Top Things to Do in Michigan in 2021: Michigan Bucket List
April 6, 2021
Well, since 2020 was a major bust, we all have some extra adventuring to make up for the last 365+ days. If you're like me, you're not planning to let time go. Instead, you're stocking up your summer with twice as much adventure, twice as many gatherings, and three times as many bucket list items.
Thankfully, Michigan has a never-ending list of things to do. If you're relatively new here, you probably haven't seen my original version of this list, called "The Michigan Bucket List," written way back in the Fall of 2014. It's still my most viral post to date, but I've also discovered so many new places to explore that needed to be shared.
So welcome back, folks, to my updated top things to do in Michigan in 2021.
1. Swim in all 5 Great Lakes
I'm starting this Michigan bucket list with a hefty task: swim all five Great Lakes. And although only four Great Lakes touch Michigan's borders, all five define who we are. If you wanted, you could swim three (Huron, Michigan, and Superior) in a single day. Give yourself a bonus point if you complete that item in your quest for all 5!
2. Visit Les Cheneaux Islands
Most of you have probably never heard of this small chain of islands off the southeastern coast of the Upper Peninsula. Yet, the moment you pull into the tiny little four-way stop in Cedarville, you'll wonder where this place has been your entire life. Many owners and renters rely on boats to get home, using the water channels navigating throughout the islands as intercoastal highways. It reminds me of a rural and wild Venice. Gondola's don't exist, but you might catch a glimpse of a vintage wooden boat on the water. Even without a boat, visitors can rent kayaks or relax on one of the many inland beaches and cabin resorts.
3. Camp Under the Stars
View this post on Instagram
No matter how many lists I create about things to do in Michigan, camping under the stars will always be a top item. There are endless options for camping throughout the millions of acres of public land and national forests, whether at Little Girls Point along Lake Superior in Ironwood or backcountry camping in Huron National Forest. My happiest Michigan memories are with a group of friends and a stack of firewood.
4. Attend Wheatland Music Festival
Supporting local festivals, markets, and events this year should be a high priority on every Michigander's list. I've attended a fair share of Michigan festivals myself, from Electric Forest to Bliss. However, my favorite is Wheatland Music Festival, a bluegrass traditional arts festival in Mid-Michigan the weekend after Labor Day. Past festivals have hosted everyone from Chris Stapleton (back when he was a member for The Steeldrivers) to bluegrass music legends Billy Strings and Tim O'Brien. Beyond the music, there are numerous other events and workshops, from swing dancing to yoga and traditional music.
5. Buy Flowers at Sweetwater Floral Shed
View this post on Instagram
My girl Kalin from Sweetwater Floral is not only one of my favorite accounts on Instagram (join in for her morning *clink* sessions), but in the summer, she also runs a roadside floral shed on her farm near Petoskey. The shed opens at 8 am sharp on Friday mornings and typically sells out before sunset. Inside, visitors can find a wide range of her floral bundles and perhaps even lavender bundles later in the summer.
6. Visit At Least 5 Lighthouses
There are roughly 100 lighthouses along Michigan's 3,288 miles of shoreline, which means knocking out five shouldn't be too hard to accomplish. The best part of deciding which Michigan lighthouses you want to visit is that you can decide based on what kind of adventure you're looking for. Some require a pier walk, some a five-mile hike, some a three-mile kayak, and others no walking at all!
7. See Sunrise on Lake Huron and Sunset on Lake Michigan in a Single Day
An excellent day road trip includes an early wake-up call to see the sunrise on Lake Huron. Once this portion is complete, send the day road tripping across the lower peninsula, hitting the best shops, markets, and restaurants until you reach the coast of Lake Michigan in the evening. Pull up to one of the many beaches along the freshwater coast to say goodnight to Lake Michigan's sunset, the perfect full-circle moment fit for all. I recommend starting in Tawas and ending the day in Empire near Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
8. Rent a Cabin or Camp with Your Best Friends
A fun and affordable way to enjoy Michigan is by renting a cabin with a group of friends. A cabin that is $250/night and sleeps eight breaks down to $62/person for two nights. Every year, pick a new area to explore, find a cabin and have a weekend of adventure with your best friends or family. Need a little location inspiration to start? Try these fantastic Michigan towns.
- Elk Rapids
- Port Austin
9. Feast on Michigan's Best Donuts
It's no secret that I love all things sweet. My worldwide travels are code for "attempting to find the best sweets around the world." It turns out one of the best is right in my tiny hometown: Conley's Bakery. It's been a family-owned icon to mid-Michigan for decades, and rightfully so. I must make at least one donut run here every time I come home. The maple donut is a must-try, followed closely by the apple fritter. Its central location is the perfect spot for a detour for those traveling north from Grand Rapids and other southern cities during peak summertime travels.
10. Visit at Least 3 Michigan Waterfalls
Michigan has a surprising number of waterfalls in the Upper Peninsula, making this task pretty easy to accomplish in one weekend U.P. trip. You can go the classic route and visit Tahquamenon Falls, but I'd recommend diving deeper into the depths of the remote northern wilderness to track down some falls a little more off-the-beaten-path.
11. Take Your Pets on an Adventure
In our 2021 Michigan adventures, we can't leave our furry friends behind! Pack up your dog (or possibly your cat, if you're like us!) and take them with you somewhere special. Sure, the beach is a 'happy place' for us humans, but have you ever seen a sad dog on the beach? If anything, they enjoy it more than us.
Make sure before taking off on your pet-friendly location that
- the location allows animals
- the leash laws in that specific region
- that you pet is protected against fleas/ticks
12. Get Ice Cream on Every Weekend Trip
Guys, I'm here to tell you that I have traveled the world and never found ice cream that comes even remotely close to Michigan. Our flavors are the best, our sizes are the biggest, and we love to support our smalltown ice cream shops all summer long. Each time you hit the road this summer, make sure you leave room for dessert.
At any given moment, Shalee is either lost, hunting for ice cream, or obsessively planning her next adventure.
Born and raised in rural Michigan, she began exploring the shores of Great Lakes as a teen, often sleeping in her car to save money. Eventually, her urge to explore pushed beyond her Midwest borders. Today, Shalee shares her tips and stories to thousands of readers interested in adventure and outdoor tourism. Her pack now includes two spunky hiking cats and her partner, Josh. Learn more about her here.