MICHIGAN: 7 AFFORDABLE SUMMER ADVENTURES
Dwindling snow and warm temperatures mean one thing here in the Midwest:
The trees are beginning to blossom, I can take a walk without the possibility of frostbite and I woke up to the whimsical sound of birds chirping at dawn. People are slowly beginning to move outside and as part of my summer initiative, I am helping anyone looking to spend as much time outdoors and less time inside watching a moving screen.
Michigan is an active and outdoor state, although a lot of the time I believe people forget that. I can tell you three things we have here in The Mitten that other states are robbed of.
1) Water-We are a GIANT peninsula! (not to mention the thousands of lakes)
2) Forests- Endless trails, camping, biking, exploring.
3) Outdoor Sports- Anything from kayaking to mountain biking.
So to any reader living in Michigan or around the world that is already starting to wonder what they will be doing in their free time, I'm here to help! I believe Michigan is one of the best places in the entire United States and I want to reach out to all of you and share what you can do in Michigan that won't break the bank and will introduce you to this breathtaking and enchanting state.
Michigan: 7 Affordable Summer Adventures:
7) Climb Sleeping Bear Dunes
Sleeping Bear Dunes in Empire, MI wasn't voted the 'Most Beautiful Place in America" by Good Morning America for no reason. It also was not created just to be looked at, but to be challenged. Standing at the bottom of these massive sand piles you may think "Climbing that looks easy!" but I'm sure you'd love to change that statement as soon as you begin climbing. But don't let the climb scare you from exploring this extraordinary masterpiece, the climb is something anyone can achieve and everyone should try. From the top, you see gorgeous landscapes in all directions and Lake Michigan's curling waves silently congratulating you. Also, did I mention climbing the dunes means that you get to run down the dunes? Or in my case, dive bomb the dunes. Either way, it's loads of fun! You just can't be afraid of getting a little sand in your pants (it'll come out eventually).
Not fond of climbing? Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore also offers stunning platform look-outs that require less hiking and less steep inclines.
6) Kayak the Pictured Rocks
Lake Superior has some of the clearest waters in the world, so don't let the summer go without heading up to Michigan's Upper Peninsula to see them yourself. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by heading up to Munising, where you can rent a kayak and explore the cliffs of the Pictured Rocks. These cliffs reach hundreds of feet high with small, stunning beaches at the base. Magnificent arches and rock formations create a postcard-worthy scene that will have you clinging to a rock and begging never to leave.
Yes, they are that beautiful.
Munising also offers shipwreck glass-bottom boat tours which let you explore the floor of the biggest freshwater lake in the world and explore some of the state's oldest and most interesting shipwrecks, all at a price that won't drain your summer fund.
5) Camping on South Manitou Island
For some of the most adventurous, camping on South Manitou Island in Lake Michigan is the ultimate summer experience. The only way to get out to the island is a ferry boat that leaves once a day so don't be late! The island has no roads and no full-time residents, just three small campgrounds. Pack light, whatever you can carry onto the island is what you are bringing--this includes all food, shelter, clothing etc. These are not campgrounds with volleyball courts, lodges or convenience stores. This is a summer adventure for those who are willing to rough it, but the serene landscape and peaceful beaches are about as far away from reality as possible--enjoy it!
Want more information on camping on the South Manitou Island?
4) Cliff Jumping in Marquette
Known by the locals as the "Black Rocks" these cliffs range anywhere from 20-35 feet high and leave you plunging into the freezing depths of Lake Superior. For those who haven't experienced the waters here, because it is the largest freshwater lake in the world it is difficult to warm the waters in the short summer months. On occasion, depending on wind, the waters will be relatively warm but then again you might be plunging into breath-taking waves. It's about a 50/50 chance. The only way to get back up the rocks is to either free climb the cliffs from the water or to brace the cold and swim to a nearby beach (I always enjoy the climbing). Standing from the tops of the cliffs the water looks relatively shallow because the massive boulders which lie on the lake floor are easily seen. Although that is not the case, and even when jumpers attempt to touch the bottom-only a few can complete the challenge. The outlook from the rock summits are views of larger cliffs and the rocky shoreline that lines the lake.
Not enthusiastic about jumping? Many people make their way to the rocks for natural beauty and to watch the jumpers, all of which are worth it.
3) Surf Lake Michigan
Thought surfing was only for the ocean? Not if we have anything to say about it! Summer months are not prime for surfing Lake Michigan, but the easier summer waves are great for beginners. There are two places in Michigan that rent wetsuits and surfboards to adventure seekers; one is located in Grand Haven and one that is Located in Empire (right by Sleeping Bears Dunes). If calling in advance, you can also ask about instruction sessions where workers will take you straight to the beach and give you hands-on help before heading into the water. It is also important to keep an eye on the weather, because a beautiful day with winds at 2 mph is not a day when you want to drive all the way to a surf shop just to hear there is no swell. It's a workout and if you love it, surfing here in The Mitten is not just a summer sport; the best waves occur in the fall and spring.
Want info on rental prices, weather reports and how to surf Lake Michigan?
2) U.P. Summer Road-Trip
Anyone not from Michigan might wonder what "U.P." stands for. For those scratching their heads, it stands for "Upper Peninsula", and for those of you who really aren't familiar with Michigan you might still be wondering what the "Upper Peninsula" actually is. You see, the state of Michigan is separated into two portions; the lower peninsula which is more populated and shaped like the mitten, and the upper peninsula which has fewer people, but more scenery. They are separated where two of the Great Lakes meet, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron and are connected by the Mackinac Bridge. A summer road trip to the U.P. is an extremely broad adventure, but that is because there is so much to do for every kind of person. Beaches on Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and Lake Superior, Islands to explore, waterfalls, campgrounds, hiking, mountain biking, fishing, kayaking, cliffs, snorkeling, bear sight-seeing. I mean the list could go on and on. The point I'm getting to here is sit down with your friends, spouse, family and plan out a trip that fits you and your style. The options here are unlimited, the only thing missing in the Upper Peninsula is a big city and that's usually the last thing anyone wants to see there, myself included.
1) Hike Nordhouse Dunes
Want to forget about reality? Here is your answer. Nordhouse Dunes are miles and miles of sand dunes (smaller than Sleeping Bear Dunes) that are located along a stretch of Lake Michigan near Manistee. There is a campground located at the entry point for those looking to relax without doing much moving. However, for the adventurous souls, the path to Lake Michigan veers left before the beach and you will find yourself on a small path leading into the woods. This is where you strap on your backpack, tie up your hiking boots and take one last bathroom stop before heading into the wilderness of Michigan's lakeshore where everything must be hiked in on your back and your bathroom choices are Pine or Oak.
The path leads for miles, although you decide where you want to camp. Want a little adventure? Pitch your tent about a quarter mile from the starting point. Want to go big or go home? Go on hiking for miles, because you can. Most of the camping areas are down a steep hill off the path and on the beach where at night you can lie in your tent and fall asleep to the sound of the waves a short distance away. Camping is free on the path (although you need a car permit to park) and the still silence around you will completely erase the outside world. The only thing you will hear on your escape are the waves, laughter, good times and your mind opening up to the world around you.
So to anyone reading this, from the Midwest to Asia, I encourage you to explore the natural beauty of Michigan this summer. If you do decide to start a trek to any of the places listed, let me know and maybe our paths will cross. I would love to meet some of my readers! Or if you have your own secret of Michigan, please share. Happy trails to all!
Soulful adventurer. Probably lost. Definitely eating ice cream.
In her late-teens, Shalee drove out of her small hometown watching the sunset behind her along the two-lane highway. Her ventures began in Michigan, where she taught herself to travel on a budget. Today, Shalee shares her tips and stories to thousands of readers interested in adventure, budget, and outdoor travel. Learn more about her here.