Unique Michigan Destinations for Budget-Savvy Travelers

Michigan is filled with top-rated destinations and attractions, both indoors and out. From museums and zoos to historical sites and national parks; from city markets and fantastic eateries to Rail Trails and beaches. Michigan is well-known for it’s scenic beauty, small towns, and fun cities. And the best part is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy what Michigan has to offer. All it costs you is time, and spending time at these Michigan treasures is time well spent.

Read more on some low-cost things to do in the Great Lakes state, courtesy of The Awesome Mitten’s Jackie Mitchell.

Visit a National or State Park

Michigan is home to one national park (Isle Royale), two national lakeshores (Sleeping Bear Dunes and Pictured Rocks), and over 100 state parks. In fact, you are never more than half an hour from a state park, forest campground, or trail system for hiking or biking in Michigan. You can access most of the national lakeshores for free. Climb a dune, explore trails, hike to a waterfall or lighthouse, or spend the day on a beach. The annual $11 Recreation Passport for your vehicle will gain you entrance into the entire state park system where even more trails, dunes, waterfalls, and beaches await. Camping is a nominal nightly fee in any of the national or state parks. Many parks also offer free interpretive talks, children’s activities, and a variety of programs.

Tahquamenon Falls State Park is a must-see for residents and visitors alike

Photo Courtesy of Alex Beaton and The Awesome Mitten

Go to a Drive-In Movie

There are 10 drive-in movie theaters in Michigan, scattered all around the lower peninsula. In the heyday of the 1950s, there were over 100 drive-in theaters in Michigan. While only a few remain, they are again growing in popularity. With arcades, putt-putt golf, playgrounds, and a picnic-like atmosphere, what better way to spend a Friday or Saturday night with family or friends than taking in a couple movies the old fashioned way? Ticket prices are similar to regular movie prices, but the double-feature makes a drive-in a deal for movie-goers. Danny Boy’s Drive In, Michigan’s newest theater that opened in 2012, offers a $20 carload special, for up to 6 people, and a $5 food ticket that allows you to bring in your own food and drink.

Take a step back in time and enjoy a drive-in movie

Photo Courtesy of Danny Boy’s Drive-In

Heidelberg Project

Started in 1986 as a response to blight affecting his neighborhood, Detroit-native artist Tyree Guyton began turning his childhood home on Heidelberg Street into a work of found-object art. Now stretching over the entire city block, Guyton, community residents, and other artists have turned abandoned houses, vacant lots, and even the streets themselves into a provocative community art project that hosts over 270,000 visitors a year. Facing skepticism and legal issues with the city from the beginning, the Heidelberg Project has evolved into a landmark of Detroit, winning numerous awards and revitalizing the local economy. Despite its grassroots popularity, the Heidelberg Project as it currently exists will be dismantled over the next few years. If you haven’t yet experienced the Heidelberg Project, now is the time. Organized tours have a fee, but just visiting the area is free.

Be a Lighthouse Keeper

Michigan’s lighthouses are iconic. If you’ve ever been to the shore of one of our Great Lakes, chances are you have a picture of a lighthouse, standing guard against the storms of Michigan’s inland seas. You might have even imagined you were the keeper of the light, living romantically at the edge of sand and surf. What you may not know is that it’s possible at one of the twenty lighthouses available with accommodations in Michigan. Four lighthouses are bed and breakfasts, five are vacation rentals, five offer couples or families the chance to be keeper for a fee (only a few hundred for a week or two), and six are available through a volunteer application. A listing of operational lighthouses and information can be found at the US Lighthouse Society website.

The Round Island Light House is as picturesque as any spot in Michigan

Photo Courtesy of Alex Beaton and The Awesome Mitten

Visit a Ghost Town

Dozens of abandoned towns dot Michigan’s landscape. Many are in the Upper Peninsula, where the copper and logging industries once boomed, causing towns to rise up around mills and mines. When they resources ran out, the towns were left to ruin. Today, only a few foundations or headstones might mark the place where a town once stood. Sometimes the structures are preserved. The largest abandoned town is Fayette, which is now preserved along the shores of Lake Michigan in the Upper Peninsula at Fayette Historic State Park . Entrance to the park is free with a Recreation Passport.

Are you brave enough to visit a Michigan ghost town?

Photo Courtesy of Fayette Historic Park

What Michigan treasures do you enjoy without spending a lot of money?

Jackie Mitchell writes for Awesome Mitten and works at Michigan State University. She enjoys hiking, kayaking, and camping with her family in any Michigan State Park.

Celebrate 100 Years of the National Parks Service at These 7 Sites

Today, the National Park Service is celebrating 100 years as sites across Michigan and the U.S. commemorate Founder’s Day. Find out how the 7 National Park Sites in our great state were founded and what they are doing to celebrate, courtesy of guest bloggers representing each of the park sites.

Find Your Park

One hundred years doesn’t come around very often. Indeed, there are few institutions with the staying power of the National Park Service which is celebrating that very rare century mark today!

This week, NPS sites throughout Michigan and beyond are paying tribute to the NPS Centennial – which in fact has been an ongoing celebration since early 2016. Today, the NPS recognizes Founder’s Day as the official birthday of America’s grand institution that serves to preserve and protect its natural wonders.

Each NPS site in Michigan has a truly unique story to tell and offers visitors a chance to escape within a day or less driving distance. Read more about how each park, lakeshore, trail and heritage area were founded as we pay tribute to 100 years.

1. Experience Isle Royale’s unique history and untamed wilderness

Isle Royale National Park, established on April 3, 1940 and designated a National Wilderness in 1976, is the most isolated and wild of Michigan’s seven sites. The park’s stunning vistas are truly a way for visitors to explore wilderness, slow down the pace of life and relax the soul.

The wilderness island has many stories to preserve based around island life and industry. At one time, Isle Royale supported a robust fishing and resort community, and similar to its Keweenaw neighbor, Isle Royale played an important role in the early copper mining industry.

Views of Isle Royale, the least-visited National Park in the nation

Photo Courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

The park has attractions for history buffs as well as outdoor adventurers and hikers. One of the more popular historically preserved sites is the cottage of Elizabeth Kemmer who served coffee and meals to island workers. There are also several beautifully preserved lighthouses on the island such as Rock Harbor.

In celebration of the Centennial, Isle Royale stewards invite adventure-seekers to experience an untamed land for a real escape from life’s hustle and bustle. Here you can enjoy a leisurely guided hike by a park ranger or make unforgettable memories by spotting a moose.

2. Keweenaw: A region shaped by copper

Michigan’s Keweenaw National Historic Park boasts radiant, natural landscapes while also preserving the history of the region’s once vast copper mining industry. In 1992, the National Park Service decided that preserving the natural wonders of the land as well as its history and its assets was important enough to designate the park as a National Historic Park.

The history of Keweenaw’s copper mining dates back at least 7,000 years, and through preservation efforts, industries of long ago such as the Calumet & Hecla Mining Company would be lost to time. According to the park’s enabling legislation, U.S. Congress determined that the Calumet area was essential to telling the story of copper mining on the Keweenaw Peninsula.

The mining industry was once king in the Keweenaw Peninsula

Photo Courtesy of NPS.gov

The Calumet Unit is just one of many enjoyable assets to park patrons, and one of many featured pieces in the park’s day-long Centennial Celebration. While in the area, check out the local bike trails or snowmobile trails if visiting in the winter.

3. Automotive goes beyond Detroit in the MotorCities National Heritage Area

The story of Michigan can hardly be told without including the creation and evolution of the domestic automotive industry. In 1998, U.S. Congress deemed that history to be important enough to require safeguarding, thus the MotorCities National Heritage Area was established by an Act of Congress to preserve, promote and interpret the history of the automotive industry and labor story in southeast Michigan.

The effort to create the MotorCities, originally established as the Automobile National Heritage Area, was led by U.S. Rep. John Dingell and Sen. Carl Levin. The original legislation recognized that, “…the economic strength of our Nation is connected integrally to the vitality of the automobile industry, which employs millions of workers,” and, “the industrial and cultural heritage of the automobile industry in Michigan includes the social history and living cultural traditions of several generations.”

President Bill Clinton signs the Automobile National Heritage Area Act of 1998 creating the MotorCities National Heritage Area.

Photo Courtesy of the MotorCities National Heritage Area

The MotorCities is one of 49 National Heritage Areas in the U.S. and the only one in Michigan. National Heritage Areas are a unique aspect of historic preservation as they protect and promote the country’s most significant historical events that have shaped and impacted culture and economy.

Throughout the Centennial celebration, the MotorCities encouraged would-be adventurers to “Find Your Road Trip,” with a one-of-a-kind tourism guide showcasing 30 automotive historical sites along with Michigan’s National Parks. While there, the world-famous Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village should be near the top of your list of things to see.

To request your own copy of the “Find Your Road Trip” guide, visit motorcities.org/findyourroadtrip

4. North Country Trail

The state’s only National Scenic Trail, North Country National Scenic Trail stretches across 4,600 miles and seven states – including Michigan. Headquartered in Lowell, North Country Trail was created by the National Trails System Act of 1968 and is administered by the National Park Service.

The NCT is the longest of 11 National Scenic Trails established in the U.S. When the Trail was established in 1980, portions of it were designed to follow the already existing Finger Lakes (New York), Baker (Pennsylvania), and Buckeye (Ohio) Trails. Their sponsoring organizations became affiliates of the North Country Trail Association and agreed to maintain those portions of their trails to be used by the North Country National Scenic Trail.

Photo Courtesy of Chris Loudenslager

Most of the NCT’s activity comes from adventurous hikers who brave the rugged terrain and experience wide variety of terrain, flora, and fauna. The NCT offers everything from a leisurely afternoon stroll to a multiday, rigorous long-distance hiking challenge. In every locale, opportunities abound for bird watching, botany, photography, and wildlife study, either alone or as an experience shared with others seeking the respite of the outdoors.

5. Pictured Rocks: America’s first National Lakeshore

Michigan’s vaunted Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is the state’s oldest National Park unit. Established on Oct. 15, 1966, Congress determined the region was important enough “…to preserve for the benefit, inspiration, education, recreational use, and enjoyment of the public, a significant portion of the diminishing shoreline of the United States and its related geographic and scientific features.”

When President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill, Alger County became the home of America’s first National Lakeshore.

Lovers Leap at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Photo Courtesy of Instagrammer @mc_angela

Protecting the shoreline was a major tenant of the 1966 Congressional Act. The shoreline zone was established to preserve its scenery and outstanding natural features and to provide the benefits of public recreation. The inland buffer zone was created to stabilize and protect the existing character and uses of the land, waters, and other properties. Today, Pictured Rocks is famous for the breathtaking multi-colored sandstone cliffs in which you can kayak to, in addition to a few incredible waterfalls.

Today, stewards of Pictured Rocks work to keep the region’s incredible natural beauty protected while managing ever-increasing visitorship and interest in the park.

6. Discover Michigan’s role in the War of 1812 at River Raisin

The most recent federal land designate in the state, the River Raisin National Battlefield Park was established to preserve the story of the War of 1812 and its impact in southeast Michigan. Congress created River Raisin under the Omnibus Public Land Management Act signed into law on March 30, 2009.

A portrait of the historic River Raisin militia encampment

Photo Courtesy of NPS.gov

The site tells the story of the River Raisin Militia which was called into action during the summer of 1812 to build a military road which was to link Detroit with Ohio. The militia men were the centerpiece of a U.S. force encamped along the north side of the River Raisin when they met a surprise attack on the morning of Jan. 22, 1813 led by 600 British and Canadians and about 800 Native Americans.

A trip to the River Raisin Battlefield Visitor Center will not only be a learning experience for the kids, but it will also be a great adventure. They will love interacting with the soldiers and scenes; they will feel as if they were really there.

7. Preserving Michigan’s maritime history at Sleeping Bear

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is also celebrating its own milestone marking 50 years in 2016. Established by Congress on Oct. 21, 1970, Sleeping Bear Dunes is rich in history from early Native American cultures to the shipping, logging, and agricultural heritage of the area. Even the name of the area comes from the Native American Legend of Sleeping Bear.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is one of Michigan's most iconic areas

Photo Courtesy of the National Parks Service

Long before there were roads and highways in Michigan, people and goods were being transported regularly on the ships of the Great Lakes. The Manitou Passage (between the Manitou Islands and the mainland) was a busy corridor for commercial shipping. The location of the Manitou Islands made them ideal for a refueling stop for steamers to pick up wood for their boilers. That was one of the driving forces for early settlement of the islands. Docks were built, and trees were cut to fuel the growing Great Lakes Shipping fleet.

The farming legacy of the area is embodied in the Port Oneida Rural Historic District as well as some of the farmsteads on the southern part of the park.

Learn about the logging and farming culture by visiting Glen Haven, the little historic logging village located on the shore of Lake Michigan. There were a number of little logging villages in the area that no longer exist. There isn’t much left of these Ghost Towns, but as you walk around their sites, you will find trace evidence of the people who lived, worked, and played in this country.

How many of Michigan’s seven National Parks Sites have you visited? Share with us by commenting below!

Six Autumn Experiences for a Fall Getaway in the Oscoda Area

This summer has been a memorable one, but we can’t wait for fall! Whether you want to enjoy the changing leaves or learn about unique Michigan history, the Oscoda area offers an unforgettable experience. Read more on just six of the many things to check out when visiting Oscoda, via The Oscoda Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The chance to experience Michigan’s beauty doesn’t end once fall brings about seasonal changes.

Photo Courtesy of The Oscoda Convention and Visitors Bureau

Photo Courtesy of The Oscoda Convention and Visitors Bureau

The lush greens of spring and summer turn to hues of orange, yellow and brown. Sandals, shorts and T-shirts are replaced by walking shoes, jackets and long pants to more comfortably explore Michigan’s natural beauty.

One perfect Michigan destination for day trippers and weekend explorers is the Oscoda area. Located on the east side of the state and on the south side of the Au Sable River in Iosco County, the Oscoda area features some of the state’s signature sites and experiences.

Here are some sites and experiences the Oscoda area offers for you next Pure Michigan adventure:

  • The 22-mile River Road National Scenic Byway is a great way to take in all the color Northeast Michigan has to offer. It stretches westward from Lake Huron into the Huron-Manistee National Forests. While visiting, don’t forget to drop by the 14-foot bronze Lumberman’s Monument statue and its accompanying visitor’s center. Travelers will also find numerous recreation opportunities, from motorized trails for off-road vehicles to quiet hiking trails.
  • The Iargo Springs Interpretive Site, also located on the River Road Scenic Byway, offers a breathtaking view of the Au Sable River Valley from its observation deck that is 300 feet above the river. The adventurous can also walk down a flight of 294 steps to experience where the underground springs come together and form cold water streams.
Photo Courtesy of The Oscoda Convention and Visitors Bureau

Photo Courtesy of The Oscoda Convention and Visitors Bureau

  • There are more than 3,500 acres of Michigan hiking trails in and around the Oscoda area. Visitors can head out on the Reid Lake Trail and see natural sites like a beaver pond, marshes and bogs, as well as an abundance of birds and wildlife. The Highbanks Trail is a 7-mile trail that gives hikers and backpackers a great view of the Au Sable River. The Highbanks Trail is also where you’ll see the MCRA Canoer’s Memorial Monument, which was erected in memory of canoe racers who have died.
Photo Courtesy of George Falkenhagen of Oscoda

Photo Courtesy of George Falkenhagen of Oscoda

  • The Au Sable and Oscoda Historical Society and Museum is where you’ll find Native American artifacts, as well as information about the region’s history concerning commercial fishing, ship wrecks and the railroad industry. The museum also has information about the Au Sable River, its dams and the notorious fire of 1911 that caused mass destruction to the community.
  • The Au Sable River Queen is the only paddle-wheel boat that runs from summer into fall, allowing passengers to take in the autumn colors from its decks. Passengers can enjoy a two-hour round trip on the Au Sable River, but should dress warm for those fall evenings and call in advance to reserve a spot.
  • Paul Bunyan Days will be held September 23-25 in downtown Oscoda. Come on out and bring the whole family for a day of fun, including carnival rides, craft vendors, a classic car show, a pie eating contest, kids activities and a hospitality tent with live music Friday night and Saturday night from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. There is a $5.00 admission fee, but children 16 and under can enter for free. Gates open Friday from 4 p.m.-10 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Call 989-739-0900 for more information.

For more information about the Oscoda area and the attractions you’ll find there, go to www.oscoda.com.

What do you plan to do in the Oscoda area this fall?