A Guide to National Parks in Michigan


The National Park Service, which oversees more than 450 park sites in the United States, turned 100 in 2016, and there are more ways than ever to keep celebrating nature and stewardship in Michigan. Plan a trip to step back in time at sites that recall the state's copper boom days, climb atop a towering dune or take in the beauty of the 200-foot glowing cliff.
 
Here’s a list of Michigan's seven national treasures, including all sites affiliated with or managed by the National Park Service.
 

1. Isle Royale National ParkHoughton

Moskey Basin on Isle Royale
Moskey Basin, Isle Royale | Photo Courtesy of Rich Perry

There are only three remote Alaskan national parks with fewer annual visitors to Isle Royale National Park. The park is closed all winter, and you need to take a ferry or flight to get to the island in the middle of Lake Superior waters. The resulting isolation has kept this one of the few spots in the country with true wilderness, a spot with stunning vistas and even more
striking quiet.
 
In a study on soundscapes, The National Park Service determined Isle Royale to be one of the country's quietest national parks, and it's likely to stay that way as visitors get around only by foot, kayak or canoe and have little company other than the island's resident moose, loons and other wildlife.
 
Most opt for backcountry camping at sites spread along the island. The Rock Harbor Lodge offers 60 lodge rooms along the shoreline in Rock Harbor and two rustic camper cabins on the other side of the island. There's also a restaurant, store for hiking and camping provisions and way to book boats and fishing charters. For the ultimate adventure, join a Moosewatch Expedition and participate in a hands-on way in the country's longest running predator-prey study, in this case of the interplay between the island's wolves and moose. 
 

2. Keweenaw National Historic ParkCalumet

By virtue of its location, the Keweenaw National Historic Park showcases the mountain and lakeside beauty of the lakeside beauty of the peninsula that juts up to the northernmost part of the state. But natural beauty isn't the main focus of the diverse collection of 21 sites that make up the park and collective interpret a copper mining and cultural heritage dating back some 7,000 years.
 
What did miners put in their lunch pails to keep their pasties warm? Who rescued 24 people and a dog from the shipwreck L.C. Waldo in 1913? Those are just examples of treasure hunt questions shared in a booklet provided by visitor center and assorted heritage sites and the types of things you might learn while venturing deep into the Quincy Mine Properties or taking a walking tour of Calumet. During the copper boom, which predated the gold rush, this was among the country's richest towns.


3. MotorCities National Heritage AreaDetroit

Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn
The Henry Ford Museum | Photo Courtesy of Pure Michigan

Southeast Michigan has the largest concentration of historical sites related to the evolution of the automotive industry in the entire world. Take your own road trip to learn about the foundation of the road trip through a NPS Passport Stamp Program that allows you to collect stamps as you explore each site within the area.
 
You'll take many twists and turns while traveling from The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn to the the in bucolic Hickory Corners, to the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant within Detroit's Model T Automotive Heritage complex.
 
While The Henry Ford focuses on innovation in a broader way, the Piquette Plant lets visitors tour the first factory built for and owned by The Ford Motor Company and go inside the Model T Experimental Room where the car was invented, sit behind the wheel of one and to learn how and why Henry Ford is considered the father of the road trip.


4. Pictured Rocks National LakeshoreMunising

Grand Portal Point at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Grand Portal Point at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore | Photo Courtesy of P. Sisto Images

With its sandstone cliffs, hidden beach coves, sand dunes, waterfalls, lakes and forests, it's no wonder Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore has become one of the most popular tourism sites in the state. There are hiking, camping, sightseeing, paddling and many other opportunities for year-round fun within a park situated for 40 miles on the Lake Superior shoreline.
 
Waterfalls are a visitor focus year-round. When they're flowing, a map provided by the park visitor centers can guide you on a falls-style scavenger hunt, many located along roadway's edge and others accessible via short and scenic strolls. The more adventurous love when they're frozen and suitable for climbing. The Michigan Ice Fest offers step by step coaching for those new to the sport.
 
Take a trip with Pictured Rocks Boat Cruises see Spray Falls, or book the sunset trip to catch the magic light glow on the rocky cliff faces painted by seeping minerals of various kinds. Paddling is increasingly popular, and Uncle Ducky's offers trips from rentals at their Paddlers Village.


5. Sleeping Bear Dunes National LakeshoreEmpire

View of Sleeping Bear Dunes from the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive
View of Sleeping Bear Dunes from the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive | Photo Courtesy of Melynda Rowe

Visitor sites within Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore let you step back in both human and geologic time and even to gaze (with instruction) at a timeless star-filled night sky.
 
Glacial moraines formed beach-lined harbors and Caribbean blue lakes and carved away sandy beaches and gravel faces that now house towering lake overlooks. Climbing them (well, or running back down) is the focus of the park's stop, aptly called the Dune Climb. Rangers host activities from star gazing to snowshoe making. The Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail offers a scenic way to travel between popular stops and villages like Empire and Glen Arbor on a scenic bike trip.  And visitors can step back in time with a visit to Glen Haven, the historic Great Lakes village within the park, complete with a lifesaving station, blacksmith and still operational general store.
 
The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive offers a perfect path between best scenic vistas, and then there are the beaches—often designated the prettiest in the Midwest.


6. North Country National Scenic TrailLowell

Headquartered in Lowell, the North Country Scenic Trail is a unit of the network of scenic, historic and recreation trails created by the National Trails System Act of 1968 and is administered by the National Park Service.

Traversing seven states along its 4,600 mile route, it is the longest national scenic trail in the United States, and Michigan offers 1,150 miles of that—the most miles in all seven states. While the North Country National Scenic Trail is managed primarily for hiking and backpacking, some portions of the trail may also permit other non-motorized uses. Of primary importance is protecting the trail experience—providing opportunities for recreation, education, inspiration, solitude, and enjoyment; and ensuring user safety and resource protection.

The wide variety of terrain, flora and fauna offers everything from a leisurely afternoon stroll to a multi-day, 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.


7. River Raisin National Battlefield ParkMonroe

Over a century before the founding of the National Park Service, the War of 1812 raged in southeast Michigan, Ohio and Canada. The River Raisin National Battlefield Park headquartered in Monroe preserves, commemorates, and interprets the January 1813 battles of the War of 1812 and their aftermath in Monroe and Wayne counties in southeast Michigan.

Artifacts and exhibits pertaining to the battles at the River Raisin are displayed in the visitor’s center museum. Be sure to watch a 14-minute fiber optic map presentation in which the conflict in the Old Northwest Territory is unfolded. In the west wing, a collection of original military firearms and accoutrements, and an additional diorama, accompany the fiber optic map. In the east wing, handcrafted miniature dioramas depict scenes from the River Raisin, the battles of Lake Erie, and the battle of the Thames. In the main gallery, full-scale vignettes bring to life the American and British troops as they might have appeared at dawn on January 22, 1813, just before the second battle.