Small Town Lure
Don’t let their tiny populations fool you—these little hamlets are big on fun. Tour an 1844 military fort. Explore a whimsical collection of antiques at a string of high-end galleries. Discover dune-lined beaches along some of the most beautiful shorelines anywhere. Shop for penny candy, collectables, cards and gifts at a charming old-time general store. Visit a remote island and see native wildlife and acres of rare flowers. Adventure, art, history, relaxation— these small towns pack it all in.
Fort Wilkins | Courtesy Michigan DNR
From its one-time mineral rush to today’s adrenaline rush, the Upper Peninsula’s northernmost point always delivers.
Gear up at Keweenaw Adventure Company, where guides send advanced mountain bikers to the top of Brockway Mountain, topping out 720 feet above Lake Superior. Power down trails recognized by IMBA (International Mountain Bicycling Association) as Epic rides. Casual adventurers can set out on a sunset paddle around the rocky point featuring Copper Harbor Lighthouse. At Fort Wilkins Historic State Park, see an 1844 fort where costumed interpreters bring the past to life. Pick thimbleberries like residents did 175 years ago, or enjoy them folded inside a puff pastry at Jamsen’s Fish Market and Bakery, or in dinner dishes at Harbor Haus.
Follow M-22 along the little finger of the Mitten for notable beaches and possible glimpses of the northern lights.
Signs banning cell phones welcome visitors at the local antiques shop, a whimsical collection of antiques and found-object art next to a string of high-end galleries. No need for apps here, anyway. Locals who gather over cinnamon twists at Barb’s Bakery steer out-of-towners to the best rock hounding and northern lights beach (Peterson Park) and cove of soft sand (Cathead Bay). Climb the restored lighthouse tower at Leelanau State Park, then head back for an open-air dinner at the Garage Bar & Grill, or relax on the covered outdoor patio at The Mitten Brewing Company with any of the 14 pours on tap.
Downtown Saugatuck| Courtesy Midwest Living Magazine/ Ryan Donnell
Artists convene at this open-minded town known for nature’s artwork—dunes and sugar-sand beaches along Lake Michigan.
With 30-plus galleries, the town’s a natural for its moniker, The Art Coast. The Art Institute of Chicago runs the waterfront Ox-Bow School of Art and its day and weekend workshops. Sample your way through food art, such as the fruit-based products at American Spoon; the soul food of a James Beard Award semifinalist at The Southerner; or iced coffee at Uncommon Coffee Roasters. Head to dune-lined Oval Beach (deemed one of the 25 best shorelines in the world) in an especially cool way: The hand-crank Saugatuck Chain Ferry for pedestrians and cyclists costs just $1.
Rugged and remote, Drummond perches between Michigan and Ontario, drawing off-the-beaten-path explorers.
Catch the mile-long ferry across St. Marys River, then head into North Haven to rent a kayak. Browse gifts made from pudding stone, named because it resembles suet pudding with berries, before paddling along limestone cliffs and over Lake Huron wrecks visible 30 feet below. Get an ORV from Beaver’s ATV Rentals to reach remote parts of the island, or make the easy drive to the Maxton Plains Preserve.
There, Sandhill cranes gather and the rare prairie smoke flower renders the ground a wavy field of summer purple. Try the classic island dish, whitefish, at The Northwood; for an unusual overnight, book a B&B sail on the schooner Huron Jewel.
Downtown Lexington| Courtesy Midwest Living Magazine/ EE Berger
One of Lake Huron’s southernmost towns delivers with vacation-worthy sand beaches, plus shopping, food and fun.
Penny candy never went out of vogue at The Lexington General Store, one highlight of a 3-block downtown of redbrick buildings accented by sea blue awnings. Pick up beach gear at Crazy Joe’s or picnic fare at the Sweetwater Gourmet Deli & Bar. Settle in for dinner at newly reopened 1860 The Cadillac House before retiring to one of 12 guest rooms with in-room fridges, coffee makers and fluffy robes. The 295-seat Lexington Village Theatre runs a weekly lineup of tribute bands, comedians and blues acts. Catch live-music night, too, at the Lexington Brewing Company and Wine House, and bring a chair to Music in the Park on summer Fridays.