20 “New To Us” Michigan Places We Visited in 2020
2020 has been a challenging year for vacation plans, traveling, and well, just about everything else too. We took a break for a few months this year while the state was under a lockdown, feeling it wasn’t right to keep posting vacation ideas when non-essential travel wasn’t allowed. Once restrictions began to lift, we focused on trying to provide tips for safe vacationing in Michigan. We made up for lost time in June, July, August, and September, taking multiple vacation trips and weekend trips whenever the weather cooperated. The focus for 2020 has been getting to places we haven’t been to before, and we managed to visit a surprising amount of new sites in a short amount of time. Taking a look at “new to us” places has been fun in previous years (see: 18 new places in 2018, 17 new places in 2017) so we thought we would try it again – here’s a look at 20 “New to Us” Michigan Places we visited in 2020:
Drummond Island – This was without a doubt the favorite vacation of the year. I got to spend a weekend on the island in a cabin that I rented with four friends and I would have gladly stayed a lot longer. We spent our days kayaking on the St. Mary’s River by large Great Lakes freighters, exploring the island’s ORV trails in a pair of Jeeps, visiting natural formations like the Fossil Ledges and Marblehead, hunting for puddingstones, and kayaking over shallow water shipwrecks on Lake Huron. Check out our Drummond Island A to Z Adventure Guide to see some pictures from this trip and to start planning your own visit!
Grand Ledge Fitzgerald Park (September) – Having previously only visited the ledges that give Grand Ledge its name (roughly 20 years ago) on a school field trip, it was time for a return visit and some great hiking. We loved seeing everything Fitzgerald Park has to offer – hiking trails, fishing, disc golf, a theatre, and more. The Ledges Trail, a short but scenic trip along the Grand River, was the highlight of our visit here as we were able to see the tall sandstone ledges and get some amazing photographs.
Frankfort Iron Works Ruins (April) – While on a lighthouse trip up the Lake Michigan shoreline earlier this year, we stopped by the ruins of the Frankfort Iron Works in Elberta. From 1870 to 1883, this facility cranked out 40 tons of pig iron a day. Several walls of the structure remain. After the iron works closed a railroad car ferry operated out of Elberta.
Croswell Swinging Bridge (May) – In all of our trips to the Thumb region, we had never made the trip inland to Croswell and its famous swinging bridge. The longest pedestrian suspension foot bridge in the state, it crosses the Black River in a beautiful park. Walking across the bridge may not be for everyone, as it has a lot of movement to it, but we thoroughly enjoyed our visit and the amazing views!
Gladstone Lighthouse (June) – We found a new lighthouse this year! After visiting close to 100 of the remaining 125 or so lighthouses in Michigan, it is pretty rare for us to find one we haven’t seen – especially one on the mainland. We swung into Gladstone on our way to Escanaba and were able to enjoy beautiful Van Cleve Park and the Gladstone Lighthouse. After reaching out to Jason Davis with the Gladstone Parks and Recreation department, we were able to learn that this 2010 addition to the harbor stands about 30 feet tall and replaced a previous metal tower light.
Horseshoe Harbor (June) – The summer trip to the Upper Peninsula took us to quite a few new places, including the breathtaking Horseshoe Harbor just east of Copper Harbor. While we had previously headed out this way to find the Keweenaw Rocket Range, we hadn’t stopped to hike out to this rocky and remote nature preserve with a stunning shoreline. Pesky flies kept us from staying too long, but as the pictures from our visit show, this is a magical place that everyone should visit!
Root Beer Falls (June) – We don’t often make it to new waterfalls but this year we made it to a pair of very cool ones in the Upper Peninsula. Root Beer Falls is a small but picturesque drop on the way to the Porcupine Mountains. It can be viewed from the road, or walked right up to by way of a short trail into the woods. Armed with the proper directions, we finally got to visit this waterfall after being one road to the west many times and never knowing how close we were!
Douglass Houghton Falls (June) – The other new waterfall for us this year was one off the shrinking “Michigan Bucket List” that we keep. This is Michigan’s tallest waterfall (110 feet) and one that will hopefully soon be open to the public as a new state park and veterans memorial. We had avoided Douglass Houghton Falls in prior years due to posted “No Trespassing” signs at the top of the falls, but were able to reach it this year by following an ATV trail to the creek and then hiking the creek upstream to the falls.
Mitchell State Park (July) – In July, we were able to camp at William Mitchell State Park in Cadillac for the first time. We’d driven by it before, but had never stopped to visit and this year we finally got to experience for ourselves what makes this park so popular. Located between two inland lakes that are connected by a man-made canal, Mitchell State Park is a water recreation paradise with great opportunities for swimming, fishing, boating, paddling, and more. The campground is spacious and was pretty quiet for being completely booked on a holiday weekend. This is definitely somewhere we will back to in 2021!
Peter Pan Land (October) – In October, Chris and his family went to check out “Peter Pan Land,” an area of high dune cliffs south of Ludington. Photos of this scenic spot don’t do it justice, and while you’ll need to use caution with kids here due to the steep incline, there are great views of Lake Michigan, the Ludington pier, and sometimes the S.S. Badger. Think of this as a glimpse of Sleeping Bear Dunes’ landscape without the crowds, and keep the same warnings posted in that national lakeshore in mind – “it may only take a minute or two to run down, but could take up to an hour or more to get back up.”
Historic Bridge Park (September) – As kids, Chris and I used to spend a lot of time in Battle Creek. We often visited Binder Park Zoo, attended the annual Balloon Show at the airport, and spent Christmas time strolling through downtown and its awesome light displays. This year we went back and found many great places, including Historic Bridge Park. This park features the North Country Trail, Kalamazoo River access, and six historic bridges (five are metal truss bridges).
Fantasy Forest at Leila Arboretum (September) – I had been to Leila Arboretum once before, to look for leaves for a school project in 7th grade (let’s say around 1996). A recent trip back showed that the arboretum is still a beautiful places full of trees and plants, hiking trails, outdoor recreation opportunities, and more. The Fantasy Forest is a more recent addition to the park, with wood sculptures of wizards, dragons, and more placed in an open area. This is a great free and fun family attraction!
Dyer Kiln Ruins, Bellevue (November) – A quick day trip to the Bellevue area last month saw us stopping at the Bellevue Gothic Mill, the Keehne Nature Preserve, and the Dyer Kiln Ruins. The ruins of this kiln are easy to visit, and while this throwback to a much earlier time seems very out of place now next to a large farm, this kiln once produced limestone ash that was used in the construction of the Michigan State Capitol!
Leik Grove (September) – Our day trip to Grand Ledge also included a stop in Portland on the way home, and after visiting ConfluxCity Brewing we stumbled upon Leik Grove Park in Bogue Flats Recreation Area. This unique addition to the park has interesting shaped rocks, historical facts, unique trees, and more as it guides visitors on a hiking path that is meant to engage the mind as well as the rest of the body.
Pine River (October) – One of the more ambitious kayak trips we tackled this year was the Pine River, starting at Peterson Bridge and paddling to Low Bridge. This nearly nine mile trip went very quick and featured countless bends in the river. We learned many things during this early October paddle, including that when we go back we want to do it when its warmer, be prepared to possibly tip your kayak in the tight tree-filled sections and pack accordingly, and most of all pace yourself and take frequent breaks. This adventure was a wet and cold one, but one that will also be remembered for a beautiful shoreline that includes forests and sand ridges.
Little Mac Bridge (October) – Reed City is home to pair of bridges over the Hersey River worth checking out. There is a covered bridge on the White Pine Trail, and at the corner of Old U.S. 31 and U.S. 10 you will find the Little Mac Bridge. This pedestrian suspension bridge is 150 feet long and connects two city parks.
Ludington Bay Brewing (July) – The first brewery we visited after things opened back up was Ludington Bay Brewing Co. in Ludington. It was impressive to see how the brewery had adapted to the changing business, with properly distanced tables, single-use plates and silverware, menus on smartphones, and more. We enjoyed are food as well as tasty brews like Tangelo Dream, S.S. Badger Blue, and James Street Brown Ale. Find out more at http://ludingtonbaybrewing.com/.
Lincoln Brick Park (September) – Before visiting Fitzgerald Park in Grand Ledge we stopped at Lincoln Brick Park, which features the ruins of a brick factory from the early 1900s. There are a few miles of hiking trails that go through the ruins, follow along the Grand River, and go past tall sandstone ledges and families will find a playground and plenty of picnic shelters.
Quincy Dredge (June) – Many drives through the Keweenaw Peninsula had seen us drive past the historic Quincy Dredge, but this year we hopped in our kayaks and paddled out to get an up close and personal look at this bit of mining history. The dredge was constructed to reclaim stamp sand for more processing, which was quite an improvement in mining technology at the time. The history of this dredge dates back to 1914 when it was built for the Calumet and Hecla Mining Company. It was then known as Calumet and Hecla Dredge Number One and was used at a reclamation plant in Lake Linden. The dredge was sold to the Quincy Mine in the 1950s, where it joined their dredge and was renamed as Quincy Dredge Number Two. In regular use until the late 1960s, it sank during winter lay-up and the Quincy reclamation plant was closed soon after. Check out our Photo Gallery: Quincy Dredge Kayak Trip for more pictures.
Millie Mine Bat Viewing Site (June) – We’ve made many trips to Iron Mountain over the past two decades, in pursuit of waterfalls and local history. This year we spent some extra time there and finally visited the Millie Mine Bat Viewing Site, an “abandoned vertical iron mine that is now home to one of the largest hibernating/breeding bat colonies (up to 1 million bats) in North America.” There is a series of informational plaques along a short hiking trail that create a self-guided tour of area history, bat information, and more. A viewing platform offers up panoramic views of Iron Mountain and is the perfect place to catch an Upper Peninsula sunset.