Travel the Mitten 2015: Our 15 Favorite Michigan Places We Visited This Year
We’ll soon be celebrating the one year anniversary of Travel the Mitten, and we recently surpassed 1,000 followers on Facebook. It’s been quite a year for us, and we hope we’re achieving our goal of sharing Michigan travel ideas from our trips with our family, friends and readers. For the end of the year, we put together a list of our 15 favorite Michigan places that we visited this year – let us know in the comments if you made it to any of these awesome locations or if there are other places we need to be sure to check out in 2016!
Big Spring Kitch-iti-kipi – This enchanting natural freshwater spring can be found in Palms Book State Park near Manistique in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The pool measures 300 feet by 175 feet and is about 40 feet deep. It maintains a constant temperature of 45 degrees, and several types of trout can be seen swimming in its waters. Visitors get to observe the spring by boarding and riding a self-propelled wooden raft. Check out more pictures of our trip here in our Photo Gallery Friday post about the Big Spring.
Mouth of the Two Hearted River – One of the highlights of our summer camping trip was a stop at the mouth of the Two Hearted River where it empties into Lake Superior. The drive back here takes a little while and isn’t always smooth, which helps explain why it is such a peaceful setting. A state historical marker near the parking area shares the history of a Life Saving Station that once stood here. We took a few cans of Bell’s Two Hearted Ale and had a picnic lunch while enjoying the quiet beauty of this famous fishing spot. From M-123 just west of Tahquamenon Falls State Park, head north on CR-500, follow it until you can head west on CR-414. Take CR-414 to CR-423 and turn right to take CR-423 north – all told it’s around 15 miles of dirt roads and easily a half hour of drive time (but well worth the effort).
Lake of the Clouds – This remains one of our favorite places in the entire state, and we were happy to have a chance to visit this year. The most visited place in Porcupines Wilderness State Park can be found at the end of M-107 near the park’s east end and visitor center, and it provides a quiet spot with an undisturbed view of miles and miles of state park land from a fully accessible overlook. Check out Chris’ post about why this is one of his favorite places, and be sure to think about visiting Bonanza Falls, Manabezho Falls, Manido Falls or Nawadha Falls when you’re in the area. Our Photo Gallery Friday: Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park post shows off even more photos of great attractions in the area and shows Lake of the Clouds in spring, summer and fall.
Kalamazoo Beer Week – One of our first trips away from Grand Rapids this year was the short drive south to Kalamazoo for the 2015 edition of Kalamazoo Beer Week. Local breweries offered limited releases, food pairings and live entertainment to help celebrate the growing beer scene in Kalamazoo. We visited Gonzo’s BiggDogg Brewing and Tibbs Brewing Company during beer week, and we also recommend checking out One Well Brewing in addition to well-known stops like Arcadia Ales and Bell’s Eccentric Cafe. Be sure to get your Give A Craft beer passport and get stamps at all the breweries you visit – 2016’s beer week is January 16-23.
Sea Life Aquarium – Michigan’s Largest Aquarium opened at the end of January at Great Lakes Crossing Mall in Auburn Hills. Travel the Mitten had readers covered with an early preview and 25 photos from our visit, then kept you up to date when Benson the endangered green sea turtle was added to the collection of animals and Octonauts and Shark Week brought more fun in July. When you plan your visit for 2016, be sure to check out our post of 7 nearby family friendly attractions.
Petoskey State Park – We were fortunate to get to spend a week camping at Petoskey State Park in late June, and as always it was a great experience. The 300+ acre park features a sandy swimming beach on Little Traverse Bay, two large campgrounds with 180 sites, several hiking trails and chances to hunt for Michigan’s state stone. The park is only a few miles away from Harbor Springs, and a few miles from downtown Petoskey as well. We enjoyed retracing Ernest Hemingway’s steps through a historic walking tour, checking out Beards Brewery, finding Mackinaw Trail Winery and Brewing Company and returning to Petoskey Brewing when we weren’t relaxing at the park. Check out our photo gallery for a better glimpse at everything this state park offers.
Platte River Campground – This has become a family favorite for summer vacations to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The modern campground here is often filled to capacity in July and August, with a line of campers waiting for sites when the park opens each morning. Tubing or kayaking down the Platte River, driving Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive and/or hiking some of its trails, and catching a sunset at the beach where the river empties into Lake Michigan are some of our favorite things to do when camping here. This also makes for a great “base camp” due to its location on the well-known M-22 and its proximity to nearby attractions like Leland (Fishtown), Cherry Republic, Point Betsie Lighthouse, Empire Bluffs and the town of Frankfort.
Upper Hand Brewery – You’ll have to travel to the Upper Peninsula to get your hands on Upper Hand Brewery mainstays like Escanaba Black Beer, UPA or Upper Hand Lager, but it’s definitely worth the trip. We had a blast touring the brewery with production manager Sam Reese, who also took the time to share his 5 Favorite Places in Michigan with us. With more beers rolling out (UPX, Yooper, 906 and Christmastime) and an expansion in the works, this is one Michigan brewery to keep an eye on. If you live in the Lower Peninsula, make sure to stock up on Upper Hand beer for you and your friends the next time you make it north of the Mackinac Bridge.
Alpena – There’s plenty to do in Alpena, which is located on Lake Huron and within a few hours’ drive of Mackinaw City or Traverse City. Visitors can check out the unique Alpena Light in the harbor where the Thunder Bay River meets Lake Huron, stop by the fascinating (and FREE) NOAA Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center, grab a beer at Austin Brothers Beer Company or take a glass bottom boat out to view shipwrecks in the Thunder Bay Marine Sanctuary. A few miles north of town you’ll find the New Presque Isle Lighthouse, Old Presque Isle Lighthouse, Rockport State Recreation Area and Thompson’s Harbor State Park. Roadside attractions in Alpena include a Paul Bunyan statue made of car parts and a stainless steel bald eagle made by Tom Moran. Look for some upcoming posts full of photos from our dad’s trip to Alpena for the Great Lakes Lighthouse Festival in October.
Belle Isle – It had been a few years since we last visited, but when we returned to Belle Isle this year we found it to still be a scenic and entertaining spot in Detroit. This is one of the newest additions to Michigan’s state park system, and we look forward to returning often as more repairs and upgrades are made. Check out our list of 12 Things to See and Do at Belle Isle Park, and be sure to stop by the numerous roadside monuments on the island, including one of Civil War general Alphonsus Starkey Williams. This island is 982 acres and can be reached by driving over the MacArthur Bridge from the intersection of E. Grand Blvd. and E. Jefferson Ave. in Detroit.
Port Huron – The largest city in the Thumb region has a little bit of something for everyone. Boat watchers will love watching Great Lakes freighters and international ships traveling up and down the St. Clair River from several different vantage points. Lighthouse enthusiasts can stop by the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse (Michigan’s oldest surviving lighthouse) as well as the Lightship HURON – both are open as museums. Canada can be seen just across the river, and the Blue Water Bridge connects the two countries. Under that bridge, you can check out the area’s historical connection with Thomas Edison, and a few miles up the road you can pay tribute to those lost in a horrific tunnel explosion during the building of the Lake Huron Water Supply Project. Other reasons for a stop here include checking out presidential history, grabbing a beer at Thumbcoast Brewing Company or watching boats from the world headquarters of boatnerd.com (intersection of Court St. and Water St.).
Saugatuck – 2015 saw this town take home first place in a 10best.com Reader’s Choice Poll for Best Coastal Small Town, and we’ll agree that there’s a lot to love here in any season. Saugatuck Dunes State Park has long been a favorite of ours, and checking it out in the winter was incredibly fun. Grabbing a cold craft beer at Saugatuck Brewing Company is always a great idea, and we put together a list of 7 Can’t Miss Places in Saugatuck as well. Mayor Bill Hess stopped by to share his 5 Favorite Places in Michigan, and we’ll be headed back in 2016 to check out even more places in this charming small town on Lake Michigan.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore – This is hands down my favorite place in the state, and possibly in the entire country. We made a few trips to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore this year, and got to see things from several different perspectives. A visit in May saw great water flow at Munising Falls, Miners Falls, Elliot (Miners Beach) Falls and Potato Patch Falls, as well as significant ice out on Lake Superior and near the shoreline at the Log Slide Overlook. Returning in June we were able to stop by Sable Falls and the Grand Sable Dunes before following H-58 to the west past the Au Sable Light Station, Hurricane River and Miners Castle/Miners Beach. In August, we were able to kayak a few miles of the shoreline with Uncle Ducky Outdoors, which brought an up-close experience and new perspective. A handful of Pictured Rocks beaches made our list of 12 Breathtaking Lake Superior Beaches, and if you’re headed this way in 2016 be sure to check out our guide to 8 Day Trips at Pictured Rocks.
Lakenenland – We had driven past this unique roadside attraction on M-28 many times over the years, but this summer we finally stopped. Tom Lakenen’s collection of whimsical and thought-provoking sculptures is truly something to be hold, and without a doubt one of Michigan’s best FREE attractions. Visiting during a light mist on a day when the mosquitos were quite thick limited the time we spent here, but we’ll definitely be back – check out our full photo gallery from our visit to see more of the sculptures!
Dutch Girl Brewery – Given our Dutch heritage and love of beer, this brewery became a must-visit from the second we heard it was opening. We were fortunate enough to get to tour the facility with owners Kelly and Luke Finchem, and we also got to try 11 beers. The Just One More (Vienna Lager), Dirty Boots (Imperial Milk Stout) and Trees (Double IPA) were among our favorites, but honestly there wasn’t a bad beer in the bunch. Luke and Kelly shared their 5 favorite places in Michigan with us in October, and we can’t wait to head back out to Spring Lake for another visit. While in the area we also visited Vander Mill for cider and donuts (across the street from Dutch Girl) and Old Boys’ Brewhouse. Dutch Girl Brewery can be found at 14964 Cleveland St. in Spring Lake, MI.