10 Michigan Picnic Areas for a Relaxing Afternoon

There's nothing that elevates a road trip to a memorable vacation the way that a roadside picnic does. Here's your guide to some of Pure Michigan's best spots to pull over, lay out the checkered tablecloth and enjoy your spread (and the view) with the family or a special someone.

Cut River Bridge in forest during fall

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1. First Roadside Park – Larson

Bring that vintage wicker basket to this stop in Iron County because, in some ways, you’ll be celebrating (as the name so clearly points out) the birth of the American road trip, picnic stops and even roadside picnic tables. In 1918, the county's board of supervisors bought a 320-acre track as a forest preserve, the following year establishing the first roadside park in Michigan—perhaps in America. Choose to picnic under a canopy of towering trees, especially stunning in the fall.

2. Esrey Roadside Park – Eagle Harbor

M-26 runs along the north shore of the Keweenaw Peninsula, past wide stretches of Lake Superior beach, roadside waterfalls, lighthouses and unexpected stops like The Jampot, a shop of chocolates, pastries and jams run by a skete of Eastern Orthodox monks. Stop to fill your picnic baskets and maybe hear a short version of how they came to launch a ministry of prayer and contemplation on these shores, then head toward Copper Harbor and the state's northernmost tip.

3. Au Train Beach – Au Train

This picnic stop on M-28, just west of Munising, offers great fodder for your picnic conversation. Read about “Powers of the Air,” the lone survivor of a peaceful Grand Island band of Chippewa Indians. Walk to water's edge to see the carving of his face in sandstone made by an impressed French voyager back in 1820. You'll also find picnic tables, where you can eat your pasty (the meat pie favored by Upper Peninsula miners that you can pick up at Muldoon's Pasties and Gifts) to the thundering roar of Lake Superior waves.

4. Canyon Falls and Gorge Roadside Park – L'Anse

Lower Canyon Falls on Sturgeon river near L'Anse
Lower Canyon Falls, Sturgeon River | Photo Courtesy of Instagram Fan mittenexpedition

This Baraga County stop along the Lake Superior circle tour offers a sweet, shady spot for a picnic and destination hike all in one. The short trail leads to a rocky gorge with waterfall and rapids along the scenic Sturgeon River.

5. Cut River Bridge Roadside Park – Naubinway

Cut River Bridge in forest during fall
Cut River Bridge Roadside Park | Photo Courtesy of Instagram Fan izzc

Picnic near the bridge and gaze at the pretty structure that spans the Cut River Valley, 147 feet below or (if brave) climb the wooden steps down to Cut River and one of many scenic stretches of Lake Michigan Beach along U.S. 2.  

6. Elk Rapids Day Park – Elk Rapids

This park isn't just a park, it's also one of the state's prettiest beaches and an outdoor art gallery. Just south of downtown, find picnic tables, grills and restrooms at this perfect picnic stop. You'll also find some 30 works of carefully curated and changing art installations along the wooded trails and in downtown Elk Rapids.

7. Lake Huron Roadside Park – Port Sanilac

This stop borders the Sanilac Shores Underwater Preserve, where you can spot wrecks and outfitters lead snorkel trips.  Also, rent kayaks for paddling and craft a vacation from a visit to this park with a historic marker memorializing the Great Storm of 1913. End your day by watching freights and collecting colorful stones.

8. Benzie Scenic Turnout and Roadside Park – Arcadia

Stairs overlooking Lake Michigan in Arcadia
Arcadia Scenic Turnout | Photo Courtesy of Instagram Fan cjs411

You may recognize this as the Arcadia Scenic Turnout or Inspiration Point, but you'll likely know it if you've traveled M-22, north of the tiny village of Arcadia. Climb 120 steps up 80 vertical feet to the highest point along this scenic roadway, so you can look down to one of Lake Michigan's deepest points.  

9. Belle Isle ConservancyDetroit

Couple relaxing on the waterfront of Belle Isle
Sunset View from Belle Isle | Photo Courtesy of Instagram Fan gryzdal

This island park destination has been a picnic outing spot for generations of Detroit natives and visitors. Pick up lunch from a vendor or food truck and lay the spread at Sunset Point, the best spot for gazing at the skylines of both Detroit and Canada, any time.  

10. High Rollaway Roadside Park – Newaygo

Walk down the 234-step wooden staircase above the Muskegon River to capture the views from the top of the park, located off M-82 near Newaygo. This park is popular year-round, but especially stunning for the view of river bluffs in the fall.