Charles Park and the Farmer’s Market. It also marks the starting point of the Pere Marquette Rail Trail. As of 2017, the Tridge has color-changing LED lights that offer light shows with color schemes based on the current season and holiday. Since it was built in 1982, it’s been a popular location for weddings and prom photos, meaning it’s truly a liminal space Midland can be proud of.
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