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3 Can't-Miss National Park Adventures In Michigan

Celebrate the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary by joining other adventurers who will climb a giant sand dune, kayak under ancient rock formations, or hike pristine wilderness trails or in one of Michigan’s National Park Service sites.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Whether you hike, bike or drive, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore offers incredible views of Lake Michigan along a 65-mile section of the Leelanau Peninsula west of Traverse City. Some of the world’s largest freshwater dunes rise 400 feet above Lake Michigan.

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Start an active day on Empire Bluff Hiking Trail, a 1 1/2-mile loop with views of Lake Michigan and South Bar Lake. The trail leads hikers through a forest of maple and beech and up three hills to a wooden boardwalk on a bluff 400 feet above Lake Michigan. From here, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore’s beauty extends to the horizon, marked by North and South Manitou islands’ groves of giant white cedars and sand cliffs.

More tips for exploring:

  • Ferries shuttle visitors to the Manitou islands to see shipwrecks and lighthouses.
  • In Glen Haven, you’ll see a restored general store, cannery and working blacksmith shop.
  • The popular 7.4-mile Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive leads to dune and Lake Michigan overlooks.
  • South of Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, kayakers and swimmers play where the Platte River eases into the lake at Platte Point Beach.
  • Inland of Platte Point Beach, 13 trails lead to wetlands, hardwood forests, and 21 lakes.
  • Overnight visitors choose from modern or rustic campsites in the D.H. Day or Platte River campgrounds, or rough it in a backcountry camp.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Sandstone cliffs stained by colorful minerals and sculpted like sandcastles loom up to 200 feet over Lake Superior. Those formation gave this park its name, but they’re just one of the reasons to visit this 42-mile stretch between Munising and Grand Marais in the Upper Peninsula.

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For the best views, take to the water on an open-deck cruise or kayak tour, which pass the waterfalls, coves, arches, cliffs and outcroppings shaped by eons of wind and water. The lakeshore’s unique rock formations include Chapel Rock, Spray Falls and Lovers Leap.

More tips for exploring:

  • A-listers Grand Portal Point, Miner’s Castle, and Chapel Rock can also be accessed via hiking trails off the park’s main artery, H-58.
  • Many of the 90 miles of trails end at Lake Superior sunsets and meditative walks on the sandy expanses, like Sand Point and Twelvemile Beach, but the North Country National Scenic Trail runs the length of the park. Stops along the way include the 1874 Au Sable Light Station—overlooking the glacier-scoured landscape and the 300-foot dunes of Grand Sable Banks—and the beach near Grand Marais, where agates and quartz sparkle in the sun.
  • Drive-in rustic campgrounds are available at Hurricane River, Twelvemile Beach and Little Beaver Lake.

Isle Royale National Park

Fifty-six miles from the nearest part of mainland Michigan, Isle Royale is a model of national park wilderness: remote, rugged and roadless. Exploring the 50-mile-long Lake Superior island—home to wolves, moose and more—requires boots or paddles. It’s a backpacker’s and kayaker’s dream.

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The wavering call of loons and Lake Superior slapping rocks are the soundtrack to watching the aurora borealis paint the sky. You’re sharing the serenity of Isle Royale with beaver, otter, moose—and not many humans. Lake Superior isolates the craggy island’s old-growth forests, placid interior lakes and marshes from the mainland. Fewer than 14,000 visitors come each year during a season compressed between May and October, and you can count on leaving cell service and Wi-Fi behind. Backpackers strike out from the visitors centers at Rock Harbor or Windigo to explore 165 miles of trails, including the popular Greenstone Ridge following the park’s spine.

More tips for exploring:

  • To access the park, take a seaplane or ferry to Rock Harbor.
  • Paddlers slip through the maze of waterways connecting the 450 islands of Isle Royale’s archipelago, and divers search for shipwreck remains along the western shore.
  • Campers settle in at 36 rustic backcountry spots, some of which are accessible only via water.
  • Comfortable suites and lakeside dining at Rock Harbor Lodge, the island’s sole resort, reward a day of exploration.
  • Visitors who want to see the wilderness without living in it can take day trips around the park on boat tours and water taxi rides. Ranger hikes and cultural programs introduce the region.

For more details and ideas, visit michigan.org.

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