The Best Things to Do in Michigan That Prove the Great Lakes Are Essential USA

Written by: Dave Owen

Michigan, split across two separate peninsulas to the north of the USA, is one of the most scenic states in the country. It borders four of the five Great Lakes, giving it some 3,300 miles of coastline, which is more than the USA’s entire eastern seaboard. Explore these coastal areas and you’ll find some of the best things to do in Michigan, and some of North America’s most essential sights.

It’s near impossible to list them all, so we’ve narrowed it down to just a few of our favourite Michigan attractions that sit somewhere on the shoreline of a Great Lake. If you have the time, we recommend hiring a car or motorhome and exploring as thoroughly as you can.

Michigan Sand Writing Lake

Lake Superior

The largest of the Great Lakes effortlessly earns its immodest name, with incredible coastal views, beautiful beaches, and untamed USA wilderness offering some of the best things to do in Michigan. The 1,300-mile Circle Tour is the most thorough way to visit, but here are just a few of the highlights.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

If you want a proper taste of wild Michigan, Pictured Rocks is unmissable. Encompassing beaches, towering sand dunes, imposing cliffs, rushing waterfalls, dense forest and more, this is the area for hiking, exploring, and camping. Visit in spring, when the snow is melting, to see the rivers and waterfalls at their most dramatic.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Twelvemile Beach

Anybody visiting Pictured Rocks that just wants somewhere to relax should take to the sweeping white sands of Twelvemile Beach. Lake Superior’s northerly location means its waters can be a little chilly, but the surrounding area is so magnificent that you might hardly notice.

Lake Superior Beach Campfire

The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum

Lake Superior is so vast (containing more water than the other four Great Lakes combined) that it boasts its own weather, including a history of violent storms. This museum at Whitefish Point charts the fascinating history of ships wrecked here. The highlight is an exhibit about the Edmund Fitzgerald freighter that foundered during a violent storm in 1975, losing its entire crew of 29 men.

Shipwreck Lake Superior

Crisp Point Lighthouse

This propensity for extreme weather means that over 30 lighthouses line the coast of Lake Superior. Hardcore road trippers can try and see them all, but if you can only pick one, Crisp Point should be it. Active for almost 90 years, its iconic white cone shape has since been fully restored to give visitors an authentic experience alongside the dazzling views across the water.

Crisp Point Lighthouse Lake Superior

Lake Michigan

It says a lot about the sheer scale of the Great Lakes that Lake Michigan is the third largest of them and is still the fifth largest lake in the world by surface area. It’s also home to some of the state’s (and the country’s) most arresting natural spots.

Road trip US-2

Stretching across the entire north of the USA, US-2 is one of the most scenic roads in the world, thanks in no small part to its Michigan leg between Manistique and St. Ignace. Skimming the edge of Lake Michigan, you’ll be treated to both coastal views and wild forest, with plenty of places to stop and explore along the way. Complete the drive in autumn to see the colour trees erupting with vivid colour.

US-2 Road Michigan USA

Mackinac Bridge

After reaching St. Ignace, the five-mile long Mackinac Bridge connects Michigan’s north and south peninsulas to deliver you to the rest of the state. The bridge’s 200-foot elevation makes it an attraction in itself, offering staggering views over the Straits of Mackinac until you eventually arrive in Mackinaw City on the southern peninsula.

Mackinac Bridge Michigan

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

You know in American TV shows when everybody heads to the lake on a sunny day? Sleeping Bear is exactly the kind of place they go. It has all the usual beachside activities – swimming, sunbathing, camping and more – while more intrepid visitors can explore the looming sand dunes that rise 150m above the lake or tackle hiking tracks through the area’s wilderness. Frequently voted one of the most beautiful spots in the USA, Sleeping Bear combined all the best things to do in Michigan.

Sleeping Bear Dune Michigan


All that wilderness might give you a taste for a city break, and there are few finer than Chicago. You could spend days just wandering the streets and marveling at architectural wonders like the Willis Tower, Tribune Tower, and the Pritzker Pavilion, but you should also take advantage of the Windy City’s delectable food scene, maniacal sports worship, and festivals that run throughout the year. Chicago is something special.

Chicago aerial shot

Lake Huron

Found to the east of Michigan, the second largest of the Great Lakes is famed for its tranquil sunrises and fearsome weather alike – over 1,000 ships lie wrecked at the bottom of its waters. This makes its beauty all the more captivating to explore.

Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Many of the shipwrecks here are considered important historic sites, with some dating back as far as the 19th century. Thunder Bay protects 116 of them, and allows visitors to join snorkelling and scuba diving tours to delve into their secrets. If you’d prefer to stay on the surface, this is also a hugely popular area for kayaking adventures.

Shipwreck Lake Huron

Mackinac Island

Catching a ferry to Mackinac Island to the north of Lake Huron is a little like stepping back in time. Cars are prohibited here, making bikes and horses the preferred methods of transport. The island feels wonderfully nostalgic, topped off by the alluring smell of fresh fudge that permeates the town from numerous shops.

Wedding Cake Cottage Mackinac Island

Hoeft State Park

The upside of Hoeft not quite being the most attractive state park in Michigan is that it tends to be relatively uncrowded throughout the year. A mile of golden sands and crisp, clear water means you can choose your ideal spot on the public beach, and inland you’ll have your pick of numerous walking trails across the 300-acre park.

Hoeft State Park Lake Huron

Lake Erie

Michigan only shares a relatively small amount of coastline with Lake Erie, but much of it is close to urban areas such as Detroit, which means its attractions can be easier to reach if you’re looking for a day or weekend trip.

Sterling State Park

An easy drive from Detroit brings you to the only state park Michigan has beside Lake Erie. In many ways this is a classic American lake destination: a lovely beachfront offers excellent swimming, bathing, and boating conditions, and there are great fishing opportunities either from the shore or by taking a fishing charter.

Lake Erie Sunset

Lake Erie Metropark

The Metropark’s three miles of Lake Erie shoreline are largely formed of coastal marshes, wetland, and lagoons, making it a great place to spot native wildlife: keep your eyes peeled for turtles, muskrat, waterfowl, and birds of prey. Visit in September to be treated to Hawkfest, where you might see up to 50,000 migrating hawks in a single day.

Muskrat Lake Erie

River Raisin National Battlefield Park

This recently designated national park aims to preserve and commemorate the pivotal battle of the War of 1812 that took place here, where the USA suffered its greatest defeat of the conflict. The free visitor centre on the well-tended grounds offers engrossing insight into the battle itself and the lasting impact it had on Michigan as a whole.

River Raisin National Battlefield Park

Check out these top USA travel experiences


Summer Camp Jobs in America

from £649

63 days

Work in the USA at one of over 500 summer camps with children of all ages. Gain over 800 hours...

Gain Business Experience in New York

from £4595

42 - 180 days

Intern in the Global Capital of Culture and Commerce, New York City, in order to gain hands-on business experience and...

Intern in Business in California

from £7500

40 - 180 days

There is no better destination for your business internship abroad. California is one of the USA's fastest growing economies, and...

Intern in Journalism in New York

from £6000

56 - 180 days

Get ahead in the competitive world of journalism and media by pursuing an internship in New York City. Launch your...

Become an Instructor with Ski and Snowboard Training

from £4579

100 - 150 days

When you join an EA Internship you will get trained, certified and receive a guaranteed job offer as a ski...

Combined TEFL Course Ohio

from £935

5 days

Join our 5-day combined TEFL course in Columbus and become a TEFL/TESOL certified teacher of English as a foreign language.

Performing Arts Jobs at Camp

from £649

63 days

Teach Performing Arts in the USA at one of over 500 summer camps with children of all ages. Gain over...

Lifeguard Roles Summer Camp USA

from £649

63 days

Paid Lifeguard opportunities in America! Work in the USA at one of over 500 summer camps with children of all...

In-Class TEFL Course in New York

from £1600

20 days

Join our 4-week TEFL in-class course in New York City and become a TEFL/TESOL certified teacher of English as a...

The Next Adventure

from £1675

21 - 360 days

Travel from the plains of South Africa to the bustle of Singapore and then on to beautiful New Zealand before...

Check out these top USA travel tours


Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula

from £782

Encounter killer whales, bears and playful sea otters on this journey into Alaska's icy, but beautiful, heart. From Anchorage to...

San Francisco to New York

from £2239

Discover a chain of magnificent national parks in California, Arizona and New Mexico, Then travel through the southern stylings of...

Vegas to San Fran

from £461

Take in Las Vegas through to San Francisco and make your way across the countryside through scorching Death Valley and...

Las Vegas to Los Angeles

from £2027

From the staggeringly fast pace of Las Vegas to the tranquillity of the Zion National Park, this trip journeys through...

Southern Comfort USA

from £2142

Enjoy classic architecture, history, music and food on this adventure through the southern states of the USA. Kick things off...

North USA Highlights

from £1636

Get ready to meet the friendly people, vibrant landscapes and rich history that make up this great land. Cross the...

LA to Vegas Adventure

from £570

Looking for a bit of sunshine? A few nights out on the town? Or just a solid dose of California,...

USA Cross-Country Road Trip

from £1788

This trip covers so much of America it’s hard to know where to start. It’s your chance to channel your...

Southern Comfort USA – New Orleans Jazz Festival

from £2346

Enjoy classic architecture, history, music and food on this adventure through the southern states of the USA. Kick things off...

Alaska Adventure

from £1802

Alaska may be part of the USA, but it feels like another world. This trip gives the freedom to hike,...

Find more USA travel inspiration

[contact-form-7 id="4" title="Contact form 1"]