Michigan National Parks: 7 Peninsula Escapes for You to Discover

Michigan National Parks Are Calling

Michigan is home to so many wonderful national treasures and fabulous must-see vacation spots. How lucky are we to have these protected and celebrated national areas of beauty within our home state?

But how do you choose between historic sites (hello MotorCities and River Raisin), stunning lakeshore (we’re looking at you Sleeping Bear Dunes and Pictured Rocks), rustic wilderness (take a bow Isle Royale), or scenic trails (you’re up Keweenaw and North County)?

You’ll want this definitive guide to help you choose exactly where – and when – to take your next national park road trip. Let’s explore the seven Michigan National Parks!

And if you’ve got a 4th grader, don’t miss out on the 4th Grade parks pass to get into National Parks for free for a year!

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Towering sand dunes, pristine beaches and lush forests – Sleeping Bear Dunes has it all. Perfect for families, this dreamy expanse of the northern lower peninsula is always a winner.

Use this in-depth look at everything the lakeshore offers to craft your perfect Sleeping Bear Dunes getaway.

North Bar Lake at Sleeping Bear Dunes - one of the Michigan National Parks.

North Bar Lake overlook at Sleeping Bear Dunes

Why people like it

People love Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park because it’s unique and other-wordly.

You’ll certainly want to experience the breathtaking views of Lake Michigan, the hikes and the Sleeping Bear Dunes beaches for yourself!

Sleeping Bear Dunes Lake Michigan. Overlook on Pierce Stocking Drive

View of Lake Michigan from lookout point #9 on the Pierce Stocking scenic drive

What can you do here?

Outdoor adventure is the name of the game at this Michigan National Park!

Swimming, hiking, biking, climbing sand dunes, stargazing, camping, and floating rivers are just some of the amazing outdoor activities waiting for park visitors.

Here are a few of the favorites:

standing at top of 450ft sand dune at Sleeping Bear Dunes, a Michigan National Lakeshore.

  • You can walk down to the beach below, but you have to be prepared to walk back up, or pay a huge fine to be rescued.
  • HOT TIP: If you get stuck and climb back up, walk along the coastline heading south, and you’ll come to North Bar Lake beach. Have someone pick you up there.
Warning sign

  • Instead, try the official Dune Climb overlooking Glen Lake. Bring a picnic to enjoy at the bottom to celebrate!
sand dune climb sleeping bear dunes

  • Tube down the Platte river for a relaxing, floating experience. The route ends at a pristine beach where the river meets Lake Michigan. (This is also a great spot to hunt for Petoskey stones.)
Tubing down Platte river

Empire Bluff Hike at Sleeping Bear Dunes Michigan
Empire Bluff Hike at Sleeping Bear Dunes

Where it’s at/how to get there

Distance from Grand Rapids: 2.5 hours

Distance from Grand Rapids: 2.5 hours

Distance from Detroit: 4.5 hours

Sleeping Bear Dunes spans around 35 miles of coastline along the northwest coast of Michigan’s lower peninsula. For a central spot to begin your exploration, head to the Philip A. Hart visitor center at 9922 W Front St, Empire, MI 49630. 

Best time to visit

Summer is ideal to enjoy the beaches and tubing, but the views can be enjoyed all year round. (The fall colors are spectacular.)

Cross-country skiing, winter hiking, and sledding on the dunes are also popular with snow lovers.

Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale is a wilderness island in Lake Superior, only accessible by ferry or seaplane, so this is a trip for the adventurous among you!

If you are looking for somewhere to completely disconnect, then this remote island is IT.

Arriving at Isle Royale by sea plane

Why people like it

Here’s your chance to get off grid and enjoy the unspoiled rugged scenery of this Michigan gem.

With a multitude of hiking trails, and a host of camping and backpacking options, this is a trip for lovers of the great outdoors.

Plus, hopefully you’ll be lucky enough to spot unusual wildlife from moose and wolves, to red foxes, otters and beavers!

Kids in front of Isle Royale National Park sign

What can you do here?

  • Hike the iconic Greenstone Ridge trail from one end of the island to the other. Complete the full 40 miles over several days, or explore sections of it as day trips. Stunning views of Lake Superior await!
  • With hardly any light pollution on the island, it’s perfect for stargazing. Stare up into the night sky and spot your favorite constellations. There’s even a chance of seeing the Northern Lights.
  • Isle Royale’s ecosystem is famously home to moose and wolves. The wolves are elusive and harder to spot, but you’ll likely encounter moose in their natural habitat.
  • Check out the visitor center on arrival for the full schedule of ranger-led programs available.
  • History buffs can explore the ruins of old copper mine buildings at The Rock Harbor Mine site.
Kids playing on Isle Royale shoreline

Where it’s at/how to get there

Isle Royale National Park sunset

Distance from Grand Rapids/Detroit: 8-9 hours to Houghton

From Houghton to Isle Royale: Sea plane (1 hour) or ferry (6 hours)

Take the ferry or seaplane from Houghton, the island’s mainland headquarters (800 E. Lakeshore Drive, Houghton, MI 49931). Once there, head to the Windigo visitor center at the southwest end of the island.

Best time to visit Isle Royale

The park is open seasonally from mid-April to October, but summer is the best time to visit, especially if you plan to camp on the island.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks is probably THE tourist destination for your Yoop road trip.

Known for its stunning sandstone cliffs, colorful rock formations, and beautiful waterfalls, it’s an unmissable highlight on any visit Up North.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Miner's Castle view.

Why people like it

You’ll want to see the dramatic colors of the unique sandstone formations, as well as the waterfalls cascading down the cliffs into Lake Superior.

One of Michigan's favorite National Parks is Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, where you can kayak right up to massive sandstone formations.

What can you do here?

  • Take the boat tour. Spend up to 3 hours cruising alongside the shoreline to get the best views of Pictured Rocks and the sea caves. (Top tip: take the afternoon Spray Cruise if you want to see Spray Falls, and book in advance if you are visiting in the summer.) For a more up-close and active experience, try canoeing or kayaking the route directly from a boat launch.
  • Enjoy the Lakeshore Drive (route H-58) for an alternative view of the coastline, with multiple scenic viewpoints.
  • Make it a beach day! The most popular is Sand Point Beach, but if you are willing to hike, take the 3-mile trek from Chapel Basin parking to Chapel Beach for a secluded beach surrounded by waterfalls.
Munising Falls at Pictured Rocks
bridal veil falls pictured rocks upper peninsula boat tour
Bridal Veil Falls at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Where it’s at/how to get there

Pictured Rocks Boat Tour
Pictured Rocks Boat Tour

Distance from Grand Rapids/Detroit: 6-7 hours

There are two visitor centers for Pictured Rocks. The main visitor center is the Munising Falls Visitor Center (1505 Sand Point Rd, Munising, MI 49862). Open Mon-Fri 9 AM – 5 PM.

Grand Sable Visitor Center (E21090 Country Rd H-58, Seney, MI 49883). Open Wed-Sat, 9 AM – 5 PM in the summer months.

Best time to visit

Pictured Rocks is stunning all year round, and summer is peak tourist season.

But the waterfalls are at their peak flow from April to May, and fall is perfect for hiking.

River Raisin National Battlefield Park

READY, AIM, FIRE! Immerse yourself in history at the River Raisin National Battlefield Park, where the famous Battle of Frenchtown took place during the War of 1812.

Step back in time and learn how the Native Americans and their British counterparts eventually emerged victorious over the American forces.

River Raisin National Battlefield is one of the 7 Michigan National Parks.

Why people like it

What better way to engage with history, than to experience the sights and sounds of the past at the actual site of such a famous battle?

RIver Raisin National Battlefield in Monroe, MI.

What can you do here?

  • Your first stop should be the Visitor Center. Explore the exhibits, and watch the new film ‘The Untold Legacy of the River Raisin’ in the center’s brand new theater.
  • Tour the battlefield and beyond. Walk or bike the River Raisin Heritage Trail which takes you along the river and through the historic town of Monroe.
  • Plan ahead. Keep an eye on the park’s active Facebook page for special events and programs that run throughout the year, such as living history demos, reenactments and workshops.

Where it’s at/how to get there

Distance from Grand Rapids: 2-3 hours

Distance from Detroit: 45 mins

River Raisin National Battlefield is located in Monroe,  SE Lower Michigan, along the shores of Lake Erie. You’ll want to head to the Visitor Center at 333 North Dixie Hwy, Monroe, MI 48162.

Best time to visit River Raisin

The grounds are open year round from sunrise to sunset, and the Visitor Center is open daily from 10 AM – 5 PM (6 PM in the summer months) and admission is free.

Keweenaw National Historical Park

Don’t miss this ‘copper-tunity’ (see what we did there?!) to choose from over twenty diverse sites across the striking peninsula to experience Keweenaw’s rich copper mining and cultural heritage.

Eagle Harbor lighthouse at Keweenaw National Historical Park.
Eagle Harbor lighthouse in Keweenaw Peninsula

Why people like it

Keweenaw National Historical Park is the perfect mix of historical places of interest and scenic beauty along the shores of Lake Superior.

Pick your favorite heritage sites to visit!

Highlights include:

  • Calumet Historic District: Visit the town of Calumet, which was once a thriving center of the copper mining industry. Got a Minecrafter in the family? Get them to explore the town as it was 1917 and build the past!  
  • Quincy Mine: Located in Hancock, this historic copper mine offers underground tours! Explore the mine’s tunnels, learn about the mining process, and gain an understanding of the challenges faced by miners.
  • Eagle Harbor Lighthouse: Tour the lighthouse and museum to learn about the lives of lighthouse keepers and enjoy beautiful views of Eagle Harbor.
Keweenaw National Historical Site - Quincy Mine

Where it’s at/how to get there

Distance from Grand Rapids/Detroit: 8-9 hours

The long and narrow Keweenaw Peninsula juts out into Lake Superior in the western part of the Upper Peninsula.

Travel times will vary depending on which parts of the peninsula you choose to explore. You’ll find an interactive map of all the heritage sites here.

Best time to visit Keweenaw National Historical Park

While you can visit year-round, for a trip to the UP, the most pleasant temperatures will be in the summer, with the weather being perfect for outdoor exploration. Fall is also a beautiful time to head to the Keweenaw.

North Country National Scenic Trail

The North Country National Scenic Trail is one of the longest scenic trails in the United States, stretching over 4,600 miles across eight states.

You’ll find 1,150 of those miles running through Michigan, the most of any other state!

The trail enters the state in the west of the U.P., at the Ottawa National Forest on the border with Wisconsin. It then traverses almost the whole of the UP, runs across the Mackinac Bridge and all the way down through the state to the Ohio border.

Fallasburg Park Covered Bridge is on the North Country Trail.
Fallasburg Park in Lowell is part of the North Country Trail

Why people like it

The trail stretches so far that it passes through every kind of landscape, so it really does offer something for everyone! 

Whether you are looking for long hikes in the U.P.’s rugged wilderness, rock-hunting on the beaches of Petoskey, or gentle strolls in the tranquility of the Manistee National Forest (to name but a few), the NCT has it ALL.

Part of the North Country Trail runs through Tahquamenon Falls State Park
Part of the North Country Trail runs through Tahquamenon Falls State Park

What can you do here?

  • Consider the Hike 100 Challenge! Spend 100 miles on the NCT across the course of the year, and receive a commemorative patch to celebrate your achievement.
  • Take part in the annual Mackinac Bridge Walk on Labor Day, and complete 5 miles of the trail in one go!
  • If you decide to get on the trail at the HQ in Lowell, use this trail map. Stroll along the Lowell Riverwalk, hike through red pine and maple overlooking the Flat River, and pack a picnic to enjoy at Fallasburg Park.
Part of the North Country Trail runs along the Manistee River near Mesick.
Part of the North Country Trail runs along the Manistee River near Mesick.

Where it’s at/how to get There

beach at petoskey state park in petoskey michigan
Portions of Petoskey State Park are along the North Country Trail.

Distance of the headquarters from Grand Rapids: 30 mins

Distance of the headquarters from Detroit: 2.5 hours

The NCTA headquarters located at 220 E. Main St, Lowell, MI 49331. Staff are always on hand to provide hikers with information, internet access and restrooms.

However, because the Michigan section of the trail can be accessed at hundreds of different points across the state, you can find an entry spot to suit you and your location!

For more info, visit the North Country Trail website’s Michigan page.

Best time to visit The North Country National Scenic Trail

The NCT can be enjoyed at any time, depending on the conditions you want to enjoy, from snowshoeing to ambling in the sunshine!

MotorCities National Heritage Area


MotorCities National Heritage Area is centered around the city of Detroit, and showcases the birthplace of the automotive industry, and the main man himself, Mr Henry Ford.

Diego Rivera Mural at Detroit Institute of Arts

Why people like it

With over 100 sites and experiences on offer, you can personalize your MotorCities experience to suit your availability and members of your party.

From museums, homes and gardens, to tours and sporting events, there is something for everyone!

Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners

What can you do here?

  • The must-see, without doubt, is the phenomenal Henry Ford Museum. See the presidential limousines across the ages, step on the bus where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, and ride a Model T Ford at Greenfield Village. Plan to spend the entire day there. It’s 100% worth it!
Rosa Parks bus
The actual bus that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on
  • Visit the birthplace of the Model T at the Ford Piquette Plant Museum. It’s the oldest auto plant open to the public anywhere in the world, and is almost unchanged since Henry Ford’s day.
Ford Piquette Plant museum
  • Don’t miss the manufacturing innovation theater at the Ford Rouge Factory Tour. The film experience of the production of the Ford F-150 truck includes vibrating seats, gusts of wind, 3D projection mapping and winking robots. Wow!

Where it’s at/how to get there

Distance from Grand Rapids: 2-2.5 hours

Most people will want to prioritize The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, located at 20900 Oakwood Blvd, Dearborn, MI 48124. Or for more specific locations, you can plan your road trip here.

Henry Ford Museum

Best time to visit

Anytime! Obviously weekends and vacations will be busier, but you can also use the events page to plan your trip around the MotorCities calendar.

FAQs

Is Mackinac Island a National Park?

No! It’s easy to see why you might mistake Mackinac Island for a National Park. It’s a hugely popular tourist destination, and somewhere you will definitely want to add to your itinerary (check out the top 25 things to do on the island here) , but it is actually a State Park.

Are National Forests National Parks?

Again, no. Both are considered protected areas, but while National Parks are protected to preserve their unique and natural beauty, National Forests are areas that are protected for their benefits – such as for grazing animals, recreation and natural resources.

Do I have to pay to get into National Parks?

Entrance fees vary from park to park but you can expect to pay $10-$35 per vehicle to enter most national parks. The National Park Service offers a few free entrance days per year. If you’ve got a 4th Grader you can get a park pass for the year. There are also discounted passes for active military & senior citizens. Check the NPS website for current fees.

Ready, Set, Road Trip!

Hopefully you’re feeling inspired and ready to experience the rich and varied cultural and beauty spots on offer in the mitten state.

Pack those hiking shoes and get set for adventure!

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