School districts across the state are getting ready to go on spring break next week, and we’ve got some great staycation ideas for active-minded families looking for Michigan attractions.
So without further ado, here is the Healthier Michigan-endorsed list of the best places to go in Michigan to get some fresh air, exercise or mental stimulation:
- Ann Arbor. Treetown may not rise to the top of many people’s minds when they think of a staycation destination, but my home town features one of the state’s most pedestrian-friendly and vibrant downtown business districts, filled with great places to shop and dine. It’s also interspersed with the University of Michigan campus, including several museums (like the Museum of Natural History) and the always-worthwhile Nichols Arboretum. You can rent a canoe from two city parks and paddle theHuronRiver. And it’s hard to think of another city inMichigan so teeming with people out running or riding their bikes.
- Traverse City. The last time I visited TC, a couple summers ago, I saw people longboarding, running and bicycling seemingly everywhere I looked. It seemed like every other vehicle I saw was towing a canoe or kayak on its roof. The inviting downtown district was swarming with people milling about and packing the outdoor patios of cafes, bars and restaurants. And I even saw a pair of swimmers wearing snorkeling gear and flippers floating down the Boardman River through town. Beaches, inland lakes, forest trails, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and many of the state’s best wineries are all within easy striking distance.
- Mackinac Island. As someone who spent several summers working on the island, I can tell you there’s a lot more to this enchanted island than fudge and tourist souvenir shops. Roughly three-quarters of this 4 square-mile island consists of uninhabited and mostly forested state parkland that is criss-crossed by paved and dirt trails. It’s perfect for hiking, biking (bike rental stores abound in town) or running. Too pooped to pedal? Hit the Butterfly House, rent a horse or horse-drawn carriage, relax in bustling Marquette Park or watch the locals fly kites at Windermere Park, overlooking the Straits of Mackinac and the Round Island Lighthouse. Blissful. (Note: The tourist season here doesn’t really get going until May, but an off-season visit can bring its own rewards — if you don’t mind more limited options for eating and lodging.)
Marquette. For many Michiganders, it’s a serious haul to get to this Upper Peninsula outpost, but the long drive is most definitely worth it. Marquette is a four-season paradise for people who love the outdoors, situated on Lake Superior, adjacent to the vast U.P. wilderness and the Huron Mountains. The U.P.’s largest city regularly turns up on lists of best places to live, and the downtown is walkable and full of distinctive architecture and inviting businesses.
- Grand Rapids. Michigan’s second-largest city boasts an inviting, walkable downtown (try climbing the Medical Mile hill on Michigan Street for a real heart-pumper) filled with charming stores, bars, restaurants, a children’s museum, art museum and Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum. The Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park offers year-round enjoyment and a place for kids to romp, and the beach towns of Grand Haven, Holland and Saugatuck are easy day trips. One Detroit writer recently argued that in terms of urban charm, GR has the Motor City beat.
- Tahquamenon Falls. Michigan’s most famous waterfalls are situated in a heavily forested state park with plenty of camping, hiking and recreation opportunities. Nearby is the town of Paradise, home of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum (not open until May 1, however), the Whitefish Point Lighthouse and the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory (the area is a prime spot for migrating birds). And Sault Ste. Marie, home of the Soo Locks and the fun Riverstone Gallery, isn’t a far drive.
- Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. I’ve really only spent about 36 hours in this remote wilderness preserve, but I’ve spent the years since then pining to go back. Go only if you’re in the mood for some rough-it adventure. There are miles of dirt trails (the North Country Scenic Trail winds its way through here for 42 miles) and the scenery is surprisingly diverse, from red sand-banked streams to towering dunes to the namesake shoreline cliff formations and postcard sandy beaches that offer amazing sunrise and sunset views. I can heartily recommend the pizza and beer at the Lake Superior Brewing Company, an assuming Yooper tavern in tiny Grand Marais, which bookends the park’s eastern boundary.
What’s your favorite Michigan attraction for getting active?