Ever Pass by Manistee, MI? Here’s What You’re Missing
It’s no secret that if you’re vacationing in Michigan, you have options.
Places like Sleeping Bear Dunes and Mackinac Island have helped put Michigan on the map, but if you’ve never set your GPS for Manistee MI, you’re missing out.
It’s one of our favorite Michigan vacation destinations.
It’s right in the middle of Michigan sand dune country and has all the small town charm.
To help you find your way around this marvelous city & county, we’ve written a playbook that will take you through everything you need to know for a family visit to Manistee.
Manistee MI FAQs
The City of Manistee lies inside of Manistee County in Michigan. Both are worthy destinations.
Manistee MI is one of those lucky places that stakes a claim on Lake Michigan, with miles of sandy shoreline.
It’s also a place rich in history – and old, turn-of-the-century brick buildings to go with it.
Historic Theatre in Downtown Manistee MI
Manistee’s population is just over 6,000 (24,000 people live in the county).
A visit to Manistee wouldn’t be complete without sampling what both the city and the county have to offer.
What is Manistee MI Known For?
Manistee was born out of the lumber boom in the late 1800’s. At its height, this small northern Michigan town bragged more millionairs (in the form of lumber barons) per capita than any other city in the U.S.
As a result, beautiful historic buildings make up the backdrop for Manistee. (The county’s Visitor’s Bureau has put together a number of self-guided theme-based history tours for those wanting to explore the city’s past and this local news article is a great read on Manistee’s history as well.)
Today Manistee has a big hand in agriculture and fruit farming.
Sandwiched between Lake Michigan and in the Huron-Manistee National Forest, Manistee has become an outdoor wonderland for both residents and visitors.
What Towns are Near Manistee MI?
Manistee is about 30 miles north of Ludington and 35 miles south of Frankfort. Famed fine arts school and camp Interlochen is nearby, as well as Crystal Mountain Resort.
Sleeping Bear Dunes and Traverse City are both about an hour north of Manistee, MI.
Where is Manistee MI Located?
Here’s where you’ll find Manistee on the Michigan map:
Outdoor Things to do in Manistee MI
Acres of state forest land, along with miles of sandy shoreline and rivers, make Manistee a nature-lover’s playground.
And you don’t have to be a hardcore hiker, biker, or fisherman to get in on the action.
Many Manistee treasures are very accessible, so even if your mobility is limited by a stroller, little kids, or wheelchair, you can participate, too.
Or, if you’re in a place to ramp it up and do a mega hike, overnight backpacking trip, or head on out on a canoe-packing trip, Manistee has that, too.
Here’s Your Get Outside “Things to Do” List for Manistee MI:
1 – Drive Through the Tunnel of Trees
Main Street & M-55 Intersection
Drive your car through this iconic canopy of towering black willow trees and you feel like you’re in a fairytale for a few moments.
If you’re lucky, you’ll see deer at the end of the road like we did.
This is a great spot for photos – the road isn’t very busy – but do be on the lookout for other vehicles when you stop.
Locals call this road Bullfrog Highway because the frog noises from the nearby Big Manistee River are so audible here.
If you can find the Manistee Meijer, you’re close to the Tunnel of Trees. To get there from Meijer, head SW on M-55 (Caberfae Highway) for 0.8 miles and then turn right onto N Main St (aka Eastlake Rd). That’s where you’ll find the Tunnel of Trees.
2 – Stroll the Arcadia Marsh Boardwalk
Arcadia Marsh, 16791 Northwood Hwy, Arcadia, MI 49613
It’s not every day you get to hike through a marshy nature preserve and get the perfect IG backdrop.
Tucked away in the most unexpected place, the Arcadia Marsh Boardwalk is a treasure so hidden and so new that most locals don’t even know about it.
At just under a mile, this universally accessible pathway system travels over diverse wetlands and all but guarantees abundant wildlife viewings.
3 – Picnic Under the Hemlocks & Hike the Trails at Magoon Creek Park
Red Apple Road, Manistee, MI 49660
The hardest part of a visit to Magoon Creek Natural Area is deciding how to spend your time.
The 1.5-mile hiking loop is great for kids. A picnic under the hemlock trees would be magical. Watching Lake Michigan freighters from this high-bluff view is another great option.
4 – Hike out to Big Views @ Arcadia Dunes and Maybe Visit Old Baldy, Too
Arcadia Dunes & Old Baldy @ C.S. Mott Nature Preserve
Gilbert Rd, Arcadia, MI 49613
If filling your lungs with fresh air makes you smile, head on over to Arcadia Dunes in the C.S. Mott Nature Preserve just north of Manistee MI.
With over 15 miles of trails, you might wonder where to start adventuring. Don’t worry – we’ll help!
If you’re using a stroller or wheelchair, you’ll want the Overlook Trail. This one-mile roundtrip trail uses a wooden boardwalk system and a series of switchbacks to get you up to a great Lake Michigan overlook.
If you’re up for a little off-road adventure and don’t mind a sandy hike with stairs, adventure over to Baldy Dune for even bigger Lake Michigan views.
5 – Climb to the Top of the Arcadia Scenic Overlook
Arcadia Scenic Turnout
Two miles north of Arcadia on M-22
This is a fantastic stop along M-22. Park your car at the bottom and climb up the 120 steps for the best view.
Perched hundreds of feet above Lake Michigan, you’ll get a birds eye view of the lake and its shoreline to the south. Be sure to bring your camera!
6 – Visit Michigan’s Very Own Giant Sequoia Tree
Michigan Champion Giant Sequoia Tree @ Lake Bluff Bird Sanctuary
2890 Lakeshore Rd, Manistee, MI 49660
Yep, Manistee MI has a Giant Sequoia Tree.
Come for the giant tree, stay for the views, birding, and hiking.
The Michigan Giant Sequoia was planted as a seedling in 1949 after being carried back to the state from California in a coffee can. Today, the champion tree towers above the other trees at the sanctuary and already makes humans feel very small by comparison.
When you’re done getting photos of the giant sequoia – if you can fit the whole tree into a photo – see if you can find the Giant Sycamore tree on the property.
Bald Eagles have been spotted from the trails and this park offers wonderful Lake Michigan views.
7 – Top Off Your Water Bottles at the M-22 Artesian Well
Portage Point Drive, off M-22.
Water flows continually from this artesian spring just off of M-22 on Portage Point Drive in Onekama, MI.
It’s cold, pure, and refreshing and a nice little stop if you want a place to fill up water bottles while you tool around Manistee County.
Another artesian well, nicknamed Old Faceful, is located in Pierport, MI.
8 – Play on the Old Wooden Playground at Lighthouse Park
First Street Beach, Cherry Road, Manistee, MI 49660
Not many of these old wooden playgrounds are still in existence. Happily, this one is still standing and is in good repair.
My kids gasped with delight when they saw this one at Lighthouse Park in Manistee and instantly resumed a game of tag leftover from the last time they found a play structure like this.
Things to do Downtown Manistee MI
Once upon a time, Manistee was one of the richest cities in Michigan.
Home to a number of 1800’s-era lumber barons who kept trying to one-up each other, the city saw the rise of an incredible number of Victorian buildings and mansions. When fire destroyed much of the town in 1871, the wealthy lumber tycoons rebuilt many lost structures using stone and brick in the style of the day.
As you travel the streets of Manistee, expect to see many of these stately Victorian structures.
Downtown Manistee’s shopping district sits on River Street and spans several blocks.
The Manistee River runs north of River Street, and it’s on this street that you’ll find most of the downtown shops and restaurants. Downtown is also home to a stage theatre, a movie theatre, museums, and lodging.
9 – Stroll the Manistee Riverwalk
Starts in Downtown, north of River Street.
You can walk along the river from downtown Manistee all the way to Lake Michigan via the riverwalk.
That’s 1.75-miles one way.
It’s a hike, but it’s a fun walk that will let you see the city in a whole new way. While you walk, read the markers and learn more about how the river impacted the development of Manistee over the years.
10 – Dock Your Boat at the City Marina
480 River St, Manistee, MI 49660
You can boat your way to downtown Manistee as well, whether you’re coming from Lake Michigan or Manistee Lake.
The city marina was renovated and reopened in 2012. Improvements include a spacious day room, modern showers, and laundry facilities.
Make a reservation before heading out: call (800) 447-2757 or reserve online.
11 – Catch a Flick at in the 82-Year-Old Vogue Theatre
383 River St, Manistee, MI 49660
When you buy a ticket, you’ll be watching a show in a venue that was saved from demolition when locals stepped up to renovate the historic theatre.
Today, the Vogue is staffed by volunteers and shows first-run movies, 25¢ specials, and a little bit of everything else in between.
12 – Catch a Tour or Live Program at the Ramsdell Regional Center of the Arts
101 Maple St, Manistee, MI 49660
This is Manistee’s go-to spot for culture.
Theatre, dance, musicals, tours and classes are just some of the things offered in this historic 1903 building.
Adventurous Things to Do in Manistee MI
13 – Get Out on the Water with Inn Fun Cruises
Cruises leave from Downtown Manistee
Hop aboard for a private sightseeing cruise with Tonya and Kevin’s Inn Fun Cruises.
Kevin captains the boat while Tonya narrates your two-hour journey around the waterways of Manistee. She’s truly a wealth of information and you can tell she loves where she lives.
As you motor around, Tonya might disappear for a moment or two. That’s because she’s grabbing a surprise for you – customized to whatever it is that you’re celebrating that day. This boat is where memories are made, so don’t be afraid to let Tonya know the reason for your visit.
BYOB for the trip. They’ll provide light locally-sourced refreshments – we had Taco ‘Bout It Mexican Fusion chips and guac, as well as a few tasty items from Wee Bee Jammin’, among other things.
14 – Take a Scenic Airplane Ride
Orchard Beach Aviation @ Manistee County Blacker Airport
2323 Airport Rd, Manistee, MI 49660
It works out to $1/minute/person when you sign up for an aerial sightseeing tour with Orchard Beach Aviation, and that’s a pretty good deal.
Pick three friends to pack into the 4-seater airplane, tell the pilot what you’d like to see, and get ready to be wowed. If you need a surprise birthday or anniversary gift, this might just be it.
You’ll likely fly over Lake Michigan beaches, the city of Manistee, or Portage Lake and surrounding areas for a bird’s eye view of the area.
Flights are $30 per person (two-person minimum.) Call (231-723-8095) or stop in for more information.
Flights are conducted year round.
15 – Take a Ship Tour (It Even Transforms into a Haunted Ship Every October)
SS City of Milwaukee
99 Arthur St, Manistee, MI 49660
This big boat invites you aboard to learn more about how a steamship of this size spent decades on the water of Lake Michigan.
If you do the tour, you’ll get an inside look at the ship’s mechanicals as well as an idea of how people living and working on the ship passed the time. Some of the occupations back then were pre-OSHA – you’ll be surprised to hear how dangerous some daily tasks were.
Bring your kids on this tour – it opens your eyes to a piece of history that they won’t get to experience anywhere else.
And, if you dare, bring them back for a fright when the ship is all decked out as a Ghost Ship in October. They take their spooking seriously here.
16 – Ride the Rapids with Pine River Rafting
Bosman’s Pine River Canoe Rental
8027 Grandview Highway Wellston, MI 49689
Most people don’t realize that there is a place in lower Michigan where you can go whitewater rafting. There is – and it’s on the Pine River, which runs through Manistee County.
The rapids here are small – class one – and in August, they’re usually pretty tame. That makes renting a raft a fun family thing to do on a warm afternoon.
While the Pine River is not recommended for novice canoe or kayak operators, running a raft down the river is a lot easier to do. The raft lends stability – it’s very hard to tip over.
That doesn’t mean the swift current won’t run you into a tree or two – that happened to us – but we had a blast paddling for 3.5 hours and would love to do it again.
To do this trip, you need at least 4 people old enough to handle a paddle well. All of our rafters were over 10 years old. We took turns rotating the rider.
While we toured with Bosman’s and had a fantastic experience, there’s another reputable outfitter in the area as well: Pine River Paddlesports should one or the other be booked up.
17 – Coast Uphill on Gravity Hill
Putney Rd, Arcadia, MI 49613
Put your car in neutral in this section of Putney Road and watch as your car appears to roll UPHILL. What??!
It supposedly works on bikes and skateboards, too. We can’t wait to test it out. According to the Manistee CVB website, “Putney Rd. crosses Joyfield Rd. between US 31 and M22.
Travel south from Joyfield Rd. and stop at a point 150 to 200 ft. beyond the “Stop Ahead” sign on the east side of the road, then put your car in neutral.
You will roll all the way back up the hill to the Blaine Christian Church. And take time to enjoy the view of rolling hills, orchards and farms along the way.”
18 – Meet Alpacas
G&D Alpaca Farm
4796 Maple Road, Manistee MI 49660
These alpaca pastures are open for public visits May 15 through October 31, 10 am – 4 pm daily, except Tues & Wed.
They also have a forest fairy trail and a boutique with alpaca-based merchandise. Call (231) 723-2838 to confirm open hours. Special events, like “pick your own bouquet” and “fairy house building” happen on occasion.
photo: G&D Alpaca Farm Facebook
Manistee has a nice variety of beaches for you to sample.
19 – 5th Avenue Beach, Pier & Lighthouse
Fifth Avenue Beach
108 Lakeshore Drive, Manistee MI 49660
It’s okay to have a beach fire in the fire ring at the Manistee beach. How cool is that?
The beach house here offers concessions, the pier is open for walking, and the lighthouse is very photogenic. It’s the smaller of the two city beaches, but that doesn’t make its Lake Michigan water or beach any less.
20 – Slide Down the Tallest Slide at First Street Beach
First Street Beach & Douglas Recreation Area
110 S. Lakeshore Drive, Manistee MI 49660
This beach sits opposite of the 5th Avenue beach, across the Manistee River channel.
It’s much larger, with a variety of picnic pavilions and play areas. There’s also a large fish cleaning station.
Waves here can get big – heed the flag color when thinking about a swim in Lake Michigan.
One thing we loved was the massive retro slide at the playground. We haven’t seen a slide this tall anywhere else in Michigan.
First Street Beach also has a beach house with concessions.
21 – Watch the Sunset at Portage Point Beach
8567 Portage Point Dr, Onekama Twp, MI 49675
Head north of Manistee a bit toward Onekama to find another Lake Michigan beach.
Here, you can walk the pier, climb the dunes, and catch the sunset.
22 – Hunt for Petoskey Stones or Beach Glass at Magoon Creek Beach
Magoon Creek Natural Area
2925 Red Apple Rd, Manistee, MI 49660
South of Manistee, Magoon Creek Park is right on Lake Michigan and is a delight for visitors in search of Petoskey Stones, beach glass, and other beautiful stones across its 2,300 feet of Lake Michigan shoreline.
Things to do in Manistee County
23 – Stock Up at Wee Bee Jammin’
8925 Norconk Rd, Bear Lake, MI 49614
Wee Bee Jammin is an adorable shop featuring yummy artisan jams they craft onsite themselves and label with clever names like Toe Jam (this kind tastes good!) and Razzle Dazzle.
They make their own honey, too, from bees that they raise themselves. That’s probably why their Flower Power Honey will knock your socks off.
If you can get there in person, do it. The little storefront boutique is stocked with their own creations as well as fun and interesting Michigan-themed boutique finds.
If you can’t get there in person, shop their online store – it’s got a great selection of their artisan jams and jellies – and it’s what I’m putting in stockings this year and using for housewarming gifts going forward.
If you’re looking for something really unique, get yourself the Wild Flower Comb Honey. It’s taken straight from the hive, cut, packaged, and sent right to you. Grab a honey dipper and enjoy!
24 – Sample the Ciders at Northern Natural Cider House & Winery
7220 Chief Rd, Kaleva, MI 49645
It’s a little drive from downtown Manistee to this locally owned, locally grown cider house, but it’s worth the trip.
Northern Naturals regularly puts on events featuring live music, fresh food truck pizza, and tacos. Check their Facebook page for the latest on that.
They only offer outdoor seating and are regularly open every day from 3 to 8 pm. Food is served Wed-Sun from 4 to 8 pm.
25 – Enjoy Pizza & Putt Putt at Papa J’s
4825 Main St, Onekama, MI 49675
Papa J’s is BIG in the small town of Onekama, MI.
Locals love it for their solid ice cream menu and food offerings. (Their fried pickles are tops, too.)
Mini golf and kayak/SUP rentals are handled by this business as well.
26 – Visit Historic Portage Point Resort
8567 Portage Point Dr, Onekama, MI 49675
Few hotels remain from Michigan’s steamship era, but Portage Point Resort is one of them.
Visit for the day or make this your home away from home and enjoy the lakeside saltwater infinity pool. This is resort generations have called home and the new owners are renovating it to help it last for centuries to come.
Manistee MI Restaurants
Downtown Manistee has a variety of restaurants to choose from.
Delightfully, many of these restaurants sport streetside patios as well as decks overlooking the river.
Taco ‘Bout It Mexican Fusion
344 River St, Manistee MI 49660
You can’t go wrong with tacos from Taco ‘Bout It Mexican Fusion.
North Channel Brewing Co
86 Washington St, Manistee MI 49660
North Channel Brewing Co. is the place to stop in for a burger, fries and a local beer.
Bluefish Kitchen + Bar
86 Washington St, Manistee MI 49660
Bluefish Kitchen + Bar, serving lunch and dinner, has a great riverside deck. Head here when you’re in the mood for seafood.
Shopping in Manistee MI
The cute streets of Manistee are home to a smattering of shops that you must visit.
Better yet, the area is easy to walk and parking is free.
If you ask me for my favorite store in Downtown Manistee, it’s going to be a toss-up between Snyder’s Shoes and The Ideal Kitchen. They both have an amazing stock of high-quality items. I love my kitchen about as much as I love shoes, so they both get the top slot IMO.
Happy Owl Bookshop
358 River St, Manistee MI 49660
The Happy Owl Bookshop has a solid children’s section as well as a nice variety of reads for adults. Stop here to grab a few beach reads.
397 River St, Manistee MI 49660
Snyder’s Shoes has a great selection of high quality shoes like Birkenstock, Ecco and Teva. Don’t forget to shop the basement! (They’ve also got a location in Ludington.)
The Ideal Kitchen
421 River St, Manistee MI 49660
The Ideal Kitchen has all the great brands for your kitchen, plus some treats interspersed. This shop might even inspire you to try some new cuisine at your AirBNB!
394 River St, Manistee MI 49660
Get on trend lake-life clothes to outfit you for your vacation at Gilk’s.
Where to Stay in Manistee
Manistee is a great central location for Michigan vacation experiences. Beach town Ludington is just 30 minutes south. Sleeping Bear Dunes is an hour north. You’re 90 minutes from both the iconic Fishtown (Leland) and summertime mecca Traverse City.
If you stay in affordable Manistee, you can experience all the great Michigan summer vacations in the area!
Manistee River Cabin at Highpoint Bayou
2 bedroom, 2 bath, sleeps 7
Why it’s one of the best Manistee vacation rentals:
Vistors love this quiet, wild-life filled spot down a long dirt driveway. Just five minutes from town, this clean, well-kept property is the perfect escape, with all the amenities you expect.
Remodeled Home Near Beach and Downtown Manistee
3 bedroom, 1 bath, sleeps 9
Why it’s one of the best Manistee vacation rentals:
This pet friendly spot has a beautiful enclosed yard and patio for outdoor entertaining. Walking distance to downtown and only a mile from the beach make this modernly-decorated rental a very comfortable choice for vacationers.
Microtel Inn and Suites Manistee
226 East Parkdale Avenue, Manistee, MI 49660
Why it’s one of the best Manistee hotels:
Just two miles from downtown Manistee, the Microtel Inn offers nonsmoking rooms and continental breakfast.
9 thoughts on “Complete Guide to Manistee MI: 28 Best Things to Do for the Most Unforgettable Trip”
What info do I need to schedule a salmon fishing trip in October?
I think maybe the Tunnel of Trees location may be inaccurate…you say: “ To get there from Meijer, head SW on M-55 (Caberfae Highway) for 0.8 miles and then turn right onto N Main St. That’s where you’ll find the Tunnel of Trees.”
However it appears Main Street is much closer to Meijer than the map marker, and Main Street appears to be a street with many houses in a populated area. The map marker is at Eastlake Road, and if you turn right, it appears there may be large trees on that stretch according to the Google Maps aerial view.
We just inherited a little place from my grandfather a few yrs back and our entire extended family loves the proximity to traverse city and the dunes bit I’ve been in search of great more local to do and came across this wonderful list. Thanks for the inspiration I can’t wait to visit again soon.
This list is fantastic!! Thank you for adding descriptions and directions for each place.
You’re welcome! Manistee was so much fun to visit – I hope you enjoy your time there as well!
This is absolutely fantastic, and the timing is perfect. We are starting our family vacation two days from now. Thank you!
Melody, that was a thoughtful and pleasant write up about my home town and county. I grew up in Arcadia and have lived just north of Manistee for the rest of my life so far. Always lived one mile from Lake Michigan, Lake Michigan is one of my great loves. Thank you
Melody, we were so happy to welcome you and your family as one of our first guests at the newly renovate Avalon Cottage at Portage Point Resort. And thank you for this list. So many places we need to check out. https://www.instagram.com/avalon.cottage/
Hi Paula, great article about our area. I would encourage you to check out the amazing museums in Manistee County. Kaleva’s Bottle House Museum, Marilla’s Museum and Pioneer Place, Brethren’s Museum complex, Arcadia and Manistee museums are all unique and amazing places to visit.