10 Amazing Hidden Gems in Michigan Worth the Trek
Some of the coolest places in Michigan lie along rural backroads and in the heart of the state’s biggest cities, in the forested getaways of the Upper Peninsula and near the state capitol.
These Michigan hidden treasures are often overlooked by travelers in favor of bigger attractions like the Mackinac Bridge or Detroit RiverWalk. But they are no less fascinating and well worth a detour.
1. Chapel Rock and Beach Trail
The Upper Peninsula’s spectacular Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore promises 100 miles of walking and hiking trails, but most visitors overlook Chapel Rock in favor of the more easily accessed Miners Castle. Those willing to drive the gravel access road to the Chapel Rock trailhead are rewarded with remarkable beauty—and small crowds. Follow the trail 3 miles each way, through sandstone gorges and past scenic Chapel Falls to the Lake Superior beach and its namesake Chapel Rock, a sandstone, water-washed pinnacle topped by a lone fir tree. Pack your bathing suit. Although Lake Superior ranks as the coldest of the Great Lakes, this secluded beach will make you long to dive in.
Save Michigan’s State Capitol tour for another day. Instead, head to Old Town, the site of Lansing’s original Grand River settlement. The mid-19th-century town flourishes today as a commercial district home to art galleries and independently-owned restaurants, antique shops and live music. Can’t-miss shops include Great Lakes Art and Gifts, and for food and drinks check out MEAT Southern BBQ and Ozone’s Brewhouse.
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula isn’t the only place you’ll find Instagram-worthy waterfalls. Head to the Ocqueoc Falls, 40 miles down the Lake Huron shore from Cheboygan, for a northern Michigan getaway and a view of the largest falls in the Lower Peninsula. Hikers and bikers can explore the state forest along a network of trails and wrap up the day around the campfire. Campsites are first come, first served.
Designed by architectural mastermind Frank Lloyd Wright, the Meyer May House was commissioned by Grand Rapids-based clothier Meyer S. May in 1908 and ranks as the most completely restored of Wright’s buildings. The prairie-style home with its strong horizontal rooflines, honey-colored woodwork and geometrical stained glass windows sits tucked within Grand Rapids’ historic Heritage Hill Historic District, a neighborhood known for its stunning residential architecture. The Steelcase Corporation, which restored and also owns the house, offers free tours that include a film documenting the restoration project.
5. Detroit’s “Little Venice”
The narrow Detroit River canals that slice into Detroit’s eastern neighborhoods, sometimes called the city’s “Little Venice,” reveal a rare look at Prohibition-era Detroit, when ruthless bootleggers and the city’s Purple Gang moved shipments of illegal booze from Canada into an alcohol-free America. The canals are best explored from the water with outfitters such as Riverside Kayak Connection. Paddle through this era of Michigan history and along the way, photograph the historic Fisher Mansion and the resident waterfowl that call this stretch of the Detroit River home. Bring your own kayak or rent one on location.
In a stretch of Lake Michigan shoreline dominated by the Sleeping Bear Dunes, the Arcadia Dunes receive little attention. But they’re worth a visit. The picture-perfect, golden sand dunes and cool forests are home to 15 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, boardwalks suitable for slow walkers and strollers, great vast meadows of wildflowers and an observation deck with incredible views of Lake Michigan. The Arcadia Dunes are located along west Michigan’s M-22, just south of Crystal Lake in the C.S. Mott Nature Preserve.
“The Big Spring” in English, Kitch-iti-kipi lies off the beaten path in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula within Palms Book State Park. The natural freshwater spring ranks as Michigan’s largest at 200 feet across and 40 feet deep, the waters continually refreshed by underwater fissures that emit 10,000 gallons of water per minute. It’s easy to see why Native Americans dubbed Kitch-iti-kipi “The Mirror of Heaven.” The pool’s spectacular royal-blue surface is so clear that visitors can easily spot lazy fish and ancient felled trees far below by aid of a self-operated observation raft.
With more than 400 vehicles on display, North America’s largest automobile museum occupies 90 acres in the tiny community of Hickory Corners near Kalamazoo. Rare vehicles, from pre-Model T vehicles of the late 1800s to the muscle cars of the 1960s and ‘70s, from steam-powered automobiles to vintage toy pedal cars and classic motorcycles, occupy a dozen buildings on the museum’s property. You’ll also see an authentic 1941 roadside diner and a 1930s-era Shell gas station.
Using locally-sourced clay and glazes, Ann Arbor-based Motawi Tileworks handcrafts decorative ceramic tiles following designs of the early 20th century. Finely-made tiles depict birds and forest scenes, flowers and geometrical patterns reminiscent of the Art Deco era. Free tours allow a behind-the-scenes look at the lengthy process required to create the art tiles, and a showroom offers a chance to shop for souvenirs.
Classically-restored Chris Craft boats and sea kayaks ply the waters of the Les Cheneaux Islands, a collection of 36 long, narrow, rocky islands in Michigan’s northern Lake Huron. Set some 30 miles north and east of the Mackinac Bridge just off the shore of Cedarville, the Les Cheneaux evoke coastal New England, where transportation is as often as not by water and summer cottages have been in the same families for generations. Settle into a homey family-owned inn and relax by the water to enjoy a hidden gem that has changed little in a century.