AS CREATURES OF HABIT, WE’RE BOUND TO FIND ourselves in a travel rut eventually, whether we return to the same lakefront family cottage or simply feel drawn to a popular tourist spot because we know what to expect.
The next time you feel the want to wander, wind your way around this scenic state to an entirely new environment. There’s more to Michigan than meets the eye. Stretch your boundaries beyond the obvious attractions.
“It’s all about the lure of the outdoors. Kayaking has exploded here, and sunrise and sunset are a really big deal.”
— Kathy Reynolds
Wherever you roam, remember that travel and adventure go hand in hand. From Big Bay Point to Little Sable Point, there are plenty of historical stops along the way. Take the road less traveled to a unique site like Point Abbaye in the Upper Peninsula, and you might just find a new favorite.
UP, UP and away
There’s plenty to see in the U.P., where Alger County boasts spectacular sights like Sand Point Beach on Lake Superior within the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. With 20 waterfalls in the county, it’s no surprise that the area attracts out-of-state visitors and international travelers. Miners Falls, Munising Falls and Wagner Falls are among the top attractions. Laughing Whitefish Falls is another awe-inspiring draw.
“There is so much to do here,” says Kathy Reynolds, executive director of Alger County Chamber of Commerce. “People say, ‘I can’t believe that this is in the state of Michigan.’”
Reynolds has lived all over the country. She considers the area one of the most beautiful in the Midwest and Chapel Rock among the best spots for hiking.
For non-hikers, there’s Pictured Rocks Cruises, a breathtaking tour that includes Miners Castle, the most famous formation of the Pictured Rocks.
Though most tourists arrive between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the fall season has become more popular, according to Reynolds, who recommends coming up for a week. “We have tons of rustic (camping) areas, but there are only so many sites with electricity and showers.” Hotels and weekly rentals are among the other accommodations.
As keepers of Big Bay Point Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast, John Gale and Jeff and Linda Gamble often welcome visitors commemorating special occasions. Perched on a cliff overlooking Lake Superior, the site is special.
“We’re an actual working lighthouse, which is kind of unusual for a private structure, and it’s been operated as a bed and breakfast since 1986,” says Linda, co-owner for 25 years. “Most of our guests are celebrating their honeymoon or anniversary, or the bride has given her parents a gift card to stay for a week.”
Although this secluded getaway on 45 acres has no phones or televisions, it does have Wi-Fi. Guest rooms include private bathrooms. Some have fireplaces and lakefront views. Visitors have access to the main living areas and the lighthouse tower, where the sauna is located.
Perhaps most fascinating is the setting’s history, one that inspired the book and film “Anatomy of a Murder,” which was based on a murder committed by a soldier stationed at the lighthouse, which was leased by the military at the time.
Just a short distance away, the small town of Big Bay offers restaurants and a scenic overlook. “We’re 22 miles from Marquette, and the drive is amazing during color season,” Linda says. “It’s one of the best kept secrets of the U.P. … If you’re lucky, you may even see the Northern Lights.” More information at bigbaylighthouse.com
West side story
Peter Manting, executive director for the Sable Points Lighthouse Keeper Association in Ludington, says his organization wants to make lighthouses accessible to everyone by building Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant sidewalks like those at Little Sable Point Lighthouse. Built in 1874 and surrounded by Silver Lake State Park sand dunes, it’s one of the only lighthouses on Lake Michigan that still has its original Fresnel lens. The red brick exterior also is unusual.
“It’s isolated out on the point, so it kind of looks like it’s out of place,” Manting says. “At first glance, you might think it’s a smokestack at 115 feet tall. You can go inside and climb the 130 steps to the top for an amazing view of Lake Michigan.”
In addition to the sweeping views, visitors learn about the history from volunteer lighthouse keepers.
“We have four lighthouses, and all are very different,” Manting explains. Big Sable has a distinct black-and-white façade; Little Sable is red brick; Ludington North Breakwater Light has a distinct design; and White River Light Station has a museum.
If you find it hard to decide just which to visit, it is possible to see all four in one day.
More information at splka.org
Through the woods
Point Abbaye, a remote site on Lake Superior, is worth the trip, says Tracey Barrett, executive director of Baraga County Convention & Visitors Bureau in L’Anse. It’s quiet and picturesque, a great place for sunsets — just plan on a dirt drive that takes you into the woods. Marquette is the nearest major city, and peak season is May through November.
“It’s really cool out there, especially when the waves hit,” Barrett noted. “It’s just a nice drive and a short walk to the tip. One visitor even spotted and photographed moose in the area.” More information at baragacounty.org
Seven miles north of Rogers City, the 40 Mile Point Lighthouse on Lake Huron guards a county park. It is near other noteworthy structures, too, like a one-room schoolhouse.
Pat Williams, vice president of the 40 Mile Point Lighthouse Society, says the quaint location has much to offer.
“The lighthouse is certainly a primary draw, and the county park is well-maintained. There are nearby refreshments, a gift shop and pavilions that people can rent,” Williams says. More information at 40milepointlighthouse.org
On the pinnacle of Point Lookout on the shores of Lake Huron sits a house called the SS Hurona — built to look like a ship.
“It’s a very neat part of the local architecture,” says Scott Bublitz, president of the Au Gres Area Chamber of Commerce. The surrounding area was settled by the Sims family in the late 1800s. Part of the family’s original property still exists today, and the quaint old houses along the lakeshore add to the charm of the locale. More information at cityofaugresmi.org
WHILE YOU EXPLORE
Points of land are captivating places to explore. Two more magnificent Michigan points are:
Waugoshance Point, this page, is a 2.5-mile-long cape at Wilderness State Park, west of Mackinac City. Hike to the point through a wild landscape, with sandy, rock and gravel beaches, wetland marshes, balsam fir and white pine. Look for wildlife tracks in the sands.
Fayette Historic State Park, opposite page, is on the Garden Peninsula in northern Lake Michigan. The historic iron-smelting town has its own harbor and five miles of hiking trail. At sunset the light suffuses across majestic dolomite cliffs.
Jeanine Matlow is a Detroit-based freelance writer and regular contributor.