2023 Year In Review: 23 Michigan Places We Visited For the First Time

2023 Year In Review: 23 Michigan Places We Visited For the First Time

Museum Ship Valley Camp Interior Sault Ste Marie

At the end of each year I always have fun looking back at all of our great Michigan adventures. One of my favorite things to do is look at the “new to us” places from the year and pick out our favorite places that we visited for the first time. In 2023 we made it to many new parks, trails, and historical attractions. As you will see below, this year saw a heavy emphasis on trails and nature preserves. Travels were limited by a busy first three months of the year, and August trip to Cape Cod, and battling a terrible fall for weather. The hope for 2024 is to get an early start and visit more than 24 new places! Here’s a look at the 23 Michigan places we visited for the first time in 2023:

Dolan Nature Sanctuary Trail Coldwater River

Dolan Nature Sanctuary (April) – One of our first spring hikes found us checking out a nature preserve right here in Kent County. The Dolan Nature Sanctuary has a great trail with plenty of trees, plants, and wildlife to observe whole you follow the banks of Tyler Creek and the Coldwater River.

Maher Audubon Sanctuary Kent County Michigan

Maher Audubon Sanctuary (April) – On the same day we visited the Dolan Nature Sanctuary, we also made a stop just down the road at the Maher Audubon Sanctuary. The trail here passes through wetlands on a boardwalk and provides some great birdwatching opportunities.

Tunnel Park Holland Ottawa County Parks MI

Tunnel Park, Holland (May) – One goal we achieved this year was visiting the last few Ottawa County parks we hadn’t been to. It was easy to see why Tunnel Park is so popular in the summer months. You’ll find a playground, picnic areas, dune overlook, and beautiful sand sandy Lake Michigan beach here just north of Holland State Park.

Ottawa Sands Ottawa County Parks MI

Ottawa Sands (May) – Like Tunnel Park this was one of our last spots to visit in the Ottawa County park system. This new addition is still being developed, but we loved the peaceful hiking trails. We can’t wait to see what this place looks like once the treehouses and yurts are added for camping!

Camp Lakewood POW Camp Allegan MI

Camp Lakewood, Allegan (May) – It was a rainy day when we made a driving loop on the Allegan County Heritage Trail, and this was one of the more interesting stops we found. Little remains now, but there was once a World War II prisoner of war camp in Allegan that housed 250 German prisoners.

Asylum Lake Preserve Kalamazoo Whitetail Deer

Asylum Lake Preserve, Kalamazoo (May) – In May we headed to Kalamazoo for a day of hiking and were blown away by the Asylum Lake Preserve! The trails here are amazing and we saw so many different kinds of birds. The highlight was seeing a pair of juvenile great horned owls in one of the trees near a trail.

Tulip Immersion Garden Entrance Photo Op Holland

Tulip Immersion Garden (Tulip Time), Holland (May) – It had been a few years since we embraced our Dutch heritage and visited Tulip Time, so this year we went big and made sure we didn’t miss the Tulip Immersion Garden. This was the second year of this event in Holland, as a field at Beechwood Church was transformed with the colorful displays of 65,000 tulips. This event will return in 2024 and tickets are already available.

Pilgrim Haven Natural Area Michigan 2023

Pilgrim Haven Natural Area, South Haven (May) – A former camp that is now a public park, Pilgrim Haven Natural Area features rocky shoreline on Lake Michigan and some short but scenic hiking trails.

Black River Preserve South Haven Blue Trail

Black River Preserve (May) – One of the best Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy properties we’ve been to this year is the Black River Preserve near South Haven. Here we found four miles of trails and plenty of plant and wildlife viewing opportunities while hiking on well-maintained and mostly easy trails.

Armintrout Milbocker Nature Preserve Feature Photo Allegan

Armintrout Milbocker Nature Preserve (May) – The newest addition to the SWMLC, this preserve in Allegan has two miles of trails that pass through hardwood forest near the Kalamazoo River. There were some hills here and it was a great workout while checking out the birds and plants in this preserve.

Wau-ke-na north Preserve 2023

Wau-Ke-Na Preserve North/South (May) – Surprise, surprise it’s yet another Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy area! This is actually two separate units along the Lake Michigan shore north of Glenn. In the south unit you will find three miles of mowed trails and lots of birds. The highlight for us here was seeing two green herons perched up in a tree. In the north unit a trail leads to the lake where it forks to an observation platform or the beach. We only saw two other people during our visit and loved the quiet, scenic hiking here.

Stu Visser Trails Holland Observation Deck

Stu Visser Trails, Holland (May) – I can’t tell you how many times we drove by the parking lot for the Stu Visser Trails on our way to Holland State Park over the years, but in 2023 we finally stopped to check them out. The mostly boardwalk trails here wind through wetlands that gave us the chance to see ducks, muskrats, red-winged blackbirds, orioles, cardinals, a northern flicker, sparrows and wrens, and several kinds of woodpeckers. It’s amazing that this preserve seems so big despite being tucked between residential areas, and it will now be an add-on to our Holland trips in the future.

Calvin Ecosystem Preserve Native Gardens Bunker Interpretive Center

Calvin Ecosystem Preserve and Native Gardens (May) – It’s not often anymore that we find a new place to explore right here in Grand Rapids, but we were pleasantly surprised to find quiet and scenic hiking trails on the eastern side of Calvin University’s campus. Our visit saw many birds and small mammals enjoying life at the preserve, and few other people out enjoying the trails. To find this kind of peace just a few hundred feet from a busy road was truly magical.

Hell Michigan Welcome Sign

Hell (May) – Something that had been on the Michigan bucket list for several years now was visiting Hell. We’ve spent lots of time in Paradise in the Upper Peninsula, and in May we decided to see how the other half lives. You’ll find Hell southwest of Pinckney, and all the major attractions are line up in a row. There’s a smokehouse, the Hell Saloon, mini golf, a chapel that can be rented, and Screams Souvenirs. You can even pay a small fee and be named mayor of Hell for the day!

Highland State Recreation Area Edsel Ford Lodge Ruins

Highland State Recreation Area (May) – The original reason for heading to Highland State Recreation Area was to find Haven Hill and the ruins of Edsel Ford’s former retreat property. When we visited we not only found that, but miles and miles of hiking trails with beautiful forests and abundant wildlife.

Clear Lake State Park Michigan

Clear Lake State Park (June) – After years of work, I now have fewer than 10 state parks in Michigan to visit before I can say I’ve been to all of them. One of the handful of new ones we visited this year was Clear Lake State Park near Atlanta, a quiet destination for camping, boating, fishing, and disc golf. We loved how cool and clear the water was in the lake and would definitely return for a weekend of camping here in the heart of Michigan’s elk country.

Pere Cheney Cemetery Michigan Headstone

Pere Cheney Cemetery (June) – On our way north for a vacation in June, we made a stop at one of Michigan’s most haunted destinations – the Pere Cheney cemetery. While there we learned about the heartbreak of this town of a thousand residents was reduced to nothing in just a few decades due to a diphtheria outbreak. We didn’t experience any paranormal activity during our visit, but the internet is filled with stories of those who claim to have seen or heard things during their visits.

Museum Ship Valley Camp Sault Ste Marie Deck View

Museum Ship Valley Camp (June) – For all the times I’ve visited Sault Ste. Marie, I had somehow sadly never been inside the Museum Ship Valley Camp. Given my love of freighters and history, I was excited to finally cross that off the list this year. It was awesome to get to stand on the deck and take in just how large these boats are, and seeing all of the maritime artifacts inside (like the Edmund Fitzgerald lifeboat) was incredible.

Deer Ranch St Ignace White Deer 1

Deer Ranch, St. Ignace (June) – On our way home from a week of Upper Peninsula adventure, we stopped at one of Michigan’s classic roadside attractions. The Deer Ranch in St. Ignace lets visitors feed and learn about whitetail deer up close, and this was a great stop for the whole family.

Masonic Temple Theater Detroit Tyler Childers

Masonic Temple Theater, Detroit (June) – For all the concerts I’d been to in Detroit, I hadn’t experienced one in the almost 100 year old Masonic Temple Theater before. In June we had the chance to see Tyler Childers in this awesome venue, which is the largest masonic temple in the world!

Clay Cliffs Natural Area Manitou Overlook

Clay Cliffs Natural Area (September) – Our last hiking trip of the year was spent in the Leelanau Peninsula, where first visited the Clay Cliffs Natural Area. We loved the hiking trails here but were a bit disappointed that you don’t actually get to see the Clay Cliffs that the preserve is name for.

Houdek Dunes Natural Area trail Sign

Houdek Dunes (September) – After visiting Clay Cliffs we went hiking at the beautiful Houdek Dunes preserve. The hiking trail here was awesome as it winds through the woods and then suddenly pops into dunes. From here it leads to a small creek with some great scenic views, making this one of the hidden gems of M-22.

Leelanau County Poor Farm Barn Michigan

Leelanau County Poor Farm Barn (September) – I didn’t make it to quite as many new Michigan historical marker sites in 2023 as I did in 2024, but we made up for it with quality. The Leelanau County Poor Farm Barn is one of the newest sites with a marker and a solid testament to what a few people can do when they team up and decide to preserve history.

Maher Audubon Sanctuary Boardwalk Trail Michigan

Looking back at 2023 shows that we packed a lot into a few months of the year, and made it to fewer new places than usual because of a combination of weather, illness, and being busy. Big plans are in the works for 2024 to spend a week exploring the Upper Peninsula, visit a few counties full of historic sites we have yet to see, and hike even more miles of trail in the Lower Peninsula. Thanks for continuing to follow along on our journey and stay tuned for more great content!