Much of northern Michigan is the midwest’s vacationland, and even the nation’s. Minnesota may have the trademark on ‘Land of 10,000 Lakes’, but the same glaciers made Michigan a strong contender for that title. Mix a gazillion inland lakes with thousands of miles of coast along four of the five Great Lakes, and there’s a state with plenty to enjoy and explore.
I left Michigan decades ago, but I come back every summer to visit family and to vacation. These days, I spend most of my time along Lake Michigan, but as a kid, both my family and generations of my friends and neighbors headed straight north for a classic summer getaway: north to the Straits, to Mackinac, the Soo and the eastern end of the Upper Peninsula. My family took this trip when I was much younger than my kids are now; we retraced those steps in the opposite order as we approached from Wisconsin and the western UP.
These trips were made easier by the Mackinac Bridge, a beautiful and impressive engineering achievement that spans the tempestuous, five-mile-wide Straits of Mackinac that both connect Lakes Michigan and Huron and separate the two peninsulas. As you cross the Big Mac, now in its fifth decade, you’ll see Mackinac Island off to the east in Lake Huron (but keep your eyes on the road). This is two square miles of car-free vacationland, an addictive mix of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Arrive by ferry, then take a carriage ride, rent a bike and tour the island, hike up the hills and visit the 200-year old fort, then buy a pound of fudge. You’ve earned it.
Further north are the Tahquamenon Falls, a pair that includes one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi. They sit in the middle of Michigan’s largest state park, and it’s worth visiting the larger upper falls and the scenic lower falls, which are separated by a few miles. Most visitors do this and leave, but there are 40,000 acres of wilderness to hike or ski in, and several miles of shorefront along Lake Superior.
Head east from here to Sault Ste. Marie, the smaller Michigan half of what was once a single city spanning the rapids on the St. Mary’s River. Two hundred years ago, the British began building locks to safely move ships through the 20’ drop along this transition from Lake Superior to Lake Huron. The Soo Locks no longer seem like the amazing accomplishment they were last century, and look and feel like a visit to an earlier time.